I’m an aspiring novelist – what advice can you give me?

Since every writer is different, all I can offer is what (sometimes) works for me. When you stick to your writing, eventually you’ll find out what approach suits you.

As for myself, I try to keep the flow going when I am writing a novel. If I take too long a break, the worm of self-doubt destroys the core and then I give up on a book before it’s done. So for me, I need to write at least 750 words a day until I hit the end. I don’t outline, though I do like to throw myself little guiding what-if notes to keep me more or less on a track. At the end of this FAQ, I have a list of books I’ve found useful/partly useful.


You don’t outline, so how many drafts do you do?

My first draft is also my second draft, as I tend to fix issues I pick up along the way, though I do a final run through for obvious errors before sending this version out to beta readers. I then redraft based on their feedback, and again on agent feedback. I don’t think I’ve done anything less than five drafts of a novel, and some books have had way more than that.

How do I get an agent?

Make sure you have a completed, revised, beta-read novel that is as good as you can possibly make it. Lots of people think you can skip this step. You can’t.

Keep a list of agents and track what they want, what you sent them, when, response time, and so on. Make yourself a nice fat folder full of all the various things agents ask for (250 word query, 1 page synopsis, 3 page synopsis, first 5 pages, first 10 pages, first 15 3/4 pages, fruitbats…). Do your research and make sure you’re sending to the right agents at the right time. Places like Query Tracker and Agent Query will be useful there.

Treat querying professionally. No matter how out-there your book might be, querying is not where you get quirky. Agents don’t have the time. Here’s the one place where I say follow the rules. You don’t want to be round-filed forever because a potential agent thought you were an insane stalker.

Send your queries. Drink vodka. Get ready to revenge query. (Every time I received a rejection I would yell REVENGE QUERY! and query 5 more agents. This happened quite a bit because it took about 100 queries to get here.)

Start your next book.


What are your inspirations?

I get inspired by everything – it could be a piece of music, a line in a song, an incredible novel, a painting, a news story, a critical essay, something I overheard in a shop, a joke, a trip, a photograph, a memory. There’s no one single source for my ideas.


Can I send you my short story/novel for critique?

These days I find I only have the time to critique for a small group of writers. I tend to take forever on one novel so unfortunately, I don’t have time to beta-read for more people.


Okay how about I critique your novel instead?

I have a close circle of beta-readers whose feedback is invaluable to me, as well as the advice of my agent and editors. Too many conflicting voices tend to make me shut down and not write, anyway.


I run a blog, please can you send me a novel for review?

I only get a few copies of my own books which I use for promotional purposes or as gifts for friends and family. Your best chance to get an arc for review is to make an enquiry directly to my publishers before the book comes out.


Where can I get a signed copy of your book?

This is difficult as I live in South Africa. The Book Lounge is a Cape Town indie bookstore which will also ship books overseas. Speak to them about buying a copy and I will come in and sign it. At this point, this is the best option.


How do you feel about fanfic and fanart?

I love them! I love to see the art people make, so feel free to link me to those. As for fanfic, while I can’t read any of it, I don’t mind it at all provided that you are not trying to make money using my universe/characters.




AbsoluteWrite is a great place to start out, and also helpful for checking whether a publisher or agent is legitimate. One of the best places to start if you’re new to writing is Uncle Jim’s wonderful thread.

Writer Beware also tracks which agents and publishers are scamming or generally being not so cool to their clients.

Agent Query is a useful database of agents and what they’re acquiring, and their guidelines.

I don’t particularly like telling writers to go trawl sites to find out what they should be writing and how they should be doing it, because too much of the same repeated information becomes The Law and there’s nothing quite like Rules is Rules for making art lose anything that might have been original and fresh, but those are good places to begin if you’re feeling the need for some guidance.


A list of writing books I’ve found useful


Self-editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne

From Where You Dream – Robert Olen Butler

On Becoming a Novelist – John Gardner

Writing the Breakout Novel (and workbook) – Donald Maass

and there are some other listed here.

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