listing an unfinished novel as a work accomplishment on your resume

A reader writes:

I’m a copywriter. It’s my first time hiring for a copywriter position.

I don’t want to be petty or unfair to applicants, but I don’t want to hear about people’s unfinished novels on their resumes or cover letters. In my opinion, it comes off as either immature, self absorbed, or really uninformed about the work (copywriting is really not at all like writing a novel, other than that they both use words). But is it wrong to reject applicants purely because they cite their unfinished novel as evidence of their writing skills?

If you complete the novel, even if it’s not published, I feel like that could rise to the level of a business accomplishment because it demonstrates dedication. But if you’re working on a novel for free (i.e. a publisher has not given you an advance), then that’s not really evidence that you can write especially well or even that you write regularly. There’s no deadline or editor that you’re beholden to.

I could see bringing it up in an interview when discussing culture fit or if you were looking for an editing position at a publishing house.

Am I missing something? I would love you know your take on this.

Full disclosure: I have about 150,000 words of my own unfinished novel but I don’t put it on my resume.

Yeah, it’s not something that should go on a resume, for exactly the reasons you say. Unfortunately, it’s not evidence that you can write well because there’s no outside judgment or accountability to others involved. It’s not just because it’s unfinished; you could have a finished novel, but if it’s unsold, it indicates that you have stamina, but doesn’t indicate much about the writing itself.

But I wouldn’t reject an otherwise strong candidate for including it on their resume. It would raise my eyebrows, yes, and I wouldn’t be super impressed with their judgment in this regard … but if they had good experience and skills, those would outweigh it. On the other hand, if they kept citing it in the interview, that would be a fairly strong strike against them, because they’d be showing they didn’t really get that it’s not significant to the work of the job.

However, if the person didn’t have other evidence of strong writing and editing skills, and offered up only the existence of a partially written novel as qualifications for the job, then yeah, that’s a rejection — because the person isn’t really demonstrating any qualifications in that case (assuming you want to hire people with experience and a proven track record).

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. Ms Mad Scientist*

    Curious-how would a self-published novel reflect one’s assessment of the candidate?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Same thing — it just signifies that you wrote enough words to have something novel-length. There’s no accountability to others or indication that someone with expertise has assessed it and found it good.

      The exception would be if you’d had really outstanding sales of the sort that most people don’t have, and then you might be able to talk about your success in marketing it, depending on the details.

      1. Susan Sto Helit*

        This reminds me of a guy on Tinder who repeatedly mentioned his several self-published novels to me, by title. I couldn’t work out if he was trying to date me or hand-sell me his books.

        Then I went to look one up and it had the WORST paint-job handmade cover, and also was a completely serious story about a dinosaur who was going to go on an epic journey through Jurassic Canada in search of a mate so he could pass on his genes. The main dinosaur had a name in the vein of ‘Steeltooth’, and one of his friends was named Donald. The blurb was full of spelling mistakes.

        I had to stop talking to him after that, because I was never going to be able to take him seriously again.

      2. AuthorSlashCopywriter*

        I co-authored and self-published a non-fiction book which has turned out to be one of the biggest feathers in my professional cap, despite my lack of “outstanding” sales.

        In addition to researching and writing over 50% of the copy, I handled all the logistics. Hired an editor, a lawyer, cover illustrator, and interior layout person. Chose distribution methods. Fact-checked my co-author’s work. Managed publicity. Created social ads. Got an ISBN. Worked tirelessly to figure out exactly how much I didn’t know (answer: a lot).

        I did all that on an accelerated timeline of just seven months, while working a FT job, because the subject was topical and demanded it. (For context, most people have at least 18 months to complete a book like that.)

        Hiring managers take more interest in my book than almost anything else I’ve done in my career. Why?

        Because getting that book made showcased my get-it-done-at-all-costs attitude, my ability to stick to a budget and tight deadlines, and the fact I can effectively lead a project. I learned a whole industry within weeks. I had a strong vision and went for it. When I was done, I got myself on local TV and NPR to talk about it.

        It’s tangible evidence that I get s— done, without needing my hand held.

        Am I hella proud of it? Yup. Did it make me rich? HahahaNO.

        But if I left it off my resume because well gosh shucks there weren’t enough gatekeepers involved to make it really count, I’d be doing myself a huge disservice. (And we women downplay our accomplishments enough as it is, don’t you think?)

    2. Artemesia*

      I would view it the same way as if they listed being a Scout Leader or having a hobby of competitive macrame. I am very cynical about self published work; I know many people who have written novels that are totally unreadable. I would actually be more impressed if someone wrote for a major blog (one that publishes regular columns from many people) and of course ultimately if one writes on line, it is easy to sample their work. Unfinished work and self published work doesn’t belong on a resume; it might factor in to the interview.

      1. LouiseM*

        +1. It’s a great idea in many fields to have some sort of writing publicly available online for employers to view. Communication and writing skills are so important and can really give you a leg up if the job requires any writing at all. But if it’s just a manuscript that you keep locked in your desk drawer, the employer doesn’t know how it is relevant to them.

      2. esra*

        I don’t want to google it in case my dreams are crushed, but I hope there legitimately is a world of competitive macrame.

        1. zibble*

          I don’t know about competitive macrame, but there is competitive wood planing (in Japan, naturally), and it is a joy to behold. But not at all relevant to most office jobs.

      3. Birch*

        Yeah, exactly. There are so many different kinds of work that can be either a career or a hobby (writing, music, travel, lots of fine art forms, even teaching, to some extent)–but it’s all a hobby if you aren’t being officially trained and overseen by an experienced body. There has to be some kind of quality control and assessment by professionals in that field!

        1. LizB*

          Pounded In The PTO Bank By My Own Terrible Immune System: Hot Rhinovirus-On-Employee Action!

      1. lawyer*

        Which you’re mentioning as evidence that some self-published novels are genius, right? Because Slammed in the Butthole by My Concept of Linear Time is brilliantly meta. Chuck Tingle’s twitter is also a marvel of performance art.

    3. kitryan*

      I interviewed someone who’d published a book through Publish America. I thought it showed poor judgement (they are a scam outfit that charges people to ‘publish’ their books). He otherwise seemed like a good candidate and I wasn’t going to tell my supervisor that he shouldn’t be hired because he was gullible-I did mention it as a possible negative factor, just not as one that should be a major factor.
      Turns out, he lacks good judgement in his work as well. Nice guy, tries hard, not very analytical.

  2. all aboard the anon train*

    Even a completed or published novel doesn’t belong on a resume unless it’s relevant, and I can’t think of too many situations where it would be relevant, I work in publishing and even we don’t like to see novels on resumes because writing a novel is very different from publishing and sometimes, as I’ve learned, causes some conflicts of interest.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oh, that’s a good point. It could be something interesting to bring up in an interview (“What do I do in my spare time? Well, I’m a published novelist!”) but publishing a novel (or acting in a commercial or any number of things) is an accomplishment, but that doesn’t mean it’s relevant.

      1. Monica*

        Agreed. I earned a living from acting and screenwriting for more than fifteen years, then burnt out (#metoo) and went and became a teacher in Italy. I have a handful of film projects on my resume that everyone would recognise, but I don’t list them on my non-entertainment industry resume because it’s not relevant.

    2. oranges & lemons*

      Yeah, I work in publishing as well, and I can’t imagine that being a novelist, even a successful one, would do much for you unless you have some great contacts.

      1. CM*

        What about in a cover letter? I can see it being used as a demonstration of interest in the field. But I’m not a writer or involved in publishing at all, so I could be far off on that.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          For me (also not in publishing), I think it would come down to whether the applicant understood the distinction between an author, an editor, and a copyeditor.

          My impression is that many aspiring writers are interested in publishing (although often because they think it will help their efforts to become published writers). Demonstrating an interest in writing doesn’t signal an interest in the field, to me. For example, I love reading and occasionally write published book reviews, but I don’t think any of that signals an interest in being, say, a book critic.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            OMG, I just reread the letter and realized it’s about copywriting. I am ashamed and abashed at my oversight (although I still don’t think novel-writing conveys much about copywriting).

          2. oranges & lemons*

            Yeah, this is my experience as well–so many people in publishing are writers on the side that it’s just not that noteworthy. And as someone else has mentioned, there is the potential perception that you’re mostly trying to get an “in” in the industry to further your writing career, or that your writing career will come first–publishing is a pretty competitive industry as it is, so there isn’t much room for people who aren’t very dedicated. I’d say in publishing it’s generally taken for granted that everyone really wants to be in it, so being interested in reading/writing generally won’t do much for you. If you write in a niche category that the publisher publishes, that would be more worth mentioning.

    3. Breda*

      Ok, but corollary: I would find it deeply weird if I were hiring for my lit agency, recognized the person’s name from their work as an author, and saw that they didn’t include it on their resume (or at least their cover letter, along the lines of “I was really fascinated with the process of publication and want to get in on the other side”). Would I want that to be the whole focus of their resume? No. But it IS experience in the industry: it shows that you know what’s expected of authors and how frickin long the whole process can take. And I’d wonder why you were trying to hide it.

      But, on the other hand, if you were applying to work here and kept talking about your unfinished novel, I’d wonder if you thought this was a backdoor to publication rather than a career in its own right, so.

      1. Kiwi*

        In that case, I think I’d say something like “My experience as a published author has given me a deep respect for the publication process…” and then talk about why I want to work for a publisher and why I’d be great at the job.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “I’d wonder if you thought this was a backdoor to publication rather than a career in its own right, so…”
        Oh, that’s another really good point!

        1. Snark*

          I scrolled too fast and thought I was still on the Chuck Tingle thread. And I was like, “Backdoor to Publication, by Chuck Tingle….pffftchchchchchchchch”

          Hi, I’m Snark, and I’m 12.

    4. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I wondered if people were including it on their resumes in the hopes of getting it funded/published in the future.

    5. Fiennes*

      I actually think having a novel on your resume is probably *worse* in publishing than in some other industries. There, it can look too much like someone wants the publishing gig only as a means of furthering their career as an author through these connections.

      If, on the other hand, someone were going after writing work, I’d certainly include published novel along other types of writing experience. The thing to do would be to lay out exactly what that entails: “Wrote promotional materials including back-jacket copy and blurbs; assisted marketing through bookstore outreach, extensive blogging on {TK websites}, and public appearances, assisted in copyediting and proofreading, chose excerpts for publication in {TK publications}”, and so on. Then you’d be using the experience to demonstrate not only your versatility as an author, but also your marketing skills, your ability to work with a text throughout its publication process, etc.

      Even with writing work, though, the experience wouldn’t mean much in isolation. Yes, I can write a 110,000 science fiction novel for you…but that’s almost certainly not what an employer is looking for. The novel-writing experience is most compelling on a resume that includes a breadth of writing experience.

      1. Fiennes*

        For “blurbs” read “taglines.” All the editing experience in the world doesn’t help you when there’s no edit button…

      2. Wintermute*

        As others have mentioned if you’re PUBLISHED it would look weird not to include that fact, published as in not by a vanity press or self-publish but actually published by a publisher. So I think on that one you’re stuck with the fact enough people would find it odd not to mention that you have to.

    6. whingedrinking*

      I’d agree. I don’t put the plays I’ve written and directed on my teaching resume; it might come up in my interview if they asked me something about, I don’t know, my experience with organizing projects or something, but otherwise I don’t see it as relevant.

    7. minuteye*

      I could see a published novel having some relevance in terms of having been on the other side of the editor-author relationship. If the candidate frames it that way when asked about it (“While working with a copy editor on my own work, I learned some important lessons about how to be a better copy editor myself” kind of thing) it might make sense.

      That would only apply to published work, however, not an unfinished project.

  3. Q*

    Curious, because I’m working on this and it will likely be relevant to my next job search: what about literary agents? It’s not publication, but signing with one is a measure of accountability and skill. I don’t actually have my indie-published book on there because it looks weird and sad on its own section of the resume, but if I had a lit agent I could see having something there.

    If, of course, it’s ever relevant.

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      I wouldn’t bring it up unless it’s truly relevant, and I can’t think of many situations where it would be relevant for a job.

      Writing is a hobby and an accomplishment. I’ve had a lot of people interview at my publishing house using their novels or creative writing classes as examples of working in difficult situations or taking criticisms about their work, and it often comes off as tone-deaf and unaware of business norms.

      Lit agents don’t necessarily prove that a writer has skill, just that the agent thinks they can sell your books. I’ve worked with a lot of agents who pass over well-written manuscripts for less than great works because the less than great works are niche enough that they’ll make more money upfront than the well-written manuscript. Publishing is very much about business and revenue at its core.

      1. Q*

        Yeah, my college professors were convinced publication would be impressive to have on my resume, but I took it off after assignments because I can’t figure out how to talk about my book(s) in a useful fashion for job-getting.

    2. Mr. Rogers*

      As a literary agent, even I wouldn’t think it’s relevant. If we had an intern or assistant applicant referencing having an agent on their resume it would just make me feel like… okay? I’m sure your agent is great at their job, but I’m not hiring you because you know someone who is good at doing this! Getting an agent might take accountability and skill… but not at all the same kinds as it takes to BE an agent (or to be whatever else you’re applying for). And frankly I’ve had interns who were clearly more interested in getting insider info for their novelist careers than actually doing a good job, so it might even be a mark against someone.

      1. Q*

        I would definitely not put that on my internship application at an agency! I think that would be one of the last places it’s relevant.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I guess I would wonder how it’s relevant to copyediting? Editing is really a distinct skill, and copyediting is a distinct skill within the broader editing umbrella.

      Also, anecdotally: My great-aunt has a literary agent. I love her to pieces, and she’s a solid writer, but I don’t think she’s quite at publication-level, yet. Her having an agent doesn’t really signal her writing skill level. Perhaps it’s relevant if she were seeking writing work, but it definitely does not offer insight into whether she’s an effective (copy)editor.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        UGH, COPYWRITING. I swear, I do know how to read.

        But I guess it’s the same question—whether fiction writing is relevant to copywriting. My general impression is that they’re different enough that doing one may not be useful/translatable to the other.

        1. Q*

          Yeah, I don’t think it would be especially useful for this particular job. I was just wondering if it might convey something if there was a relevant job…whatever that might be.

  4. Spatchcock*

    Irrelevancies on a resume should be disregarded.

    Actively penalising them is judgey dickness

      1. Hmm*

        But isn’t it really just giving you an idea of their judgement about resumes? For something small like this, assuming the person was fine otherwise, it’s not like your ability to write a resume directly correlates to most jobs.

        1. Snark*

          Not at all; I think it indicates issues in one’s broader judgment about professionalism and awareness of professional norms.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            But it’s not like copyediting (from what I understand) is a job that requires you to be good at assessing the likely emotional responses of people, like sales or something does. It’s poor judgement to include something like this, but it seems to me not to be the kind of judgement that’s really relevant to the job.

            1. damone*

              Copy editing is not the same thing as copywriting, which very often could involve assessing likely emotional responses!

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Ah you’re right, I don’t know the field and get these things mixed up. I was thinking, if this job is finding typos and checking grammar, it may not require someone who has great social judgement, such as by being overly proud of a hobby.

                1. damone*

                  And, as someone who copy edits, I must say that it does involve social judgment as well—including how to best phrase questions to, let’s call them “delicate,” authors when their words don’t make sense. ;-)

                2. oranges & lemons*

                  @ damone, oh yeah, I’m not sure why there is such a common misconception that editors just toil away in solitude (although it is a beautiful dream). Being an editor requires so much tact. (FWIW, I also think copy writing requires good judgment, since there are always a ton of minor questions you have to weigh up.)

            2. Admin of Sys*

              I think that researching what things should be included in a resume is a skill that would be applicable to most jobs though – in much the same way as looking up general knowledge regarding the company you are applying for is seen as a plus. It shows willingness to look for answers, to investigate, and to check the information you acquire. Even if you don’t instinctively have a good grasp of what is or isn’t applicable to your job prospects, you can do things like read this blog to find out. And yes, there are internet sources that will argue for including wildly inappropriate things in resumes, but figuring out what sites have legitimate information vs exaggerated ‘tips to win a job’ is also a cross-platform skill set that’s useful in any position.

              1. No More Novels LW*

                I find that a lot of my job as a copywriter requires researching the product, market, or industry I’m writing for so that my copy is relevant. A lot of times, it’s important to sound like you are a member of a niche that you’re writing for.
                Not that every applicant has to sound like a pro, but I feel like listing an unfinished novel is especially out of touch.

          2. Wintermute*

            I think that’s way over-extrapolating because we don’t have much information to go on. In addition, a lot of people get very bad advice from the people that are supposed to be guiding them on resumes that I REALLY don’t think you can judge on matters like this.

        2. Washi*

          I think it can also give you an idea about their self-awareness about the relative weight of their own accomplishments.

          I do cut people just out of school and people applying for very entry level jobs a lot more slack, but at a certain level I think you can expect someone to show some discernment about what belongs on a resume and what doesn’t.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Eh, it often gives you insight into their judgment writ large. I never followed up on my “exotic foods” story, but I’ve seen resumes where the inclusion of certain irrelevant information actively hurts the candidate. Sometimes it’s disqualifying, but more often, it makes me seriously wonder if they understand that the information they’re sharing is problematic. I’ve certainly interviewed people who made bad resume calls, but the ones who included benign but irrelevant information were often employable, while the ones who included concerning and irrelevant information were almost always cut after the first interview.

      2. Runner*

        Yes — and why bother to even look at a resume if you’re to not use it in part to make some calls on baseline qualifications and judgment and appropriateness for a position or fit.

    1. earl grey aficionado*

      In this particular case, it’s not an irrelevancy on the resume, though. Fiction and copywriting are DRASTICALLY different. An applicant who assumes “unpublished novel” is relevant experience to copywriting is a) out of touch, and b) probably won’t be happy in the job.

      Unless this is a very low-level copywriting job (like an internship, maybe?) in which needing to do some training on industry norms is expected, this would be a huge red flag that the applicant has their rose-colored glasses on and needs to brush up on industry norms. I would absolutely take that into account in hiring.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Some of the best letters are bizarre things included with resumes. $1 Starbucks cards. Framed photos. Statements of awesomeness.

      Judging is a human thing humans do all the time.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          The reasoning was that, impressed by their gumption, you will meet them at Starbucks for an interview. Not that you would callously go off and cash in the gift card on some private caffeinating experience.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            If they think one dollar is going to get me through the door of a Starbucks they’ve got another thing coming. That won’t even cover a small drip coffee.

            1. boo bot*

              No, that’s the *brilliant* part! You can’t get a whole cup of coffee for a dollar, so you *have* to meet with them so they can pay for the rest of it. It’s like when you hire an assassin you give part of the money up front, but before they get the rest they have to produce a body.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      If they don’t recognize what is irrelevant, then they may not know what is relevant either. Which means that including something irrelevant, especially something that on the very superficial level seems to be similar (like copy-writing and writing a novel), implies they are unaware of how much they don’t know. That is relevant to their qualifications.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Similarly, when screening resumes for tech jobs, you occasionally get someone who lists half their computer’s spec sheet under “technical skills”

        So it’s like

        Windows 10
        Microsoft Office
        Intel i3-6100
        8GB RAM

        and you immediately know they are computer illiterate.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I guess it depends on the field–I can see where you’d want something a bit more in-depth in tech than just typical user skills. But tbf, with Microsoft Office–so many admin jobs list it as a requirement that if you’re tailoring your resume to the job posting and you don’t put it on there, you risk them assuming you don’t know it. Especially if they don’t do any clerical testing. Higher-level jobs, maybe not, but low-level ones do want to know.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            I think she’s referring to literally including the processor and amount of RAM their PC has.

    4. Badatnames*

      I once had an applicant list “weight loss” in the “Other Interests” section of their resume. I definitely judged that, though I couldn’t settle on “massively unprofessional” vs. “tragically pitiable.”

    5. fposte*

      People are sending this to hiring committees in order to be judged. There’s no prerogative to say “Only judge it if you think it helps my candidacy.”

      1. Wintermute*

        You’re correct but I think you’re missing a key piece, ultimately the point of this whole exercise is to fill an open position with the best candidate. What I, and many other people, are saying is “this doesn’t tell you enough information to make an adverse inference on its own” It might be a hint that you should dig a little deeper, but it also just might mean they got talked into going to a college career center or paid for a resume review service that gave them terrible advice; we’ve seen that here often enough before.

        But at the end of the day that one data point doesn’t tell you much.

    6. LQ*

      Judging resumes is the entire point of a manager reviewing resumes and everything you put on there, or don’t, has to be a part of that. Everything you put on is a decision you make about what you want to share and how you want to share it in a case where you are being explicitly judged. Just like if I read a job description that wants someone detali oriented. I’m going to be judgey. Now if I decide that means they desperately need someone detail oriented, that they are just horrible is in my own head, but that’s entirely reasonable to judge. That’s all they are putting out into the world and that’s all I’ve got and there are thousands of jobs and thousands of resumes. At some point you have to clear them out as a part of that judgement.

    7. NW Mossy*

      One of the things I’m looking for when I hire is whether or not the candidate’s communication includes only what’s relevant. My team needs to be able to accurately assess what’s important to the audience and tailor their communication that way, so if I see evidence of not doing that in a resume, it’s a mark against from the start. It’s a pitfall I can be prone to myself, so I watch for carefully when assessing candidates.

    8. hbc*

      There’s irrelevant (“I don’t actually need anyone who can speak Flemish, but maybe someone else might”) and irrelevant (“Why on Earth would you think any employer would see your national Scrabble ranking as anything but an unrelated hobby?”) Being far off the mark is a pretty clear indication that the applicant doesn’t understand what the job is, and if they don’t know what the job is, there’s less of a chance that they’ll enjoy the work and/or do it well.

      1. essEss*

        I would think a national scrabble ranking would be applicable for a copy editing job. That shows the applicant has a large vocabulary and the ability to spell correctly under pressure. :-)

        1. Karo*

          Having a large scrabble vocabulary is very different than having a large working vocabulary (e.g. I know that Qi is a word I can play to get rid of my Q without a U. But I don’t know what it means). Now, your national NY Times Crossword Puzzle ranking I’d be interested in.

          1. Thlayli*

            Isn’t there a rule in scrabble that if you are questioned on a word and you don’t know what it means, you have to remove it from the board? Pretty sure that’s in the official rules. We used to play that way.

            Qi (pronounced Chee) is the life force flowing through your body (and the whole world?) that they talk about in things like yoga, acupuncture, feng shui etc. It’s a Chinese belief; I think it’s part of a number of religions but I’m not sure of the details.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think the rule is, when challenged, you have to look up the word in an agreed-upon dictionary. So I don’t think you have to be able to define it to play the word; you just have to prove it’s a word as determined by some lexicographer somewhere.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Eo: A wind off the Faroe islands.

            I learned this on NPR, probably Wait Wait or Says You.

            1. The Office Blooper*

              That’d be OE :)

              I was once ranked top 20 in the world and I would keep it far, far, far away from my resume. It did once come up in an interview because the interviewer Googled me, and I happily answered questions about it but I’d never bring it up as an example of ability to do work.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          I copy edit as part of my job but I’m possibly the world’s worst Scrabble player. This is probably because I always want to make the most interesting words rather than the highest scoring ones.

        3. hbc*

          Being able to rearrange a narrow set of letters into the most complicated word possible and fitting it onto a grid for the most points while denying your opponent a high-scoring opportunity is probably a skill that copy-editors are statistically more likely to have than, say, drill-press operators, but not anywhere near predictive of performance.

    9. Allison*

      A resume is a marketing document, it’s supposed to convince the hiring manager you’re qualified. It’s not the job of the hiring manager, or sourcer, or recruiter, to look past what *you wrote* and give you the benefit of the doubt just because you’re a human and you need a job, it’s up to you to make your resume a compelling, convincing marketing document.

      Have you ever seen an ad, or commercial, that was kind of off-putting an you ended up not buying the thing even though you needed something like it, and instead bought something else because it was advertised in a way that better convinced you it suited your needs as a consumer? Were you being unfair? No, you were making a decision based on the information provided.

      1. No More Novels LW*

        For a lot of jobs, the skill of applying has nothing to do with the work of the job. But Copywriting is so actively about writing (and selling!) that I don’t think that’s true for this position. (Plus, the cover letter is sometimes the only writing sample I get).

    10. Hellanon*

      That’s what the whole process *is* though – judging people based on their estimation & articulation of how well their skills line up with a given job. Getting it a little bit wrong is no big deal. Getting it really wrong is in some ways like demonstrating you haven’t even put a good-faith effort into getting it right. And that’s a sign, for me, that there are likely to be other areas of difficulty down the line.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    I hire copywriters all the time.

    If you’re writing a novel, don’t tell me about it until after I hire you. I’m going to wonder whether you chafe at the kind of writing my niche of the industry does (highly regulated, think banking and SEC) because you fancy yourself the author of the next Great American Novel.

    Sorry. I know I sound like an ogre but I really don’t do well with airy-fairy types. I have at least one budding fiction writer working for me now but that person a) didn’t mention it during the interview process and b) doesn’t let it get in the way of getting the work done. It’s when I get someone who’s all “I’m too CREATIVE to do what the clients are asking for!” that I start to blow my stack.

    1. Q*

      I brought it up in my interview for my current job because I majored in creative writing and have little work experience. But I brought it up in context of, “Well, this was a group situation I was in, running it through a critique session with 30 people, and I had to take criticism gracefully…” so maybe that worked out for the best.

      1. Indoor Cat*

        Mm, so, to be fair, I’ve never hired anyone. But, my second job is freelance writing, specializing in writing grant proposals for non-profits, especially non-profits run by non-native English speakers who need grants from American and UK-based organizations.

        I wrote a s/f novel for my senior thesis in undergrad (majoring in English), and that didn’t end up on my resume, nor did it come up in an interview. What has come up over and over from college was the tutoring and writing help I did with ESL students, including grad students in majors far out of my wheelhouse (like AI development).

        To my mind, saying that I’ve been challenged by facing rejection regarding my undergraduate novel just isn’t going to seem relevant. And, to be blunt, while I thought my novel was amazing at the time, hindsight being 20-20, it wasn’t really professional quality. I’m glad I wrote it; it’s good practice, and I’m definitely going to write another novel again in the future. But it wouldn’t have convinced any non-profits that I’m capable of scoring them a grant, which is what I was saying I could do.

        (Now, tutoring ESL students doesn’t prove I could score a grant either until I finally, you know, did that, so my first gig was based on, “I will do this for half the market rate because you’re taking a risk on someone unproven.” Once I did that successfully, I was able to build up from there.)

        1. Q*

          I didn’t talk about the actual content of the book, ever, or turn it into an emotional thing. Just working on it as a project and working on it with others, and challenges involved in it and different publishing-business related activities.

          And my day job doesn’t actually involve writing.

    2. earl grey aficionado*

      All of this. People romanticize the writing/publishing industry to an absurd degree without realizing that it is vast, and frankly, mostly quite boring. Copywriters who fancy themselves misunderstood artists are horrid to work with; hopeful writers who are less pretentious but still have stars in their eyes can be frustrating, too. I don’t blame the OP at all for wanting to screen them out.

      Someone who puts an unpublished novel on their resume is absolutely signaling that they don’t understand the industry at all, and that they’re likely to value “art” over “getting the darn thing done.” (Hint: the latter skill is the one that actually gets you places as a writer.)

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Seconded. So much. Publishing is a business, it’s not about talking lovingly about novels and lifting up authors and art. It’s about which books make the company the most money, and a lot of it is boring office work about budgets and deadlines and schedules.

        I don’t blame the OP either. We have a strenuous screening process to weed out the starry-eyed potential authors, too. In fact, I have one coworker who does cover art and who is the epitome of the misunderstood artist trope and always gives us cover options that are opposite of the specs we send him because he’s “an artist” and thinks he knows best. HE’S THE WORST.

      2. Kat Em*

        Yep. I do copywriting. I’ve also got a couple of horrible NaNoWriMo projects under my belt. If the skills had anything to do with one another, my novel drafts wouldn’t be such utter crap. ;)

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Oh yeah. I can ask for more time based on the fact that something is way more complex than the original timeline suggested. But not because I don’t have any good ideas about that subject.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Yes. “Airy-fairy” raised my hackles because the “flaky creative artiste” is a stereotype I loathe. I’ve seen very few people who would come close to fitting that description either in my career or in my personal creative endeavors.

      But people who seem to think there’s glamor and fun in making creative work happen? Oh yes. They exist in spades. It rarely works out well for them.

      1. Washi*

        I’ve met very few, if any, serious artists who fit that stereotype….but I have met a lot of people whose explanation for why they are flaky and don’t meet deadlines is that they are too artistic and creative to be bound by oppressive societal conventions about punctuality and quality control.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          Well stated. I think accidentally I blocked those people out of my memory because they are so infuriating.

        2. only acting normal*

          Yeah, flakiness and missing deadlines are not the societal conventions that successful professional artists flout – they’re smart enough to know the difference between the bounds they can push, those they can break, and those they need to work within if they want to carry on being *paid* to do art.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            You beat me to it. If I had a quarter for every person I’ve heard talk about the art they’d like to do, and who doesn’t actually do any, I wouldn’t need a job ever again.

          2. Annie Moose*

            Honestly, this is me. I always want to write more–but never quite get around to it because I’m terrible with deadlines and consistency.

            BUT I don’t claim to be some kind of great artist in spite of (or because of) my laziness. It’s definitely not a sign of artistic ability, it’s actually a serious problem I’ve worked to overcome that has caused me issues in my work and personal life!!

            When I see people glorifying this sort of “ah, I only work when the Muse strikes my Heart” attitude, I just wanna shake them and go “THIS IS THE SOURCE OF ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS.” Or at least it sure is for me!

    4. Fiennes*

      This is the whole reason that listing traditionally published work *does* say something useful. Novelists learn how to deal with edits. They learn how to handle deadlines. They get a whole lot less precious about their writing. Only a handful of literary darlings/cult genre novelists get away with those kind of shenanigans for long. If you’re an experienced novelist, you’ve almost certainly learned how to be a craftsman and a professional.

      (Though, to repeat from my post above, I think anyone hiring copywriters would want to see other kinds of writing experience besides novels.)

    5. alana*

      yes, this. I work in journalism and I’ve had coworkers who are published authors. in their cases, it would definitely belong on a resume (writing and selling a book is a huge accomplishment!) but in terms of their actual work quality, there was little correlation between being good at the grind of news reporting and writing, and being a published author. true of nonfiction as well as fiction, with the exception of people who got book contracts based on being good at the daily grind of journalism (rather than as freelancers).

  6. Falling Diphthong*

    Writing an interesting situation is MILES easier than resolving it in a satisfying way. Novel writing isn’t that close to copywriting, but unfinished novel writing is particularly unimpressive in terms of demonstrating a skill that transfers anywhere.

  7. Worth Having on Resume?*

    This hopefully isn’t off topic but what’s the verdict on including things like published academic journal articles if you’re not applying for academic fields. I work in writing but not academic (not creative, think grant writing) and I’ve kept my undergrad dissertation that ended up being published in an academic journal because I figured hey it shows I was good enough to get published in a real journal and if anyone actually reads all the way to the bottom of my resume they might care? But no that the topic has come up I wonder if that is something I should take off my resume unless I’m applying to an academic position (not likely)?

    1. Clorinda*

      Those sound like writing to a purpose and getting something done on deadline and to a high level of quality, particularly if you can point to results with the grant writing.

      1. Clorinda*

        PS I have a “Publications” section on my resume but (a) I’m an English teacher and (b) it’s at the end.

        1. Yolo*

          At what educational levels would you consider publications to be a relevant qualification? Graduate and post-secondary I can see for sure, but is it useful for teachers in primary or secondary education?


          1. Clorinda*

            I teach in a high school. The headings on my resume are, in order, Education, Teaching Experience, Other Experience, Awards, Publications. It worked out pretty well: using this resume over a period of two months, I had several interviews and am now employed, and I’m not even fully certified. I’m in the first year of a three-year alternative certification program. I couldn’t say, though, whether I got this job partly because of having publications on the resume or partly in spite of it!

      2. Hellanon*

        Absolutely. When I was up for a writer/editor gig at my current institution, I put the grants editing on my resume under “Recent Contracts” and running my writer’s group under “Community Involvement.”

    2. Madame X*

      Depends on the position. I have some academic publications that I only included in resumes for writing/communications type of applications. Each relevant publication was listed under a section titled “Publications”. However, or a recent project management position that I applied for (and got), I did not include my publication section. Instead, I listed in my “project management experience” section I listed projects that I completed which resulted in some of my publications.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      In that case, unlikely the novel thing, I think it’s also a question of what’s the opportunity cost to including it. I assume you didn’t leave off a better job to give the space to this publication, and that it’s not what pushes your resume over an additional page. I still leave “commencement speaker” on mine even though it’s not that relevant and was a long time ago, because it’s not costing me anything to include it.

    4. Anon Writer*

      I think it really depends on the job and field you’re applying to, as well as the journal and topic of your article, particularly because it was done as an undergrad. It can come off as tone deaf and kind of embarrassing, unless it’s relevant to the field and/or a profoundly impressive journal (e.g. Nature, or New England Journal of Medicine)…maybe. Otherwise, leave it off! Grad school application? Yes! Resume? Ugh.

      1. CM*

        It depends on if it is the only thing in the section too. I think if you have a publication section, there is no reason to take it off unless you need the space. However, if you have the section just for this one thing, really think about how relevant it is.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This varies by field (for example, some professions offer both resume and vita formats, and the latter often includes publications). But if you’re 3+ years out of college and not applying to a position in academia or for grad school, for most fields you should drop details about your undergraduate life—including your undergrad thesis. It’s unfortunately not that interesting to most reviewers, and I think it’s similar to only listing your undergraduate degree and major, but not any minor(s), on your resume.

      1. zora*

        We are hiring for an entry-level/just above entry-level position in PR/Marketing for a position that would require a lot of writing, and some people, since they only had a few years of work experience, had 1-2 academic publications listed on their resume. That is fine if you have the space, and does help show that you have had writing published. So, for writing-heavy positions/industries, it’s worth putting it if you have room.

        Much past 5 years in the work world, it would start to feel questionable to me.

    6. Birch*

      It depends on how much it’s relevant to what you’re currently applying to. How much is the topic related to grant writing in your field? If it’s related to the goals and mission statement of the organization you’re writing grants for (e.g. your undergrad project was about disenfranchised populations in Appalachia and now you work for a nonprofit about helping the opioid epidemic in Appalachia), include it. If the topic isn’t related, don’t include it just as you wouldn’t include a second degree or major that isn’t relevant to your current field.

      Another important point is similar to the discussion about self-publishing above: you want to make sure that the journal has good cred in the field. Putting an article that was published in a predatory journal or one that is not considered to be high quality will hurt you more in the end. As others have also commented below, how many years out of undergrad are you? Obviously if you’re an author on a Nature paper, keep that forever. But if you’re more than 3-5 years out of undergrad (depending on how good the journal is), take it off. I’m very proud of the work I did in undergrad and my Master’s degree, but I would not want anyone to read those now because I’ve developed so much since then. If you’ve grown in your skills, you should also be wary of showing people work you did in undergrad. Undergrad in general is not intended as the time when scholars do their serious work. It’s meant to teach you critical thinking and research skills. It’s just not possible to do work that impacts the field in a major way–you don’t know enough, you don’t have enough experience yet. You want to be improving in your field, so it does yourself a disservice to remind people of work you’ve done during a time in most people’s lives that involves more “finding yourself” than serious work. It freezes their idea of your skills in that time if you put it on your resume and have no more recent publications.


      1. Is it related to your current field? If no, take it off.
      2. Is it published in a predatory journal? If yes, take it off.
      3. Is it published in a high quality journal?
      4. How long ago was undergrad for you?
      If yes to #3, keep it for 5 years after undergrad. If no, keep it for 3 years after undergrad.

      As a sidenote, also consider what your peers have on their resumes. If people applying for the same job as you have several recent articles published, you’re going to look less skilled and less experienced, so it would be better to just not put it on there if you don’t plan on publishing more. But if, in general, your peers aren’t involved in anything like that, it could give you an edge to show that you’ve put in the work to look at your field from an academic angle and could bring a new perspective (assuming it’s fairly recent, relevant, and in a good journal).

  8. Louise*

    Also… do they not realize that, like, everyone involved in professional writing has an unfinished novel?

    That’s like living in LA and bragging you have an unfinished screenplay. Like yeah, WE KNOW.

    1. Hellanon*

      It only counts in your favor if it’s unproduced – i.e., you sold it, but it’s still on some producer’s shelf.

    2. GG Two shoes*

      This reminds me of my favorite nail color. It’s called, “I’m not really a waitress.”

    3. Aerin*

      I’d go further and say that everyone vaguely interested in writing, professionally or as a hobby, has an unfinished novel. Half a page of freewriting could count as an unfinished novel.

      Now, a finished but unpublished novel is definitely an accomplishment, albeit one that’s not very relevant to most business contexts. (Maybe ghostwriting?)

        1. boo bot*

          It’s most widely attributed to Christopher Hitchens, who said roughly, “Everyone has a book in them, which is, in most cases, where it should remain.” But a lot of other people have made the same witticism throughout the ages.

          Frustrated novelists have been frustrating for centuries.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      It’s one of those things that can be effectively punchlined, “There’s a support group for that, it’s called everybody and they meet at the bar.”

    5. Another Copywriter*

      Ug. I live in Los Angeles and work as a copywriter for a large corporation. Every time we have a copywriter spot open, half of the company starts trying to refer someone who has written an episode of Malcolm in the Middle or for some other show. Copywriting is not screenwriting but no one here (but the copywriters) seem to know the difference! Rant over.

  9. N Twello*

    People put odd things on their resume so that they’re memorable, or to give an indication of their character, or for whatever reason. I once got a CV for an office job that listed “goat herder” in her experience; I was disappointed that she never came in for an interview, and I never forgot her.

    But it would raise a small red flag for me to hire someone who might be more interested in their personal writing projects than in their work. I have known fiction writers who were not very committed to work.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The number of people applying for writing jobs who can successfully herd goats is surely far, far smaller than the number with an unfinished novel. As a job, it belongs on their resume. As a hobby, it is just unusual enough to score a spot if you have a hobby sort of resume, like competitive sheep herding or scuba diving. (Or better yet, both at once.)

      “I’m interested in a writing job, and I have a half-written novel” is the “I go to class on time, which is like having a job” of publishing.

    2. Oxford Coma*

      OTOH, someone with experience herding cats would be my first choice for copywriting, because they obviously get things done.

  10. Fabulous*

    What about NANOWRIMO?
    I’ve never participated, but I can see how that might be a better example of writing that could be under an “Accomplishments” section on a resume, along with courses taken and certificates awarded. Something like, “3-year participant in NANOWRIMO with an average of 65,000 words written each time.”

    1. Q*

      No. Definitely not. Heck, it only lasts a month, most people don’t know what it is, and there’s once again, no accountability or judgment of skill. NaNo is supposed to be terrible, even, and is usually unfinished.

      Maybe if you were one of the leaders and in charge of organizing the groups, but even then…

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      No. It’s a hobby and a personal accomplishment, not a work accomplishment. NaNo is, in my opinion, one step above putting fanfic on a resume. I’d be wary if I was hiring writers or editors and someone put NaNo on their resume.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I would judge it more harshly, honestly, than just a generic unwritten novel.

        There’s not even evidence of sustained committment in NaNo. It’s just a month. Most people don’t go beyond creating the roughest of rough drafts, and there is no peer review, quality control, or anything like that. And a lot more people I feel just jump on the train because it’s sort of faddish or I guess social than would just otherwise attempt to write their novel in a normal timeframe without the existence of NaNo.

        It’s not that it’s not an accomplishment, or that it doesn’t show anything. It’s just that it’s not really relevant to most things. Like, I, and plenty of other people, write in a journal or diary every day for years. That’s some sort of commitment to daily writing, but it doesn’t tell a hiring manager anything about the quality of writing, my motivation to write things other than what I feel like writing, or anything at all relevant to my work environment.

    3. LQ*

      I would list NANOWRIMO with Tennis I play with my aunt. They are about the same level. I don’t know that I’d list either, but I know I wouldn’t list Nano as though it was along the same lines as Certified ScrumMaster.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Ha ha. I’m a Certified Scrum Master, and I think it’s kind of a joke. You sat through a 3-day class and passed an open-book, multiple-choice test after an unlimited number of retries. And you can renew every two years forever by… sending them some money. None of it proves you know the first thing about leading a scrum team.

        If someone listed CSM and NaNoWriMo on their resume, in the absence of any other agile/scrum experience, I would honestly be more impressed with the latter. It at least shows some self-discipline.

    4. oranges & lemons*

      I think including NaNo is kind of equivalent to including that you completed a 10K run. I’m sure it’s a nice personal accomplishment but it doesn’t tell employers anything they want to know and they’ll wonder why it’s there. There is also the fact that even if you’re a great fiction writer, that won’t necessarily translate to the type of writing required by the job, and an applicant could come off as pretty ignorant if they didn’t realize that.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah, there are lots of great things about you and great things you have done that don’t need to be on your resume.

      1. Annie Moose*

        I agree. I’ve done (and won) NaNo 10 years in a row, but it really isn’t more than a hobby for me, a fun thing that I do once a year.

        If you were to take my NaNo experience to mean I’m great with high-pressure environments, short deadlines, and limited specifications, you would be DEAD WRONG. I’m terrible with all of those things! I only put up with them for NaNo because of how much I enjoy it. (and no, I will never enjoy an actual job that much)

    5. Breda*

      Honestly this isn’t even something that impresses me when I am *looking for authors to sign.* I mean, ok, cool! Hope you had fun. Now, did you a) actually finish the book, b) revise it to professional quality, & c) write about something interesting?

    6. Fiennes*

      The only NaNoWriMo experience I think would be remotely resume-worthy would be if you were one of the local/regional coordinators, who helps set up write-ins, various meetings, etc. That would show organizational skill, maybe.

      1. Aerin*

        Yup, I’ve served as an ambassador in the past, and that’s something I’d consider listing on a resume, since really it’s just volunteering for a non-profit (Office of Letters and Light, who run NaNo and some other writing programs). But even then I would focus on the social media, community organizing, etc. I would only mention my status as a participant if I could frame it as “did all that extra stuff and still managed my own 50k words.”

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Oh no. If someone wrote they were a three-year participant in NaNoWriMo and their word count, I would be really concerned and somewhat incredulous that they thought it was worth including. It’s almost like saying you’ve participated in an annual 5K walk for several years.

    8. Emily*

      As someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo, I would definitely not count it as a resume-worthy accomplishment. While I’m sure there are people who produce quality writing through NaNoWriMo, my personal experience was that I wrote a lot of mediocre words in a short-ish time frame and then didn’t really follow through on my writing after the month was over. And I don’t think that my experience was super unusual.

      A fun and potentially worthwhile undertaking, for sure, but not something that demonstrates great skill or commitment.

  11. Almondmilk*

    Can we do an “Ask the Readers” for the worst/weirdest things that people have included on resumes?

    One applicant mentioned that she had a large collection of dolls for which she would sew intricate costumes. It was… not helpful.

    1. Kiwi*

      In NZ, CVs can be a few pages long and normally have an “interests” section. Some of this stuff would be appropriate there, though not an unfinished novel. I gather in the US, resumes don’t have that?

      I agree with Louise that every professional writer has an unfinished novel. Or at least every writer I know. It’s not a way to stand out, or at least not in a good way.

      1. Sarah*

        Nope! I actually reviewed CVs when we were looking for my replacement when I was temping in NZ and I was amazed at how different they were. It was for a fairly entry-level position and the CVs I’d see coming in were 3 pages long. In the US it would be a page and would not include an interests section. Even now, nearly 10 years into my career, one of my more die-hard friends rolls her eyes about me having a 2 page resume. (I do have a one-pager for industries that prefer that, but I rarely use it.) The only non-work related thing on mine is my 7 years of volunteer work with a non-profit, and it’s tied into the specific event I work with and the dollars raised.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Some people list their interests on their resumes, although I’ve rarely seen it on American CVs. But I think folks also distinguish between what to include on resumes v. CVs. In general, I’ve found interest sections are rarely interesting to the reader.

        1. Kiwi*

          I actually quite like getting interest sections. It gives me something to make small talk about in the first few minutes if I need to.

          But relevance for the job: nil.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh, I think that was VERY helpful…perhaps not in the way the applicant intended, but helpful nonetheless.

    3. No More Novels LW*

      OMG I would include the magician! And the person whose description included only their entire astrological profile. I mean, sun sign, moon sign, rising sign, and midheaven sign. AND NOTHING ELSE.
      I sadly was not able to put them into a chart to find out what I was supposed to glean from this.

  12. Q*

    I don’t see what the point of putting any unfinished project on your resume is, honestly. Do these people also write “Worked on Sunflower Garden Project for a year. Garden still not growing”?

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Hmm, just for fun, let’s build on that.
      It could be a good way of determining if the person takes responsibility or not.
      So, Mary, how does your garden grow?
      “Slowly. The people at the store sold me crap seeds and there’s nothing I can do about the lousy plot of land.
      versus, “I’m doing my best. I plan to do x, y and z and expect this result.”
      Same with a novel. Wouldn’t it be great if the applicant would just say, “It’s going to go a lot better once I get a full time job with a good computer. I’m sick of typing on my laptop, so I plan to get at least a chapter a month done for the next year.”

      1. Q*

        No. That’s ridiculous. Write longhand on paper. Writing on a comptuer doesn’t even take a good computer, and if you think you’ll get more writing done WITH the full time job, well…that’s why so many of the people in the comment section say they don’t want to hire novelists.

      2. PB*

        Sure, that would be great. Then I’d know not to hire them, since apparently they’re planning to use work resources to write a novel.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Thank you; this totally made me laugh out loud (disturbing my sleeping pup, who is now very confused about who I’m laughing at).

  13. Mbarr*

    I used to work in the medical research field, and whenever we reviewed candidates, the tenured scientists would always advise the students to leave, “Manuscript in process” off their CV, because EVERY student should have a manuscript in progress. It’s completed, peer-reviewed manuscripts that hold weight.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Got the same advice in my psychology grad program. There’s a whole hierarchy of publications by perceived value too, where top tier peer reviewed journal pubs are up top and things like conference presentations are lower down, usually listed in separately headed sections. If you see white papers, class projects, and pubs in progress listed, that reads as padding.

      On the industry side of things, depending on the job I’ll put selected publications at the end of my resume. If it’s not a position that would care, I just mention in accomplishments that my variousness projects resulted in pubs and patents.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Same, unless your work is under contract (e.g., you have a book deal and it’s being published, but you’re currently writing it), the basis for your job talk, or forthcoming but-not-yet-published in a peer-reviewed journal.

  14. Envoy*

    I’m a copywriter and I’ve never applied for a copywriting job without including a link to my portfolio. It’s usually explicitly requested in the job ad, and if it isn’t, they’ll usually ask for a portfolio or writing samples later on in the hiring process.

    So I’m wondering: OP, are these candidates demonstrating strong writing skills in their portfolios? If so, why would it matter if they mention an unfinished (or finished) novel in their cover letter?

    I’ve never attempted a novel, and I agree that it would be out of place on a CV. But I can imagine including it in a cover letter as a way to demonstrate dedication to completing a project even when there isn’t an account manager breathing down your neck, or being able to churn out 50,000 words based on a brief that only exists in your own head, or as a way of showing that writing is both your profession and your passion.

    1. No More Novels LW*

      Some do and some don’t. It’s a fairly junior position, so I’m considering the entry level candidates as well as the more experienced ones. Sadly, it’s not only the freshly minted English majors that have mentioned their novels. Some more experienced candidates have talked up their dystopian fiction and semi-autobiographical pastiche.

      It’s true that I would probably overlook the novel mention if they had impressive samples of actual copywriting.

  15. VermiciousKnid*

    I’m a senior editor at a custom publishing house. I get all sorts of crazy writing samples if I’m trying to hire someone. The best writing sample I’ve ever received: unpublished excerpts from someone’s self-published erotic novel. I wasn’t offended by the content so much as her horrendous grammar.

  16. Erin*

    Isn’t 150,000 words a lot for a novel? I’ve read a first novel should be about 90,000 to 100,000. Anyway.

    I have a (finished but not published) novel and I would never dream of putting it on my resume, although would probably bring it up in an interview if it seemed appropriate.

    If I were reviewing resumes that came in I would indeed think it very odd if someone included a not finished novel on there. But if they were otherwise a strong candidate it wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.

      1. Breda*

        Yeah, while I disagree with Janet that you can’t do epic fantasy in under 150k (I’ve read excellent ones at 110-130k), it’s about the expected length.

        1. Aerin*

          I think she’s mainly talking about debuts. If you go back and look at the first novels of some of the people who now write doorstoppers, they tend to be comparatively tiny. (Carrie by Stephen King is practically a novella.) I have noticed debut lengths creeping upwards in the last year or two, though.

    1. Q*

      Yes. It’s huge for a novel. Some people write first drafts really long and cut them down, though.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        *raises hand* Me, haha.
        Secret Book’s final first draft is around 118,800. It will undoubtedly get longer, then shorter, but first I have to rewrite half of it because I blew it. :P

    2. No More Novels LW*

      I didn’t say it was a good novel! ;)

      But yes, it is epic spec fic and while they do tend to run longer, yes it probably (hopefully) be cut down in editing.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    I know nothing about copywriting, but can someone explain why it’s so irrelevant? If copywriting has to do with writing, and so does novel writing, why doesn’t it at least rate a mention? I would think if I’m hiring a copywriter, the fact that they’re into writing as a hobby too would be a plus? I know that they are different types of writing, but still it doesn’t seem that out of left field..

    I suppose it depends where on the resume it’s mentioned. Is it listed say as a recent job (No), but hobbies/interests (why not?)

    1. Yolo*

      I think the argument is that hobbies/interests are not relevant, just skills and work accomplishments.

    2. McWhadden*

      Because an unfinished novel suggests nothing about quality of writing. And copy-writing is really an almost entirely different skillset.

    3. Q*

      Because they’re totally different types of writing and being good at one doesn’t mean you’ll be good at the other. You have to train both skills from the ground up. Some people are good at both. A lot aren’t.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall a Tepper novel in which the heroes have to fake up a large artwork on a deadline. (They drug the guards with root beer.) The team consists solely of commercial artists working in film, because they will produce a piece within tight constraints on an unmoving deadline, and not fuss. Someone applying for a slot on that team based on “I have extremely creative ideas! I’ve never finished one, but i have some half-started paintings” wouldn’t get a slot.

      It’s like… if you can write amusing blog comments, can you write useful directions for solving differential equations? Can you write engaging copy about why THIS dandruff shampoo is the best? Can you write a thrilling long-form movie script about cannibal pianos? Maybe, but the four types of writing are only loosely related.

    5. Hiring Mgr*

      So it seems like the “unfinished” part is actually irrelevant. From what I’m gathering, even if it was a finished, published, best-selling novel, it would be equally immaterial?

      1. Lissa*

        Well, I think if it’s published then some of the problems are lessened – the thing with unfinished unpublished is it doesn’t really “show” anything about quality or other relevant to most work attributes. If it’s published then at least that shows you have some experience with deadlines and criticism, can stick to a project etc. There are still issues related to things like totally different types of writing and things other commenters mentioned but I don’t think it would provoke the same judgmental response of “ok you and everyone else….”

        tbh I relate it a bit to the debate about putting stay at home mom on a resume .. it’s not that it isn’t a huge accomplishment, it’s that there’s no outside metrics for evaluation. I think very often people get into mindsets of “you telling me not to put it on my resume means you don’t think it’s real work/effort” but that’s not really the issue.

        1. Not myself today*

          I’m an excellent short-form business writer, with great skills at meeting tight deadlines. And I’ve written a third of one novel and chapter 1 of two others. My unfinished novels tell me that plotting is haaaaaard, character development is not much easier, and I’m a lot better at doing hard stuff when I’ve got a fixed deadline. Those are not things I want to tell a potential employer!

          Now, if I’d managed to get a novel published, that would tell the employer a totally different story about me.

    6. Thlayli*

      I think the current guidance is not to put ANY hobbies on your resume, whether relevant or not. Hence why Alison is saying it’s not relevant to include.

      When I was taught to write a CV in school we were always told to put hobbies and extracurricular activities. It was definitely expected to have a “hobbies” section on your CV back then. I had one until my professional experience alone was enough to fill two pages. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who still have hobbies sections on their resumes. I would hate to think someone would hold it against you if you put a “hobbies” section in, since it just means you took resume writing advice that was a bit old-fashioned.

      I think if someone puts “writing a novel” in the “hobbies” section of a resume, that would possibly be a benefit when applying to some potential employers, because as you said it shows they enjoy writing in general. And perhaps not all employers care so much about the “no hobbies at all” rule.

      But if they put it in the “experience” section of the resume, then I can’t see any employer being happy about that, because it’s not professional experience, for all the reasons Alison listed.

      So I think it really depends on how it’s presented.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Thank you..Personally i couldn’t care less whether someone puts hobbies on a resume…As someone who hires all levels (in tech sales), it’s not relevant for me, but it certainly wouldn’t count against a candidate if they did put hobbies.

        If I understood Alison’s take, it was “not relevant, but also not a big deal if the candidate looks ok otherwise”. Whereas many of the commenters seemed to immediately disqualify the candidate, saying they don’t understand business norms, has bad judgment, etc.. which didn’t add up to me..

        1. Thlayli*

          I think a lot of the commenters just assumed it must have been in the “experience” section, and didn’t consider the possibility that there are still people out there with “hobbies” sections on their resumes. I have never been a direct hiring manager but If I ever am I would not hold it against someone to include a “hobbies” section on their CV.

          I wonder if the OP encountered this mainly under “hobbies” or if a significant portion of applicants actually listed their unfinished unpublished novel in the “experience” section.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Even there, your hobby is ‘creative writing,’ not ‘completed part of a novel.’

            1. Thlayli*

              Depends on how it’s written. I used to list my martial arts grade, not just say “martial arts”. It’s totally conceivable that someone could write a “hobbies” section to include that fact that they are working on a novel. I really don’t think it’s fair to hold it against them if they do.

        2. all aboard the anon train*

          I think this is dependent on the industry. For publishing or writing related industries, it does show bad judgment and a lack of understanding of business norms, but that might not be the case if someone put fiction writing as a hobby or interest on a resume for a job in finance or tech.

          With writing and publishing, there’s a tendency for people to put their novels on resumes or in cover letters because they’re looking for a backdoor way to publish, or because they don’t understand the difference between copywriting/copyediting and writing/editing their personal fiction novel.

          I work in publishing, so it definitely would make me hesitate when hiring a new candidate. I don’t think I’d have that same reaction if, say, I was hiring for a project management position for a tech company.

      2. Anony McAnonface*

        You know, come to think of it I was taught to have a hobbies section too, but I’ve always had weird/interesting hobbies that look good on the resume. I think the problem is that most people don’t actually have anything interesting to add. And writing is not an interesting hobby (I say this as someone who writes but does not consider it an interesting hobby since every woman and her dog seems to be scribbling something these days.)

      3. WillowSunstar*

        It depends on the hobby or activity. I do Toastmasters and have been told it is an acceptable thing to put on one’s resume as an activity, particularly if one has held a club officer position and/or district leadership position such as area director/governor, achieved awards, etc. I include it on mine and have been able to talk about things I did as an area director to answer interview questions. I believe it even has helped me get a job or two.

        My other hobbies, I would never list on a resume or talk about in an interview unless specifically asked to.

    7. Marthooh*

      “I should like to apply for the position of ditch digger with your organization. I am currently in the process of digging several dozen dandelions out of my lawn.”

    8. FD*

      I think there are three potential issues.

      1. Literally anyone could have an unfinished novel, so it doesn’t really mean anything. Unfinished novel could mean anything from “I have this rad idea” to “I have 100,00 words in a nearly final draft ready to submit.” It doesn’t tell you anything about this person’s writing and may raise questions. Why is it unfinished? Is the person bad at the self-discipline of writing?

      2. If the book is unpublished, or even self-published, there’s not much of a bar for entry. You can have a Tolstoy in there, but you can also get some truly terrible drivel shoveled onto Amazon. As a result having an unpublished or self-published book lacks even a basic gatekeeping function. This means it doesn’t really benefit your resume in any meaningful way.

      3. Copywriting is different from novel writing so without context, it might weaken the candidacy. Now, if you had been published multiple times, I think you could put it on with something like “Used to working under tight deadlines, as shown by publishing 3 books within three years for Lllama House Publishing.” However with no context to explain what skills are transferable, it doesn’t do much good and risks the hiring manager thinking you don’t know what’s involved.

    9. Louise*

      This is a wildly reductive way to think about it, but with a novel you’re telling a story over (potentially) hundreds of pages. With copywriting, you sometimes only have three or four words to tell that story, and you have to tell it in the voice and style of the client/business. There are a lot more nuances that that, but they’re just really different forms. People might be good at both, but being good at one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at the other.

  18. former foster kid*

    working in publishing….i’d say it’s pretty effing rare that there are advances on unfinished novels these days. and almost certainly not enough to live on.

    however agents will represent you if your unfinished novel has a complete outline and what you’ve written is good. i wonder how OP would take it if someone mentioned their unfinished novel, represented by X literary agency?

    (i agree about the copywriting skills being very different, though!)

    1. Q*

      Most agents won’t rep on that, actually. Not unless you’ve got a publishing deal already or have a lot of proven novels. Agents ask for completed manuscripts to consider these days.

  19. Mr Grinch*

    Sounds like those applicants have no idea what copywriting is if they think their novel drafts are relevant.

  20. Bee's Knees*

    As a copyeditor, who occasionally does some copywriting as the occasion calls for it, I would really love it if the hiring managers at my work would request writing samples from people before they start. However, I can’t see how it would at all be relevant to mention an unfinished novel. One of my coworkers has actually published a novel, and I don’t think that it’s mentioned on his CV, because it isn’t relevant to what we do at Teapot Publishing. Although, with this particular coworker, who is an AAM post all on his own, who knows what he put.

  21. Baska*

    Semi-related question: I’m the credited copy-editor of a small, very niche book. (A sourcebook for d20 roleplaying games.) It’s small enough and niche enough that I was never actually remunerated for it — I don’t think even the author broke three figures in compensation. I knew going into it that getting paid would be a long-shot; it was mostly a passion project for me and the author, who’s a friend of mine.

    Assuming I were applying to a job that required writing / editing skills, would it be worth including on my CV? And if so, where would I put it? Volunteer experience, given that I never actually got paid? Thoughts?

    (For those who are curious, a link to the book:–Injuries-A-RolePlaying-Game-Sourcebook-for-Medical-Maladies )

    1. Anony McAnonface*

      I would include this. You completed a project which is relevant to the position you’re applying for. It would depend on the rest of your resume and what that looks like, but consider putting it under “publications” if you have that section, or you could put it as its own job – name of company, time worked there, and put your position as editor.

    2. Ali G*

      I have a section at the end of my resume that is just “Other Information.” Here I list my volunteer work, my professional memberships, relevant continuing education/certificates earned, and anything else relevant, but not work experience or education info. If the work you did was relevant to the job you were applying for (or if you thought it would be interesting to the people reviewing your resume) that’s where I would put it.

    3. No More Novels LW*

      Fun! Thank you for linking this. I’ve been timid in the past about including my tabletop gaming projects on my resume unless I know they’ll be a good culture fit because I’m paranoid the hiring manager will subscribe to that whole Satanic Panic mindset. But with nerd culture being so prevalent these days, it can be worth the gamble for relevant work.

  22. Lurking Tom*

    We were looking to hire a tech writer once to move away from engineers writing documentation (ugh) & had a candidate who applied for the job through a recruiter. The candidate listed two novels on his resume, so the very first thing I did was look them up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They weren’t there. I asked the recruiter who sent the resume along for information about the publisher, and it turned out the novels were unpublished. That’s fine, I see resume filler a lot, many people do it, it’s easy enough to ignore. Then I downloaded his writing samples and opened them in MS Word. Red squiggly lines EVERYWHERE. It was like a crime scene. This was at least a burnt orange flag if not a red one, but I wrote back to the recruiter to let him know what I found and that I’d like the candidate to make edits/corrections before coming in. No one writes perfectly on attempt one I figured, so seeing what edits/corrections he would think to make would have been useful info about him. Then the recruiter wrote back and apologized and said that the candidate “hadn’t thought to turn on the spelling & grammar checkers in Word”. At that point I told him I was canceling the interview. Unpublished novels were not a problem, but sending unedited writing samples & ignoring the tools that could have greatly increased the quality of the samples gave me the impression that his work would have required substantial editing, and that’s a lot of what we were trying to avoid by hiring a tech writer.

    This anecdote is just a long way of agreeing that the ability to complete a novel =/= the ability to do a specific writing job well.

  23. Lauren*

    I am a technical writer with an unpublished finished novel. I never put them on my resume or in the cover letter, but they actually helped me land the job. They came up during the final interview when talking about in outside-of-work interests. I was a recent college grad with a few freelance jobs under my belt and what they honestly needed to see was the ability to be dedicated and that novel showed that. So I think that in very specific circumstances they can help, but don’t bother putting them on a resume.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good distinction: all sorts of things might turn out to be relevant to the right interviewer with the right question. But don’t put them on all the resumes hoping you hit the perfect match. Maybe it’s your finished but unpublished novel for one, your experience with a community garden for another.

      (This is also a good example because “I have written part of a novel, but never finished” wasn’t going to work nearly as well.)

      1. No More Novels LW*

        This is partly why I wrote in to ask.
        I have actually gotten a job *because* I had an unfinished novel. But it happened because I was chatting casually with my husbands boss at a work party and he happened to be a copywriter with an unfinished novel (but some published short stories!). We had a lovely conversation about writing that led to me eventually being hired, but I wasn’t trying to apply for a job in that moment.
        I don’t think I would mind hearing about it while chatting in an interview, because I sometimes discuss hobbies with applicants. But a cover letter that boils down to “Consider me for this position because I have an unfinished novel”? That was concerning.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve mentioned mine too, mostly when asked what I’ve been doing since I left Exjob. I usually say “Personal projects; I’ve been revising and querying a finished novel and completed another.” Most people seem impressed, or at least they nod like, “Oh that’s cool.” They’re not on the resume, however.

  24. WillowSunstar*

    When I was younger, I wrote a lot of fan fiction. Some of my stories were novel-length if you add up all the chapters. However, I would never even consider putting something like that on a resume. If asked about my hobbies, I might mention creative writing, but that would be the extent of it.

  25. Lujessmin*

    Heh – I put that I was an “award-winning, professional glass artist” on my LinkedIn resume. Of course, I didn’t say the award was a blue ribbon in the fused glass category at our state fair (and TBH, I think it was the only entry in the fused glass category), and that I’m a professional because someone insisted on paying me for an ornament I made.

      1. Lujessmin*

        I wasn’t really planning on going back to work after I was laid off, so it has worked out fine.

    1. Birch*

      IMO this is really dangerous. There’s someone in my field who lists herself as, let’s say, “director of freelance Teapot Dancing Consort with critically acclaimed international performances” when our field is Cafe Engineering and many of us also do Teapot Dancing to various levels of professionalism but don’t necessarily advertise as if we are the NY Philharmonic. I was curious (and a little jealous) so I did some investigating and it turns out it’s a one-woman show where she does a couple of gigs dancing with teapots and it’s “international” because she lives near the border of two countries. My opinion of her dropped dramatically just based on the lack of good judgment in misrepresenting herself this way. It depends on how seriously your field takes LinkedIn and something like this, but just be careful.

  26. MissDissplaced*

    To me, those sorts of things (novels, screenplays, articles, guest blog posts, paintings, photography, etc.) are fine IF they’re finished and published or if you’ve sold them as work for hire. In other words, if your novel isn’t finished, it doesn’t count for much more than a hobby. Not resume worthy, but can be ok to mention in conversation if the skill relates

  27. Commercial Copywriter*

    I didn’t read all the comments in-depth, so forgive me if this has been touched upon already. I’m in advertising, and part of my job is copywriting. I think the reason that this novel is irrelevant to their application isn’t that it’s unfinished or even unpublished, but rather that it’s an entirely different type of writing altogether. Writing a novel is art, writing copy is commercial – you are working with clients, lots of different products/services, guidelines, deadlines, brand voice/tone/content/context etc. You can absolutely present unfinished or unpublished work as part of your portfolio, but it needs to be commercial copy in order for it to be assessed in any meaningful way.

    1. Commercial Copywriter*

      And to give input on the actual question – if there was something else on the resume or in the portfolio that indicated the desired commercial experience or skill, I would bring them in for an interview. Otherwise, I would honestly feel like it would be a waste of both of our time.

  28. Gamer*

    When I was younger, I put my video game characters on my resume to a technical job at a video game company. It actually went over well— they took it to show I could connect with player needs, which was my intention, and we talked about it at the interview.

    Now, of course, I realize that resumes are better suited for listing work experience and concrete job skills, and the kind of culture fit represented by video game characters (or an unfinished novel) are better placed into a cover letter. Not only does that keep the resume serious, but it allows you to control the spin on how your hobbies are perceived.

    The myriad of suggestions in this thread about what the candidate thought the unpublished novel represented (writing quality, commitment, passion, understanding of the writing process) — suggest to me that it requires context to put it in a good light, which means cover letter, not resume.

    If the candidate is further along in their career, I might question their judgment for not understanding that distinction. If they’re only a couple years into the job field, I would see it as lack of exposure to the job seeking process, judge the resume solely on the other experience, and ask about it during the interview if the candidate warranted one.

  29. Stained Glass Cannon*

    Late to the thread but oh my stars this is a HUGE bugbear for me, although from a slightly different perspective.
    I’ve worked in the copywriting arena for more than a decade, specializing in technical reports. I repeat: technical reports. And I have completely lost count of the number of times people have come to me saying “hey you write great reports, will you help me write my novel?”

    I’ve had clients and employers who used the same rationale to try and get me to write advertising blurbs (completely different skill, fellas) compose letters and legal contracts, and take minutes (huh?) I am flabbergasted by the way people lump every kind of writing under the sun into one mixing bowl and assume that because our skillset involves the ability to write, we naturally must have a whole lot of other completely unrelated skillsets that also happen to involve the ability to write.

    Seen in that light, a candidate putting an incomplete novel on their resume could be small beans in comparison, or as other commenters have pointed out, it could be a massive red flag that the person doesn’t understand the skillset required for the job and will almost certainly struggle with the work at some point.

  30. Elizabeth West*

    There is no way I’d put an unfinished novel on a resume. It just doesn’t belong there, not even if you’re applying for a writing job. Publications yes, if they’re relevant. Definitely not NaNoWriMo. Nobody even knows what that is; I always have to explain it if I ever mention it (not in interviews).

    This may just be me, since it’s late and I’m tired because I’ve been performing major surgery on my book all damn day, but it kind of irritates me when people say writing novels is a hobby. If you’re just doing it for yourself, maybe. But I hate that word because it makes it sound like you’re a little kid collecting stamps. *in Al Pacino voice* Hey, I’m very serious over here!

    1. Gamer*

      You’re right, I actually regretted using the word “hobby” shortly after I wrote it. I’d previously intended to say something like “passion”, but thought the sentence sounded confusing, and felt that ascribed too much of a sentiment to it that not all might feel. Outside interest? This is why I am not a copywriter.

  31. Aisha*

    This thread should be subtitled: For people who aren’t professional writers/a authors/ journalists/ researchers/ academics. For this of us who ARE, “working on our next book” is exactly what to put on our resume to show the professional work we are doing at a given time. During the course of any given year, I might be consulting on a global NGO initiative, doing a research fellowship, writing a book, doing a lecture tour, etc. “Writing a book” (more precisely noted on a resume per the type of researched engages, etc.) is how I show what I’m doing for, say, August through November of that year. So its not only advisable but essential. The face that I write about my subject area is how clients or employers know that I am very current in the field, producing new knowledge, etc.

    This thread is only relative to people for whom the above do NOT apply; an accountant who want to write a children’s book, a marketing exec who wants to write a cookbook on German cuisine, a pharmaceutical sales person who wants to write a book of romantic poetry. All may succeed in these endeavors, but the act of writing as well as the subject matters aren’t relevant to or indicative of any professional skill set or related knowledge base.

  32. GM*

    I have 2 finished novels and I wouldn’t even put that on a resume for any kind of writing job (except perhaps applying for a job that involves ghostwriting novels). I think this issue crops up because people truly do not understand that the different types of writing require different skillsets.

  33. uncertain editor*

    So . . . what does one do if one edited two self-published books (non-fiction)? On the one hand, I feel like it gave me valuable experience (meeting deadlines, editing in accordance with a style guide, the intricacies of word …) and I was paid for my troubles, but on the other hand, the books were self-published and written by family members. I’m a recent graduate looking for work in copy-editing and technical writing, so this is my only relevant non-academic experience in the field. So far I’ve been listing it in my cover letter but not my resume, but I’m not sure how it comes off to potential employers.

    1. TheHamsterGirl*

      I feel like you could classify that as “freelance editing” on a resume maybe? But if you did do it this way you’d definitely want to think carefully about how you’d talk about it in an interview (like you said it gave you experience working to deadlines, working with a style guide etc. etc.).

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