Wednesday Writer’s Corner
Want to self-publish? Here’s how to write a novel and publish it.
Concept – You need a story—a beginning, a middle, an end. By beginning I don’t mean, “She was born on a stormy night in a small hamlet in Germany.” Yeah, we were all born. I hope you have something better than that. By beginning I mean, set up your story/problem/drama in the first fifty pages. Get my interest.
Outline – Amateur writers LOVE to skip this step. They like to give the story the freedom to wander where it wants. Their finished product always ends up reading exactly like that—a jumbled mess of confusion. Draw a definitive line in the sand. Write an outline. Who are your characters? Full names. Ages. Physical features. Personality. Vocation. What town do they live in? In what year? How does the story start? What are the key elements you need to include to make the ending make sense? Even if you never mention the heroine’s middle name in the book, at least you have a solid concept of who she is before you even start writing. Write a mock Table of Contents and a sentence or two describing what will happen in each chapter. Of course you can and will change it as your story develops. I always end up adding chapters when I realize I can’t get there from here, but at least I’m not starting with a jumbled mess and ending with worse.
Rough Draft – Some writers like to add the five senses and character development as they go. That makes for a long time to finish the rough draft. Whatever works for you is fine. Personally, I don’t have that kind of patience. I like to get the story down on paper—beginning to end. I go back later and add all the details.
Rewrite – No matter how complete your rough draft is, your story will change as you write, so you have to go back to the beginning and adjust the details. Did attitudes change? Did ages change? Does it make more sense to have her hair blowing in the tornado-like wind during the dramatic climax, or does the happy, sunny day still work?
Revisions – Use this time to make sure the scenes and characters match the movie playing in your head. Little things like ‘he yelled,’ ‘he bellowed,’ or ‘he barked,’ make all the difference. Did spittle fly from his mouth? Was his forehead wrinkled? Revise, revise, and revise some more.
Beta readers – Find a couple friends/writers/teachers to read your story. You don’t want to know about grammar and typos, only about the story line. If they have questions about why or how something happened, then your story is wrong. Period. Anything that pulls the reader out of the moment is wrong. Ask them to write down any place they got lost or anything they did not understand. Give them a time frame for completion. Tell them you need their feedback within two weeks. (I know it’s hard to allow people to read unfinished work, but this is a necessary step.)
More Revisions – If your reader got lost at any point, fix it. You did not relate the story well enough at that point. If your reader gives you advice on anything, look at it with a critical eye. They may be right or wrong. If they thought something specific about the story, so will hundreds of other people. You don’t necessarily have to jump on every suggestion. You may like the way the main character got lost in Chapter 6. At least you can make a conscious decision about it, so when someone gives you 1-star review because your character got lost in Chapter 6, you can hold your head up high, knowing you made the decision for a specific reason. You wanted to leave her lost in Chapter 6–on purpose. It’s a lot easier to shrug off a bad review over a decision you made than to cry over a bad review about your storytelling abilities.
Editor – DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. Get a professional editor, and know in your heart she is going to make you change Chapter 6. Her red pen is your friend. It’s hard to see her comments, but it’s harder to face 1-star reviews. And, yes, you can afford her. Financial example: If you make a profit of $2 per book and your editor charges you $800, you will need to sell 400 books to break even. If your book is good (and you have a strong author platform – discussed below), you will achieve that within a short amount of time. Then for the rest of your life, you have the potential to sell a good book to a lot of people. If you don’t get a professional editor, you will NEVER sell 400 books to anyone. The first and only review will be a 1-star complaining that you should have hired an editor. Now, you’re dead in the water. Editors are worth their weight in gold. Pay them. Listen to them. They know what they are doing. Stephen King has an editor. You should too!
Proofread – Now you have a finished manuscript with a good story line and solid grammar and sentence structure. Proof it!! If your editor is a fabulous professional, you will not find many typos in your edited manuscript. It’s tough to proof yourself, because you will be tired of working on the story at this point, but even if you have someone else do it, you still have to go through it one more time—for your own sanity. It’s your name on the finished product.
Self-Publishing – There are a few things you need to do to self-publish:
1) Build an author platform – What is an author platform? Basically, it’s a number. It’s the number of people you can reach today to tell them about your new book. Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, blog, LinkedIn, website, etc. Find the ones you’re comfortable with and use them. Don’t say, “Hey, buy my book.” Nobody cares about your book, they only care about you. If you only try to sell something, your audience will turn you off instantly. Talk about your genre, your characters, your expertise, your love of dogs. Write about your writing/researching/publishing experience/anything else to connect. If you were on Stephen King’s webpage and everyday he posted a link to his book on Amazon, you wouldn’t go to his page anymore. You want to TALK to him. People want to TALK to you.
2) Learn how to format—KDP, Smashwords, paperback, and others have different formats. It’s not hard to learn. If you can work Microsoft Word even a little bit, you can go to the above sites and find step-by-step tutorials. It will take you a few hours, a pot of coffee, and a lot of patience to learn it, but once you’ve mastered it, you can format a book for all of the above in less than an hour.
3) Create a great cover and title—A majority of your work will be sold through online outlets, and some pretty covers don’t necessarily transfer to those little thumbnail-sized pictures. If you are not graphic design/Photoshop savvy, hire someone. Choose a title with five words or less. Google your title ideas before you choose one. “Gone with the Wind” is probably not a good title. Run ideas through the search box on Amazon. Make sure there aren’t ten other books with the same name. If people can’t find your book, they can’t buy your book. Look through other covers in your genre. What do they all have in common? Look through the best sellers. Anything sticking out to you? Do that! Make your cover tell the story–with a clear font. A pretty font is not your friend. If you have not been professionally trained to create designs, hire someone. Your cover is your first impression. An amateur cover means an amateur book to buyers.
4) Read everything possible about self-publishing. There are books and blogs out there on formatting, marketing, covers, blurbs. (Blurb hint: Write two or three paragraphs in past tense on what your book is about. Now delete all the adjectives. There! Good blurb. Don’t bore me with flowery bullshit, just tell me what the book is about.) Read everything you can about how to market yourself and your book. You can have the best book in the whole world, but if no one knows it’s out there, no one will buy it. Nobody cares about your book more than you do, so YOU have to do the marketing. If you’re not willing to do the work, then take up painting or something.
Now, go finish writing your book.