Oh boy! If you’ve never written a book before, it can be pretty damn overwhelming. I mean, it’s over whelming when someone whose been doing it for years sits down and tries. There’s seminars, books, coaches, classes, entire degrees on this stuff you guys….it. isn’t. easy.
But if none of that scared you off, then you’re probably ready to do it…for real…your first book.
Step One: Understanding Everyone Sucks
A lot of writers make the mistake of sitting down and just ploughing it out. And trust me when I say, that’s a reallllly hard way to do it. I mean, not impossible, but….hard. See what happens is, you start writing it all out and at first it all comes out of you like you could never stop. And then….nothing you’re blocked. OR you get lost, you have no idea where you’re going. It will happen, I’m not kidding…because that’s what writing is.
New, inexperienced, writers think it’s them. They think that they can’t be writers…that what they’ve written HAS to be garbage and scrap it…that for everyone else it must come so, so easy….
And they give up. They never write their first book. It goes into a pile of broken dreams, the one you sigh wistfully over in your old age and wonder where all the time went.
But actually…in every writing process there is an up and a down. One moment you think you’re never going to stop and have the best book ever, and the next you have to drag yourself through it kicking and screaming.
Step one to writing your first book is knowing this secret of the writing process. You’re going to hate your work at some point, and you WILL sit down at your desk and feel really bad about yourself, your writing, and your life.
Still not scared?
Good. Then let’s look at step 2.
Step Two: Decide WHAT You Want to Write
Just because everyone else is writing the next murder mystery or big hit erotica doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, you can write a pretty cool non-fiction in a subject you’re passionate about…if you so chose. Deciding what you want to write can be a block in and of itself. All writers get this. They sit down and think, yes it’s time for a new book. But the well runs dry, nothing sounds exciting, or interesting or fun.
In fact, because of this I have my own quick e-book on coming up with a rough idea for your next book.
You can download that by putting in your info below and heading to my writers vault in little links up top.
Step two is pretty obvious sure. You gotta know what sort of book you want to write. If you’re still stuck, my Pinterest page is FULL of prompts. I have Dialogue Prompts. Story Prompts. And even Dark Supernatural Prompts. I even have a post on 10 Prompts and Where to Find Them .
Step Three: Plot…or don’t
Plotting will save you time in the editing room later. But it’s not for everyone. But to plot a story, you have to first understand plot. I would recommend picking up a couple of books on this and have even put together a quick resource list to help you here.
At the end of the day a plot is simply Act 1, 2, 2.5 and 3. Where you raise and lower the tension, weave in sub-plot and incorporate a theme.
Once you fundamentally understand what a plot is, and how to create one, you can use it as a scaffolding to hold together your writing process.
Step Four: Start Writing
This sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Sitting down and ‘just writing’ is a little more complicated than that. You’ll want to find a good time in your day to write, a place to write, and set a goal and intention for your writing. I say this because productivity science has shown time and time again, that clear definable goals you can envision, are the ones that people complete most often.
This means, knowing what time you intend to write. How many words you will write in each session. How long each session will be. And whether you intend to simply write without editing (as is mostly recommended for completing a quick first draft) or write and edit as you go (which could lead to more work as you will likely cut a lot of it anyway).
As an added bonus you can sign up to my writing prompts email course. This is 7 days of writing prompts that jump into your email box every day. It leads you from the beginning of a novel to the second act with professional writing structure and some prompts to get the creative juices flowing. You can see the post on that here called 7 Days of Wrinspo.
Or better yet, let me hold your hand through the entire process in 30 days to 50k a novel writing course.
Step 5: Smash Blocks
Step one was knowing you would be blocked, but step 5 is that moment where you damn well know you’re blocked. Maybe you’re having a really bad day, and just hate everything you’ve written. Maybe you don’t know what way you want to take this book next. Maybe you just don’t believe you’re good enough.
Know this step is normal for all of us. I love this quote and I think it succinctly sums it up.
You can’t be hard on yourself! This is where you need to insert the excitement back into your writing. You may try creating a book cover, or envisioning holding your finished work, or the 5 star reviews you’ll have. Maybe you need to step away for a couple of days, maybe you need to add a new character, or maybe you just need to sit down and write. Write anything, even if it’s bad.
Sometimes we just have to push through the invisible wall that hits. It’s a phenomenon that even long stretches of physical exertion get. Marathon runners know about ‘the wall’. It’s when you hit this barrier and think you can’t go any further, it hurts, you think you’re not going to make it, but….then you do. You hit it and you smash through it, and everything becomes easier.
Sometimes you just have to keep going. But in any case, here are 50 writing prompt cards for you to print off and use to add some spice back into your scenes by signing up to my resource vault.
Step 6: Reach The End
It’s exhilarating when you reach the end on any project, especially a book. Writing the words, The End at the end of a first draft is sheer magic. And you should, write, The End. Believe me, it’s freaking satisfying. But what should you do once you hit the end? Read through the whole work? Immediately start editing?
No. You have to put the work to rest. Kind of like baking….you know when you rest dough in the fridge and give it time to breath? Yeah, you’re work needs that…it needs time to be by itself so you can be two separate beings. Editing will be impossible without this process. I recommend about a month, more if you can spare the time.
When you allow a piece to become separate from you, you will see its flaws as apart from you. This makes the editing process a lot less brutal. That self-hatred, what have I written? Won’t be as strong. You will have more excitement for the work and see it with fresh eyes.
So what can you do instead? Well….now you can start from Step One again and write book 2!
Once you’ve gone through that time apart from your new baby though….you’re ready for Step 7.
Step 7: Chop and Developmental Edit
First you have to read through the entire work and make notes. No kidding, first impression notes are gold. What worked, what didn’t, what you want to change, what grammar/spelling/same silly mistakes you keep making over and over again. What’s good about it? What strengths does it have? This is stage one to self-edits.
The next stage is to take your work and cut it into three pieces. Beginning, Middle and End.
Start by evaluating the beginning. Go through any good plot book on plotting, or better yet, grab yourself a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel. This will walk you through every tiny detail that needs to be looked at in your work. What developmental editors will ultimately look for. Don’t know what developmental editing is? It’s basically looking at how strong your plot, characterization and world is.
Evaluate your plot for each part of the novel, make changes. What needs to be added? What needs to be taken away for the plot to work?
What plots weren’t wrapped up? What foreshadowing wasn’t mentioned? What characters or items appeared then vanished? Where does the story lag, or go to fast? What is working, what isn’t? How can you change what needs to be changed?
Once you have a plan of action: start adding and taking away scenes.
Step 8: Edit Scene by Scene
Every scene needs a motive, a goal, tension and be part of the over-arching theme. If it doesn’t move the story forward, it needs to be cut. Editing scene by scene is no easy matter, you’ll have to do a lot of research on how to craft the best scene to get there.
Is the start of your scene strong? Does it have a goal? Does it change the world or goal in some way? Does it resolve something? Is the scene boring? Does it need a re-write or a cut?
Step 9: Improve Dialogue and Characterization And Symbolism
I like to add this part of the edits last, because this is really where you’re breathing life into the novel. Go through and ensure that every character is strong, unique and their dialogue is natural.
Then check you have strong symbolism. Are all objects mentioned used? Do you foreshadow everything?
Do characters names stay the same? Do their details stay the same?
Pro tip: Excel sheets are excellent for keeping track.
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Step 10: Proof-Read
Do a quick proof-read, just to make sure most of the grammar and spelling are up to scratch. There’s no need to get too detailed yet, you’ve got a little ways to go.
Step 11: Get Beta Readers
You’re now ready for beta readers. Oh the elusive Beta Readers. These little guys will read your novel (sometimes for free!) and give you feed-back on whether they think the story is working for them. Some proof-read but for the most part, that’s not really their job. You can even ask these readers some specific questions you want feedback on, like what they think of certain characters or scenes.
Here is a post I created on Facebook groups to help you find readers and other writers.
Step 12: Edit Again
Now you have a copy of your Beta Reader notes, it’s ready to crack those knuckles and get to more edits. Address what your Beta Readers have said and try to make the changes you feel are most honest, realistic and will strengthen the book the way YOU want to. After-all this is your work.
Proof read again.
Step 13: Get More Beta Readers
Some writers make the decision here to go through a second round of Beta readers to get more feed back. You can do this and make the changes needed once more.
Step 14: Final Proof-read
Do your final proof-read and this time go deep. Proof-read the entire manuscript as much as you can. And then you’re ready to look for a developmental editor (or if you’re sure your plot works head straight to Step x). A developmental editor is a little on the pricier side as far as editors go but they will look at the plot, scenes and characters and tell you what’s going to work, and what really isn’t. Take their notes and use them wisely. Re-edit, then proof-read again.
Step 15: Hire a Copywriter/Proof-reader
Your manuscript should be almost ready! Now hire a proof-reader or copywriter.
A copywriter will check both clarity, correct details (such as whether a historical figure was really born in 1876) as well as grammar and spelling. A proof-reader will edit grammar and spelling. Choose which one you think will serve you best. Some writers even hire more than one proofer, as it’s very unlikely that one editor (no matter how good) will catch every mistake.
A lot of self-pub authors these days aren’t even bothering with this step. Readers are becoming more and more forgiving. You could even try hiring a non-professional to take a stab or someone new to editing whose prices are lower if you lack the budget.
Step 16: Self-Pub or Traditional Publishing
Are you going to be an indie writer? Or go the traditional publishing root? Traditional publishing means searching for an agent to help represent you (or going direct to a publicist, although a lot of publishing houses won’t take un-represented writers seriously, especially first time writers.) You can write a cover letter, and appeal to almost any agent you want. If they take you on, they will negotiate your rates and find a home for your book. It could take a couple of years to get published.
If you self publish all you have to do next is write the blurb, pick where you want to sell your book and buy a cover.
Step 17: Market Like Cray
Whether you go self-pub or traditional, you’re going to have to be a ninja at marketing. Creating profiles, attracting readers, building a website, creating opt-ins, the works. Even traditional publishers these days won’t put much effort into marketing you. The cost of marketing you vs the money they’ll make from your book could end in a loss for them, and many won’t take that chance.
I have a course on gaining a Twitter Following if you would like to take a look at that here.
And that’s it! That’s how to write and publish your first book. Of course you will need to do a lot of research in each step, but that is the general pathway to get that book written and out there for everyone to read. Pretty exciting stuff!
Did I miss a step? Are there any you would add or take away? Let me know!