How to Become a Novelist
Getting Started as a Novelist
There is always a bit of romance to the idea of becoming a novelist. All those stories about “starving writers” who later become famous, and so on. While this might be the general image we have of what being a novelist is all about, the truth is that like any art, it is a lot of work. In order to produce good material that will sell, you need a lot of training, practice and knowledge, as well as a talent for putting the words together and evoking emotions in your reader. Often, you also need to know what the readers are looking for and cater to their wants.
If you really love writing and you have ideas and plots in mind, this might be the right path for you. But you do have to really love it. It is not an easy job to choose, and there is often little security in it, especially until you publish a novel or two and it is well received by the public. Many also choose to write novels as a side-job until they are able to have a full income from it. It could take months or years or decades to get published. It depends on how good your novel is but also on whether it is relevant.
Take a look at the infographic below to learn a little bit more about the industry:
The obvious option for aspiring writers is to earn a creative writing or English degree either at a university or a college. This will give you 2-4 years of well-rounded education in literature, writing technique and probably allow you to explore some of your writing. The stronger schools in these areas will also have clubs for those looking to work on a specific type of writing and critique sessions, as well as give you access to professors, who know and understand the industry. So if you already know and are absolutely sure that you want to become a novelist, this is a good way to go.
This being said, it’s not the only way. You can basically study anything you like and later become a novelist, as long as you continuously work on your writing skills and constantly read a lot of literature. Of course, an option such as journalism is a good place to start. But maybe you are very interested in biology or criminology or fashion, that’s okay too. It will just take extra work to continue practicing your writing.
At the end of the day, education for a novelist is not mandatory. Many writers never took any university classes and have become extremely successful. You can learn on your own by honing your skills through practice and reading, but you will still need to learn about life. You can travel, people-watch, and meet a lot of different types of people along the way to really understand what you are writing about. And that is not only true for those novelists who do not receive formal education, but for anyone who is looking to write.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A NOVELIST?
- Emory University
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory is one of the top universities in the US for aspiring writers. The Creative Writing program offered here is composed of core courses, as well as workshops and/or independent study programs. You can choose to focus on fiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, or creative non-fiction. Tuition is $44,400 per year.
- Hamilton College
This school in Clinton, New York, offers two tracks to its students – English or Creative Writing – with the option of majoring or minoring in either. The English classes focus more on literature and some writing courses, while Creative Writing gives students space to practice their writing through workshops. Current annual tuition is $47,350.
- Johns Hopkins University
Offering a multi-departmental program, John Hopkins in Baltimore, MD, gives its students a lot of space to practice their writing skills, while introducing them to literature and its history, as well as writing techniques through seminars. Students graduate with a Writing Seminars major, and have an option of many graduate level study diplomas and certificates. Undergraduate tuition here is $47,060 per year.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the MIT offers an excellent Creative Writing program, which lets students focus on the genre they choose. At the same time, it combines a few courses from a different discipline, such as humanities or social studies. Average annual tuition at MIT is $38,046.
- New York University
NYU offers both undergraduate and master’s level programs in Creative Writing, as well as a minor option. Students can also take summer intensive workshops in Florence, Paris or New York City. The first year of studies can be completed in Accra, Buenos Aires, London, Sydney or NYC. Tuition is $21,873 per term for undergrads.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
This is the part that requires patience and perseverance. Some novelists get discovered right away, but mostly this doesn’t happen. You begin writing, start sending your manuscripts to potential publishers, and get rejected. Then you continue and send your work again, and who knows how many times you will have to do this before you get published.
Of course, it is important to network. If you know people in the industry, it is easier to get noticed, to get real feedback and to understand what the market is looking for. So go to conferences related to your genre and the bigger non-specialized events as well. Try to meet writers and publishers there, and really understand what sells and what doesn’t at the moment.
Your other option is to self-publish; in this case be prepared to make a name for yourself. You must be business-savvy and ready to market your books if that’s the path you choose to go down.