Still from cafeteria scene in film NEVER BEEN KISSED, of protagonist Julia dressed in outrageous clothes, wondering with whom she should sit at lunch.

Literary? Mainstream? Commercial? What Genre Is This Anyway?

What’s the difference between commercial and literary and mainstream fiction? What do those words mean, anyway? What about “upmarket”? Where does my book fit in?

Sometimes it’s really obvious where your novel fits in with others.

Other times, you show up querying your book and have no idea where to put it. It’s awkwardly similar to high school (at least the movie version of high school). Everybody else seems so neatly sorted into groups.

A group of skater-pothead high schoolers from the film CLUELESS.

And then there’s you…

Still from cafeteria scene in film NEVER BEEN KISSED, of protagonist Julia dressed in outrageous clothes, wondering with whom she should sit at lunch.

But you want your book to find readers, which means your book needs to find something in common with other books (ones that have readers). Hey, you know which books have the most readers? Commercial fiction. Let’s start there.

Commercial Fiction

Commercial fiction is any fiction that has ONE of the following characteristics:

  • It sells a lot of copies, OR
  • It has a tight, fresh premise that’s easy to pitch (like a logline), OR
  • It has a very specific, established audience.

So genre fiction is considered commercial fiction, because genres can sell a lot of books to their target readers. Children’s books can often be considered commercial because all kids are encouraged to read, but children’s books are categorized by age first, genre second. Commercial writers are often prolific ones, churning out book after book after book for their very happy fan base, regardless of their genre.

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t call your own work “commercial fiction”—that’s a term defined by sales. Know the difference between age categories (adult, young adult, middle grade, etc.) and genres (what this post is about).

Genre Fiction

Genre fiction adheres to specific tropes. For example, if you’re writing a romance, your story must have a happily ever after. If it doesn’t, it’s not a romance.

Read heavily in your genre. What do you expect when reading that genre? That’s what readers will expect from your book if it’s put on that shelf.

Established genre families, often with their own shelves in stores or libraries:

  • Mystery
  • Romance
  • Suspense / Thriller
  • Speculative Fiction (includes fantasy, science fiction, horror)
  • Western
  • Adventure (sometimes grouped with thrillers)

Did you write speculative fiction? Read about my guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Sub-Genres.


A cross-genre novel or story is one that borrows tropes from two or more genres. If your book is about an elf and an ogre falling in love and living happily ever after, you’re borrowing from the Romance and Fantasy families.


But do you call it Fantasy Romance or Romantic Fantasy? The first word in a genre pairing is the adjective qualifying the second, more prominent genre. In other words, a fantasy romance is primarily a romance with some fantasy elements. A romantic fantasy borrows more from the fantasy genre than the romance genre, but it still should have a happily ever after, or you can’t call it “romantic.”

Many stories have romantic elements. That doesn’t mean they are romances.

If your story has romantic elements, then say it’s “______ with romantic elements” if you must. But the romantic elements should be evident from your pitch.

A lot of colors have blue in them, but when we add a bit of it to yellow and mix it throughout, we call the result “green,” or maybe “yellow-green,” not “yellow with blue elements.”

BOTTOM LINE: If you think your book fits in one or more genres, look up the tropes for each genre. Read multiple authors of those genres to see where your book fits best. 


Your book doesn’t fit in with any of those genres? Don’t give up yet.

Mainstream or General Fiction

If your book wouldn’t sit on one of the five “shelves” listed above, it will likely be placed in a section called “General Fiction” or simply “Fiction.”

Historical fiction will likely be shelved here, along with contemporary fiction. Women’s fiction is general fiction promoted mainly to female readers. If your book is one of these genres, call it by one of those names. It’s better to be specific than vague, and it shows that you know your audience.

Mainstream fiction might appeal to a broader audience, but it can be more difficult to market. Marketers need to know where to direct their efforts.

Without a specified audience, your book will be a much harder sell.

GIF from The Princess Diaries: "My expectation in life is to be invisible, and I'm good at it."

Literary Fiction

Literary fiction has its own audience—one who has high expectations for prose and subtext.

If literary fiction gets its own shelf, that shelf is often called “literature,” though many readers are rightly annoyed at the suggestion that genre fiction can’t be considered literature. We won’t get into what constitutes a work of fiction being considered “literature” here. As far as I’m considered, that’s the same as debating the definition or worth of “art.”

What we will talk about is what constitutes literary fiction.

Elements of literary fiction:

  • The language is vivid and fresh. Frequently in literary fiction, how an element is presented is more important than what is presented. The words are like visible brushstrokes in a painting.
  • It might be more concerned with subtext, theme, or atmosphere than action.
  • It’s more likely to subvert tropes than genre fiction, which upholds tropes (to the satisfaction of its expectant readers).
  • Literary fiction is more likely to allude or respond to other forms of art, especially classical poetry and literature.
  • The structure might be experimental, playing with timelines, points of view, or different forms (incorporating poetry or illustrations or other forms of media).
  • It might be more concerned with a character’s internal struggle than external conflict.
  • It might play with what defines a “novel” or “story” or “literature” (see Metafiction)
  • It might be delivered to a select few (like the first collection from Facsimile Press, which publishes fiction only via fax).
  • Some readers might not consider it accessible because it attempts the unexpected.

Read more: Literary and Commercial Fiction as Paintings

Like “commercial,” the term “literary” is subjective and is doubted by readers when self-applied. Some readers might not agree with your label.

GIF of a man throwing a book out the window in frustration

If you’ve studied or discussed literature at length, or if your writing has been recognized or published by a literary community, then you might be fine calling your work literary. Show that you understand what literary means in a query letter by including a statement in your bio paragraph, like “I majored in literature at Such-and-Such University” or “my fiction has won [recognizable literary accolades not based on commercial genre].”

BOTTOM LINE: Err on the side of calling your work contemporary or historical (whichever fits) until an authority in the literary sphere—an agent, reviewer, award-winning author, or publisher—assigns the “Literary” qualifier to your work. 

Upmarket Fiction or “Book Club Books”

Upmarket Fiction is mainstream fiction with both literary and commercial elements. These are often books read by book clubs, because not only are the books entertaining and accessible, but they also have finely crafted prose, universal themes, or head-scratching concepts that beg to be discussed with other readers.

You can call your work upmarket, but there’s no shelf for upmarket books. “Upmarket” is an adjective. Use it paired with another genre or category label, for example, “upmarket fantasy” or “upmarket contemporary novel.”

BOTTOM LINE: Upmarket fiction is approachable, but beneath its fresh, commercial premise lie layers of subtext.



When pitching your book, you need to show how it’s both different from and similar to books on the market.

From The Breakfast Club: a popular boy makes a really weird sandwich, eliciting looks from his peers.

To be a success, your book needs to fit in with others while having unique qualities of its own.

In a query letter, the main content of the pitch should show how your story is unique. The informational paragraph with word count, genre, and age category should show where it fits in. This is where you can include comp titles: books or related media that might share a specific audience with your readership. “[MY TITLE IN ALL CAPS] would appeal to fans of [two or three recently published books, still-writing authors, or related media].”

What's the difference between literary, mainstream, commercial, and upmarket fiction?Click to save on Pinterest

Tips and Tricks for Writing Successful Twitter Pitches

Or, general tips and tricks for pitching on Twitter, and how pitching SFF is different from pitching other genres.


This is going to be a long one, folks. Skip around as needed!

Update from 2021We Need Diverse Books no longer uses the #ownvoices hashtag or label. Read why.

Update from 2018—I wrote this post in 2014, and it’s been so cool seeing these practices put to work in Twitter pitches over the last four years. It’s been unreal knowing that some are now books I own or can pre-order! Some things have changed (like contest rules and the character limit on tweets), and I’ve added clarification where I felt it was needed, but much of the advice I gave then I’d still give now.

Update from PitchMAS—when pitching in a general pitch party, your hashtags matter so much more. Make it easy for an agent to find you, or they never will. I tried searching for different genres during the party so I could retweet—I couldn’t find them because people weren’t using effective search terms. Use age category tags and genre tags, plus relevant and appropriate keywords (like “Bechdel” or “WNDB”—see my notes on references below).


  1. Well-Known Twitter Pitch Events
  2. Tips for Pitching on Twitter
  3. The Importance of Hashtags
  4. After the Pitch Party
  5. My Personal SFFpit Results
  6. Analysis of my Personal SFFpit Results
    1. Analysis of Timing
    2. Analysis of Focus
    3. On Voice
    4. On Comp Titles and Culture References
    5. On Fresh Premises and Trendy Topics
    6. On Hashtags, Again
  7. Final Thoughts

Well-Known Twitter Pitch Events

  • PitMad, for pretty much everybody, 4x/yr*
  • PitchMAS, for pretty much everybody, 2x/yr**
  • SFFpit, for Science Fiction and Fantasy works, 2x/yr
  • AdPit, for Adult works (as in, not PB, MG, or YA works)
  • DVPit, for pitches from marginalized voices that have been historically underrepresented in publishing, each April***

*(see PitMad’s new rules! Only 3 pitches total, not twice per hour. Make sure you are tweeting what will catch your genre’s agents’ attention, and use hashtags!)
**Looking at my winning pitches from PitchMAS, hashtags and keywords mattered most, then other references, then stakes.
***Read DVPit’s about page before deciding whether you qualify.

Tips for Pitching on Twitter

Favorite Resources for Twitter Pitching:

The following advice stems from a series of Tweets published December 8th, 2014. Follow me on Twitter! @LaraEdits is devoted to writing and editing tips. If you aren’t on Twitter, you can still bookmark my feed.

A hook can be interesting MC, conflict, stakes, fresh premise, or voice. Pitch whichever is strongest in your novel.

It’s impossible to convey how unique your MC, setting, conflict, premise, or voice is all at once, in one tweet. Which is the MOST different compared to other novels?

If your pitches are falling flat, adjust your selling point. You might be trying to pass a swan story off as a duck one.

Twitter pitches are so short, you have to pick your focus. Character, stakes, conflict, premise, voice…pick two per pitch.

That way, if an agent goes to your feed, they don’t see the same pitch repeated, and they see that 1) your novel is complex, 2) you can pitch in a variety of ways (i.e. you’re a skilled writer), 3) you are open to variance in writing (i.e. you’d be willing to do necessary rewrites)

During these Twitter Pitch Parties, you can usually pitch once or twice per hour. That’s 12 to 24 different opportunities to pitch! Vary them by focus and by hashtags, but only use relevant hashtags. (This rule has now changed for PitMad)

I use the free version of Buffer to 1) schedule my pitches beforehand and 2) see their effectiveness afterward.

I’d recommend at least 6 different pitches, with different focuses, repeated with different hashtags (if more than two are applicable). And out of those 6-12 differently focused, no-words-wasted, intriguing pitches, tweet your most fantastic ones at peak times. That is, as soon as the pitch party starts, and at lunch time EST, lunch time PST, and after-work hours. There will be more tweets then, and that’s likely when agents will do the most browsing, so your tweets then matter most.

There will be too many tweets for each agent to read. That’s why you need to use hashtags effectively (see below). You can always query those you think are a good fit for your novel (check #MSWL).

The Importance of Hashtags

The reason you need to use genre or age category hashtags in Twitter pitch parties is because that’s how agents filter through the feed. They can’t see every tweet! One agent was looking for Adult Fantasy works. She searched “#SFFpit #A #Fa” and that’s how she found my tweet.

KNOW THY GENRE. If you write speculative fiction, read my Straightforward Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Sub-Genres.

There are two deciding factors in assigning an age category. One is the age of the protagonist. One is the age of the audience, based on the age of protagonist and the content of the novel. If your protagonist is an adult, you can’t pitch it for kids. If your content is too mature for kids, it needs to be pitched at a higher age category. If the tone is too simple or cutesy for the intended audience, that needs to be fixed. Agents will reject YA novels if it “sounds MG.” (See When Voice and Genre Don’t Match)

What is New Adult? New Adult is a contemporary construct that stems from the post-adolescent phenomenon. If your novel contains an 1) 18-to-20-something protagonist with a 2) contemporary mindset 3) transitioning between adolescent and adult life, then you can pitch it as #NA. Note, though, that this started as a subcategory of romance, and some agents and publishers still consider it “YA romance + more sex” OR “adult romance with younger MCs.” NA is all about navigating the world as a newly-released-into-the-wild adult. It concerns itself with firsts: first job, first home, first “serious” relationship.

NA is new, because historically, people were children, and then, after they hit puberty, they were adults. In the 20th century, more people attended school past puberty, and eventually (post WWII), people were divided into children, teenagers, and adults. Now, people aren’t considered adults until 25, which leaves us with a 19-to-25-year-old category: new adults.

Calls for Diversity: #WNDB, #OWN, and #DVpit

If you qualify, you can use the #WNDB hashtag, which stands for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag but gives you considerably more characters to work with.

Update from 2021We Need Diverse Books no longer uses the #ownvoices hashtag or label. Read why.

(2018 update, since I absolutely needed additional clarification here: 

  • Remember that diversity is NOT a trend. It is not a label you “add in” as an afterthought to sell more books. If you are wanting to write characters who are marginalized in a way you are not, invest your time in researching setting, culture, attitudes, worldview, and language, and invest your money in sensitivity reads.
  • If you aren’t a marginalized author writing about a character sharing that marginalization, do not use #own or #ownvoices. Secondhand experience is not enough. Read DVpit’s notes on marginalization here.
  • Some voices are not yours to borrow, and some stories are not yours to tell. Do we need another LGBT coming-out story written by a cishet person? Should another white American write from a slave’s perspective? Do not profit off another’s pain, especially if your ancestors or your greater community were the ones who caused the pain.


After the Pitch Party

What to do after Twitter pitch parties: STOP. Celebrate agent interest and newfound friends, analyze which pitches worked best, research agents.

Jump into querying too soon.
Query more than 1 agent per agency.
Query agents / presses that seem shady.

Query only agents / presses you’d trust your MS (& career!) with.
Take time to research agents and tailor your query for each. Try to send within the week.

If you sit at the bar and keep using the same line over and over again, it’s not going to be very successful unless you’re Ryan Gosling. You need to tailor your pitches based on the type of agent you want to represent you.

SFFpit Results

For the sake of this post, all times given are in CST Central Time.

Remember, #SFFpit is for writers and agents of speculative fiction. Agents looking for other genres might act differently. In fact, I expect they will. Be sure to read my analysis below.

Dan Koboldt, host of SFFpit, posted his results of the 2014 Twitter Party. A quick look:

  • 641 authors tweeted 6,000 pitches
  • 32 literary agents made 355 requests
  • 11 small presses also participated
  • 32% of authors received at least one request from an agent
  • 14% of authors got requests from 2 or more agents

My results

  • I tweeted 24 times, once every half hour from 7am–7pm.
  • I pitched 22 completely different pitches for the same manuscript. I re-pitched two.
  • During those 12 hours, I received 143 RTs and 17 requests—10 from agents, 6 from small presses (one small press requested twice).

While I will certainly be looking into the small presses, this specific blog post is going to consider what the agents were looking for.

37.5% (9/24) of my pitches received requests from both agents and small presses.

25% received requests from literary agents. Here are the 6 winning pitches:

7:47 am, pinned to the top of my page, 26 RTs and 5 agent requests

Tagged: Premise, Voice, Reference

9:47 am, 9 RTs and 1 agent request

Tagged: Premise, Reference

12:47 am, 1 RT, 1 agent request, 1 press request

Tagged: Premise, Stakes

1:17 pm, 1 RT and 1 agent request

Tagged: Character, Premise, Reference

2:17 pm, 4 RTs, 1 agent request, 1 press request

Tagged: Premise, Stakes, Reference

3:17 pm, 1 RT, 1 agent request, 1 press request

Tagged: Voice, Premise, Reference

Audience Choice—Three pitches received 10 or more RTs but yielded no agent response:

Tagged: Stakes, Voice

Tagged: Stakes, Premise, Reference

Tagged: Stakes, Voice

The tweet that received the most RTs was actually the first and third “Audience Choice.” It was the clear winner in critique groups, and I thought for sure it would be my most successful pitch. 29 total RTs … zero agent response.

SFFpit Analysis

For the sake of this post, I will only be analyzing the requests from agents, not small presses. Realize that this is an extremely small sample and is particular to my genre and premise. To make this really scientific, I’d need to analyze every agent favorite per category. If anybody wants to go ahead and do that, please do! If you want to do the same analysis I’m doing here, blog about it and comment below with a link so readers can see your responses as well.

Analysis of Timing

I started off the day with what I thought were some of my strongest pitches. My second post did better than my first, so I immediately pinned that to the top of my page. It went on to be my most successful pitch of the day, likely because it was pinned to the top of my page.

If you post great ones at the beginning of the day, they will be retweeted throughout the day, getting your pitch in front of more people.

The chart below shows the time the number of RTs and Requests (both agent and small press) by time posted.

Time Posted

I don’t know how to see when the agents were online, but I vaguely remember a surge of notifications at around 10 am CST, and in the afternoon, around 3 pm CST.

Analysis of Focus

I tagged my 22 different pitches by their focus:

  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Stakes
  • Voice
  • References (comp titles, pop culture references, social references, keywords from manuscript wishlists)
  • Premise

As you can see, the audience favorites were definitely those pitches with clear stakes and a strong voice.


While most advice I see regarding pitching focuses on conflict and stakes, the success rate of my pitches suggests that isn’t necessarily what agents are looking for, at least in SFF, at least in my genres.

Two guesses.

One: Because the past decade has given us multimillion dollar Science Fiction and Fantasy franchises, agents who represent these genres receive more derivative work than manuscripts from other genres. That’s why, today, in SFF, a fresh premise is important.

Two: Speculative fiction often features a clear antagonist. Whether it’s good vs evil, humanity vs aliens, or one girl against the world, it’s generally assumed that conflict and stakes are a given.

So if you aren’t writing SFF, don’t think that your pitches don’t need stakes!

Granted, my tweets that focused on stakes didn’t do bad at all, but they certainly didn’t do as well as ones with other focuses, as you can see:

All ten agents who requested on one of my tweets selected one tagged “premise.” Nine selected one with a reference of some sort, six chose one with strong voice.

Agents Selection

However however however!

Not all of my “premise” tweets were successful. Let’s look at the success rate of each focus based on my 24 tweets.

Out of all six tags, the tweets with references (I’ll go through the references below) had the highest success rate at 50%. Of my 10 tweets with references, 5 got requests.

Those are pretty great odds.

The odds get even better when I start combining tags.


Now, here my sample size is showing, but of the 2 tweets that had both strong voice and a culture reference, 100% got a request.

And I’m thinking that the 0 requests for my Stakes + Voice pitches is more proof that pitching SFF just isn’t the same as pitching other genres. Those poor little babies. Maybe they’ll do better during PitchMAS.

At bigger sample sizes, the results might not be the same, but one thing’s for certain:

No matter your genre, your pitches with strong voice and apt pop culture references are most likely to get noticed.

On Voice

It takes practice to have a natural voice to your writing. Voice = diction = word choice. Use specific nouns, verbs, and adjectives. See my posts on diction here.

On Comp Titles and Pop Culture References

I’ve spent months trying to find the best comparative titles for my novel. Here’s how to do it.


1—Choose a novel that matches your novel in at least 2 of the following categories: genre, premise/plot, time, place, protagonist type, conflict, tone, audience, event.

2—Find another work that matches both your book and your first comp title in two or more of those categories.

My most successful pitch was The Princess Bride + Lost in Austen. While it isn’t a novel (I’d love to read it!), Lost in Austen matches my novel in genre (literary fantasy) and premise/plot (contemporary MC goes to a historical, fictional world, tries to get home, falls in love reluctantly with a local). The Princess Bride matches my novel and Lost in Austen in genre, and it matches my novel in tone (the irreverent humor), audience, time and place (medieval Europe-ish), and event (the wedding crashing).

Remember that when you are pitching a book to an agent, you are pitching a book to a reader. A reader that reads professionally. You’re also pitching to a professional. A professional that needs to make a living.

With that in mind, here are my 7 tips for including references in Twitter pitches:

  1. Be relevant—references to classical literature and old books aren’t as successful as ones published in the last two–three years. Show that you’re aware of what’s in the market today.
  2. Be literary—make at least one of your comparative titles a novel, if possible. Show that you read your genre.
  3. Be realistic—your references need to work for your novel. See “How to Choose Comp Titles” above.
  4. Be humble—Don’t claim to be the next [Insert Famous Author Here]. Instead, use one of their recent books as a comparative title.
  5. Be specific—compare your characters to well-known characters (I picked Taylor Swift and Chuck Bartowski)
  6. Be savvy—if you can make a reference to a still-current movement that affects publishing, do, but only if it applies to you or your manuscript (Examples: WNDB, LGBTQ, Bechdel and Mako Mori feminism tests. Read my note on calls for diversity in the hashtag section.)
  7. Be awesome—refer to something geeky or a cult classic that hasn’t been mentioned for a while and will stir up nostalgia. Everybody mentions Black Panther and Buffy and recent blockbusters. Give me more Veronica Mars, Donnie Darko, more 80s and 90s and 00s references.

On Fresh Premises and Trendy Topics

By “fresh premise” I mean pitching something that the market isn’t currently saturated in. Pay attention to agents who tweet their responses to queries (#tenqueries, #querylunch, #500queries), and you’ll see what they are receiving a lot of. Right now, winter 2014, they are receiving a lot of paranormal, dystopians, fairy tale retellings, and urban fantasy. Ghosts, angels, demons, werewolves, mermaids, psychics, empaths.

So if you’re pitching something trendy, focus on what makes your novel different, what makes yours unique, not on what makes it trendy.

The good news about publishing is that it’s cyclical. So you can try to grab the readers now, while they are hungry, by self-publishing, or you can wait a couple of years until the big publishers come back to it. Remember that anything that is trendy now, won’t be in two years when the books being written now are being put out on bookshelves. You either have to be a year or two ahead of the market, or a couple years behind. I heard one editor at a big 5 publisher say she was ready to start looking at vampire books again. Give it time. (And please don’t ask me which editor. I don’t remember because it wasn’t applicable to me personally. If you have an agent, s/he should know.)

(Note: In April 2018, agents were aflutter on Twitter actively looking for more vampires. See?!)

On Hashtags, Again

Use them. Of the agents who requested from my pitches, here are the total number of requests they made during the SFFpit event, in descending order:

40, 34, 33, 33, 7, 6, 5, 3, 3, 3

If you take into consideration all the favorites and the 32 agents who participated, a single agent, on average, chose only 11 pitches. Out of six thousand.

Final thoughts

Research what agents are looking for. See which Wish Lists are compatible with your novel, and then try to guess what that agent might search for during a pitch party. If one of your favorite agents is looking for space opera, use that hashtag, or if there isn’t a designated hashtag list, use those words in one of your pitches. That way when an agent searches “#SFFpit space opera,” your pitch will pop up.

10 Steps to Finishing a Novel

The great thing about blogging is that you can’t hear my maniacal laughter. Oh, I’ll give you ten steps all right. Just don’t think that those ten steps will be easy or even consecutive. Think of it more as a twisted game of Chutes and Ladders. You go up a few steps, slide back down to the bottom, go up a few more steps, slide back to the bottom again. You’re basically Sisyphus.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

A nicer title for this article might be:

The Creative Process for Writing a Novel

except it also includes processes that are critical, not creative, so maybe:

The Ten-Step Program for Novelists

(Titles aren’t really my thing.)

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen a link I posted a while ago entitled “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Unlocking Our Personas to Get Unstuck” from Ed Batista. In it, he quotes Betty Sue Flowers and her approach for getting unstuck as a writer. Now, I’ve already posted on The Myth of Writer’s Block, but there’s a difference between being “blocked” and being paralyzed by your inner critic.

Flowers’ essay is short, and you should read it. But I’ll sum it up for you anyway. She says that we all have conflicting energies. One, the madman, is the creative energy.

The judge is the critical energy: the internal editor, the voice that says, “That was the worst thing I’ve ever read” or “You are a ridiculous hack.” It’s the impetus to hold down the delete key.

So Flowers introduces two more personas, ones to act as mediators between the madman and the judge: the architect and the carpenter.

Basically these four personas represent 1) creativity, 2) logic, 3) craft, and 4) perfection. Separating these processes and letting them each have their turn will allow your work to grow and be refined from start to finish. You can even select one day for each persona. Monday = Madman. Tuesday I’ll organize his mess. Wednesday I work on syntax, style. Thursday I polish. Friday I submit the work.

Sounds really smart, right? It is!

But let’s look at the broader picture. How can we apply those four personas to writing out a novel-length work?

Steps 1–2: Experience

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Hey Kids, Comics!

#1: Feed your creativity.

Read good stories. Read like a writer. Watch movies known for their storytelling (See this and this for ideas). Watch Sherlock. Listen to people talking. Eavesdrop. People watch. Go make memories. Travel. Spend time outside.

#2: Feed your knowledge.

Research. Spend time world-building. Flesh out your characters, then get to know them inside and out. Need character worksheets or exercises? I’ve got them here.

This is where many creative people stop. But to actually get things finished, you’ll need to keep moving forward.

On to the next step!

Steps 3–4: Produce

This is where the madman comes in.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Fanpop

#3: Brainstorm

No idea is off limits. Try to come up with some themes, pitches, or log lines so you have a bit of direction for the next step.

#4: Create

Be wild, reckless. Imagine your inner critic bound and gagged in the corner. Unleash your inner child and play. Write a paragraph or a scene. If you are a pantser, you might even complete a first draft before the next step. Just get words down.

When you are ready to plan, whether you’ve written a sentence or a full first draft, move on

Step #5: Plan

5–6 correspond to the Architect.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: National Archive

Plan. Plot.

Start sketching out a roadmap. You can drive with your headlights out, sure, but it’s good to have at least some idea of a destination or what’s coming up next. This plan can be as rough or as detailed as you want it to be. Just stay flexible. Related posts:

Repeat 1-5 until you have an idea of a destination and a route to get there.

Step #6: Harvest

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Smashing Picture

Curate. Organize.

Gather what you’ve generated. Organize it. Be selective with what you keep. Cut, rearrange, paste.

Repeat 1-6 until you have a complete manuscript. Celebrate. Then take a break to read a book or two about writing. Spend some time here on the blog. Ask questions

Step #7: Critique

7–8 correspond to the Carpenter

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: National Galleries Scotland

NOW is the time to start critiquing. Look for lazy writing. Find cliches. Read out loud. Underline wordy or clunky writing. Use a highlighter, not a pen. This is a time to find problems, not fix them. If you try to fix everything now, you’ll overwhelm yourself!

Take a break. Read poetry, go for a walk, go on vacation. Give your ego some time to recover. Compile a list of people who might want to Beta Read for you.

Step #8: Progress

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Refine: Library of Congress

8a: Rewrite

Take a scene or a chapter at a time. Look over critiques, then fix them. Be a writer. Be creative, be original. Fresh language. Specific details. Show, don’t tell.

8b: Proof

Inspect your writing for grammatical or logical errors. You can do this at the same time as #8a, but realize that one is about creating, and one is about judging. They are like twins with different personalities. You can take them as a set or separately.

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Twins: Design for Mankind

Write, critique, refine, proof your query letter if you’re looking for agent representation. 

Step #9: Invite

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Australian War Memorial

Give your new draft to other readers. Listen to their feedback. Decide if you agree with them.

While you’re waiting for their feedback, read QueryShark. Refine your query letter.

Repeat 8 and 9 until you feel ready to submit or send your work to a professional. Note that if you already have an agent or editor, you’d likely submit your work to them very early on.

Step #10: Post

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write

Source: Smithsonian Apparently people mailed actual children via post. Seriously.

10a: Hire

Send your query letter and sample to a freelance editor for professional feedback. Alternatively, you could send your query to a critique group or published author friend. Consider anyone’s feedback critically, but also understand that sometimes your gut reaction is more of a defense mechanism. Don’t accept or reject changes without considering each one.

If self-publishing, you take on the financial risks of publishing rather than a publishing house or small press. Ideally you will hire at least one copy editor or line editor and one proofreader. I’ve seen multiple editors and proofreaders still miss typos!

Repeat 8.

10b: Query

If you are looking for representation, send your query letter to agents.

If no one requests a complete manuscript, repeat 8-10 until somebody does. A published writer is a writer who doesn’t give up. 

Nobody promised you a rose garden. This is a long, hard road. You will sacrifice much. But at the end, you will have learned and achieved much.

Then: Representation!

You did it! Plan on plenty more writing, rewriting, and marketing in the months and years following representation as your agent submits your book to publishers.


  1. Feed your creativity by experiencing life.
  2. Feed your knowledge gaining experience. Research facts. Fabricate the rest.
  3. Brainstorm like a mad scientist.
  4. Create with wild abandon. Repeat 1–4.
  5. Plan. Repeat 1–5 until you have a destination, an ending, a THEME.
  6. Curate, cut, and paste. Repeat 1–6 until you have a complete manuscript.
  7. NOW you can take the gag out of your internal editor’s mouth. Critique. Then take a vacation.
  8. Refine, fix, rewrite. Unleash the literary genius. Live up to your potential.
  9. Invite others to read your new draft. Welcome feedback. Write your query and summary. Repeat 8.
  10. Send your stuff to the professionals. Repeat 8–10 until you get representation.

An even briefer summary:

10 Steps to Finishing Your Novel | Write Lara Write


Note: My husband, a Captain in the Marine Corps (now Reserves), says he only needs 6 steps to accomplish anything: BAMCIS. I can see that being adapted for novel writing. Once he finishes a novel, I’ll let him write a guest post about it.