10 things to know about being a novelist

Last weekend I went to a talk at Foyles bookshop called ‘from page to publication‘. It was presented by first-time novelist Francesca Segel, her agent and her publisher/editor. Here’s what I learnt.

  1. You only have one chance to be a first time novelist – start from a position of strength. Make sure your novel is the very best it can be. Francesca binned the novel she initially took to her agent and took another five years to write the one that was eventually published.
  2. Write the first draft with the door closed. Complete the first draft in its entirety before showing it to an agent, or in fact anyone.
  3. There are two spikes each year when publishers are buying – before the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs (March and October respectively). Having said that, they will still buy all year round.
  4. Editors will often change the title of a novel.
  5. Once Francesca had signed the contract, she worked with the editors to polish the manuscript. At this point whole chapters were cut.
  6. When you approach agents, make your letter personal. Handwrite it. Do your research and tell them how you liked one of their other writers and how you think you’ll be a good fit. Agents want to find good manuscripts. They get up each morning hoping something exciting will land on their desks.
  7. Take time to get the right agent – hopefully you’ll be with them for life! One way to find agents is to look at the books you like – they’ll often credit their agent in the front pages.
  8. Many first time novelists never publish a second novel. Trust what you did the first time – don’t try to make it bigger or more outrageous.
  9. Most novelists write for about 2-3 hours a day. This is balanced with the other things they need to do to promote their books.
  10. To keep your novel authentic you have to write about what you love. You’ll never know what genre will capture the public mood at any give time, so don’t bother trying to jump on a bandwagon. By the time you see it, it’s too late anyway. Write your own story.

2 thoughts on “10 things to know about being a novelist

  1. scribblingadvocate

    I went to a similar event at Fabers and the advice was the same.However making that judgement about your own novel is difficult. At the Winchester Writing Conference in a Q&A with a literary agent I asked about submitting your work to an agent again. I was told it was worth trying particularly if they had commented on your book and you had reworked it with their comments in mind.

  2. kirosl Post author

    Hi, I think that makes sense. Segal did admit she’d written the first novel in 3 months and it wasn’t great, so I think the decision was as much hers.


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