Do You Really Want to Be a Published Novelist?

Apparently, a major reason for not writing or finishing one’s novel, is FEAR.

Fear that you can’t do it, fear that it won’t be as good as you’ve imagined, fear that your mum will read the sex scenes, fear that people will think you’ve got ‘above yourself’, fear that’s it’s all been a complete waste of time (and you needn’t have given up Coronation Street), fear of success.. HOLD ON! ‘Fear of success’?

Funnily enough, last time I met up with my writing buddy, Sally, we talked about this (and got the giggles because it all sounded so silly). But what if you DO write an amazing first novel and you’re snapped up by an agent who sells it to a publisher for a rather respectable sum. What then?

I have to admit (even though I’m a long way from this ever happening..!) that it’s a rather scary thought. Because then, unless you’re going to be a ‘flash in the pan’ or a ‘one hit wonder’, you’d be expected to produce another amazing novel (chances are, if you get a book deal from a traditional publisher, it would be for more than one book). And what if you couldn’t do it? Pressure! And even if you did manage to write another one that wasn’t too awful, that’s it, you’re on the ‘novelist treadmill’, with your publisher wanting ‘more of the same’ and probably sooner than you’d really like.

I would really, really, love to hold in my hands (and stroke!) a physical book – a novel – that I’d written and was proud of.

But when I read the blogs of some published authors, it is a little bit off-putting…

Sam Tonge, for example, has just blogged about ‘The Five Unexpected Consequences of Getting Published’ and revealed not only that it’s ‘hard, hard, hard work’ but that she spends at least half of her working day on networking, social media and promotion. And no, she’s not self-published – that’s just what you’re expected to do these days!

Prolific writer Jane Holland (aka Victoria Lamb, Beth Good – and others!) blogged here about how sometimes ‘being a writer seems like the hardest thing in the world’.

While author Tim Lott says rather than a dream job, life as a writer is a ‘horror film’. Most novelists, he suggests, write because they’re driven to write but if he had the choice to be George Clooney instead – or a taxi driver – he would seriously contemplate it (although, to be fair, when he wrote that column, George Clooney hadn’t just had twin babies. He might not be so keen now!)

And then there’s the money. Forget the JK Rowlings of this world just for a minute. The average advance for a debut novelist is estimated to be less than £7,000. You’re going to have to write an awful lot of books or clinch a fabulous deal, to even think about giving up the day job.

What do you think? Too negative? Is writing full-time THE dream job or is it a case of:

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20 Responses to Do You Really Want to Be a Published Novelist?

  1. Wow! That’s good for thought.

  2. *food* damn autocorrect!

  3. Anne says:

    You have hit the nail on its head. At least there are a number of publishing opportunities and competitions for, say short stories, in the UK. Not so for those of us in the far-flung corners of the former empire. Good luck with your writing – I have enjoyed your posts for some time now.

  4. Helen, interestingly, I’ve just admitted to myself I really don’t want to be a novelist, even though I kinda thought I did. Coming to this conclusion has been a shock to the system, I can tell you. It was something I didn’t want to admit to myself.

    Yes, I’d like to hold my own book in my hand, but honestly, I don’t want to be under the pressure of having to do masses of social media, not to mention getting on and writing that next book, and the next and the next…

    It took a writing mentor to dig it out of me, that I was spending time doing something I really wasn’t enjoying, which was working on my novel. I was putting myself under tremendous pressure and really not enjoying the journey.

    Who knows, one day when I don’t feel under pressure from the day job and everything else a writer endures, I may finish it for myself. In the meantime, I’m taking a long break from it, and I’m making a new plan.

    • Maria
      Thank you for your very honest response. I think, as writers, we’re all ‘conditioned’ to think that the be-all and end-all of writing is The Novel but you’re right – not everyone wants to do that. It’s a big undertaking, it’s potentially a lot of pressure and there are plenty of other, perhaps more enjoyable ways, to write. Perhaps self-publishing is the answer – at least then, the writer has more control – but that has its downsides too (not least, the fact that you will have to do everything yourself, from editing, to proofreading, getting the cover and all the marketing). Ah, it’s not easy, is it?!

  5. juliathorley says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I have lots of ideas for big writing projects, but keep finding reasons not to start them. Then someone comes along and ‘pinches my idea’ and I get cross with myself for not cracking on. What’s going on in my head?!

    • Julia, it is very annoying when someone nabs the idea that you had and gets there first! When I worked in a weird office many years ago, a (male) colleague and I spent most of every day in hysterics, a) because we were bored and b) because we just seemed to spark off each other (not in that way – he was much too young for me and we were both ‘with’ other people – we just got on). Anyway, we had this ‘idea’ for a sit-com, called ‘Colleagues’..we even came up with some of the (hilarious – or we thought, anyway!) episodes, based on things that happened in the office where we worked. Needless to say, we never did anything about it but a couple of years later, what appeared on our tv screens? Yes, ‘The Office’… just the idea we’d had, only we didn’t get off our backsides and do anything about it! Damn!

  6. Sharon boothroyd says:

    Hi Helen An interesting post. I’ve found that the two writing mags assume we all want to novels, and their advice is mainly focused on that. Although poetry is covered well, plays for radio, TV and stage are practically ignored. I don’t honestly know why, because these are areas of fiction writing too!

    • Thanks for your comment, Sharon. I agree, writing a novel is seen as the ‘be all and end all’ as though you’re not a ‘proper’ writer unless you’ve written one! But as you say, there are plenty of other types of writing, all equally valid but somehow not as revered! (and let’s face it, there are a lot of rubbish novels out there… !)

  7. Keith Havers says:

    When you’re earning a few thousand a year from magazine writing it’s difficult to jeopardise that by taking time off to write a novel. But if you want it – youve got to go for it. Interesting post, Helen.

    • Thanks, Keith. It’s a gamble, isn’t it, taking time out from short story writing to try something longer. No one pays you anything when you’re writing your first novel (sadly!). Good luck to everyone out there giving it a go.

  8. Wendy Clarke says:

    It’s funny. My husband says exactly the same thing to me. I wrote a novel and got an agent quite quickly. ‘This is easy’ I thought. Then things went pear-shaped. The major changes I’d been asked to make didn’t come off and I was asked to start a new project. Novel two is 60k in. I’m wracked with doubt. Even if the agent likes it, publishers might not. If they do, am I prepared for all that comes next? Who knows. It’s scary. Magazine writing is less stressful by far!

    • Wendy, thanks for your comment. You’ve done brilliantly well and should be patting yourself on the back for a) completing a novel and b) getting an agent! Those are 2 achievements that many writers never manage, so don’t be too hard on yourself! I think it’s par for the course for one’s first novel to be tricky (I am trying to write something ‘longer’ at the moment – I daren’t call it a ‘novel’ – let’s just see what I end up with!!), so again, don’t despair. I’m sure nothing was wasted. Everything you learned from your first novel will be helping to make novel #2 better in every way! Good luck with it and believe in yourself! You can do it! 🙂

  9. ellem63 says:

    What a thought-provoking post! At the moment, I have no pressure on me at all whilst writing my first novel. Just as well, because I hate the idea of being on sites like Facebook and Twitter. I think I might just make my novel a life-long project! 😀

  10. jaynemagdalentraver says:

    I think we are driven to write. I am not sure if it a dream job, for write now it’s a hobby for I am still working on my novel. Deadlines must be killer, though! I work best under pressure, so maybe I’d get more done;however, I think constraint kills creativity. I’d love to be published–at least that’s my ultimate goal. I may live to regret it. I will let you know what I truly think when it actually happens.

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