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Why you should not write your novel

09-06-26, BigTallGuy, IMG_4468_080607_40D

For weeks now I have been following posts on the internet, devouring anything to do with publishing your novel and getting your baby out there. From all this reading, time and time again (please excuse the cliché), a simple message has been delivered.

“New authors: Don’t write your first novel.”

Now the words are not these exactly, more often they are diplomatically masked as;

  • “Do you have a Platform?”
  • “Do you know your Market?”
  • “Do you know how to Promote?”
  • “Do you know how to write a query letter?”
  • “Are you strong enough to take criticism?”
  • “Have you a business plan?”

And more of the same.

Often I came across the phrase, “Once the book is written, then the hard work starts.”. I wonder if many new novelists actually believe this? Let alone take it to heart?

I know you are on fire, your soon to be novel about a new legal eagle is so incredibly good. Plus you are going to serialise it, one book for each decade of his/her life over seven books, each taking the… Everyone will love it, the film rights alone will…

The reality is that you are in for a series of hard knocks and hard lessons on subjects that you might not have a natural talent at. Worse if you don’t pick up these lessons quickly then your baby might be hurt and your reputation harmed.

Time for an analogy. You want to take up motor racing and although you already drive very well on the road, lessons are required in race lines, tactics, V8’s, tyres, fuel, race circuits, engine management, telemetry, weather… the list is very long. No one would expect to get into an F1 car for the first time and perform in any way other than very badly. After all, the top drivers didn’t, most of them started out in saloon car or kart racing.

A novel is an F1 car, heavy on investment, performing against world class competition. A novel might take years to finish and it is impossible to not be emotionally attached (which is why criticism hurts so much). The stakes are high and lessons costly.

So should a new novelist just give up?

NO, of course not.

Time to take up karting. Put your book on the back burner and find the literary equivalent of a racing Kart to work on. A small work that you are interested in, preferably passionate about. A small collection of shorts, history of your town, review of the new British Olympic village, the plight of sharks.

From the research on your novel, take some interesting facts and weave an “Info booklet” from them, even promote your proposed novel in the cover or tail notes.

There are almost unlimited options for small snappy booklets. One writer I know recently produced a children’s book. Just consider that it has all the publishing and distribution issues of a novel but that it requires significantly less commitment of time to be produced. A children’s book is arguably the most perfect medium to learn the associated trades.

Once you have your kart, start promoting it. Learn to podcast, send it to e-book sites, is print on demand an option? If so, find the contacts and costs. Use it as bait at the end of articles written about it. Will you give it away free? Or charge a small fee and so learn about money issues? Could any proceeds go to a charity? How would having a product, or few, affect your platform?

Use your Kart to learn the associated trades.

Then when you have produced your novel and arrive on the starting grid, you arrive self taught with the necessary knowledge. The hardest part is no longer new, it is still hard, winning is not certain, but it is now more of what you already know.

101 Ways to Discourage New Novelists” by Andy Shackcloth will be out later in 2009. Bookings for copies, speaking engagements, sponsorship or re-branded copy, are obtainable by contacting the author directly.

(Please note: The above “101…” promotion was an attempt at humour, it’s not real and it won’t be out in 2009. Just needed to add this to stop further confusion.)

Photo, IMG_4468_080607_40D, cc BigTallGuy

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16 comments to Why you should not write your novel

  • This is interesting advice. I think starting with smaller projects and building your promotional skill in that way is always a good idea.

    But, the act of writing a novel is different than writing a shorter piece, and the lessons learned by finishing a work that is somewhere around 100K words are invaluable, even if that first novel is awful. So I say, write the novel. Take on a few smaller projects after that first draft, working on building your promotional skills and platform. Then come back to your novel–or start a new one–armed with the skill needed not only to finish such a big undertaking but also to sell it.

  • Le_Shack

    Sounds like firm advice.

    Would you care to expand on how many a “few” are?

    By the way thanks for popping by, you are the very first visitor on the new site.

  • Just wondering why you’re publishing a book about discouraging new novelists when you’ve never had a novel published? How did you become an expert on novels?

    Novels are very different than short fiction or other forms. Want to write a novel. Write one.

  • C Challis

    A children’s book is actually a lot harder to write than it looks. Kids will quickly put down a book that doesn’t grab them. The attention to word choice appropriate to age and reading level also needs to be considered. It may look easy but many parents will testify that there are a lot of badly written children’s books out there at the moment…

  • Though I agree with most of this post I find it sad and disheartening that you suggest doing a children’s book as a smaller project. I would consider this harder due to sorting out all the illustrations and making sure it actually engages with the correct age group.

    From a marketing point of view I can see that writing short stories and articles might be a plan to ramp you up but they are different markets and different styles of writing. So I’m not sure how much you could learn from one to the other – unless it is the business knowledge you’re going to need?

    Thankyou for writing the article though


  • [...] read a blog post today that bothered me. You can read the post here written by Andy Shackcloth. The summary of the post titled “Why you shouldn’t write [...]

  • Since you don’t have trackbacks enabled:

    Why You Should Write Your Novel

    My comment/response to your post. You have a lot of good points, but I disagree on quite a few. Thanks for posting. :)


  • This is an interesting post, and I’m not sure what I think of it. I agree with you . . . yet I don’t. I like the idea of building up to writing and publishing a novel. I hate the “platform” buzzword, but I agree that writers nowadays need one.

    Perhaps what confuses me is you conflation of “writing” with “publishing.” I’m an “art for art’s sake” kind of guy — I believe that writing is a beneficial activity in and of itself, even if that writing is never published anywhere. Writing and publishing for a profit has its place and its important for many people, but publishing for a profit isn’t something I’m interested in.

    Another piece of advice that gets offered quite a lot is “don’t bother trying to publish the first novel you write.” Maybe that’s the better suggestion. Writing a novel well is a skill that takes time and several tries to master. I didn’t try to publish a book until I wrote my tenth book-length manuscript (and even then I wasn’t quite ready). I’d say let people write their novels, but don’t publish the first one, and while writing, do all of the platform-building things suggested in this post.

  • Jen

    Is it a total cop-out if I say that it depends? Each of us has our own goals and our own needs, and we’ll have to decide for ourselves which projects we need to work, how many, and how to practice the “author” part of the equation.

  • Le_Shack

    Hi Bob, Thanks for dropping by.
    Ah, the proposed little booklet thing on discouraging new novelists. The confession here is that it was my attempt at humour. Obviously not very well implemented since you thought I was placing myself as an expert.

    Point taken though, I will have to include a few “from what I’ve read” and “in my opinion”, in future.

    C Challis, Thanks for that. It seems that again that the easier something seems then the harder it is to do well.

    Sarah, Yes it is the business knowledge, the marketing, the self-promotion, the knock backs that I was trying to address. If you don’t know it to start with then when do you acquire it?

    Tina, Can I please ask you to expand on what you disagree with? Either here or by e-mail. Your point(s) could probably help me and others. A counter argument would be appreciated.

    J.M. Reep, Twice this week I heard authors who had finished their MS and were asking about finding agents and publishers. I think it was their naive expectations that seeded this post.
    Thanks for a very considered comment.

    Jen, OK, I couldn’t begin to answer how you would know or measure readiness. I think I will look into it and see if anyone (agents) have any “milestones” they use.

  • Le_Shack

    Tina has posted at length on her blog about this.

    It is a good post and explains why this post “bothered” her.

    The link to her post is

    So don’t wait, pop over to her blog and get a fuller picture of what faces novice authors.

  • Hi Andy,

    Just wanted to say thank you for writing this post. It got people (Novice Authors and others) talking about what it takes to get published and in the end that’s the most important thing. We, as authors, need to be aware that there is more to this dream of ours than just putting words on paper.



  • Hey Andy,

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this post. It got people (novice authors and others) talking about what it takes to get published, and in the end that’s the most important thing. We, as authors, need to be aware that there is more to this dream of ours than just putting words on paper.



  • [...] This post was Twitted by szabcsee [...]

  • Nice bog post….

    Just want to say that writing for kids/teens will require as strong or stronger a set of writing skills than writing for adults. Our editors are tough. (In the good way) I love the idea of taking time to learn the craft, though, because the truth is, promotion is important, but secondary. First, learn to write–it’s a long job but a strong, incredible debut novel will do more for your career than ten half-good ones at small publishers, even if you promote them until your ears bleed. The work matters most.

  • [...] Why You Should Not Write Your Novel Andy Shackcloth shares an interesting opinion about the preparation a writer needs not only in writing but also in promotion and marketing before writing that first novel. I’m not sure I agree completely, although I enjoyed the concept of the post. We writers need to  be aware of the responsbilities we’ll have once we’re done with the book, but nothing teaches writing better than writing. [...]