Written by A Guest Author June 19th, 2024

Start Small and Write Books Later On

by Thomas Smith

I have to be honest. It’s pretty nice to walk in a bookstore and see your novel on the shelf. Or to get a note from your editor saying your novel is still in the Amazon top 100 for the second week in a row. Having written a novel is a big accomplishment. But making a living as a novelist, well, that’s a different story. And this is where things get interesting.

At any given time, more people make a living playing professional baseball than writing novels. And that number varies between 945-1057 players. Granted, there are people like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, John Grisham, and Michael Connelly who make a really good living as novelists, but writers like that are the exception to the rule. Most of the names you see on book spines in your local bookstore belong to people who have day jobs, another source of income, or write more than just novels.

I say all that to make this point: If you are a beginning writer, DON’T fall into the writer = novelist trap. I have been a professional writer for more than thirty years, but I didn’t publish my first novel until about my twentieth year.


A couple of reasons: 1. I was too busy learning the craft of writing. 2. I was too busy getting paid to write (And before we get into the writing as art vs writing for money argument, you can do both. And as a professional, you’d better be writing for money, and doing so with a sense of style). Writing is like any other creative endeavor. A guitarist has to spend the time learning about chords, scales, tone, care of the instrument, musical patterns, strumming, and dynamics before they are really ready to play advanced pieces or play professionally. An athlete has to learn the foundations of their sport, learn what their body is capable of, and learn what exercises will benefit them and help them advance, and practice the fundamentals of their sport/activity before they are really able to compete on a competitive level. And the same is true for writers.

Over the past ten years in particular I have watched as people make mistakes that negatively impact their writing dreams. Sometimes to the point that they give up. And all because the want to write novels, but they don’t have the necessary skills yet. Too often they turn to Twitter, Facebook, and every other branch of social media to find the answer to their questions. And often they are asking people who don’t know, but still have an opinion.

That is not helpful.

For example, one person has four unfinished manuscripts and is working on a fifth, but she has no idea how get past the plot problem she has created. Others are no longer interested in the project they started. They ask if they should try a different story/genre/point of view. And the answers they receive are abysmal. The real problem is they just don’t have the skill or stamina to finish a long work like a novel yet, and they just run out of steam. And that’s not a criticism. It’s just a fact.

Another question that comes up almost weekly: How many pages should my book be? Regardless of whether you are writing for publication by a publishing company or you plan to self-publish, learn to do smart research. Go to a publisher’s website and look at their guidelines. The number will always be there, as will other helpful information.

Then there are those who complain that everyone they have submitted to said their manuscript didn’t hold their interest. As someone who has judged contests for beginning writers for years I can tell you, often the writing seems forced, stale, or just amateurish because the writing chops aren’t there yet. And yes, I know it’s a first novel. But you don’t want it to read like a first novel. And that just takes time and a little hard work.

OK, and sometimes the writing is just bad. It happens to all of us.

So, how do you avoid the pitfalls and write the novel you just know is in your head, waiting to get out?

You start small. Write magazine articles. Plays. Essays. Sunday School curriculum. Study guides. Short stories. Nonfiction articles. Greeting cards.

Academic study guides are another great way to earn money, learn the craft, and write about some fascinating topics. One guide I wrote was only eight pages long but I gave the check from that project to my wife so she and her mother could go to Hawaii for two weeks.

But be careful. If you write enough of these shorter projects and become familiar with researching new markets intelligently (don’t ask social media, go to the source), one day you might find yourself working on that novel you’ve had simmering for a while, and making real headway. And all with a little extra cash from your other projects, and a good reputation with a number of publishers. And that’s always a good idea.

Bio: Thomas Smith’s novel Something Stirs is available from Cemetery Dance Publications and Amazon. For more information, please visit www.thomas-smith.us. Watch the Book Trailer.


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