- Louise Dean wrote four novels but found writing lonely and needed to work in a team.
- She set up a writing school in 2017 which provides coaching for aspiring authors.
- Dean, whose business has 1,500 people completing its courses, said she’s found a new vocation.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with prize-winning author Louise Dean about running a business instead of writing. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Before I became an author, I thought you had to be funny and clever to write a novel.
For many years, I’d been writing half-hearted poems and short stories. I wrote two crummy novels. I knew I wasn’t very good at writing.
But, after I had my son aged 27, I felt like I could do anything. I was living in New York and working in advertising. I decided to try to write a novel. I hunkered down in 2001 and wrote one in nine months. I wrote a few letters to agents and landed one in 2002. Later that year, I got a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster for my first novel, “Becoming Strangers.”
What was extraordinary was that the book got several awards listings very quickly. It was nominated for the Guardian’s First Book Award and longlisted for the Booker Prize. It won the Betty Trask Award and Le Prince Maurice. I was so innocent that I thought that’s just what happens when you publish a book. It was a great moment.
Working alone at my desk was isolating
Over the next two decades, I was in a cycle of writing novels and raising kids. I moved to France with my family and I started writing my second novel, “The Human Season” which was set in Northern Ireland. I spent a lot of time traveling between Nice and Belfast for research.
We moved back to the UK in 2007, and I wrote two more novels, published in 2008 and 2010. Once my three kids were at school, I’d spend all day writing alone at a desk.
I wasn’t meeting new people. It was my curiosity about why people do and say things that made me a writer. I was losing that. I needed company. I didn’t want to work alone anymore.
On top of that, when I was writing my fifth novel, I wasn’t sure if the story I was writing was any good and it turned out it wasn’t — I couldn’t get it published.
Writing should be a team effort instead
How could someone, who isn’t a bad writer, write a story for three years only to find out there’s no chance it’ll get published after it was finished?
It made me think the publishing industry is the wrong way around.
I wondered how it could be more like advertising, where a team agrees on a one-page brief and then produces the work together. I wondered why agents and writers weren’t working together.
I started a writing school
I decided I wanted to write a novel in 90 days. I invited my friend, another writer, to write his own in the same period. An article was published in The Bookseller about it, in which I asked for other writers to join me. About 200 joined as subscribed members. It helped people feel like we were all in it together.
I set up a website to record what I was doing every day as course content. I set up one-to-one calls on Zoom with the writers to talk about their stories. To my surprise, I loved teaching. I started hiring authors I knew were warm and engaging to help writers, too.
Within the year, I had courses ready that authors signed up for. I didn’t publish the novel I’d tried to write at the start, but the business grew organically from there.
I hired editors from publishing companies
The business took a major step when I hired editors from publishing companies, including Penguin Random House, to help authors improve their drafts. I wanted to bring the gatekeepers of publishing into the process.
With 20 authors and 10 editors on board, it’s like a hive mind.
We run 40 live classes and workshops monthly with authors and editors and a live session with me. Our courses are priced between £499 and £3,499, about $630 and $4,428. We offer monthly installment plans too. At the higher end, the course takes writers from the start of the process to submitting their novels to agents. Writers can take as long as they like, but it is doable in a year.
We have 1,500 authors doing our courses at the moment.
I’ve found my dream job
In 2021, I wrote a short story that was a finalist for the Costa Coffee Short Story Award. I’d found writing that completely absorbing and I felt there was very little of me left for other projects.
I’ve decided to focus on The Novelry instead of writing my own novels. Running this business is probably what I was meant to do. I love working on writers’ stories. I never tire of working out what makes a great story.
I feel such a strong sense of purpose. I want to reach busy people and show them that writing a book in just an hour a day is possible.
I tell authors to try to detach their self-esteem from their writing. You don’t have to be especially clever, you have to love your craft and be prepared to sit and craft a novel like you’d make anything.