How to Become a Novelist / Novel Writer

How to Become a Novelist: Career Path Guide

Novelists draw upon their imaginations as well as personal experiences to compose lengthy page-turners, deigned to solicit an emotional response from readers. They usually aren’t in it for the money; they’re in it because it’s a calling - they simply love to tell stories. 


You might find success as a novelist if you’re disciplined, willing to continuously hone your craft, listen to constructive criticism, persevere when all you’re hearing is “no” from publishers, and of course, if you have natural story-telling ability.


If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to become a novelist, read on below! We’ve prepared an overview of what it takes to set the foundation for a career in this field. We’ve also included a list of relevant scholarships to help you pay for your education.

 

 

Education You’ll Need to Become a Novelist

Although a post-secondary education typically isn’t a formal requirement for becoming a writer, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in English and a focus on writing or creative writing can be very helpful for developing the proper skill set.

 

Earning a master’s degree may also be worth considering, in order to further advance your understanding of writing techniques and literary theory.

 

Success Tip: A good creative writing course will help you explore many underlying principles of good writing, not to impose invented "rules" on writing, but to introduce ways of thinking about writing that are strong and purposeful.

 

 

 

 

Experience You’ll Need

Formal work experience isn’t typically a requirement for becoming a novelist. Other forms of experience however, are quite important. Many, although not all, novelists draw from personal experience in order to create their characters, plots and settings, so having a variety of personal experience, reflecting on them and keeping notes can help you develop inspiration for novels. Living a varied life also helps you maintain creativity, passion and genuineness, all important traits for a novelist.

 

As far as writing experience goes, this is vitally important. You don’t have to quit your current job or drop out of school to become a writer, but you have to write as much as you can. This is important not only to develop your voice and writing skills, it also helps you determine if you’ll be able to handle writing a lot for a living, even if it’s a part-time living.

 

To gain this experience, you can simply begin writing novel drafts on your own, write for blogs (your own or someone else’s), write for magazines or newspapers, or by joining a local writer’s group. Whichever outlets you choose, simply write as much as you can.

 

 

What is a Novelist?

Novelist job description

 

Novelists compose novel-style written works based on fictional or non-fictional characters and events. They use literary devices such as dialogue and metaphor to create a  page-turning books that are typically between 60,000 and 100,000 words long.

 

 

What Does a Novelist Do?

Novelist job duties

 

Novelists are typically responsible for performing the following work-related duties:

 

• Formulating ideas based on personal experience, inspiration or suggestion

• Developing a storyline based on idea, complete with characters, setting, events, theme and other elements

• Composing the novel using fictional or non-fictional events, settings and characters

• Possibly sourcing, interview and hiring a literary agent

• Contacting publishers directly or through a literary agent in order to solicit publication of written work

• Negotiating contracts with publishers or a literary agent

• Performing revisions to novel as requested by publisher

• Reviewing contract details, often with the counsel of an attorney or a literary agent

• Attending book signings and other public and promotional events

 

 

How to Get a Novel Published

The process of getting a novel published can be put into motion in a variety of ways:

 

Self-publishing: Having a novel book self-published in e-book form is considered a ‘low hanging fruit’ method. It has a smaller barrier to entry since you don’t have to sell the idea to a publisher. This method isn’t without its drawbacks though; it will involve more cost upfront and out of your own pocket, and you will mostly be responsible for sales of the book.

 

Submitting Work/Hiring an agent: You can always try to approach a publishing house, big or small, with your novel work. However, without a history of success or an agent this could be an unfruitful quest. Sourcing and hiring a reputable agent may be your best bet if you’re trying to get a top-tier publisher on board with your project.

 

Being approached: If you maintain a blog with your writing, and/or you have developed a reputation by being a contributing writer to various online and offline publications, then someone who likes your style and appreciates your talent will eventually notice you, and may approach you with an ideal project, or at least with an offer to work together, which can help form a long-term professional relationship and possibly lead to ideal writing assignments or opportunities down the road.

 

Success Tip 1: Maintaining a strong portfolio will put you in a good position to sell your book to an agent, publisher, or commissioner. A strong portfolio is worth the time and effort it takes to create, and shouldn’t be done in a rushed manner. 

 

Success Tip 2: Entering various writing competitions may help you and your work get noticed, and possibly get you a publishing contract. Networking by joining a writing group or attending writing workshops may also help you make contacts and get noticed in the writing world.

 

 

 

Is Becoming a Novelist a Good Career Choice for You?

Being emotionally, intellectually and professionally interested in performing the daily work involved with a certain career field is just as important as having the proper education for it. It will help ensure that you’re motivated, competent and able to handle the many ups and downs that are inevitably part of it. Having the following skills, interests and personal traits will be crucial for your success as a novelist:

 

• You’re a writer, not merely someone who writes, meaning you’re writing because the stories need to come out of you, not because you’re seeking financial rewards or fame

• You have discipline, imagination and planning skills

• You’re willing to cultivate an attitude of perseverance and push on when you’re disheartened

• You won’t let other people’s doubts, or your own, about writing or publishing or any other aspect of being an author get in your way

• You have the innate talent of putting words together, developing plots and evoking emotions in the reader

• You’re able to handle constructive criticism and use it to your advantage

• You’re able to recognize your shortfalls and weaknesses as a writer and are willing to work to improve them

• You are willing to work a second job while pursuing your writing career, and have the fortitude to possibly go years without getting published

• You’re willing and able to perform any necessary research, such as that which may be needed when including historical, biographical or technical information in a novel

 

Success Tip: Your success as a writer depends on many interlinked things. Not just the quality of your writing, but also the depth of your character, the connections you make, and the impressions you leave in the process of becoming a novelist.

 

 

Work Environment for Novelists

Novelists typically spend much of their time working independently, which involves performing research in libraries and on the Internet, as well as writing, which can be at home, in an office, or in another setting entirely.

 

Aside from independent work, novelists are also in regular contact with agents and publishers, and may spend some time interviewing people. Novelists typically set their own hours. The pressure of deadlines, long solitary hours, unwilling publishers and sporadic work can be very stressful.

 

 

How Much You Could Earn as a Novelist

Novelist salary figures in the United States & Canada 

 

As with any other career field, the level of pay you could earn as a novelist can vary, typically depending on the following factors:

 

• The amount of novel/creative works you publish and the circulation you receive

• The size of the publishing house you write for

• Whether or not writing novels is your full-time profession (many novelists work primarily in other professions, and write novels and other works on a 'part-time' basis)

• The structure of your employment, such as if you are working on a freelance/ghostwriting or permanent basis

• Your professional reputation

• Many other factors  

 

Novelist Salary - Canada: According to the 2015 Wage and Salary Survey of the Government of Alberta, the average salary level of Albertans working in the Creative Writer occupational group is $58,979 per year. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, similar statistics were not available for other provinces or territories, or the whole of Canada.

 

Novelist Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Writers & Authors occupational group is $61,820 per year.

 

Please Note: The figures above are heavily skewed by the existence of journalists, advertising copywriters, best-selling novelists, and other types of high-earning writers in the "Writers & Authors" occupational group figures.

 

 

Novelist/Novel Writer Jobs

Check our job board below to find Novelist/Novel Writer postings in your area. Formal job postings in this field are rare, but it's worth a quick search!

Career Advancement for Novelists

If you’re able to become a well-respected and established novelist/author, there will be plenty of ways by which your career will grow.

 

If you and your work gain a following and a reputation within the world of writing and publishing, your works would get more sales, which would lead to an increase in revenue, as well as an increase in contract offers. You would also have the opportunity to take on more writing assignments and get published with more prestigious publishing houses and within bigger markets.

 

Another form of career advancement could be for you to shift gears and move into editing or publishing. If you are particularly gifted at identifying stories, correcting writing style and interacting with writers, you may find yourself interested in such a role.

 

 

Career Similar to Novelist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Novelist, in that they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities.

 

Biographer

• Blogger

• Book Critic

• Content Developer

• Copywriter

• Creative Writer

• Poet

• Publisher

• Screenwriter

• Technical Writer

 

 

Scholarships for Becoming a Novelist

The "Applicable Majors" section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a Novelist/Writer. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our English Scholarships & Philosophy Scholarships pages.

 

Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!

 

 

References

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a novelist/writer:

 

 

Occupations in Alberta: “Creative Writer.” (March 9, 2016). Government of Alberta - Alberta Learning and Information Service. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

Occupational Employment and Wages: “Writers and Authors.” (April 13, 2018). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

Become: “How to Become a Novelist.” ( n.d.). The Art Career Project. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

Creative Writing: “So You Want to Be a Writer…” Blake Morrison. (March 14, 2014). The Guardian. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

Job Profiles: “Writer/Author.” (September 10, 2018). National Careers Service - Education and Skills Funding Agency. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

The Sweet Spot: “How to Become a Writer? Start Writing.” Steve Almond & Cheryl Strayed. (August 8, 2017). The New York Times. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2018.

 

 

Becoming a Novelist/Novel Writer: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for becoming a Novelist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!

 


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