Best time ever to write novels



Because there is no barrier to publishing on your own, more writers are self-publishing, using new technologies and low costs of publishing on their own because, they don't wish to waste time waiting for agents and editors.

It's the best time in history to be a writer because we are finally allowed to be integrally involved in the entire publishing business. Today, things are much different than when I started in the business.

My first time out, in the late 80s, I landed a New York agent on my first try. It took me 16 months to write my first novel because I was writing magazine articles eight hours a day to make a living. It took my agent only 7 months to sell my first book (and five more novels I had not written yet.) However, after I signed the contract, it took another 17 months until the first book was published.

So, from the first page to the publication of my first novel took 3 years and 4 months. Not only that, but my first publisher signed me to a six-book contract and then went bankrupt after publishing my first three.

Today, publishing companies are operated by corporations. Most agents only take on new clients who are already established. Even new agents only take on a small percentage of what they are pitched.

So that old fashioned form of publishing is out of the question for most of us.


Three things have happened that made self-publication possible.

Desktop publishing, Print On Demand and Internet bookstores. It was the convergence of these three technologies that spawned a whole new industry — self-publishing. Most importantly, this created a new world of opportunity for authors.

Nowadays, because there is no barrier to publishing on your own, more writers are self-publishing and the quality of self-published books has gone up. More writers are self-publishing, using the new technologies and low costs of publishing on their own because, they cannot break through the old-fashioned publishing world. Today, writers are not going after agents or publishers because they don't want to spend years being rejected. Writers are publishing books on their own because they see opportunities in the market and want a bigger share of the pie than publishers offer and because they want full control of their own books.

Here are a few good reasons to self-publish:

  1. You have direct access to your audience
  2. You get a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your book
  3. You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish quickly
  4. You want full control of your book inside and out

The good news about self-publishing is that you get to do everything you want with your book.

The bad news is that you have to do everything.

Which means that unless you are a professional proofreader, graphic designer, and layout expert for printed books and ebooks, you may have to get someone else to help you.

Digital publishing is already changing the way books are delivered and consumed. It has put power in the hands of writers and has democratized the publishing industry. That's why I am not going to give advice about getting an agent or interesting a publisher. You're going to publish yourself.

These days it’s possible to write and rewrite your novel in six months and publish it in about six hours. 

That's about as level a playing field as it is possible to find. You can have the same power that an author with a traditional publisher would have and you have the complete say about everything having to do with your book.

Digital publishing means your book is delivered and consumed differently than the traditional publishing models. The advantages: speed to market, low-cost delivery, global scale and no upfront costs for you as the author.

Here are some hints about creating a product that will sell.

Read before you write. Before you sit down to write, read other writers.

When I decided to write a female protagonist mystery novel, I read almost two dozen mystery novels with female protagonists. (Later, in fact, I got to serve on a writing panel with Mary Higgins Clark, one of the writers I studied and was given the opportunity to thank her.)

What I did with a few of Mary Higgins Clark’s books was to take a book I liked and go through it a second time. I studied how she structured the book. I was especially interested in how her books were organized. I certainly did not imitate Mary. When I wrote my book, I let it come from my own heart, my own mind, and my imagination. If you want to be a writer, you can hone your own skills by reading people who are good writers.

Write for yourself. Write what you love to read. Don't shy away from the genre you love because you fear it will be too difficult to break into. You are going to publish your novel, no matter what, so be proud of what you write.

If you don’t know and love the genre you are writing in, it will show and you won’t make it. So write what you want to read.

Are you teaching me the rules of writing? There are no hard and fast rules for writing fiction, or if there are some, nobody knows what they are. However, there are many precedents, created by the millions of writers who went before you. We no longer call them rules for writing fiction. Instead, I’m sharing with you the methods other writers have discovered, by trial and error. Successful methods which have resulted in well-written novels by those writers.

In my research, I looked at 100 Kindle novels. More than 60% of the books were virtually unreadable. Apparently, some writers are writing novels before learning how to write them. Readers complained that the books had POV problems, misspelled words, inferior character development, and pointless plots.

Read these short excerpts from reviews of novels now available on Amazon.

1.“Mistakes all over and immature writing. Head-hopping viewpoint. The story line was completely disjointed. Characters were forgettable.”

2.“Spelling, grammar and continuity errors abound and the protagonist was about as likable as a disease. I DO need to CARE about the protagonist in a book.”

3.“The characters don't feel ‘real.’ I'm frustrated with the heroine of this book. She has no backbone nor, apparently, a brain in her head. No one could be this gullible. Sure it's fiction, but couldn’t the story be somewhat realistic?”

Those reviews came from people who wanted the books to be good, or at least readable.

Since anyone can write and publish a novel today, that literary democracy causes lots of bad writing to be published. However, you can buck this trend by writing the best novel you can. That’s why you may want to buy my book and why I will help you write your novel. This book is based on the wide-ranging 900-page textbook I created for my online writing classes. It also includes material I learned during my 30-year career as a writer and editor.

Can you write a novel and publish it yourself?

Yes, of course, you can. If you strive to write the best novel you can and rewrite it carefully, you can make lots of money with a good book. The market needs your well-written novel. Quality rises to the top in publishing.

You’re scared to write a novel.

Of course you are. Writing is a dangerous profession. (Bullfighting is more dangerous but at least the bull doesn't try to rewrite your book.) Writing a novel takes an investment of your time and faith in your ability. Fear and anxiety are natural emotions for a novelist, and these feelings are not unique to beginners. Will you look deep inside your soul and find nothing worthwhile? (Like the great line from the Broadway musical, A Chorus Line: “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul, and I found nothing.”)

Many writers beat themselves up because the first words they write look dumb. Well, nobody writes perfectly the first time, which is why I call your first draft the secret draft; nobody gets to see it but you. Write anything that comes to mind. Since you are the only one to see it, you can go down the wrong road and even back yourself into corners difficult to get out of.

Millions of people cannot write a simple sentence. You can. You are a writer. Some days you’ll write badly, some days you’ll write well. It’s unlikely there will ever be a day you cannot write at all. It’s okay if you're scared. We all are.

In 30 years. I have written five novels, three of which sold a combined 220,000 copies. My purpose in writing this my newest book, Novel Secrets, is to teach you how to write a GOOD novel for self-publication. Learn how to write. Learning how to write is not something that happens in a day. As America Online's online writing teacher, I taught 4,125 people how to write their first novel.

What I did in my book Novel Secrets is to make it easy to learn to write a novel at almost no cost to you. Or just check my website every day for most of the information and copy and paste it. 

Hundreds of how-to books are available on every aspect of writing the novel. They cover writing in general and also narrow in on specific topics. Want more insight into the plot, dialog, characterization, voice, style, viewpoint, action, or conflict? My book covers it.

For our purposes, my definition of success is getting paid to write and getting published. I realize, for some, just writing is a form of success and I don't mean to negate that. If you write because you like to and you don't much care about being published, then you already are successful.

However, I feel like Moliere did. He once wrote: "Writing is like prostitution. First, you do it for the love of it. Then, you do it for a few friends. And finally, you do it for the money."

To which, Brendan Francis adds, "What an author likes to write most... is her signature on the back of a check."

I'm grateful for the success I've achieved in the 30 years I have been writing and I remember exactly how I achieved it. I know the five secrets of my success and I'm going to share them with you, after the break, so you can succeed as a published novelist.

 To become a published author you have to really want to become a published author. If you really want it, if the desire is great enough, you'll make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen.

My desire to be published was so intense that I spent the next eleven months reading every book I could find about writing novels, while creating a plot for my own first book and still working full time, writing ten magazine assignments a month.

The reward? After I showed them the outline of KILL CUE, Jim and Elizabeth Trupin of JET Literary Associates Inc. in New York signed on to represent me.

My desire to be published was so intense that I crawled out of bed and wrote my first book from 5 to 7 each morning, so I could continue my magazine writing from 9 to 5. It took me eight months of an average 2 hours a day to create, write and rewrite KILL CUE, my first Veronica Slate mystery novel.

The big payoff for my intense desire coupled with hard work and perseverance was the phone call from my agent."We just sold your first book and five more." Lynx Books of New York signed me to a $30,000, six-book paperback-original contract, with 8% royalty on cover price, rather unusual for a first novelist back then. November 9th, 1988, in bookstores all over America, I became a published author.

Novelist Stephanie Bartlett, whose first book HIGHLAND JADE was published by Bantam, says, "It takes drive bordering on obsession to write for a living."

Author F. Paul Wilson agrees, "The chief thing is desire," he says. "You've got to want to do it."

Intense desire means nothing if you have no specific goal in mind. To desire, a book signing is an exercise in futility if you don't also have a goal of writing a publishable book.

Holding my first published paperback novel in my hand was a dream come true, of course. but it was also a goal which had been reached, for I believe that "goals are dreams with deadlines."

I believe you should set definite goals and visualize reaching them. Or, paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau, you should "advance confidently in the direction of your dreams and endeavor to live the life which you have imagined."

Make a habit of visualizing your goals as already accomplished. Be specific.

  • See your completed manuscript.
  • See yourself signing a contract.
  • See yourself picking up your published book in a bookstore. 
  • See yourself waving it in front of the clerk and saying, "I wrote this."

The thing that keeps most writers from succeeding is the fact that they don't really believe they can succeed. Believe you can do it! Why not? It's no more difficult than believing you can't do it and it's much healthier. To succeed at becoming a published author you need to believe in yourself and you need to believe in your goals.


Stephen Coonts, author of FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER, says a lot of people want to write novels, "but what they don't understand is the sweat, blood and tears that go into doing it."

Writing novels is hard work. Pleasurable hard work, sure. But hard work just the same. In fact, I ran into a guy at a writers conference last month who told me, "I have my first major novel almost finished. I've numbered all the pages. Now, all I have to do is put in the words."

The only way to get a book written is to set up a regular writing schedule and stick to it.

Roger Zelazny says, "Write something every day. If you don't feel like writing, do it anyway."

Joe Haldeman agrees: "Write every day, come hell or high water. Don't wait for inspiration."

They're all right, to a point. I know it's tough to write every day. Life gets in the way. But I do believe you need to write every day you possibly can for at least an hour a day. If an hour is all you have, that's all right. But do it every day you possibly can. It's better to write one hour a day for nine days than to write nine hours a day for one day. Approach writing as a job and remember that, as in most other jobs, your value is in what you produce.

To achieve the goal you intensely desire, you must remain sufficiently motivated to write the book. Writers, more than most people, need to be self-motivators. You've got to motivate yourself because no one else can do it as well as you can. Most writers get motivated to start a book, few stay motivated enough to finish it. Some call it self-discipline. I call it self-motivation. One way I motivate myself is with dozens of little phrases I've cut out of magazines and pasted on my desk at eye-level.

  • "Anything is possible if you dare." 
  • "Look who wrote the book." 
  • "The excitement of the writing life awaits you." 
  • "Year after year, success after success." 
  • "Have you written something today?" 
  • "Clear, concise, relevant." 
  • "The happiest people are those who discover that what they should be doing and what they are doing is the same thing." 

It may sound silly to you, but seeing those little signs every day makes an imprint for success in my unconscious mind.

I owe some of my success to the fact that I ignored the negative advice of a burned-out, published novelist back when I first started. A Florida romance novelist told me, "Don't even try to get a first novel published these days. The book market is crazy. The advances are down. No one is buying anymore."

I remember thinking to myself, "If the odds really are against us, how do first novels get published?"

Because some writers ignore the odds.

These brave writers ignore the skepticism of parents, the ridicule of friends, and the gloomy talk of published authors. These brave writers believe in themselves, their talents, their skills, their character. These brave writers persist.

I believe one of the most important traits you need to succeed at being a published novelist is perseverance.

Talent alone will not lead to success. Unrewarded talent is almost a cliche.

Education alone is not enough. The world is full of educated people who can't get a job.

However, perseverance, desire, and determination — added to a certain amount of talent and some informal education — will ultimately lead to success as a published author.

As British writer Thomas Buxton says: "With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable."

Besides, these days, you don't need an agent or even a New York publisher. You can publish your own Kindle books, paperback book and even audio book with very little capital outlay in terms of money

You simply need to persevere in writing and publishing your book.

I was one of America’s first online writing instructors. I have been paid for my words for thirty years. So, what’s my advice for aspiring writers?

Write Every Day. The idea of sitting down every single day and writing profound literary prose can be overwhelming. But screw the profundity and simply write every day no matter how bad it might be. You can fix it in the rewrite. Back when I was working nine to five as a nonfiction writer and editor, I got up earlier to write fiction from 5 to 7 each morning. Consequently, I got my nonfiction writing done and still wrote five novels, two of which are still in print. If you want to be a writer, you've got to actually write, every damned day.

Keep A Journal. A journal is a great tool for self-development but is also a terrific place to document your life, process your emotions and work out important decisions. Best of all, it’s a great place to find ideas for your writing. Both fiction and nonfiction. When something “bad” happens in your life, figure out how you can re-frame the negative event and use it as a basis for your writing. We all experience tragedies, but a skilled writer will be able to find a use for them.

Silence Your Inner Critic. Do not listen to those critical voices in your head that say your writing is stupid, unreadable or pointless. Writing is a skill. The fact that you can even do it means you are a writer. Do not waste your time with critique groups. The visually-impaired leading the visually-impaired. Don’t judge yourself or limit your creativity. Nothing is too ambitious. Don’t tell yourself you can’t write a science fiction novel or that you can’t write a novel in a month. Do it. Strive to improve by taking writing classes, reading books about writing, reading writing blogs and following writers on social media. Learn from the wisdom of the writers you admire. Learn from different writers by reading their work. Even if you read a book that you find to be poorly written, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

Keep Getting Better By Writing. You are never going to reach perfection as a writer. No matter what level you are at, there’s always something to learn. Strive to improve. I wrote a half-dozen books, more than a thousand articles, and several hundred blog posts and even taught 4,125 students how to write their first novel and still, I learn more about writing every day. In addition, I learn new skills and go new places. I have lived all over the United States and I have used new activities, locations, people and cultures in my writing.

Don't Compare To Famous Writers. Compare yourself only to the writer you were yesterday. Don’t try to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Everyone has their own unique experiences, their own perspective. No two writers will have the same stories or tell stories in the same way. Find the stories only you can tell, and write them down. When you’ve done that, keep writing.

Get Published Now. These days, you don’t have to submit to publishers or agents anymore. Today, through Kindle and CreateSpace and many other publishers, you can get published with little or no expense. Then the only possible rejection would be readers. Write what you want to write, not what your parents or your friends or anyone else wants you to write. Write about the things that make you excited, things you are passionate about. Read the kind of books you want to write. I read a dozen mystery novels with female protagonists before I wrote my first novel. Read books that excite you and make you feel passionate about storytelling. I wrote my first novel because it was a story I wanted to read. So I wrote it for me and a quarter-million other people ended up reading it.

(From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle)


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