Why First Time Authors Don’t Write The Books They Want To Read


I mostly find that they are writing a book idea they fell in love with 10, 20, even 30 years ago. This has been percolating for far too many years and when it is finally poured out, it is stale, way past its use by date, and often leaves a bitter taste.

You may be writing what you know instead of what you like. This is a mistake.

Make a list

Do yourself a favour and make a list of the last 20-30 books (published in the past five years) that you have bought, or borrowed, to read. Then ask these questions:

  1. How long are these books?
  2. Are they plot-driven or character-driven?
  3. What genre are they?
  4. What are the plots?
  5. How many main characters are there?
  6. What viewpoint is used most often?
  7. What are the themes of the books?

If the book you are writing does not look anything like these books, you may not be writing the book you want to read.

How many of the books in your list are by first time authors? 

If you do not have any on your list, make a point to read 10 books by 10 different first-time authors in a genre you enjoy. You will see that the lengths of these books are shorter and the plot lines simpler than the well-established authors you may be trying to emulate. (Read Word Counts – How long should your novel be?)

Why don’t we write books we actually read?

Sometimes it is easier to look at what other people are doing wrong instead of looking at ourselves. It is difficult to let go of a dream or something that has, at times, become an obsession. We need to listen to the advice of great writers and let go. Most of them wrote many books before they wrote the books that made them famous.

Instead of writing and rewriting the same book, we should finish a draft of it, put it aside and look at the books we love reading and try to write one of those instead.

Make another list

List all the elements you love in a good book. You should consider word counts, plots, genres, themes, and characters. Then write another. By the third book, you should be feeling more confident. This is the book you should rewrite until it is good enough to send to a publisher.

So next time somebody asks you if you are writing the book you want to read, take a moment and think about it before you answer yes.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. 20 Things A Crime And A Novel Have In Common
  2. The Five Criteria for Creating Successful Story Goals
  3. The Proust Questionnaire – 35 Questions Every Character Should Answer
  4. 37 Ways To Write About Anger
  5. Word Counts – How long should your novel be?

This article has 12 comments

  1. Suzan S Sibiya

    Thank you.Amanda

  2. Amanda Patterson

    Thank you, Suzan.

  3. Manda Jenkins

    Insightful. Thank you.

  4. susan

    Thank you .. interesting ..

  5. wyatt gunter

    the problem with the indication in this article is that i do not often read books that were published within the last 5 years. that is not to say i only read classics all the time, i just do not read much when it is first published in book form. i will read articles and documents relating to my areas of interest and i do occasionally find myself reading a newer book but…the last “modern” book i read was “Oryx and Crake” (2003) and “Little Brother” (2008) and the other 5 or 6 i am currently savouring were mostly written prior to 1980 with one dating back to the late 18th or early 19th century (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin) and others dating back to before the time of Christ, literally (Psalms, Exodus, Job, Numbers, Ruth, etc.) :D>

    in the last 2 years i have been reading more short-format or strictly philosophical/religious studies books, with the occasional sociological explication. the novels i have read recently (last 3-5 years) have been older than many people who may be reading this post: “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”, “Ecclesiastes”, “Proverbs”, “Jonah”, “The Left-Hand of Darkness”, “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “Salem’s Lot”, The Foundation Trilogy, “Murder on Second Street: The Jackson Ward Murders” (which is actually the most recent publication, 2013?), “The Book of Matthew”, “The Dark Tower”, “Sirens of Titan”, “A Game of Thrones”, “Anthem”, “Time Enough For Love”, “Time For the Stars”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, as well as the few already listed, among a number of others i cannot recall. granted some of these are re-reads (and some are even re-re-reads), but this is my list and not many of them were written in the last 20 years.

    so, does this mean i cannot write a novel? the statement, “Do yourself a favour and make a list of the last 20-30 books (published in the past five years) that you have bought, or borrowed, to read”, does not seem to apply to me, a wannabe “first-time” author (i have written much, just nothing published as a novel, to-date.)

  6. Sasha King

    Amanda
    I always find your posts interesting and helpful. Please consider an online course – it’s a bit of a commute from the UK!

  7. Amanda Patterson

    Thank you, Sasha. I think our courses work so well because they are interactive. We are planning to release a series of books by Writers Write. Hopefully, that will satisfy our international audience.

  8. Michal

    Interesting. The first thing I wrote (when I decided to write at last) was the fantasy short story with which I was playing around for years in my head.
    The reviews weren’t very encouraging.
    Then I wrote a 9k word long non-fiction booklet. I re-started reading self-help just several months before that. It was fresh in my mind.
    I self-published it on Amazon and sold over 17 hundreds copies in less than two years.
    I suppose this supports your point Amanda 😉

  9. Wamkelwe

    How does one know if the book they want to read is someone else’s?

  10. Jack Adams

    Interesting read, Amanda! The title got my heart pounding for a minute there. I devoured your words because I haven’t yet been published. I recently finished first draft of my first book and set it aside. While it’s nothing like the past 20-30 books published in the last 5 years I read, my book (so far, even in development) is still the book I want to read… So I’m relieved by the end of your article, even though it doesn’t exactly apply, like Wyatt commented. I was wondering: why is this so? Perhaps my answer is: I’ve been wanting to write this book for a long time because this story’s never existed. This story makes me feel a gamut of emotions. So wouldn’t that make me a first-time author who’s written the book I want to read? Your thoughts, Amanda? <3 Jack Adams

  11. Amanda Patterson

    Jack, I think that if the book is really something you, and your potential readers, would pay money to read, then you’re writing the book you want to read.

  12. Jack Adams

    Thanks, Amanda. That makes sense. Simple enough..

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