Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
By James Batchelor on November 29th, 2021
When people learn that I am a writer a number of questions usually follow. “What kind of books do you write?” is usually the first. But when they grow more comfortable, questions about my books specifically usually turn to questions about writing or publishing in general, as most people seem to have contemplated writing a book at one time or another. Below I’ve endeavored to answer a few of the most common questions.
- What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?
- How many pages should my book be?
- What’s the minimum size my book can be?
- How do I get a book published?
A: This is a bit of a broad question as it might pertain to many aspects of writing, publishing, and/or marketing. But I’ve found that for most people, the heart of this question is usually this: “I’m trying to/want to/in the process of writing the first draft of my first book, but I’m having a hard time finishing it. What can I do about that?”
My answer to this is always the same: Push through that first draft and get it done! Until you have finished writing that last page, do not go back and revise anything. Do not restart your work because you think you can do it better. Push through and finish it!
There are a million would-be authors out there who will never complete that first draft because they all fall into the same trap: They start out strong, write the sections they are excited about, but then start to lose steam as they are building the nuts and bolts of the story. They eventually get stuck, get frustrated, and decide to start over, thinking that they now have a better approach.
I have been in that place many times myself, and I tell you this is a recipe for never finishing a book. What new writers need to understand is that that finished manuscript, even with all its flaws, is worth more to you than a thousand partially written drafts. The reason is because a finished rough draft, even with all its problems, is now a marketable commodity that you can revise, re-write, and improve to make it even more valuable.
Like buying an old project car, the rusted out husk has some value, which you’ve proved by the fact that you just paid money for it. But when the restoration is complete, it will be worth many times that original amount. But you can never realize those gains if you never had the rusted out shell to work with. And even though you think you are revising and improving your work each time you start over, what you are actually doing is just churning on the parts of the story that interest you while avoiding the obstacles that you will have to confront if you ever want a completed project to work on. You are essentilaly keeping yourself from ever buying the project car to begin the restoration because you think you can find a better one in the future. Meanwhile, the person who just bought the first decent option that came along is finishing his restoration, while you are still endlessing churning through classified adds looking for that perfect project.
I should also add that the feeling of finishing a complete draft is phenomenal. Even though you know perfectly well that it needs some major revisions, writing the words “The End” at the completion of a finished draft is an amazing feeling the few will ever realize. It is a lot like finishing a marathon. A relatively small portion of the population will ever put in the work to actually run a marathon. So, it’s a great accomplishment when you do. Even if it does not make you an elite runner, you still accomplished something signficant. Are remember this, no elite runner ever won a marathon without finishing it.
A: This is a common question for first-time writers, because you don’t have any concept of what length of work constitutes a book. There is always that fear that you will write a story that you are very happy with, only to discover that it is way too short for a book.
Before my first book was published, I too worried over this question. I would search the internet and generally find snooty, useless answers that amounted to something like this “real writers don’t pay attention to page-count because that will change with every printing depending on the typesetting and size of the book.” And while I have since learned that is essentially true, it was of no value to me at all as an aspiring novelist.
So here’s the answer you are looking for: A standard 6” x 9” paperback book with a standard font size and margins will translate to roughly 350 words per page. For example, my 3rd book, The Darkest Knight, was just over 153,000 words. That translated to a 443 page book (I’m subtracting 5 pages for title, verso, and dedication pages).
A: Unfortunately there is no easy answer here. Your book might be 30,000 words or it might be 300,000 words. There is no requirement. But you can get some idea of the general size expected for a given genre by looking at other books in the genre in which you are writing. Nobody wants to read a 300,000 word coffee table book like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Conversely, a 30,000 word fantasy book would likely not give you the space required for a fully fleshed out world, characters, and magic system to say nothing of the story itself.
But one word of caution here: if it is your first book, and you are planning on submitting to a traditional publisher, longer works are not your friend (see my previous post, Red Flags for Publishing Houses for more detail)
A: This topic could be a whole book, so it will require a post dedicated to the topic. For what it’s worth, I did try to condense an answer for this entry, but even that stripped down version ballooned to over 2000 words, which is beyond the scope of this post. So for the moment, I’ll leave it here by saying, don’t worry about publishing until you have written something. As I said above, nobody every won a marathon without finishing it. Harry Potter would not be Harry Potter if Rowling had never finished that first draft of that first book.
Now get to work!