Writing a book is hard. Wait, let me clarify: writing a good book is hard. The thing to remember is that people do it. People actually publish books, good ones–even while working full-time, even while raising families. Publishing a good book is doable and worthwhile. But it takes
Start Your Book
First you need to come up with a story, something unique that can grab readers (and agents) in an elevator pitch of 15 words or less. Yes, you’ll need to write that elevator pitch and synopsis, but first the book…
You must decide how to start. If you’re a pantser, your book-writing journey will be longer, trust me, but if–like me–the only way you can come up with story ideas is by letting them flow organically while writing, so be it. It just means you’ll write a lot of pages to get the story down. Then you’ll have to read through your pre-writing, plot it all out in a way that makes sense, then write the real first draft. If you’re lucky (and smart) you’ll plot your story in great detail before starting to write the actual book.
You create characters, each with their own quirks, histories, fears, goals, and desires–and conflicts, especially conflicts, both external and internal.
You write all three acts of your book, yes, all three, even when you reach act two and realize, whoah, a book is big, so super big, way bigger than the original story idea I had. At this point you remind yourself that you are not a bad writer, you are not a bad writer, you are not–that the first draft is always bad. Verify this by reading what all published authors say. (ALL writers say their first drafts are bad.)
You write all the scenes for your book, around a hundred. You ensure that each scene has a dramatic arc and an emotional arc and that the pacing is right–not too slow, not too rushed.
You make sure your book falls within the standard word count for your genre, aware that agents and publishers are more receptive to first books with word counts that fall into the lower range. You remain calm as you logically deduce that the reason publishers prefer shorter books from first-time authors is so they don’t waste as much money on you in case your book bombs.
Revise Your Book
- You rearrange all the scenes in your novel until the narrative makes sense. You add scenes, delete scenes, and completely rewrite scenes.
- You make sure dialogue for each and every character is distinctive and packs a punch.
- You craft your story in such a way that it’s not too ambiguous but also not too on the nose because you’re aware readers like figuring out things on their own.
- While editing your book, you take multiple passes through it, each time focusing on only one or two elements to avoid becoming mired in an overwhelming mass of details that will make you. . .
Balance is everything. While writing and editing, you maintain your sanity through:
- social interaction
- commiserating with fellow writers
- physical exercise
- spiritual whatever.
Work with a Critique Partner (CP)
After you’ve written, revised, and brought out the shine in all elements of your novel, you hand your manuscript over to another person, preferably a critique partner (CP). But first, you must find said CP. This means putting yourself out there on social media, websites, local writers’ groups, workshops, wherever you can find fellow writers/potential CPs who understand your genre and are willing to swap full novel critiques.
You must read other people’s works in progress (WIPs) so they will read yours. It’s a fair exchange, and the time is well spent. When critiquing someone else’s work, not only are you helping out another writer, you are learning a LOT about what makes a manuscript work.
You make more changes to your novel based on CP feedback.
Work with Beta Readers
You send your manuscript out to beta readers. Again, you need to do the legwork first. Interact with fellow book lovers on blogs, Goodreads, wherever readers of your genre dwell in the wild. When your book is ready, summon the courage to ask those people if they’d like to read and provide feedback on your novel.
Make further revisions to your novel based on beta reader feedback.
Read, Read, Read
All the while, you read as many published novels as you can, not only because you love to read, but also to gain an understanding of what’s being published in your genre, what the trends are, and to get ideas on what you’d like to strive for and avoid in your own writing.
Research Literary Agents
In between all the writing, editing, and networking, you also research potential literary agents. And they can’t be just any agents. They must be agents who: represent the kinds of books you write, are good at what they do, are open to queries. Which means:
- Every time you pick up a novel, you read the acknowledgment page (often it’s the first page you turn to), keeping an eye out for agent shout-outs.
- You visit promising literary agent Twitter accounts, agency websites, and check out #MSWL (manuscript wish lists).
- You create a free account on querytracker.net and check out what other querying writers say about prospective agents.
- You study agents’ submission guidelines and follow them to a T, fully aware (without letting it freak you out) that literary agents are so inundated they’ll look for any reason to reduce their submission load. That means every detail of your query letter, email, manuscript format, synopsis, etc. must exactly conform to what the agent asks for.
Network with Other Writers
You make friends in the writing community who will commiserate with you over how hard it is to write, edit, and query a novel–especially when you have to write a synopsis, meaning sum up your entire novel up in 1-5 pages. That is really hard.
Follow Your Favorite Authors (not required but, oh, so fun)
Another thing you’re probably doing—though not specifically required—is daydreaming and getting ideas for your own writing career by following your favorite authors; seeing what they’re up to on their blog and tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest,Vine, Goodreads, Facebook, maybe even meeting them at book signings (a thrill every writer and reader should experience).
Maintain an Online Presence
While writing, revising, networking, reading,and researching agents, you also maintain your own blog and social media accounts, hoping that by developing an online presence as an author you’ll look legit to future agents, publishers, and fans.
Whew, good luck. Write and publish that book!