The Process of Novel Writing

When I was younger (more naive?) I thought that becoming an author would go something like this. I’d write a novel, by starting at the beginning and writing through to the end. Then I’d send three chapters and a synopsis off to some publishers, one would ask for the full manuscript and I’d get published. Of course, it didn’t take many rejection letters to realise that it was a lot harder than it looked!

Then along came firstly print on demand, closely followed by e-readers. (Did I mention that I’ve been writing a long time? I started on typewriters.) Now you could take your first draft and put it out there on the Internet and people would flock to you and buy it. Or not. Of course, marketing and publicity are the elephant in the room for the whole self-publishing game.

Now, feeling older and wiser, I’m approaching the whole business from a different perspective. I plan my novels, not down to a chapter by chapter, scene by scene level, but enough to know where the big plot points should be and what I want them to be. Then the writing process has changed – after many drafts I’ve sent my manuscript out to beta readers. Despite my best efforts, there remain many typos still to fix. Typos are funny beasts, I was reviewing the third beta readers and she had highlighted certain sentences. I had to read the sentence through several times and then check it word by word. Often it’s small things like ‘my’ instead of ‘me’ that Word can’t spot and I tend to read what I think I wrote instead of what’s there.

Once the typos have been done, I’m also looking at the bigger issues. Some of the readers have highlighted structural issues, mostly minor. So now I’m considering them and make some small changes.

I’m not feeling impatient to get on and get it sent out to agents or publishers. I know that I’ve changed and I feel that the world has changed as well. I now look at my manuscript and think that I’ve got one chance to make a first impression. I suspect there are very few agents who’d give a manuscript a second chance. So now, I want this to be as polished as it can be.

I think I’m also more realistic about the end-game as well. I don’t think that a publisher will write a huge advance cheque, and then after a few months start discussing cover art! I know that it will probably be a negotiation to and fro. I expect that they’ll want to see how I react to edits and suggestions to change the story. When I do get a deal, I expect that when I go through the edits and launch details I’ll also be working on the next book, or even the one after that! I see it as a process of overlapping jobs.

Somehow, this time, more than any other novel I’ve written I feel more engaged with the whole process, more willing to see it through, complete every stage. I even stayed up late last night finishing off the synopsis. (Which also helped me with the structure.) Well, the first draft, because I know it’s an important document, I know I’ll need to go over it several times until it’s just right. In a similar vein, I’ve signed up for a one day course on “pitching your novel” – just to make sure I make the most of my one shot.

What do you think? If you write have you found that your approach to the whole business of it has changed? Is it me or is it the industry that have changed?


  1. I haven’t been at it nearly as long as Graham Miller, but even with three novels under my belt, my approach has changed. Some of the criteria set by traditional publishers are there for a reason. Readers do not want to be
    taxed–they want to be engaged and entertained. My first books were too big, too crammed with history that overpowered the storyline. Now my books are half as long, half as factual, and half the price for the trade paperback. Because of my age ( 70 when I self published book #1), I was told by two agents that an agent would be unlikely to take me on. Most are looking for someone with the life expectancy to write a series. So I began as an Indie and have stopped looking for a traditional house to take me on. And while I will always produce a trade paperback version for their limited appeal, my sales do not justify it. My eBooks out sell my paperbacks by as much as a hundred to one. That effects my formatting. And I no longer depend on Word for grammar and spelling checks. I use them, but they do not replace the third, fourth and fifth line edit or a team of beta readers.

    1. Hi Linda. Yes, I agree with you about readers – I initially felt a bit odd about writing-by-numbers. Yes, my novel does start with an exciting event, have the main plot point around 25% and the big finish around 20% before the end. But my own voice and ideas are the flesh that I’ve put over those bones. And all my beta-readers have commented that it flows nicely and is a page-turner, so something is working.

      Also, I’ve met two writers (one published, one getting an agent) and one has a trilogy and the other a series. More and more, agents won’t take a single book, they’ll want to know you can repeat the magic for at least one more book, preferably a whole series.

      And well done for carving out decent sales on ebooks. I know how much hard work that takes!

      Thanks for commenting!


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