How to Become a Novelist

By TACP Staff on July 16, 2019

Novelists are writing professionals who author manuscripts in one or more of the various book genres. With the advent of self-publishing platforms via the internet, the industry has undergone a major transformation. Although writers are still able to retain agents who will market their projects to publishing companies, there is the alternative of doing it on one’s own.

1. Getting Started in Novel Writing

To become a successful novelist, you have to have the innate talent of putting words together, developing plots and evoking emotions in the reader.  And, it could take years to get published; which is where fortitude comes into play. Some “starving writers” opt to write novels as a side job until they can make an income that allows them to maintain a living. Others dig right in developing characters based on childhood friends and plotting a setting taken from their favorite vacation spot.

Novelists write long stories, usually between 60,000 and 100,000 words, that typically depict character and action, with a smattering of realism thrown in.  If you compare it to running, an essay is a jog around the block, and a novel is a marathon.  And, there’s a lot more to it than just words.  Writing a best-selling novel takes brainstorming, and making decisions about plot, conflict, setting, characters, and resolution. It also takes research. For example, if you’re writing a love story that takes place during World War II, you’ll need to study that specific war in order to speak intelligently and offer the reader a reference point.

Although a novelist writes fiction, the best novels feel real, unless of course, the novel is a fantasy.  But even then, a good science fiction or fantasy novel should seem plausible, even though almost anything can happen.  And, the number one rule writers should follow; it still has to be a good story.  As with any novel, an author can still craft a brilliant piece of work, while following the rules of good writing, grammar, plot, and dialog.

So, what do novelists do? Most novelists spend their days writing one word at a time; writing sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters. They use literary devices like dialogue and metaphor to create a page-turner. Generally, there’s a lot of loose threads that require editing and revising before the manuscript is ready for publication. That means that most novelists will be thinkers, even artists who use their imagination to take readers to far off places and away from the grind of day-to-day life.

To develop their skills, many novelists complete a formal degree program at the undergraduate or graduate level, with a bachelor’s degree in English and a focus on writing or creative writing. To further enhance their writing abilities, some complete a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) to gain an advanced understanding of writing techniques and literary theory. At the master’s level, some writers will even choose to teach.

Some writers are born with natural talent, but most need formal training. And, although programs vary, most include instruction in narrative technique, non-fiction and fiction writing, playwriting, literary theory, critique, and the history of literature. But learning doesn’t end with a degree, most good novelists will continue to read and hone their writing skills with continuing education, by joining writing clubs or associations, and writing, writing, writing whenever possible. Like it or not, it also helps to realize prior to beginning your best-seller that your style of writing is the basis by which you, and your novel will be judged.  That’s why preparing – determining the who, what, where, when and how of your novel, then creating – character, plot and setting, and building – the words and dialog, are the foundation of all good writing.

2. Learn the Fundamentals of Novel Writing

Planning a novel helps to avoid writer’s block, which is the inability to think about what comes next, or how to proceed with a specific train of thought. It is arguably the most important step in the writing process. The more the story is plotted in advance, the greater chance of reaching the end of your 80,000-word novel. Laying out the who, what, when, how, and why of a novel takes effort, yet some novelists don’t want to take the time until they hit a roadblock (writers block) halfway through and the creative juices dry up. Building the foundation for your novel by drafting an outline, choosing names and personalities of your characters, picturing a setting, and plotting out the beginning, middle, and end of your novel is inescapable to coming away with a finished (and sellable) product.

Novel creation is simply putting words to paper, or text on a computer screen. It is the process of creating believable characters’ people want to meet, giving them compelling problems or solutions, its making things happen that the reader can identify with that leaves them forever changed.

Building your novel is taking the foundation of the story, adding the interest and intrigue of your characters, dialog and plot, and creating a complete work of adventure, cliffhanger, drama, tragedy, romance, or comedy.  Writing a novel is divided into chapters and has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s this classic three-act structure that unites the story.

3. Build a Strong Portfolio & Personal Brand

The one thing about writing is that it’s an art not a science, and there are no indisputable steps to becoming a great writer. That said, a strong portfolio (minus spelling and grammar mistakes) will put a novelist in a good position to sell their book to an agent, publisher, or commissioner.  Most portfolios will include one piece of fiction, one personal selection, and one personal narrative. Two of the writings should achieve one or more purposes: the analysis of a person, place or thing, and writing that explains a story or process. A strong portfolio is worth the time and effort it takes to create, and shouldn’t be rushed or done haphazardly.

Personal branding identifies who you are. It’s a reflection of the type of writer you are. When you establish a personal brand, it separates you from the crowd by highlighting your accomplishments and talents. It’s not just good enough to be good at what you do; you need to have a connection with your readers, sometimes before they’ve even had the chance to read your book. And, your brand continues to evolve with every story you write. It gives your readers an unspoken promise that you will consistently deliver a good piece of work.

Social media, writers’ association meetings, networking while in school, professional connections, videos, and blog posts all give your readers a picture of who you are and why they should pick up your book.  Professional networking connections can also be the first step in getting published.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Novelists

Additional Guides