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How NOT to write a novel – from an established author

Writing a novel is not easy and there is no guarantee of being published or of being a success. Fay Weldon gives some tips.

Many months ago (in 2019) I read an interesting article by Fay Weldon in a Sunday magazine. She is the author of Life and Loves of a She-Devil that was also turned into an excellent TV series some years ago. In it she imparted her wisdom from writing experience on what errors are made by a would-be author in producing a novel. To summarize: one or more of the following 10 key weaknesses is why no one will publish a book. (Fay’s statements are in bold and my summarization and added comments are in regular type.)

  1. “Your novel is too boring” Perhaps this is a bit harsh but often true. Characters must come to life and so should the author.
  2. “The characters are too old” Although readers come in a wide variety, they prefer novels to feature young women. An interesting theory – can it also apply to young men?
  3. “The title is weak” Perhaps a bolder title will help to attract interest from agents and publishers. They probably receive many proposed books each month, so you have to stand out from the crowd.
  4. “Imagine you’re on The ApprenticeFor those who are unfamiliar, The Apprentice is a TV series, a highly competitive and prolonged, practical job interview. You need to stand out and sparkle. A synopsis of no more than one page should be brief and professional, and grab attention. You need to know why you wrote it and who will buy it.
  5. “Is your character too controversial?” If you have been writing your novel over a long time, your baddies or heroes may not be so relevant or contemporary as they once were. Patterns of social approval and disapproval change fast and frequently, so keep up with current trends – for instance right wing, left wing, religious extremists, climate concerns, etc.
  6. “You’re old-fashioned” It is easy to fall behind changing trends in language and grammar. Your writing needs to be slicker. What are other people writing?
  7. “There’s no USP (Unique Selling Proposition)” The publisher needs something that will create a headline. Erotica is out of fashion, simple romance is in, for instance. Other areas that are now tricky and unfashionable are satire and the paranormal. Find out what is currently selling.
  8. “You have nothing to say” You never told the reader (or the publisher for that matter) what your story was all about clearly.
  9. “You haven’t really set free your imagination” Remember that you are not who you write about. Be bold and do not worry if close ones are shocked.
  10. “Don’t expect to get rich” If you do get rich because of your writing, that’s a bonus, but you should not expect it. Very successful authors are rarities. Fact: the average income of a working writer is less than £10,500 a year. I don’t think I will be starting to write a novel any time soon then! But perhaps the recent waves of redundancies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may tempt some to chance it. They do say everyone has a book inside them.

If you are interested in reading more of Fay Weldon’s advice, her book is Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook For The Rejected Writer, published by Head of Zeus.

Photo credit: jetshoots.com / Pixabay

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