View Full Version : Becoming a Novelist

Chris Stovell
June 21st, 2010, 04:44 AM
The Blogosphere is heaving with writers many of whom are aching to be novelists. I was recently asked a couple of questions about making submissions. Although I’m a debut novelist I have plenty of writing experience and a few cautionary tales which may help anyone about to embark on this path.
1. It helps if you can write<o></o>
I’ve spent most of my working life as a professional writer. That hasn’t always been my job title, of course, which has been Research Officer or Local Government Officer (of various descriptions) but writing has always been essential to the job description. I’ve written research papers, policy notes, briefing papers and press releases and if you want someone to turn your hesitant speech or venomous rows into concise elegant prose, well, it ain’t me, babe, because I don’t do that anymore.
In addition I’ve been placed in national essay and poetry competitions, I’ve been published in magazines and I’ve sold work to newspapers and contributed to an autobiographical anthology.
If you have any doubts about your writing ability send it out into the big wide world and test the water.
2. Stop if…<o></o>
a) You think writing’s a chore – it’s not, it’s a privilege and pleasure. Certainly it requires a lot of effort but sewing garments in a sweatshop is hard work, not writing.
b) You are not completely and utterly in love with your writing. If you don’t love your work why should the reader?
c) You think you’re going to get rich overnight. For every dazzlingly successful novelist there are dozens who get two books deals then disappear off the radar. ‘Cracking it’ isn’t enough. You’ve got to keep turning out page after page of sparkling fiction if you really want to be a success.
4. Recognise help.<o></o>
When my daughters were little I sent a script to Harlequin Mills & Boon. It came winging back with a very nice letter explaining why it had been rejected (not sticking to formula), suggesting amendments (beef up the hero) and inviting me to resubmit. Did I take this help? No. I saw it as criticism, spent the whole day chucking my toys around and vowed never to give M&B the dubious pleasure of reading my work ever again. This is what is known a big mistake.

5. Don’t forget the rest of the book.<o></o>
After mucking around with bits of genre romantic fiction it was suggested to me by Hilary Johnson, who has been described as ‘the doyenne of doctoring’ and who, at that time, ran the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s ‘New Writers’ Scheme’ that I should try my hand at contemporary fiction. I duly sent three chapters and a synopsis off to a well-respected agent who phoned me up the minute my script landed on her desk and asked to see the rest of it. My personal life then went into freefall and I failed to deliver the goods. This is what is known as a very big mistake and it’s one I’ve taken ten years to recover from! My advice to you is to write the whole book first, apart from anything else it’ll be good practise and teach you to hone your craft.
6. Listen to Beeny.<o></o>
If you’ve ever seen one of those property makeover programmes you’ll know that there’s always a bit where the expert tells the would-be developers what to do. One of my favourite experts is Sarah Beeny, the presenter and property developer. When faced with amateurs who intend to turn their wreck into a 6 bedroom, 1 bathroom family home, she’ll say something like, ‘If I was you I would add an extra bathroom.’ The so-called developers round on Sarah and tell her that the family they’re aiming at are good at crossing their legs and saving water so they don’t need an extra bathroom whilst the rest of us are screaming at the telly, ‘Listen to Beeny!!’
If a professional is good enough to give you their opinion, please act upon it. Please don’t think that she is wrong and that you, your partner, your best friend and your dog know better!
So there we are, a brief guide of the possible pitfalls you may come across on your journey to becoming a novelist. As for me, when I submitted my novel ‘Turning the Tide to publishers Choc Lit – where heroes are like chocolate, irresistible – the Choc Lit team loved it but requested a couple of amendments and this time I’ve listened.<o></o>

<o>What advice do you wish you'd had, would like to have or would like to pass on?</o>

June 21st, 2010, 05:04 AM
That is all so true, Chris! I've always tried to listen to what people say, taking criticism on board and using it to improve my work. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct though and stick to your guns - you don't HAVE to do everything the expert tells you. If there's a particular aspect of your novel that you feel is essential, then don't change it. Also, you have to be careful that you don't lose your 'voice' by doing exactly what someone else says. Change things so it still sounds like you! But yes, listen to advice - I feel I'm still learning new things every day.

Chris Stovell
June 21st, 2010, 07:54 AM
Hi Christina,

I think your point about not losing your 'voice' is well-made. Finding a writing 'voice' is something we could open up a whole new discussion about! I was fortunate to find my voice at an early stage and feel secure with it, but I think it's something that comes with experience. So, yes, be open to advice but hang on to what makes you unique as a writer!

June 21st, 2010, 09:21 PM
I think authors deserve a round of applause... its hard work BUT I sure do enjoyed reading the rewards!!!

Chris Stovell
June 22nd, 2010, 11:15 AM
I agree, brandyzbooks!

June 22nd, 2010, 02:37 PM
No one ever gave me advice and I am not a writer despite dreams of being one. I wish someone would have seen that desire in me and gave it some encouragement. Now my imagination waits for the author to inspire it and take it for a ride whether it be into a new world or an erotic scene.


Chris Stovell
June 27th, 2010, 04:16 AM

So sorry not to have replied sooner. We've had family here and it's been chaos! Don't lose those dreams of being a writer; if you still have that desire within you, then give it some light and air and see what happens. There are plenty of folks online who will encourage you and help you realise that dream. Good luck!