So You Want to be a Novelist?

A.P. Atkinson
The most prominent message you see on the forums is the opening greeting from a new, starry-eyed poster. They say, ‘Hello, I want to be a novelist.’ Well, that’s probably the most misguided thought that’s ever existed inside a human head.
I’ve been at this for around thirty years and I feel like if I knew then what I knew now, I probably would have taken up investment banking instead. At this point, even the banjo would have probably been more lucrative.

I once ran a writing course, and was responsible for shaping the minds of young adults. I’ve never been one to shy away from facts, and gave them a frank opening introduction. I explained that writing isn’t necessarily what people think it is. Most novelists will never earn more than ten dollars in their lifetimes, ninety-nine percent of all published books fail to make a profit, and the chances of them getting published at all are statistically zero.

This isn’t meant to break their spirit, this is meant to inspire the ones with a fighting chance of making it.

Let me explain…

Writing a novel is harder than you think. Failing is far easier.

It’s true, most people won’t succeed. Most hopeful novelists will never finish their first book, and that’s a fact of the industry. Most will never progress far enough to even deal with the issue of finding a publishing outlet. Writing a book is incredibly hard—most people don’t realise that, and end up finding out the hard way.

You see, if you’re planning on becoming a novelist, you first need to understand what it isn’t.

A novelist is not a rich, famous or successful person. Incredibly few writers are able to make a living from their work. If they do, the chances of them becoming wealthy from it are even more remote.

There’s a nasty, ugly cancer growing in the belly of the writing community where people seem to think it’s a get-rich scheme. A lot of non-English speakers think it’s a ticket to wealth and try their luck in the forums, looking for co-authors to help bring their ideas to life.

It isn’t, and never has been a way to make good money fast. I don’t know where this idea has come from, but it’s wildly unrealistic. If you want to be an author for the money, your choices are somewhat limited. You can become a staff writer for a major publication or in the entertainment industry, a wordsmith for hire, kissing goodbye to much of your creative freedom. Or you can just give up. Mind you, if that was what you wanted, you wouldn’t have even read this article.

So, let’s continue.

Writing novels is not a good way to make you famous. An incredibly huge amount of books have been developed into movies. Do people remember the authors, do people even know who directed the movies? Usually, the answer is that they don’t, they only remember the few lead actors they saw on screen. As writers, all we are is background staff, and although we’re creating the magic, we don’t expect to share in it.

As I explained this to my class, I saw a young girl at the front slump. Her shoulders rounded and she huffed to herself noisily. I asked her what she had thought. She had imagined it would be easy. Did she think she could just buy a nice laptop, sit in coffee shops and write a book? She thought it was going to be as simple as that to become a millionaire. She had some talent too. As the course went on, she showed a lot of promise, and put in the work. She gave every exercise all that she had, and if anyone has any chance to make it, it would be someone you can say that of.

So the real question then, is why would you want to be a novelist? It can’t be for money, because you probably won’t make any. It won’t be for fame because you rarely see authors in the limelight.

A lot of people have a romantic notion that they have a story to tell. That might be true, but having an idea doesn’t make you an author, no more than owning a cape makes you Batman.

The only real reason to want to be a novelist, is that you don’t want it at all but you simply have no choice. You are an author, you’re a creator, your head is filled with stories and you can’t help but do everything you can to get them out. The real author is the person who writes because there’s no choice in the matter.

They don’t care about all the obstacles in the way, they have enough drive, motivation, stubbornness and determination that the odds against them simply don’t matter.

Those people mean it when they say that they want to be a novelist. You see, a real author will live their whole lives around books. They might write articles, ghost-write, learn to become an editor, work in a library, teach English or become a journalist. Real authors tend to surround themselves with the trappings of the life, and they rarely go to forums to tell people they have an idea, and to ask how to go about writing a book.

If you really want to be an author, you’re already in the right place. You’re already one of the one percent who bothered to read this article. You’re taking it seriously, you’re learning to develop your skills while finding out what is required of you.

Chances are, you’re not the sort of person who goes into forums and asks how to do it. You’re the kind of person with a real passion for literature, and nothing is going to stop you from achieving your goals.

If you were a manager, who would you employ? Would you choose the first person who set up an interview for an entry-level position, turned up with evidence of their degrees, and showed you how they plan to work their way up to their dream position? Or would you choose the second, a window-cleaner who leant into the office one day and said cheerfully that they’d like to work in your office because you have nice air-conditioning?

You know you’re going to be a novelist, and nothing is going to stop you. That’s what makes you the one percent with the ability to make it.

And, because I know what’s coming, I already feel sorry for you.


A typwriter is as much a torture device as is it a machine to help you create a novel. Writing is one of the hardest challenges you will ever face so go into the process with open eyes.

As hard as writing might be, we arne’t trying to put you off. Far from it, the point of this article is to encourage the real authors of tomorrow. With that in mind, we’d like to remind you that we have a completely always-free novel on our site, a book aimed to help every author get themselves to the next level. You can download it for free right here…

Click the cover

Many thanks for reading this article. We hope it was interesting, informative and entertaining. Follow us on social media or share our content on your own pages. It helps us grow so we can create more free content to help you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You cannot copy content of this page