How to write a novel

How to write a novel

Is there a book inside of you that you’ve always wanted to write? Before you start typing “Chapter 1,” the following tips will get you off to the best start and increase your chances of selling the finished product to a publisher.


Writing is perceived by most people as a very glamorous and profitable career. Many of them, in fact, believe that it’s a fairly easy way to get rich quick. The reality is that writing is hard work and that it often takes years to establish your reputation, much less be able to pay the bills with your royalty checks. If you want to write a book, you need to have the discipline to stick with it, the thick skin to handle rejection and the belief that you really have something interesting to say.


In the years I have taught workshops, it never ceases to amaze me how many people want to write medical thrillers, detective stories, or tales of international intrigue and yet know absolutely nothing about their proposed subject matter. Even a work of fiction needs to stand up to the scrutiny of discerning readers and experts who know these subjects well. Unless you’re crafting fantasy or science fiction and are inventing the requisite parameters in which the characters will function, you will need to perform copious amounts of research to ensure accuracy. Always remember that readers hate to be lied to. All it takes is for them to find one error (i.e., “Columbus discovered America in 1493”) and they will assume you lied about everything else as well.


Is there a market for your book? To know if there is, you need to be a voracious reader of similarly themed books and keep watch on the weekly best seller lists. You also need to perform topic searches on sites such as and get a sense of how many books like yours are already in print. In the event that there are only 3 books out there on your exact subject and 2 of them are already out of print, that doesn’t necessarily mean the world is ready for yours. It could mean that the reading public just doesn’t find that topic compelling enough to sustain sales.


Request submission guidelines from those publishers who produce the kind of books you want to write. You wouldn’t, for instance, send a romance novel to a publisher that only produces techno-thrillers. Speaking of genres, your chances of breaking in as a newcomer are higher if you are writing category fiction rather than mainstream. Your chances are also good if you are a recognized expert on a non-fiction subject; i.e., you’re a chef/restaurant owner penning your first cookbook. Submission guidelines can be found on the Internet as well as in annual reference books such as “Writers Market” and trade magazines related to writing. Follow these guidelines to the letter; never assume that an editor will make an exception just because your mom said your novel was brilliant. Nor should you ever send a copy of your entire book unless it has been requested.


Once you know what your novel is about, construct an outline and identify key scenes that occur from beginning to end. To ensure that you are equitably parsing out the action, determine how many pages you want the finished product to be. Let’s say that you decide it will be 300 pages. That means that the first 100 pages are the beginning, the next 100 constitute the middle, and you have the last 100 to resolve things. Keep in mind that if a work of fiction is to be successful, it needs to have a strong conflict, escalating complications, and a satisfying and believable conclusion. Manuscripts should be double-spaced, numbered, and in a 12 point, easy to read font such as Courier, Times New Roman or Bookman. Ink should be black and paper should be white 20# bond.


There are lots of writers who have yet to start their novels because they are waiting for a big chunk of free time. This is not realistic. If you’re going to write a book, you need to get up an hour earlier, go to bed an hour later, carry a notebook or recorder with you at all times, and tell your family not to interrupt you during whatever blocks of time you have carved out for yourself. Think of it this way: if you only typed 1 page a day of your book for a full year, you would have a 365 page novel at the year’s end. Treat your writing as a professional job and it will yield the results you desire.


Never store your entire novel on your hard-drive alone. The current proliferation of computer viruses could erase your 75,000 word labor of love within seconds! Make copies of your work on a CD of floppy. Some authors even go for the added security of making two copies and storing the second one at a different location in the event of fire, flood, theft, etc.


Once you tell people you are writing a book, their participation in the process as readers can be a great motivator to stick with your writing schedule. Not only can they provide valuable feedback but also assist in catching typos that your computer spell-check may have missed. If you feel self-conscious about friends and family reading your story, join a local writer’s critique group.


Many of the major publishing houses will not read unsolicited submissions. Instead they focus their attention on manuscripts that have come to them through agents. An agent does all of the legwork for you in identifying the best market for your novel and executing a contract for advances and royalties. Agents can be found via the Internet or in “Writers Market.”


Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope in all communications with editors and agents. If you want your manuscript returned, enclose sufficient postage for that as well. Always send fresh copies of your work rather than those which have been widely circulated. Do not call editors on the phone every day to ask them if they have read your book yet.


Writing is a subjective craft. What 1 person hates, the next 9 people could be thrilled about. If everyone who reads it has exactly the same criticisms, however, you need to take these remarks seriously and go back into the project with revisions. Keep in mind that the process of writing your first book will teach you everything you need to know to make your next book even better.


The writers who ultimately become successful and recognized are often the ones who simply outlasted the competition. If you really enjoy writing and would, in fact, continue to write even if you never made a dime from it, you are already head and shoulders above all of the author wannabes who wistfully keep saying, “Maybe someday‚Ķ”

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