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Five tell-tale signs of a novice novelist

Kindle and its friends have opened up new opportunities for writers. No longer do wannabe novelists (or any kind of novelists come to that) have to go through the frustrating rigours of trying to find an agent and publisher. Nor do they have to expose themselves to the resultant weeks of silence, or to the eventual soul destroying rejection slips sent out by the brutal, clearly blind-to talent, self appointed guardians of the ‘real’ publishing world! No, they can bypass all that nonsense and within a few days of completing their manuscript they can pop it up on-line and it can be available for sale to the world’s readers. 

But there is a catch. The world’s readers may not be quite as picky or fussy as agents and publishers but they are still going to be quite picky and fussy. In the good old days publishers were prepared to work with authors to polish their books to a ‘professional’ standard. But times have changed, and all authors, especially self published authors, now have to do the polishing themselves or find a good editor to do it for them. Readers don’t particularly care how a novel is published but they will care if it fails to live up to their expectation of what a ‘good’ novel should be (even if they can’t quite pin down why). 

Here are five of the tell-tale signs of an ‘un-polished’ novel by a novice novelist. 

1. Lack of Story Structure – (different from plot, a good story structure provides a sense of pace and progression that makes a story really work.)

2. Insufficiently rounded characters – (novice writers tend to make their characters too good or too bad. Nobody likes a goody-goody, and baddies become less sinister if they are just caricatures of evil.)

3. Muddled Point of View – (it’s hard for the reader to engage with a character if the writer allows the viewpoint to jump from one character to another every other sentence.)

4. Dialogue being used for exposition – (when characters start telling each other back-story or other things they both already know the reader starts yawning.)

5. Too many typos, grammatical errors, and continuity mistakes. (Some will creep in inevitably, but allowing too many gives a bad impression.) 

Lots of the self-published novels on Kindle are great, virtually indistinguishable from ‘traditionally’ published novels. But many of the others carry at least some of those tell-tale signs of a novice writer (and lack of editor). That’s not to say they are not enjoyable. But I would suggest that writers should try to iron out at least some of the issues above before either approaching an agent, or publishing their own work. In the competitive market in which we now find ourselves, the more professional a writer seems, the better chance they will have of achieving the acclaim and readership they deserve.

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12 thoughts on “Five tell-tale signs of a novice novelist

  1. Pingback: St Helena and other news – an update from Helen Carey (and an outstanding opportunity) | themarcistagenda

  2. Terry Tyler on said:

    Yes, yes, yes to all these things! I will also add using cliches, and phrases that the writer thinks sound good, instead of writing from their own head. This is one of the things that makes me abandon indie books. Have you read my post about dos and don’ts for first time novelists? If not, here is the link:


    Excellent post, Helen! (Copy that! ;D)

  3. Awesome info. I do believe that this will help me overcome my writers block. Salute!

  4. Great advice, as always!

  5. Helen, this was a very unbiased take on self-publishing. Most posts are either very PRO or very ANTI self published novels. Thanks.

    • Helen, I’ve been looking for a way to tackle this subjec on my blog, but I don’t think I could have been as eloquent as you were…Thanks.

      I agree with David McGowan and am also working to be “polished” enough for a big publisher.
      – Christine

      • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. It is definitely an issue, I think everyone is keen for the Indie market to succeed but the danger is that people will be put of by less than perfect editing and indeed content! Good luck with your own writing.

  6. Great list, Helen! I’d also add muddled theme and lacking conflict to that list as well. While the theme can be (caaaan be) forgivable, you should never have 90k words that ends up being as dramatic as a fairly quaint tea party. Conflict should be everywhere.

  7. Definitely advice every novice should read before publishing. Thanks a lot. I continue to polish in anticipation of my big self-publishing release which is coming soon, and I’m determined not to look like a novice to my readers (if anyone buys it that is!).

    Thanks Helen!

  8. Jo-Ann Carson on said:

    Thanks. As a newbie this clearly written advice is helpful.

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