16 Things I Wish I’d Known as a Beginner Novelist

16 things1. This journey is probably going to take longer than you think.
In fact, you might bust your butt on something that never sees the light of day.  It’s okay.  You become a better writer by writing.  I had to write a novel to prove I could write a novel before I could write a good novel, if you follow me.

2. Write because you love it, not because you want to be published.
You might never have your work published.  If you write because you have to write, because you’re a writer in your bones, then this won’t matter.  (Or at least it won’t matter enough to stop you!)

3. Write every day …
Establish a writing routine, even if some days you only get ten minutes to write.

4. … but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.
I’m still learning this.  GRACE.

5. If you start a website, don’t waste time thinking of a clever blog title.  Just use your name.  
With WordPress and $18 a year, you can even buy your own domain so that you can just have www. [yourname] .com.  Trust me.  It’s going to be better for branding yourself as a writer someday. 

6. Learn blog etiquette.
Make a commitment to post on your blog at least once a week.  Also, don’t solicit readers by posting links to your content as a comment.  The best way to get readers is to read other blogs and leave thoughtful comments.  They’ll be much more likely to visit yours that way than if you use their comments section as your own personal ad space.

7. Join a writing group– or at least collect some beta readers.  Preferably both.  And take their advice.
Make sure they actually know what good literature is.  They should be good writers themselves or at least good readers.  And do take their advice or at the very least try it out.  No one said you have to keep your revisions.  Take their feedback, make revisions, and then decide whether to take it or leave it.  It goes without saying (I hope) that all this should be done without putting up a fuss.  You need feedback to make your writing sparkle.  Well, at least most writers do.

8. Genres have word count guidelines.
Debut authors should be especially aware of this.  Many literary agents won’t even bother with a manuscript that falls outside the genre word count guidelines.  (Not that it has never happened– but it’s the exception, not the rule).  There are detailed posts about this at Literary Rejections and Writer’s Digest.

9. Set aside some money to devote to your craft.
You can use this money to take a class, attend a workshop, or hire a professional editor.  Yes, a professional editor in addition to your writing group and beta readers.  The more [qualified, capable] eyes on your novel, the better!

10. Join Twitter.
I can hear some of you groaning.  I did too.  Who needs one more social media avenue?  You do.  It’s a great way to connect with other writers (amateur and professional!).  You can also start following literary agents and editors to learn more about the industry.

11.  You’ll need an agent.
I didn’t know this.  To be honest, I’d always thought that you sent off your completed manuscript directly to publishers.  But there’s a whole chain of command.  You’ll need to write a query letter (in some ways, this is harder than writing the novel itself!) that you’ll send to literary agents.  Once a lit agent signs you, it’s your agent’s job to sell your manuscript to an editor.  Novelists should wait to have a completed manuscript before beginning the querying process.

12. There are great resources out there for how to write a query letter and what agents are specifically looking for.
If you spend two hours on Rachelle Gardner’s blog, you’ll have the basics of querying down.  Best places to find what agents are looking for include Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents, the author acknowledgements in the backs of your favorite books, and querytracker.net, especially the “backward” search that allows to look up an author and find out who reps him or her.  From time to time, literary agents on Twitter will hashtag things #mswl (manuscript wishlist), and this is super helpful and often gives you more specific, up-to-date information than their websites.  Remember that money you set aside (#9)?  Use it to attend a conference or workshop where literary agents will be in attendance.  Sometimes you can meet them and deliver your pitch in person.  (I’m not talking about stalking and cornering here; there are actual times and locations and events set up for this to occur!)

13. Rejection is inevitable, and it hurts.
I’m not sure if knowing this ahead of time helps things or not.

14. Read like crazy.
Everything [good] you can get your hands on, but especially in your genre.  And add a healthy dose of poetry for good measure.  Also: blogs, especially those of authors and literary agents and others in publishing, but also book blogs to keep your finger on the pulse of what is trending in your genre and what readers are looking for.  That said …

15. Write what you’re passionate about, not what’s trendy.
By the time you finish your novel about [insert trendy, current topic here], the topic will probably no longer be trendy or current.

16. The most important thing is that you write a great book. 
Ignore whatever you want on this list, but write an amazing book.  A writer who follows all the rules but writes a sub-par book probably has less of a chance at publication than one who bucked all the rules but wrote a masterpiece.

[I searched online, but could not figure out whom to credit for the original image of the white frame on the green wall.  If you know or find its original owner, let me know.]