I know this has been done to death, and there are several books on Amazon that claim they are able to help writers become best-sellers, but just recently there has been an influx of “it must be nice to not have a real job” and “oh I would love to have the time to write a book”. So, here is my input on what it actually takes to write a book.
It might sound obvious, but you need to have a plot. I’ve read a few books that didn’t really have a storyline, just a jumble of characters that went from A to B. There was no substance to them though. There was no progression. When children are taught to write a story at school, they are given “a hill” to work with – start, build up, conflict, resolution, end, and that is a good basic plan to follow. When planning a new novel, I visualise my story arc, and follow that. Characters are terrible for going in their own direction, but that’s okay, as long as there is still a hill to climb up and roll down.
Keep a notepad and pen in your bag at all times, for when inspiration hits you!
We’ve all read books that have hundreds of characters in them, but unless you are JK Rowling or George RR Martin, it’s generally a good idea to stick with a small-ish number. I tend to write with no more than five or six characters. I may add a few extras here and there, but they aren’t even minor characters, they are just background noise to give it a more realistic feel.
Character profiling is a thing. Some writers will create spreadsheets with every minuscule detail written down. I try to keep it simple, but it is important for your characters to be like everyday people – with different quirks and flaws. Nobody is perfect. Add a scar, or bitten nails, a short temper, a love of Marmite, just one tiny thing can make that character go from being flat and wooden, to realistic.
I don’t care if you plan to self-publish, find an agent, go directly to a publisher, or just print it out and give it to a friend, editing is vital. And not just the once either. The Final Straight was the first romance novel I wrote, but it certainly wasn’t the first to be published, because it spent so long in editing. I re-wrote the entire novel three times before even sending to be considered. Seven Dirty Words and Four Letter Words started out as a trilogy, but was condensed into two books. Taking Care of Leah was originally a full-length novel, but got tightened into a short novel. And this was all before I handed it over to a professional editor.
I would highly recommend finding a professional editor to give your work the once over before submitting it to be considered. Don’t just Google it though, do some research. Some editors are better than others, and some may specialise in your genre. But remember, just because an editor makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
Self or Traditional Publishing
I am traditionally published. That means that I have a contract with various companies who publish my books, provide me with an editor and a cover designer, hand it out to beta and proof readers, and work with me to make it perfect before putting it into print. The publishers then send me royalties (between 25% and 60%, depending on whether it’s an ebook or paperback, and the company). Self-publishing means doing that yourself. There are companies who help with self-publishing, but they cost a lot of money.
For the love of all that is good, do not self-edit, make a cover on Paint, and send it to KDP. If you can’t afford to pay for the work, then find a traditional publisher, or save up and wait until you can afford it. The market is saturated with bad covers that my nine-year-old could have made. And just because your mum said the book was good, doesn’t mean that it will sell.
Be Prepared for Negative Reviews
We all get them. One-star reviews are a badge of honour – it means you wrote something that not everybody likes, but you’re strong enough to shrug your shoulders and get on with writing the next project. Don’t cry, don’t whine, don’t stamp your feet and threaten to report them. Haven’t you ever read a book that everybody loves, but you hated? I have – The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Fifty Shades Freed (the other two were okay, but by the third book, I was bored), Harry Potter Series (love the films, can’t read the books). All of these are best-sellers, and all of them are books that I will never read again, and wouldn’t recommend to anyone. So someone told you that your book was crap and won’t read anything you write ever again. So what? One person, out of billions. Unless your book only ever gains one-stars, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Organise blog tours and release blitzes to help get your title out there!
Marketing & Publicity
The bane of my life. When a new book is released, I tend to organise a blog tour or a release blitz, with various companies to get the title out there, and to get my book cover seen. But once that’s done, what do you do? Keep at it. There are plenty of companies out there that will help market your book, although discounted prices and a certain star-rating with Amazon is generally required. But you can also use social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. to help get in front of readers. Marketing is hit & miss though, and it doesn’t always work. The advice I was given was to just keep writing, keep talking to readers, create a brand for yourself and keep your blog up to date. I’m terrible at all of those, except the keep writing bit.
Paying the Bills
Sadly, my book sales do not cover my bills. They cover marketing and editing costs, but that’s it. I make a loss each year because of National Insurance Contributions – yes, you need to register as self-employed and pay your taxes. So you need something to cover bills while you’re on your quest to become an author. I’m lucky that I have Hubby, who works damn hard to pay for everything, and I work as a child-minder and dog walker to pay for the luxuries in life. I did run a business working as a freelance writer, editor, and cover designer, but the truth is that it got too much like hard work, and writing should be about having fun.
Positive Mental Attitude
Staying positive is the hardest part of writing a book. We all have bad days – what’s the point, why do I bother, etc. etc. And writer’s block is a nightmare. But take a break, have a cup of tea, go for a walk, whatever it is you need to do to refresh yourself and remind yourself that this will work, if you keep at it.
Writing isn’t for everyone. I hate it when people say they have a book in them, waiting to come out, as if we can sit and spit a few words onto the page, and voila! A best-seller. It’s hard work, and it can be draining. But it’s also very rewarding.