How To Write A book: In 10 Steps
I’ve been strolling through some ‘writing communities’ that Facebook has to offer lately. One thing I have noticed is beginner writers, or even some experienced writers, who are unsure of certain aspects of writing a book. So, I thought I’d lay it all out in an easy-to-understand blog post.
First, let me preface my advice as I always do; I’m not a master of my craft. Neither are the thousands of writers you will find in comment sections. The internet is full of people who don’t seem to understand that what works for them doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. So, this post is going to cover the basics of pretty much everything you need to know to get started (and then keep going). From there you really need to do your own research and get your own experience to see what works for you.
As I said, everyone does things differently and my advice above all else is to research anything and everything to do with writing. In the spirit of that, I will offer a helpful link below to each step to help get you started.
1: Your ideas
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet I have seen posts from people asking for advice on how to start writing and they don’t have any idea what to write. Which is great in some respects. They have the spark of writing in them, they just need to shape it into something they can use. What inspires you can come from anywhere and is the single most personal aspect of your writing. Common sources of inspiration come from reading, video games, movies, myths, and of course your own life (even for fiction). My inspiration comes from most of the above, plus music. Music, whether it’s the lyrics or the mood of the music, has sparked some of the foundations for my biggest ideas.
So, find what works for you and when the ideas come, no matter how big or small, write all your ideas down. From those ideas you can string them together, decide on a genre you want and then build on those ideas along the conventions of that genre. Don’t necessarily try to jam in all the ideas that come to you in a single story, but definitely write them ALL down.
How to get inspired: https://smartblogger.com/how-to-get-inspired-to-write/
2: Picking a genre
This is an important step that should be at least seriously considered before you get too far in. A lot of new writers refuse to adhere to the conventions of genre. I know because ‘a lot of new writers’ is me. Or at least it was. I, like so many new (and some older) authors, believed my work should transcend genre and its conventions because how else would I rise above the noise? Genres are not just a way to label your book for the bookstores. Genre = expectation, and meeting reader expectation = a story that works. Ask a person what kinds of books they read and the overwhelming majority will rattle off genres of some variety. Because those genres meet the expectations of what they find entertaining.
So, my advice is to research genres and their conventions, and see which your ideas fit into. The trick to rising above the noise isn’t to try to be unique, but to make it look that way. Take those conventions and put your own twist on them.
Also, knowing your genre is also important to your book length if you go with traditional publishing. There are guidelines which you must stay within to increase your chances of being picked up, depending on your genre.
Genre and Genre Conventions: https://writingstudio.co.za/what-type-of-story-are-you-writing/
Alright, so you’ve strung together some ideas and have picked a genre. Now what? Now you outline those ideas into a plot. The idea of outlining is what seems to divide authors the most. Everyone does it a little differently depending on their style, their productivity, time, and ultimately what works for them. A lot of writers don’t like outlining at all, and just write without a plan. These writers are affectionately known as ‘pantsers’, and it is what most new writers will do at first if they don’t know what they are doing. Please, don’t get me wrong, pantsing works for some people, and so all the more power to them if that’s the case.
I prefer and advise new writers to outline, at least partially. Why? Because pantsing is like going top speed down a dark highway with nothing but your headlamps. It’s exciting, fun and the romanticised version of what writers do. But ultimately, you miss the road signs and end up lost more often than not. Without experience (and sometimes even with), you won’t be able to find your way back, which is at which point a lot of writers take to their respective communities for help on how to proceed.
Outlining is not a case of putting every little detail down on the paper, it’s just drawing up a map before you go hurtling down that same road. You want to know the important landmarks in your story so you have a general sense on which direction to send your characters. Everything in between can take on a life of its own. So, research ways to outline and find what appeals to you and give it a go.
4: Your first draft
There are two quotes that come to mind which, together, perfectly encapsulate what writing the first draft is all about: “You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.” - Jodi Picoult. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” - Terry Prachet.
Basically, just get it down. First drafts are the pile of junk from which your masterpiece takes form. This is something new writers especially need to understand. It’s very tempting to want to get early feedback on your first chapter, and to show everyone how proud you are, but you must fight that urge. I’ve seen many a budding author be shot down and deflated at even the most constructive of criticisms. Don’t let that be you. Don’t lose heart because someone didn’t like what is essentially a half-baked potato.
Once you’ve smothered that urge to share every sentence you write, you then need to kill another beast altogether, and that is the urge to critique yourself. Again, first drafts are crap. Inherently so - no exceptions. So don’t fuss over it. Are the words not doing what you want that day? Put them down anyway and worry about it later. Just push through it and edit later. Honestly, that is the biggest thing I’d stress to new writers. Just dump down that pile of crap and make art out of it later. Because no matter how much you stress and faff about with the details, you are going to be spending the majority of your time editing anyway, so don’t waste more time doing it now.
Tips on getting your draft done: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-a-first-draft#5-tips-for-writing-a-first-draft
5: Alpha readers
One exception exists to the previous rule of not sharing, and that is if you have maybe one or two close friends/family or writing buddies willing to go over chapters as you write them. These are NOT beta readers. These are people who can give you very general feedback and pick up on inconsistencies early on (to be marked for editing later). Alpha readers are the very, most basic form of quality control. They are not there to check spelling/grammar, or correct sentence flow or structure. They are there to give generalised feedback for the overarching plot. They are not essential, but are nice to have, especially if motivation is an issue or if brainstorming needs to be done. There’s no shame in getting help to develop ideas.
Defining Alpha Readers: https://www.shawnpbrobinson.com/editing-with-alpha-readers/
6: Self editing
This is where a lot of people start going off the deep end. I have seen a LOT of writers on Facebook writing groups smash out a draft and then give it off to beta readers and then off to self-publish somewhere. That has always been the dirty side of the double-edge sword that is self-publishing; quality control. “Publish” shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary at this point in your writing journey. Once your draft is done, the self-editing begins. This is where the major changes in your story will take place and where, if you had them, you implement suggestions by your Alpha Readers. By the end of your first round of edits, your story should be pretty much how you want it to be. Then… do it again.
Editing your draft: https://jerichowriters.com/hub/types-of-editing/how-to-edit-a-first-novel/
7: Beta readers
Now, there is a lot of difference of opinion on what a beta reader’s job actually is. Mostly the key thing to remember is to make it clear what you want from them before they start. Give a reasonable deadline until which time I recommend you be hands off. Collect notes, but don’t make amendments just yet.
Betas are your test readers, basically. Most commonly, Betas are there to find plot holes, inconsistencies, and give general feedback. But they can also get into the more technical side of things and identify issues with sentence structure/flow, dialogue issues, tense problems, and other technical points. The best thing you can do is gather a variety of people from different backgrounds, reading levels, and experiences in writing themselves. But remember, Betas will rarely be professional writers themselves, and so their feedback is their opinion and you shouldn’t feel the need to address every single point they bring up. However, if there are points that crop up with multiple Betas, it may be worth looking further into, even if you don’t agree. At the end of the day, these Betas are a microcosm of your future readership, so all things should at least be considered.
Defining Beta Readers: https://www.shawnpbrobinson.com/editing-with-beta-readers/
8: Second round of edits
Here is where you may wish to consider ‘resting your manuscript’. It’s hard, I know. Rest it for as long as you can stand to. I’d recommend at least a month. Don’t touch it. Don’t even think about it. This way when you come back to it your story will feel fresh, and you will read it as a reader far easier, allowing a better insight on how best to improve it further. So, your book has gone through Beta readers, now it’s surely ready for publishing, right? Nope! Again, many people rush to get their book out once their Beta readers pat them on the back and tell them pleasant things. But the next thing to do is go through the book once more after you’ve implemented (or not) the Betas’ suggestions and make doubly sure you are happy with what you have.
Self Editing basics: https://thewritelife.com/self-editing-basics/
9: Find an editor
This is easily the biggest hurdle new and experienced authors will face. Unless you have a lot of disposable income, and most of us don’t, this will be difficult. I was able to scrap together enough money to have my first novel, The Order of Elysium, worked on by a seasoned professional. A professional editor is not the same as a Beta Reader or your own edits. They don’t just look for grammar and spelling issues. They get right into the very core of your book and pull out any remaining gunk. Any editor worth paying for has the knowledge to find and help you fix any of your technical issues and even some plot issues of your book. I know it sounds harsh, but as good as you may be a writer, you will only ever be able to get your book to a 9/10 of its potential without an editor. Some are fine with that, but if you can find a way to afford a good one, do so.
Now, there are a lot of cowboys out there offering cheap editing. I won’t tell you to steer away completely, because I am sure there are decent ones out there looking for jump starts to their portfolios. But I will say this, those editors are few and far between. Websites like Fiverr are great to find freelancers, but do your research first thoroughly before handing over money. Some people who claim to be editors have about as much experience as right clicking on the squiggly lines in Microsoft Word. I have seen good authors’ work be torn to shreds by someone who didn’t know what they were doing. Remember, you get what you pay for. A final note: A good editor will be honest with you regarding what needs to be done and doing things the right way can save you a lot of money. For example, because I went through all these steps myself, I cut my editing costs in half because the product I handed off to the editor was already as polished as it could be. This saved the editor’s expensive time and allowed an entire phase of editing to be skipped over, saving me quite a bit of money.
How to choose an editor: https://www.rinellegrey.com/2013/07/08/6-tips-for-finding-the-right-editor-for-your-book/
My editor: The Erudite Pen: https://theeruditepen.com/
Here is where things get a little messy, depending on how you want to go. I have a few previous posts explaining the different ways of publishing, but I will give a quick recap here.
· Traditional publishing: You send your manuscript off to a publishing houses, or a literary agent, and cross your fingers for the next few months. If they deign your work worthy of their time, they will cover all costs, and even do some marketing. They will even go over it with their own editors. Whether you therefore skip the professional editing stage before this is up to you. Obviously, the more polished it is, the more likely it is to appeal to the publisher. The downside to this is you get fewer royalties. You also lose a lot more of the rights to your work in the process, especially for unknown authors. Unless they are particularly keen on your book and want to pump it full of money to create a bestseller, you will also have to do most of the marketing.
How to Publish traditionally: https://www.janefriedman.com/start-here-how-to-get-your-book-published/
· Self-Publishing: The rising star of the industry. Almost anyone can bang out a book and chuck it up on Amazon or similar digital distribution websites. This is a great way for new authors to go, as it gives you full control over everything and most of the royalties. Design whatever cover you want, release it whenever you want, charge whatever you want (depending on the site), and manage your own accounts. The upside of this method is also its downside. Being in charge of everything means you are in charge of everything. Succeed or fail, it is all up to you.
· Independent Publishing: This method is my personal favourite, and not just because that’s the route I took. Independent publishing is the middle ground between the two previous methods, and takes the best from both worlds. Most people don’t distinguish between ‘independent publishing’ and ‘self publishing’, and it is true they are often used interchangeably. But many who use this method would beg to differ, including the companies that offer the service. This method is using an ‘independent publishing’ service to take on the role of publisher, while still allowing you to retain full control. They will take your manuscript, and if they feel it’s good enough, they will take you on. My publisher was Leschenault Press, also known as The Book Reality Experience. They agreed to work on my book and they:
o Sourced editors to choose from that suited me.
o Sourced artists for the cover
o Formatted my book for e-book and print
o Set up all the accounts I could need across all available services
o Set me up with an ISBN
o Provided a proof copy of my book.
They did all of this for a very reasonable fee, allowing me to focus on getting my book finalised, and ask for no royalties. That said, you can opt-in to another service they provide wherein they handle all of your accounts for a two-year period after publishing. This allows you to focus on the next book, or marketing the first, while watching your royalties trickle in. They provide this for a small cut of the royalties, but I never felt pressured to do so whatsoever. I can only speak for my experience with my independent publisher. I highly recommend them for the above reasons, but there are plenty out there. Again, just do your research and make sure to check any service you are considering against The Alliance of Independent Authors watch dog list.
Alli Watch Dog List: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services/ Leschenault Press: https://www.leschenaultpress.com/
You are now a published author, or you will be if you stick to it and follow these steps. There are probably other steps to take, or other routes altogether, but these are the things I did, and the methods I will continue to use going forward. This craft takes a lot more work than people realise, even though most can’t fathom writing a book themselves. However, doing it can be extraordinarily fulfilling even if being published isn’t your ultimate goal. So keep at it and good luck. Happy Writing!