Jul 21 2011

The Worst Reasons to Become a Novelist

1. Because you need the money.  It usually takes around 10 years to get published and the typical advance for a first novel is usually around $5000 (assuming it gets published), which is scandalously low for a project that will probably take thousands of hours and might not ever get published.  If you need money, get a day job.  If your main consideration is financial, other types of writing that typically pay better (and more reliably) include copywriting/advertising, corporate communications, journalism, nonfiction books and unemployment forms. Writing comic books also pays better than writing novels, but you’d still be dealing with some of the same risks/uncertainties and reliability issues.  Outside of writing, virtually every full-time job pays more reliably and more by the hour.  It is depressingly rare for a novelist to beat minimum wage, so you’d probably make more working at McDonald’s.


2. Because you imagine it will be easy and/or fast.  10 years is a long time to wander through submission-rejection-rewrite hell.


3. Because you really want to be the next [insert bestselling and/or celebrated author here].  It is possible that you will sell millions of copies and/or win major writing awards. 99.9% of authors don’t.  If you’d be disappointed selling merely thousands of copies and toiling mostly in obscurity, I’d recommend against becoming an author because any remotely typical result will leave you unhappy.  Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend joining the armed services in the hopes of winning a Medal of Honor.  It could happen, particularly if you’re implausibly badass, but it isn’t a reasonable expectation.


4. Because you want to write something just like [insert your favorite work].  Please develop your own style!  I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re trying to just regurgitate another author’s work.  For example, you could approach the story in a different way.  For example, if your book were set at a school for wizards, you probably wouldn’t come off like a Harry Potter ripoff if the main character were something like a disgruntled headmaster that has to worry about preteens running around and trying to save the world or an admissions officer brought in to make sure that they stop admitting so many homicidal, racist psychos.   (Donors and prospective students might get nervous if 25% of your students are Ax Crazy killers and/or in league with malevolent forces.  On the other hand, it’d probably make for an interesting Diversity on Campus page).

21 responses so far

21 Responses to “The Worst Reasons to Become a Novelist”

  1. B. Macon 21 Jul 2011 at 6:28 am

    Hat-tip to an anonymous Google user for searching “bad reasons to write a novel.” Thanks for the idea!

  2. Grenacon 21 Jul 2011 at 8:08 am

    #4 reminds me of people on dA, they see someone draw something they like then they want to draw in their style. Exactly in their style. It’s even worse when the style is animu :I

    There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by something, it’s just don’t outright copy it.

  3. invader-mynaon 21 Jul 2011 at 11:00 am

    Agreed. A lot of times I’ve read an AMAZING novel and I would think, geez I want to write something just like that, but it’s really not fair to the original author to try and do that anyway.

  4. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Jul 2011 at 6:03 pm

    “#4 reminds me of people on dA, they see someone draw something they like then they want to draw in their style. Exactly in their style. It’s even worse when the style is animu :I

    There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by something, it’s just don’t outright copy it.”

    I think that’s only really okay when it’s fanart inspired by that work. If someone wanted to draw say, Death Note fanart, I see no problem with them using the original art style.

    The first three completely describe me when I was about ten. I had no idea just how tough the publishing industry could be, I had dreams of swimming in money, and when I hit 10,000 words, I was totally proud of myself. I mean, 10,000 words IS a good achievement in general, especially for a ten year old, but now I’m up to 80,000 on another one and that seems minuscule in comparison.

    I can’t wait to finish my current project so I’ll have a completed draft under my belt. While I let it sit for a month or so before editing, I’ll restart work on my story about Isaac. I have to completely go back – the story is radically different now.

  5. Grenacon 21 Jul 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Oh totally, fanart done in the original style is ok. Trying to take a shortcut and copying a style without taking the time to learn drawing basics…well that just irks me.

  6. Lakeon 25 Jul 2011 at 6:33 pm

    So what’s the best reason to write a novel? I’ll pose this: You have No Other Choice. Just saying… Peace, LL

  7. Brendaon 25 Jul 2011 at 6:50 pm

    The best reason to write a novel is because it can be a lot of fun, you get to flex your creative muscles and most of all because for many, it is an accomplishment!

  8. invader-mynaon 25 Jul 2011 at 7:42 pm

    “Dear Author,
    You don’t have a choice.
    -Your Muse.”

    I don’t know who came up with that quote, but it is so true.

  9. B. Macon 25 Jul 2011 at 9:17 pm

    “So what’s the best reason to write a novel?” I think novels and comic books are more likely to build an emotional connection between the audience and the author than most nonfiction. I really like talking with my readers and, umm, I don’t think many copywriters or speechwriters get many chances to do that.

    For the most part, though, I don’t think there’s a really strong “reason” to become a fiction-writer. I think it’s more of a dream than something most prospective writers “reason” themselves into. Ehh. I like dreams.

  10. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 26 Jul 2011 at 3:19 am

    “For the most part, though, I don’t think there’s a really strong “reason” to become a fiction-writer. I think it’s more of a dream than something most prospective writers “reason” themselves into. Ehh. I like dreams.”

    I mostly write because there are stories I want to tell, and I have time to kill. I’d really like to be published, but that’s gonna take ages so I may as well write things I enjoy and keep going until I do.

  11. LA Writeron 05 Aug 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I like to write stories because it allows me to get all of the ideas out of my head and on paper. There’s something about writing in general that just makes me happy. I got so excited when I started writing my essays for AP Language, I could hardly contain myself when I finished. My hand was CRAMPED. Honestly, I don’t even know if I would publish. Maybe just to see what would happen, but at this point in time, I’m actually just writing for myself. Although I would like to share my stories with others, and I do enjoy entertaining people. But if I can’t make myself feel happy about what I write, I shouldn’t expect others to like it as well because I’ve obviously didn’t put any heart into it.

  12. Tesson 30 May 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I write because I find the process fun. Creative problem-solving. Finishing, not so much fun.

  13. Anonymouson 23 Dec 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Yeah. I have three childrens’ fantasy stories awaiting publication, and it has taken me sixand a half years. Writing is not for the impatient!

  14. acharaon 24 Dec 2012 at 2:02 am

    I believe I may be guilty of the top one! My family isn’t in the greatest situation monetarily, and I’m too young to work, so while my parents and older siblings work I look after my younger siblings, mind the house and write my novel, which I’ve sped up a bit to get it published that bit quicker.
    It’s still a story I love and I’m not writing it purely for the money, but I do feel bad sometimes that I’m going into for material reasons. :-\

  15. B. Macon 24 Dec 2012 at 5:38 am

    Don’t feel guilty about writing, but don’t bank on writing opening any doors financially–it probably won’t, particularly not within the next 6-18 months. I would estimate that my hourly earnings as a fiction writer/editor have averaged about a third of what I averaged as a high school worker at Blockbuster. Fortunately, nonfiction and business writing have been substantially kinder to me (especially since graduating from college)… nevertheless, I still definitely wouldn’t consider either a quick source of income, particularly for a high school student.

  16. acharaon 24 Dec 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I’m not the equivalent of a high school student either, I’m thirteen, so yeah. But I think any little bit helps, so as well as looking for work I’m doing this.

  17. B. McKenzieon 24 Dec 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Oof. Best of luck there. At the time I entered the workforce, U.S. unemployment in my age-group was ~20% and I had to submit something like 20 applications to get 2 interviews. In the 15-24 age-group in Ireland (the youngest group for which statistics are kept), unemployment is ~40%. As you get older, I would recommend developing math/science skills because math/science tends to hire much more aggressively than arts & letters/writing/social studies. If I had to do college again, I would study statistics and analytics.

  18. acharaon 25 Dec 2012 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for the tips – although my family tends to go into physical work like farming or working with animals and cars.
    Any tips on being taken seriously as a writer at a young age?

  19. Dr. Vo Spaderon 25 Dec 2012 at 10:16 am


    This isn’t exactly professional advice, but if you’re trying to be taken serious – talk about it with a straight face. Don’t downplay it at all, and definitely take pride in it. Even if you’ve yet to publish a book, don’t hesitate to call yourself a writer.

  20. B. McKenzieon 25 Dec 2012 at 10:57 am

    “Any tips on being taken seriously as a writer at a young age?”

    1) I would highly recommend against mentioning your age to readers/reviewers unless it’s somehow relevant. For professional writers, it’s usually not, so mentioning your age to readers cues them that you’re not yet producing at a serious/professional level. Don’t make a bad first impression.

    2) I strongly recommend against writing fan-fiction.

    3) Mechanics (spelling/grammar/punctuation/etc) are critical. Fortunately, you have those down well enough that I think most adult readers would not readily assume you were a minor.

    4) Your work will get substantially better in the next few years. Your writing has improved dramatically since you were 10, right? Well, when you’re 16, you’ll probably have a very similar view on what you were producing at 13.

    4.1) Let yourself make mistakes and experiment with your writing. It’s part of the learning process.

    5) Most negative reviews are helpful, but I think it would be a great job skill to figure out which reviewers are not trying to help. I’d recommend checking out this article on how to deal with unconstructive criticism. The key thing to take away here is that FIGHTING WITH A TROLL ALWAYS MAKES YOU LOOK LESS SERIOUS–just delete abusive reviews silently and use the time you would have spent fighting/responding to try persuading 2+ receptive readers to get on board.

    6) I’d recommend using a pen-name, BUT one that sounds like an actual name. “Brian McKenzie” is easier to take seriously than “B. Mac” or (God help us) something like LakersFan1993 (or ArsenalFan1993 if you’re into that non-U.S. sports thing 😉 ). Some authors have recommended using a unisex first name to avoid readers of the opposite gender dismissing your writing as guy stuff/chick stuff–if you feel like that might be a concern, I have a list of unisex names for authors here.

    7) If possible, I’d recommend against incorporating story elements that badly date the story (e.g. mentioning brands, current musicians/actors/politicians, etc).

  21. acharaon 25 Dec 2012 at 11:06 am

    Thank you very much, all of your advice is very helpful! I don’t tend to mention my age, as it seems like people are trying to show off or excuse themselves when they do. I used to write fanfic, but that was when I was six, so yeah. 😉
    Having correct spelling and grammar is only basic courtesy to your beta, I think. And right now I’m looking at a few pen names (I’m definitely going to use one). I’ll have a look at the articles you mentioned. Thank you!

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