10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Deciding to Write a Novel

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Julie Doherty to the Power of 10 series.

Here’s Julie!

JULIED1. IT IS A CRAFT THAT MUST BE LEARNED AND PRACTICED

Confession time: I am not, and never have been, an insatiable reader. As a child, I loved Ingalls-Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE series, and in my teens, I discovered the Brontës and Jane Austen. Our family had little money, though, to spend on books, and I rarely thought about using the school library for fun reading. The library was only a place to study, copy stuff verbatim out of encyclopedias, and ogle the smart boys.

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life, though, so when someone suggested I write a book, I thought, Why not? How hard can it be?

Um, it’s pretty hard, and it might surprise you (like it surprised me) to learn that you don’t just sit down and fluidly pen a story. There’s a craft to it, something a practiced reader knows intuitively from the many hours spent with a book in her hands.

My first completed novel was a disaster, but that didn’t stop me from querying every agent and publisher in Jeff Herman’s “Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.” Amid the rejections stuffed daily into my mailbox was the response of one agent who’d written notes in the margins of my submission. “Head hopping . . . Whose POV are we in?”

WHAT? I knew then there was more to writing a novel than merely telling a story. I began anew, picked up every how-to book I could get my hands on, and—TA DA!—I started reading. I’m glad I did. Every book, good and terrible, teaches me something.

2. WRITING TAKES A LOT OF TIME

Pick up any book and look at the page. See those words? Yeah, those made it into the final product. For every one of them, there were buckets of others that didn’t. Still, someone wrote all of them, and that took time, the one thing most writers lack.

If you want to write books, you have to carve time out of your day to do it. If you have a day job or a family, this can be problematic. You might need to sacrifice sleep, lunch hours, even picnics, family reunions, your favorite television shows, and . . . clean pants. Eventually, your loved ones will complain, and you’ll need to figure out how to balance your real life with your dream. When you do, email me your secret. My husband is starting to complain about the scant fare at our establishment.

3. YOU WILL FACE REJECTION

Repeatedly. So much, in fact, that you will begin to think you should throw your laptop off a cliff (with you still holding it) and give up writing forever. Don’t. They are a necessary part of your journey, because they force you to reevaluate. Should you be lucky enough to receive a rejection that offers more than “Sorry, not for us,” see it as the gold it is. Even though it’s a rejection, the agent or editor who sent it saw something in your writing that made her want to personalize her response and maybe even give you some direction. That’s a foot in the door. Wedge your size 8.5 stiletto in there and pry that baby open. Use every bit of hope as fuel, make adjustments, and one day, you’ll have a contract.

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4. A CRITIQUE PARTNER IS AS NECESSARY AS BREATHING

It can be hard to show your work to someone, and even harder to have it returned with red marks all over it. But a good, honest critique partner is something you can’t live without. You need that second set of eyes. A regular critique partner will know you and your work so well she’ll even tell you when you’re straying from your voice.

You will need to review your buddy’s work, as well. A lot of us struggle with this, because we don’t like to hurt feelings, or we think we aren’t good enough to offer anyone advice. You have to get over this quickly. Comments on another’s work aren’t a personal attack, and you can word them nicely. “While this is a great sentence, I think it might read better without so many adjectives.” You may find that critiquing another’s work is one of the best ways of learning what works, and what doesn’t.

5. UNLESS YOU WRITE A BREAKOUT NOVEL, THERE WILL BE NO LONG LINES OF READERS WAITING TO SEE YOU AT THE BOOKSTORE

This should be your ultimate dream, but the odds of it happening on your first try are pretty slim. You will have book signings, but they’ll be sparsely attended, and mostly by your family. They are wonderful just the same.

6. MOST OF THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU WILL SEE YOUR WRITING AS A HOBBY

Until my first contract, just about everyone I know saw my writing as a hobby. This can be a downer and make it hard to stay focused. It also means fighting for your writing time, since those around you will ignore the boundaries you try to set. You need to believe, though, because if you don’t believe, who will?

7. WHEN YOUR NOVEL DEBUTS, YOU’LL THINK YOU’VE MADE IT

And you have! Sort of. But because you’re freshly published, you won’t understand that now the real work begins!

8. YOU’LL SPEND AS MUCH TIME MARKETING AS YOU DO WRITING

Unless you land a contract with one of the biggies, you can expect to market your own books. Small presses do what they can, but it’s not much. Your release will debut and sales will be pretty good, because everybody who loves you will support you with a sale. You’ll relax and start calculating how many books you will sell in a year based upon the current rate, and it will be exciting! You’ll allow yourself to think about that old dream again, the one with the huge line waiting to see you at bookstores. Unfortunately, around the three-month mark, if you’ve done no marketing, your book will start slipping in rank, and several months later, you’ll realize you need to get the paddles out and yell, “Clear!” to find your book’s heartbeat again.

I’m at this point now with my debut novel. I’ve done two blog tours, advertised online, sent press releases off to local papers, visited my local library, dropped off cards just about everywhere I can think of, purchased a Google Adwords campaign, Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged . . . it wears a writer down. But by your second book, you’ll have figured out what works (and what doesn’t), so you’ll be smarter and less burdened next time.

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9. YOU WILL GET BAD REVIEWS

I was not prepared for how deeply my first bad review would affect me. No joke, it sent me to therapy and nearly ended my marriage. It wasn’t so much the content of the review, which was quite positive in parts. It was the way in which it was delivered, and it was, after all, my first.

The thing about a book (even yours) is that not everyone will love it. If you don’t believe me, look up your all-time favorite book on Goodreads or Amazon and check out the 1-star reviews. Those people hated the book you love.

When you get your first bad review, you will want to defend yourself and your work. Don’t. And don’t let Aunt Freda defend you, either. This will be hard, because it will seem like some of the reviewers either didn’t read—or skimmed—your book.

Remember why you write. Is it for praise? No, it’s because you love telling stories. So, tell them. If praise comes as a result, smile and strut around for a while. If not, consider whether there’s anything valuable in the critical reviews and then get back to your work-in-progress.

10. YOU WILL STRUGGLE

If you’ve read 1-9 above, then it should be clear that the road to publication is a bouncy one. You’ll tire of working non-stop for little return. You’ll miss your family, clean clothes, a tidy house, and cupboards that are filled with food, not research papers and writing books. You’ll look at the money and time you spend on your dream and wonder if it’s really worth it. Someone will post a bad review and you’ll throw your stack of unread “Romance Writers Reports” against the dining room wall. That’s it! You’re quitting! You’ll storm out of the house and go for a walk and a good, long cry. Halfway around the park, you’ll notice young parents sitting on bleachers watching Little League practice. The guy on the top row isn’t watching his son. He’s watching the single mom three rows down. And your mind begins to wonder . . . will he ever get the nerve to ask her out?

And then you know. You’re infected. Diagnosis: terminal writer.

scentofthesoul

Blurb

In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.

It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.

Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.

It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.

Trailer

Bio

Julie is a member of Romance Writers of America and Central PA Romance Writers. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her Irish husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.

Where to find Julie

Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

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35 responses to “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Deciding to Write a Novel

  1. Hello Julie
    Thank you for this. I like you am a storyteller from the heart and I’m writing my first book. The more I read articles and blogs about starting a book the better I feel about writing. Thank you for preparing me for what’s to come. Blessings

  2. Hi Julie. My name is Juli too. 🙂
    Great post and will be purchasing your book!
    *warning long post*

    Like you, I do not always remember being a great fan reading but have always been a story teller. On the other hand, my mother is a book worm and we took many trips to the library as kids. I remember reading cat and animals books mainly. Although, I did get into a scary fiction series called the Goosebumps. I even remember the cover of one was a “monster” hamster with green blood. After that though it seems the library, for me, was a place for printing things and the like.

    And then I watched a Netflix series called the Tudors! I was hooked. I quickly realized Anne Boleyn was a real woman, a Queen, and the events for the main part were true. I became absolutely fascinated with her, her story and the whole era. I began reading everything I could get my hands on about her. I then noticed each book from both authors and historians, (for the most part) was the same view point as the previous of what really happened, why and who she was and what they were thinking. Sure, there was a few different tid bits here and there and those that are more a fan of Catherine seemed to embellish and focus more on her flaws but for the most part the same view and account of her repeats over and over.

    Anne was this “not great beauty” but grew up in the French court so she knew how to flirt, spoke French etc. She is portrayed as ambitious (both in character and for reasons for pursuing Henry but never viewed as pursuing him out of “love” at any point). She was “not a great beauty” , 6th finger but was well learned, “flirty”, danced and spoke French. And if course, she had a temper (that I do believe) but also essentially portrayed as a “*itch” Anne denied the King advances in bed solely to win the crown and/or refused to be a mistress after seeing her sister set aside. But then… I got to thinking. Isn’t there more to this story?

    I then realized how limited the evidence actually was. And the majority of the documents and letters written about her from the time were written on account of her enemies. Her birth date is questionable from 1500 to 1509, a huge gap. Why would a man, a King, chase after a commoner woman for nearly a decade (without even bedding her) for for only reasons of having a son according to historians. He essentially set his country literally in a “roar” and on fire, shoved his Spanish Princess wife to the side (risking war or at least trouble with her nephew, King of Spain) after so many years, break with the Catholic church, declare his firstborn daughter a “bastard”, murder those closest to him along the way, write passionate love letters to her, finally marry her and crown her with the reigning monarchy crown (his crown), enforce everyone to accept his new wife and daughter or die (and die they did) and then turn around and “murder” her 3 years later on account of vile charges of treason, incest, witchcraft and affair with multiple men. All because Henry grew “tired” of her and her temper and of course because she gave birth to another girl and miscarried a boy? I don’t buy it. I think there is much more to this story. Had Henry and Anne been arguing, no doubt all lovers do? Had Anne’s enemies weighed on Henry’s mind and twist things over time knowing how paranoid he was? Had Anne’s enemies set her up over time and then waited for the right moment to strike? Had Henry acted in a bit of rage and was impulsive in his decision because he may actually have believed it for a brief moment? And Jane Seymour is portrayed as this innocent, “dumb” woman that finally gave Henry a son. But no doubt she was working behind the scenes with her brothers and father, calculating her every move like a chess game. Listening to her brothers on how to pull Henry in and poisoning him against Anne. For she was Anne’s lady and would have “witnessed” actions and words of Anne and no doubt twisted and forsaken in a different light or even made it up all together. She may have been there when Henry was mad with Anne consoling him, “siding” with him, building his ego up. Henry would have ran to her when he was mad with Anne almost to kind of “snub nose” her. And then here you have his chancellor working against Anne too and many others. They knew Henry. Knew how to get Henry going. The Chancellor was never Anne’s friend in my opinion just like when he let Thomas Wolsey get eaten alive. he was suppose to have been Wolseys trusted friend as well… Cromwell knew what he was doing too. All odds were against her. Just weeks before her death, Henry made the Spanish Ambassador acknowledge and pay respects to Anne as Queen which represented that the Spanish King was accepting her as Queen.

    Anyhow. Long post about something totally off topic but it is actually what was the beginning of my inspiration to write and read. I thought, well what if Anne had lived, had a son, etc. Maybe if I portray her and Henry’s story differently. In all honesty, we really do not know what really happened, what Henry was thinking, what Anne was truly like. I want to write about her but maybe take another outlook on it. This led me to a book that I have not read yet. It was very pro-Anne according to the comments and in all honesty they disgusted me on how rude they were. As you stated, what someone may like another may hate but the fact of the matter was the degrading and extremely critical nature the comments were. You can be critical of a book, point out flaws or dislikes without being degrading. And then I noticed the flow of the comments like a domino effect. One person criticizing and the next had the “same opinion”. I remember many of them… “The author portrayed Anne as beautiful but she was suppose to be “not a great beauty.” “The author was obviously very pro-Anne and hated Catholics and is a Catholic hater.” “Anne was not this or that because there is “proof” otherwise of her personality being like this or this or that.” “Her viewpoint goes against everything of Eric Ives and Warnicke” and on and on bashing the author. Some of the commenters “claimed” to be Anne fans but you would think they would be GLAD to see a different viewpoint on Anne’s side.Nearly every book is either Pro-Catherine or the middle ground. None are written to a degree of staunchly supporting her whether they did or didn’t. You can staunchly support someone and still point out their flaws and that’s what I want to do. I did learn from some of the comments about watching the side of religion and such but again I haven’t read the book yet so I can’t say for sure. Nonethless, some of the comments were extremely vile and seared to feed off one another.

    I then sat down and tried to write. Ha! Was not even slightly easy as I thought. I realized not only did I needed to thoroughly research every aspect but also needed to kind of know how they talked. I then couldn’t get it on paper. I was going from being Anne herself telling the story and jumping around to past tense. None of it flowed. I had never heard of omniscient view point either. And dialogue? Didn’t have a clue!

    So, I stopped writing. And started reading. Reading books. Reading how to’s. Reading informative blogs such as yourself. I also started watching television more. Believe it or not, I actually was never a big televsion watcher either. I became totally entralled with TV shows like “Vikings”, Arthurian movies, Tudors (of course), Fantasy like “Legend of Seeker” and one of my all time favorites Game of Thrones. I just started reading his books. After venturing out from historical fiction to fantasy, I found I love both. I didn’t think I would ever like stories with magic as a “real story” as if it was real but realized I do. I love dragons, unicorns and haven’t got munch into hobbits or elves but surely I may. Haven’t seen Lord of Rings yet (i know way behind…). After the Tudors inspiration the Game of Thrones has basically cemented this goal in me. I want to come up with a fascinating story and then be able to write and hopefully one day I will get there.

    For now, I wrote. I wrote scenes, paragraphs and sometime pages here and there and then stop to read and learn more. I realized I may be able to write a letter well but writing a novel was on a completely different level. I have also been reading some stories on an app called Wattpad. They seem to be beginner writers and soon I may try to just write on there for practice and for critique. I learn from the ones written well and not.

    Ok, well thank you for the tips and your story. It is extremely difficult on learning to write and takes practice, dedication and like you said effort while being away from family, friends, and clea, house. We appreciate you giving us advice. Also, when you see degrading comments just remember to yourself… Could they write it better? Highly doubt it. Like I said previously and how you mentioned above, it is how they were written more that the criticism. You can be critical about something without degrading the author or saying it was the “biggest waste of money” etc etc. Those kind of people will always find something to complain about, tend to be followers not leaders, and many probably esteemed to write their self and quickly gave up. So keep up the work and appreciate your blog as well.

    Now,u just have to learn not to ramble on especially on others blogs. I do enjoy your video and the music you made for your book and will purchase your book. It sounds a great, exciting story. I like that you decided that era and the magical element behind it. Thanks again! Great job!

  3. I love, love, love this post. As I get ready to debut my first novel, I’m going round and round on this rollercoaster. This post put a lot of things in perspective for me. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I’ve read countless articles, blogs, essays, blurbs and click baits about being a writer and getting published over the past couple years. Trying to write a novel and a poetry book for a 23 year old is lofty and I knew that going in.

    Therefor I’ve been grappling at any kind of connection with other writers’ information and advice I could get my hands (or eyes) on. However, none of them really helped like this one did. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you. It really meant a lot and I suppose I just had a desire to share that with you. I recognize the time it took for you to write this.

  5. Pingback: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Deciding to Write a Novel – Crazy diamond

  6. Yess! Number ten states it perfectly! Thank you for writing this article, a lot of it resonnated with me, but I suppose that is the bond between writers: the struggle and the journey we take to finish our books.

    • How is the memoir coming? I am also currently working on one and it’s no joke! It’s tough work! Is this your first attempt as well? I hardly find other memoirists!

  7. One of the best articles I’ve read to keep a writer going and better yet make one start again who has stopped for years now. I am so glad I ran across this article. Eager to read your book. And for you to read mine someday. Thank you.

  8. Great advice! I’m currently working on my first novel. It’s been a year full of joy and stress and struggles. I really liked #6. It’s hard to believe when the people around you don’t understand, but if I don’t believe, who will? Thanks for your post. I look forward to what the rest of the journey has to offer.

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  11. Valuable post – a “caution” sign for those who think writing is an easy way to make a buck. Thanks, Joanne, for posting this, and thanks, Julie, for sharing your experience.

  12. Yep. Sounds about right. You have great advice. It does take lots of time and patience. Thanks for sharing!

  13. This list makes me love you and I don’t even know you Julie. The book sounds great and I could not agree with you more on all 10 points.

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