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  • Writer's pictureKristopher Ackoury

Five Things to Know Before You Start Writing a Novel

I recently had lunch with a guy I’d never met. A mutual friend had invited me to join them and mentioned that the guy might be interested in my book. Shortly after I sat down, the stranger whipped out a list of sixteen questions and grilled me about my writing process and the publishing world (I was happy to oblige). An hour later, as I walked out of the restaurant, dazed from fielding rapid-fire questions and hungry for having left half of my food on my plate, I realized that it was very likely that the stranger was considering writing a book. If so, I can’t blame him for his thorough interrogation. I wish I would have done it to someone who knew more than me about writing before I jumped into the deep end.

When people discover I write, one of the most common things they say to me is, “I thought about writing a book once.” Google says that 81% of people have considered writing a book at some point. That seems about right to me. Almost everyone I talk to seems to have considered writing a book once upon a time, but few have gone through with it.

I suspect part of the reason is that most people don’t understand what writing a novel and trying to get it published requires. And when the path ahead is shrouded in shadow, it’s much less enticing. So I’d like to do what I can to shed a little light on that path. I’m still a bit of a newbie, but I have learned a lot over the last few years.

Here are the top five things I wish someone would have told me about writing novels before I started (inspired by sixteen questions from a stranger).

1. Writing will take up more of your time than you think. Make room for it.

The first time I sat down to really write, I was particularly inspired. I promptly knocked out the first chapter (a first draft) and was sure I’d finish the entire book within a couple of months. Ha! Here I am three years later, and I think I’ve replotted/rewritten that chapter three times.

If you’re serious about writing a book, be prepared to make room in your life to do so. Routines will likely have to change. Hobbies may have to die. Even after you finish your first draft, there’s editing, beta reading, pitching, and editing again. And you won’t always feel as inspired as you did when you got started. Sometimes it’s work. But that’s what it takes! Believe me that it’s worth it if you follow through to the end.

2. Solicit feedback. And more feedback. And then learn how to sift through it.

I was terrified to let people read my first attempts at writing. But you know what? Letting people tear it apart was the best thing I ever did. I recommend getting as many people to read your work as possible. It’s okay to start with people you know, but you’ll also need to find a few anonymous beta readers online who won’t hold back. I think I had a dozen beta reads for Fear of the Sky. The feedback I received was invaluable.

The key is to learn how to sift through the feedback. It’s not all created equal. Sometimes people don’t read closely or are distracted as they read. Sometimes they misunderstand or are preoccupied with their ideas. It’s tough to balance, but one must learn to drop their guard enough to be receptive to criticisms while remaining vigilant for feedback that one should ignore.

3. If you seek traditional publishing, querying is absolutely brutal.

I had no idea what a query was when I started writing. Nor did I understand how hard pitching my book to agents would be.

For the uninitiated, a query is a 200 to 300-word pitch you send prospective agents to sell them on your 92,000-word (in my case) book. You need a query to get an agent and (usually) an agent to get a traditional publishing deal. A query is an absolute chore to write. Then you have to research agents accepting queries who might like your type of book and send them your pitch and wait months to be rejected over and over again. Know that there are many reasons agents won't pick up a book, and those reasons often have nothing to do with the quality of work. puts the odds of landing an agent at about 1 in 6000 (I think they mean if you pitch for a year). So, if you want to get traditionally published, you’ll need thick skin and patience.

4. Self-publishing is a better option than ever.

I suspect that some people will be tempted to abandon their dreams of writing a book once they learn how tough it is to get traditionally published. But wait! I haven’t mentioned self-publishing yet.

Some people think self-published books are inferior to traditionally published books, but that’s increasingly untrue. Modern technology has closed the gap between self-published and traditionally published novels. With persistence (and willingness to spend a little money), you can put a book into the world that most readers will have absolutely no clue was self-published. One can hire editors, cover artists, and more at sites like You can sell your book on sites like Amazon with print-on-demand options once you have everything set. Self-publishing is as popular as ever, and it’s a valid choice for authors looking to launch a writing career.

5. Find the resources that click with you and use them.

There are a ton of resources out there to help first-time writers. If you've never written before, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can before you start (not that you should stop trying to learn after you get going). I highly recommend doing some research and making use of the right resources as early in your first writing adventure as you can. Even if you think you know how stories are supposed to work, do some light reading. Listen to those who've written books before.

It's key to find resources that resonate with you. Don’t settle for the first book or workshop you find online. Leverage resources that make sense to you. Find something that clicks with your creative genius. I’ve mentioned Save the Cat! Writes a Novel before. It “clicked” with me immediately, and it was a huge help, but I know it’s not for everyone. Find what works for you and use it.

So, that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions. If you’re an author with anything to add, please feel free to share your tips or elaborate on mine.

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