We asked over 200 successful published authors what would be their one top tip they would give to other writers – the silver bullet – and we’re pleased to share them with you for happy writing in the year ahead.
Funnily enough, their answers clustered into a few key areas, so there is a consistency to the tried-and-tested novel writing process, and you may find that in itself very reassuring. Follow in their footsteps and you too can write a bestseller!
The Novelry’s Published Author Survey
In support of Book Aid International, we agreed to donate five books for every author’s response to our survey, and we canvassed authors whose books are published by the major publishing houses worldwide including Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and HarperCollins.
While we can’t reveal their individual responses (shush!) the authors polled were the writing coach authors of The Novelry and published authors from all genres of fiction including: Katherine Arden, Jenny Colgan, Claire Douglas, Louise Doughty, Katie Fforde, Mike Gayle, Patrick Gale, Tess Gerritsen, Hannah Gold, Kate Hamer, Alix E. Harrow, Janice Hallett, Veronica Henry, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Paula Hawkins, Ruth Hogan, Erin Kelly, Clare Mackintosh, Jill Mansell, Yann Martel, Beth Morrey, Abir Mukherjee, Lauren North, Laura Purcell, Katherine Rundell, Samantha Shannon, Emma Stonex, Rosie Walsh, Catriona Ward, Rosie Walsh, Sarah Winman.
It’s been wonderful to see the entire book writing community come together to support this great cause.
Does their advice match their practice? In the last blog post, we shared the way these authors really write their novels and you may find that rather illuminating.
Top tips – the top line
If you want to become a successful published author….
- Study your craft, find a community
- Read – a lot!
- Get started!
- Keep going!
- Write every day
- Finish it!
- Write the book you want to read
- Keep a sense of perspective and enjoy!
Study your craft, find a community
For one in ten of our published authors their top tip was for writers to find a writing community either online or in person to learn their craft and get motivation, inspiration and feedback from other writers:
Join a writing class or group & get inspiration and feedback from others... Make sure you are writing a story... The main reason debut manuscripts are rejected is because they are not written to a publishable standard. So make sure the writing is of a high quality – by working on your craft... Know what you’re writing and nail your genre if you’re writing commercial fiction... Find a writing community (online or in person) to get early feedback, to practice your craft amongst like-minded people and to help motivate you to finish your work... Find other writers just a little bit better than you to help you grow and learn... Know and understand your genre, and try to connect with other writers through social media, writing courses, or official societies. Writing can be a lonely business, but there is so much support and warmth to be found in the community... Enter competitions and share your work, even if it feels intimidating, because writing is for readers as well as yourself... Find your tribe & don’t give up!
Read – a lot!
Almost one in six, or 14% of our professional writers, said the most important thing for those seeking to become a published author was to read. Many of our authors gave a one-word answer for their top tip!
Trusting what you love to read helps you discover what you love in your own writing. Listening to that inner voice that you know from when you’re reading – not asking if it’s good or bad, but asking if you love the way you’ve placed the words, the way the words make the sentence, the way the sentences make the paragraph... Read critically and with awareness of plot, structure, character, and atmosphere... Think about the books/authors you would sit beside and what genre you write in to make sure your book is going to appeal to agents/publishers... Read widely across the genre you write in and read your own work out loud... Read a lot; read critically; look at how brilliant writers do it... Read, read, read some more.
Get writing already! Just start! For 8% of our authors, the best advice for writers is to get started! Don’t wait for the right time, just write. Many repeated the mantra that the first draft can be messy, but you can’t edit a blank page, so spill some words:
While thinking and planning are a big part of the art of writing, there comes a point where you actually do have to write... to get the words and characters out of your head and onto the page, and only you can do that... Treat it like any other job and let go of idealistic expectations about inspiration, the creative drive and so on... Start anywhere in the story. Start with a bit you feel like writing. See where it takes you. Plan later... The blank page can be scary, so first things first: Get words on the page. Then, you have something concrete to edit and revise.
The no.1 most crucial piece of advice for writers from authors is to keep going, to persevere, and never give up! Over a quarter of our authors gave this advice:
Keep going. It’ll be hard, frustrating and seemingly endless. But keep going!... Get the words down. It doesn’t matter how ‘bad’ you think they are, just write something. Then write it again and write it again and write it again until it shines and you are proud. It might take months, it might take years. You might throw away tens or hundreds of thousands of words, but every single one is a lesson. A blank page teaches nothing. Write, write, write... All writers lose confidence, no matter how experienced. All writers are rejected. You just need to get back on the writing horse and keep going... Keep going – when the words won’t come, when the rejections keep coming, and when the reviews are harsh... Perseverance! Just keep at it, until you get published. Listen to advice too from other writers and/or editors but mainly just don’t give up... While writing a novel, which is a daunting task and a dispiritingly long-term goal, I always remind myself that I’m not going to see quick results, but since the time is going to pass anyway I might as well start chipping away. If I wrote 500 words a day for six months I’d have a whole first draft. Even a small daily commitment can make a huge difference to realising your ambitions... Don’t waste time ‘practising’ our writing with short stories or a blog – if you want to write a novel, it’s imperative to just write a novel. Expect it to take a long time; expect to make many, many mistakes. But keep going! And don’t attempt it alone. Creative energy is borne largely out of feedback. Find a buddy or group or even pay someone. But get feedback... Just keep writing. First drafts are often messy, terrible things but you need to get the words down before the magic can happen and your story comes together. Don’t give up!... The point is to write, to keep going, and eventually all those times you sit down to write will add up, and you’ll have a complete story. And that story will have the potential to change not only your life, but the lives of your readers – which is a wondrous and magical thing.
Write every day
Some 5% of our authors advocated writing every day so as not to lose the thread of the story; anywhere, any way! Even Christmas Day:
Make time for your writing, even if it’s only for half an hour each day. You’ll soon develop a habit for it, if you make yourself do it every day... Write every day, don’t leave time in between or you’ll lose the thread and the plot line. Keep the story rolling in your head, even over Christmas and during holidays otherwise it’s gone!.... Capture that thought! Write notes in a notebook or on your phone so that nothing gets away!... Whenever and whatever comes to you, write it down somewhere!!! You don’t know how that one thought will spark a thousand others... Keep at it and write every day if you can to keep the flow of a story going... Keep showing up even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
Another 5% felt the best advice a writer could receive was to finish the darn book! To make good on the promise to the page:
Finish the manuscript even if it’s barely more than a draft. It’s so much easier to edit... Have an ending in mind... Finish what you start... Get the whole first draft done before you start editing... Finish your manuscript. Find the heart of your novel. Check for authentic dialogue. Don’t info dump. Be happy, go for a walk... Finish your draft before you start looking into ways to get published.
Write the book you want to read
Over 10% of our authors advised writers to write the sort of book they would want to read, and not be influenced by market trends:
Write with both your heart and your head. By which I mean find a story that you feel emotionally connected to, fall in love with the idea, but then work hard, with your eyes wide open, to interrogate every aspect so that your novel becomes – eventually – the best version of itself... Don’t chase a trend... Don’t listen to anyone, don’t copy anyone, don’t try and write something for someone. Write what you want, when you want for who you want... Write what you enjoy reading... Don’t try to predict the market – write the story you want to write... Write what you are truly passionate about. It should be the book you want to read... Focus on writing the best book you can possibly write and trust that it’ll find a publisher/agent/audience, not the other way round... Write for your own satisfaction – anyone else’s is a bonus... Find a way to integrate the advice and guidance of experts (your agent/editor etc) with your own vision for your book – you have to be willing to absorb their thoughts and not be too creatively stubborn, whilst also making sure the book is still your own. Working out where you sit along that spectrum is really important, and not easy!
Linked to their good advice to get that first draft done, without fear, almost 5% of our authors’ best advice was to focus on the revisions, and never to send out that first draft:
Be thrilled by what you write. If you’re not, rewrite... Learn to enjoy editing and redrafting. That’s where the creativity lies... Don’t be afraid of the work! Revision is where the magic happens... Edit it later and then make sure it’s had lots of revisions before approaching agents.
Keep a sense of perspective and enjoy!
Finally, the remainder of our writers, some 10%, wanted to encourage writers to love the process itself and manage their expectations:
Chase goals, not dreams... Learn to see failure as a continuing part of the process. It’s unavoidable... While writing is magical and fun, publishing can be tough and often doesn’t live up to the hype. Be realistic with your expectations and goals... Comparison is the thief of joy. Your writing journey will not be exactly the same as anyone else’s, so focus most of all on your own work rather than comparing it endlessly to others... Take it all with a pinch of salt. Your writing life is not your real life. Your real life is friends and family so don’t neglect them. Chase the dream, but not at the detriment of all else... Love writing. Love the process. Love what you do... Be open to diverting from your original idea. Your story may change. Characters may do things that are unexpected. See where your story takes you... Enjoy the writing. Being published, earning money, being read, all these are extras and often things over which you have no control: the bit you can control is the actual writing, so read around the topic, do research trips, go for long walks, play with the words once they are on the page. This is your life, so enjoy it.
So, to recap, in order of advice most commonly given by the bestselling authors: keep going, read a lot, write the book you want to read, study your craft and get a community, get started, keep a sense of perspective and love the writing, write daily, finish it, edit!
And finally, some last wise words from famous authors:
Treat people the way you want to be treated... Get a rich partner... Don’t be a dick.
As a proud partner of Book Aid International, The Novelry has made a donation of over 1000 books to the charity, gifting five books for every author who took part in our survey.
This means the charity can send more books to the communities where they’re needed most. A single book can transform dozens of lives – offering joy, inspiration and hope.
Books give people power – so we are pleased to support Book Aid International who work every day to create a world where everyone has access to books. Every book they provide is brand new and donated by publishers. It costs just £2 to send one of these books to someone who needs it. You could support Lydia whose father doesn’t want her to read. But her mum helps her sneak out – and thanks to donations from people like you, her local library is stocked with brand-new books. But she needs more.
I have already read all the fiction in the library – there are not enough now! We need more so we can keep learning. For me, I am going to be a writer, so I must keep reading.
If you could take a moment to make a donation to this great cause, we would be so grateful.
With thanks to all our participating authors, and wishing all writers everywhere a happy new novel!