Choosing the Right Self-Publisher

I had a conversation with a fellow writer, Sally*, who was discouraged about self-publishing her next work.  She had made so little money on the first novel and didn’t feel it was worth risking the start-up costs on a second.  Sally’s quarterly royalty checks were only coming in for a dollar or two–when they came at all.  I agreed to look at her publishing contract (yes, self-publishers have those, too), and, right off the bat, I highlighted all her problems.

There are several points to look for in a self-publishing contract, if you’re allowing them to handle all the pre-publishing (designing your cover, formatting, editing, royalties, etc.)  Some sites, like Lulu, don’t charge you to upload your work if you’d like to handle the formatting and cover design yourself.  But most indie authors who want to have print books as well as e-books like the benefits that come with pre-publishing, and there are definitely some pitfalls you can avoid if you know where to look.
All self-publishers have a standard theme of offers: creative control, retention of exclusive rights to your book and its copyright, and print on demand distribution.  Certain points are industry standard; when you compare the standard packages at each company, there are certain aspects of production each publisher provides–like your book’s ISBN.  However, there are several points to consider: printing costs, price setting, and start-up costs.  The variation in these few points will dictate how much money you make on your book–or if you make none at all.

Low printing cost = big profits
It’s a common reaction to look for the self-publisher who’s making you the cheapest start-up offer.  When their website is screaming, “Publish your book for $599!”, you can’t help but reply, “Well, sign me up!”  But cheaper isn’t always better.  That $599 sounds great, and who wouldn’t want to make good on that?  But if that $599 also means never making a cent on your book, then maybe you’d like to look again.  The first thing you want to know is the price of printing.  The formula usually looks something like this, and varies based on your print options: per unit cost + cents/per page.  For example: at Publisher A, the cost for printing a paperback book without color inserts costs $2.00 per unit + $0.02 per page.  If your book is 300 pages after formatting for print size (5×8, 6×9, etc), then $2.00 + (0.02 x 300) = $8.00.  This is how much it’s going to cost you each time Publisher A prints your book.  Each publisher’s price varies.  Maybe Publisher B is offering $1.50 per unit + $0.02/pg.  You just saved 50 cents.  Or maybe Publisher C is offering $2.25 per unit + $0.017/per pg.  Do the math; is Publisher C cheaper?
Why does this matter?  Well, your printing costs dictate your book’s retail price.  And your retail price dictates how much you make in the long run.  Be very leery of a publisher that is unwilling to tell you their printing cost formula.  Setting the right retail price for your book will be based primarily on your printing costs, so know that root number.  Most self-publishers offer distribution on the major online networks (ex. Amazon, Barnes&Noble).  These networks generally take 40% of standard book sales and 30% on ebook sales.  Now, a customer goes to one of these online sites and purchases your book.  The retailer takes 40% (of the retail price), your publisher takes their printing cost per book, and what’s left is considered author royalties.  If you fail to price your book sufficiently, you will make little, if anything, off your standard book sales.  Generally, you want the retail price of your paperback to be 2.5 times the printing cost of your book.

Do the math

Say we went with Publisher C; each book costs us $7.35 to print.  Two and a half times that brings our retail price to roughly $18.40.  The online retailer takes 40% (18.40-7.36), your publisher takes the printing costs (11.04-7.35), and you’re left with $3.69–a decent amount to make per book.  If you sell 20 books in your first quarter (a quarter is roughly three months), you just made about $74.  Now, for the down side.  Say you feel $18 is just too high to charge for your little 300-pager.  Perhaps you decide to charge $12 a book.  The retailer takes 40% (12.00-4.80), the publisher takes the printing costs (7.20-7.35), and…uh oh!  You owe your publisher 15 cents.  Say you sold the same 20 books that quarter; you won’t get a check because your publisher is showing a red $3 deficit on your account.  Sure, $3 doesn’t sound like much in this scenario, but imagine that happens every quarter.  That $3 will stack up, and you just spent start-up costs on a book that’s making you absolutely no money.  Because of this, make sure your contract allows you to stipulate the retail price.  If the publisher dictates the retail price and sets it too low, you’ll be owing them every time a customer purchases a print copy of your book from a retailer.  And no amount of sales or promotion will erase that hole, because every purchase of your printed book is putting you further into debt.  (You might make it up in e-book sales, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Be sure your chosen publisher has a fair direct rate as well.  Direct rates are the price you, the author, pay to the publisher to order your book directly from them.  Ideally, the direct rate per book should be the pre-determined printing costs only (this doesn’t include shipping).  Anything more than that, and you’re essentially paying retail (even if it’s discounted retail) on your own book.  This is also why it’s so important to establish an online presence.  If you can purchase your book for a flat direct rate from the publisher, you can set your own, cheaper price on your website of choice; selling your book at any price above your printing costs equals profit for you.  In this way, you can undercut the set retail price and still make a profit per book.  Now, mind you, if your set retail price causes a deficit of payment to your publisher with each purchase, you’ll have to pay those arrears before your publisher will sell you anything directly.

Compare packages feature-by-feature
Now that you’ve compared each potential publisher’s printing costs and price settings, you can start scrutinizing start-up costs and features.  How much are they giving you for your money?  For example: is e-book formatting standard or extra?  How much promotion do you want the company to do for you, and is their marketing package reasonably priced?  If you wanted to use their editing services, how much does it cost and how long will it take?  What’s their rate of speed for production (industry standard for pre-publishing is about 3-4 months)?  Decide early what you have to have in your production package and what you can live without (or can do cheaper or free elsewhere).  Then, based on printing costs, price settings, and package pricing, decide which company is best for you.  I will warn you that self-publishers with super low package prices are generally the companies that make their money elsewhere (like in printing costs and direct rates) so make sure you do your homework before you jump on the cheapest price.
As I said in my So You Want to Write a Novel series, writing a book is an investment if nothing else, so invest wisely!  If you do, your pockets will most assuredly thank you.
*Sally is a fictitious name for a real acquaintance whose publishing troubles inspired this post.

So You Want to Write a Novel: Promotion

When The Grim finally went to print, I asked my mentor, “What do I do now?”  His infamous answer was, “Promote, promote, promote.”  Every author wants to sell their book; why else did you write it?  Sure, it was for the personal satisfaction of having achieved that long-awaited dream, but if no one reads it except you, than that achievement loses its luster pretty quickly.  I’m certainly not a marketing expert, but I’ll give you the benefit of my knowledge, and hopefully, you’ll get some success out of these suggestions I’ve tried.

As I said in the marketing segment, you will not succeed without an online presence.  The world is too technologically driven in the 21st century, and if your audience can’t Google or Bing you, your book is sunk right out of the gate.  There are (free) ways to remedy this catastrophe.  Facebook and Twitter are definitely your friends.  It’s called social networking, and, unless your audience is of a demographic younger than 10 or older than 60, your audience is on one or both of these sites.  Even if your direct audience isn’t on these networks, someone close to them is, and you cannot afford to run the risk of skipping over millions of potential readers.  The name of the game is accessibility: your have to make sure you and your book are right at your readers’ fingertips so that they can purchase to their hearts’ content.  Almost everything can be found online now, and the internet is the easiest method of accessibility.  So if you’re nowhere to be found online, I doubt many of your potential readers will bother running to a mall or bookstore hoping to find what was nonexistent a moment ago via search engine.

You might start a blog.  You can do this free on several sites, like Blogger, WordPress, and MyBlogSite.  Start community pages on magazine sites that fit the interest, genre, or demographic of your book.  But the best tip for getting your awareness going are finding other independent authors like you.  My Twitter page has opened me up to a world of extraordinary authors and independent publishers, editors and the like.  The best part about networking with other indie authors is the amount of support we offer each other.  Just a few days ago, I was approached by a fellow indie author about a giveaway.  If I donated a few of my books to his pre-launch giveaway, he would donate some to me when his book released for any venture I wanted to pursue.  I’ve also been able to approach other authors to have them guest blog on my site.  Sometimes when I promote on Twitter, my posts get “retweeted” by other indie authors with a suggestion to their followers to, in turn, “follow” me, and I return the gesture as often as I can.  It’s a fantastic tool to help expand your fan base, and these authors often have tons of experience under their belt that they’re more than happy to share.  If I tweet a question about how many books to bring to a signing, I’ve got hits from other authors in minutes with suggestions.  The community feel is phenomenal, and being that these authors span across the world, the benefit of the connection is indispensible.

Public appearances, even online appearances, are a must.  Your audience has to feel they have access to you.  Book fairs and signings typically don’t work as a marketing tactic.  They’re good ways to mingle with your audience, but you don’t tend to sell many books despite the fees you put out for tables and travel at these events.  I would still suggest attending book fairs, however, because selling books, in this particular instance, is not the focus.  “It’s not?” you may say; no, it isn’t.  Participating in the book fair is, again, about networking.  There are hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of other independent authors, literary agents, and publishers in attendance at these fairs.  Exposure alone is worth the table, even if you don’t sell one book.

Network your local area.  Your hometown is going to be more supportive than any other.  Local newspapers love a success story about “one of their own”, and if you promote yourself just right, maybe your local paper, radio station, or maybe even cable news network will want to do a small piece on you and your book.  Again, finding you has to be easy, so you’ll want to have a website to direct all your interest.  Also, don’t discount the best foremost authority on books in your area: your local library.  Offer a few books free as an incentive: “If you buy five books, I can throw in two for free.”  Offer to do one or two appearances as well; it’s an added bonus for the library, and you get to meet some supportive locals!  The video to the left on networking for writers offers some amazing tips you can capitalize on.
Compile a list of book reviewers; don’t discount the online magazines and freelance book reviewers.  Do your research and find the mailing or email addresses for inquiries and submissions.  Make sure you follow the instructions posted or given for submitting your manuscript for review.  Most reviewers don’t take work earlier than three months prior to its release date, or more than eighteen (18) months after so be mindful of your time frames.  Be open to feedback; every review won’t be positive.  Glean from each review what you can to make your next work better.
Finally, consider web-based book launches and tours.  There are a lot of sites who offer webinar capabilities for free.  Try for free webinar services.  Also, web-based book tours are the new industry standard.  Like virtual book launches, there’s hardly any cost involved, and your promotion lasts months after the tour is over as new readers come across your guest postings and recorded interviews on their favorite sites.  You can try Pump Up Your Book or Virtual Tour Cafe to get you started.  These sites do charge a nominal fee to organize your tour, but as a new author, this is a priceless tool; it will be very difficult to forge the necessary relationships it would take to make a tour successful as a new author.  Dale Beaumont, one of the foremost authorities on author publishing, gave an informative talk on virtual book launches and tours (see video above).
Take pictures and save copies of all the appearances, interviews, and reviews you do and get.  Not only will you have those positive responses to forward to future marketing prospects, but it adds to your credibility as an author.  Post these reviews and pictures to your web page or social networking site.  Let your audience know how fun it is to meet and greet them!  Appreciate your readers and reviewers; they make or break your career.

These are certainly not the only methods there are.  Again, Google promotional and marketing tactics for new self-published authors and see what works best for you and your project.  Take whatever starters you can from this post, and happy promoting!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Marketing

Next post: Choosing the Right Self-Publisher

So You Want to Write a Novel: Marketing Set-up

So now you have written, edited, submitted, and published your novel.  Now, all you need to do is convince readers to buy it.  (That being said, this post is primarily for those endeavoring to self-publish. If you have chosen traditional publishing, you can still implement some of your own promotion, but primarily major publishers are prepared to do the marketing work for you.)  There are a great many marketing tactics you can use, but before we get to that, there are some things we need to address.

First, you need to establish who your reading audience is and garner some demographics about them.  For example: who are they? What do they do?  What’s their age range?  Does your book appeal primarily to a particular ethnicity, religious background or faith, or profession?  If your book is non-fiction, what trade or interest are you targeting?  Without knowing your audience, you can’t figure out how your readers think.  And without knowing how they think, you don’t know where they shop or how to find them.  And if you can’t find them, you can’t sell your book to them.
The next thing of which you need to be cognizant is what type of seller you are.  Are you outgoing and willing to engage strangers in conversation?  Or are you more timid and withdrawn?  Are you willing to make appearances and interact with your readers?  Or are you the strong silent type that is at one’s best when using the written word?  If you’re the outgoing type, you’re not going to have a lot of issues implementing most, if not all, of the suggestions in this and next post.  However, if you’re a little leary about social interaction, many of these suggestions will be difficult tasks for you.  Introverts should probably stick to a strictly online campaign which is better suited to their individual personalities.

And finally, before you start, set up a marketing strategy.  Essentially, this is a plan of action or an outline of how you expect to use different tactics to promote yourself and your book to maximize your earnings.  Do your research; there’s tons of stuff on the internet about marketing a self-published book.  Take some polls.  Join some book clubs.  Ask readers what draws them toward a book; ask other authors what strategies have worked for them in the past.  And above everything, consider your budget.  As I mentioned in previous posts in this series, self-publishing is an investment if nothing else.  While a lot of these suggestions I’m going to make in this and the post following have minimal start-up cost, you have probably just spent anywhere from $600-1400 on pre-publishing, and maybe there is no more stretch left in your income to tackle a broad campaign.  By no means do you have to do them all.  See what you can do monetarily, then build your promo campaign around that.  There are many options we’ll discuss that are entirely free, and equally effective.  Be realistic about what you can spend then build your marketing campaign to match that amount.
I will stress as we begin that the 21st century is nothing if not a technological age.  You will not succeed without an online presence.  Period.  You may say to me, “But Ray, I’m not all that tech savvy.”  Well, shoot, neither am I.  I don’t know HTML code, and I certainly can’t build a website from scratch, but there are ways around these things if you know where to look.  So, obviously, the first thing you should do is get a website.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your own domain name (like or if it’s just an author page provided by the self-publisher with which you’re working.  You can even set up something as simple as a blog on Blogger, which is free by the way, and advertise yourself and your work there.  If you want more than just a blog, you can look into companies like Intuit, GoDaddy, and Google that have website packages for a few bucks a month with simple click-and-drag interfaces that make designing your website easy and fun.  For the introverts, your website is key because this will be the only interaction your audience will have with you since you will not be out greeting them in person.  It must reflect your personality and style and draw viewers in.
Marketing your site and SEO (search engine optimization) are their own complicated gremlins about which, I admit, I have no real clue.  Find help with these issues as best you can; there are a plethra of sites and organizations that specialize in just this kind of stuff.  Again, consider your budget.  If it’s something you have the room to pay someone to assist you with, great.  If not, don’t sweat it.  If you’re using your tactics efficiently, word of mouth will help build that SEO over the long-term.

In the next post, Promotion, I’ll give you some suggestions on tactics you can use to start promoting your book.  I’ve used a lot of these tactics myself, and they’ll really give you the edge to get your work and name out there!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Promotion

So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

Congratulations!  Your book is complete, edited, and ready for submission!  Now, all you want to do is get it out there.  Well, there are two ways to do this: traditional publishing and self-publishing.  In this post, I’m going to try to give you as much information as I can about both so you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed from here.

The first thing you need to know (and I’m just going to put this right out there) is readers don’t care who publishes your book.  For instance, do you know who published the Harry Potter series?  Davinci Code?  Eat Pray Love?  Do you care?  Sure, we all can ramble off a couple major publishers, but really, when a reader is in a book store or online hunting for new books to read, they’re not asking themselves what new books Random House put out recently.  They are searching for subject/genre, maybe title, and authors.  That’s it.  So really, the publishing choices are entirely up to you.

I decided to self-publish.  For me, that was just the better option.  That doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you.  So I’m going to give you the benefit of what I’ve learned and researched so you can make the best informed decision for you and your project.  Check out the video I’ve included from Dale Beaumont, arguably one of the foremost authorities on author publishing.
Traditional publishing does have its benefits.  For one, national (and sometimes even international) distribution is guaranteed.  When you traditionally publish, you’ll know that your book will be on a shelf in major bookstores on your launch date.  You’ll most likely be given a significant advance on sales, and there’s no large capital (start-up costs) that you’ll have to put out up front.  Plus, you get the benefit of knowing that your publisher knows how to market and sell your book, leaving you free from the headache of the business end (that’s the part I loathe).  You get to sit back now, and enjoy the fruits of all your hard writing work.
Cons to traditional publishing: you lose creative control.  Your publisher can nix your idea for the cover, the title, even which chapters you’ve included.  They get complete say over your final product.  That advance money?  Depending on your contract, you may owe it back if your book doesn’t sell.  You will need a literary agent to snag a major publisher, and one of those is pretty expensive.  They’re also hard to obtain.  And even once you get one, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to get you a deal right away.  It could still takes months, even years, to convince a publisher to take you and your book under their wing.  Now, here’s the part that deterred me: with a traditional publisher, you no longer own the rights to your work.  It belongs to the publishing house.  So if your book ever becomes a hit movie, unless you’ve got a killer lawyer, you won’t be reaping the benefits of any of that.
When you self-publish, you retain the rights to your work, and you have complete creative autonomy.  It’s your work; it belongs to you.  No matter which self-publisher you use, and there are several, your work remains yours.  Another advantage to self-publishing is a larger profit margin.  Because the cost of printing in many cases is only a few dollars, you make almost 40% on every sale, and that percentage is even higher if you’re selling it directly at say a book signing, book fair, or direct with libraries and bookstores.  Also, your book with a self-publisher is print-on-demand, which prevents having a stockpile of books you’re trying to get rid of.  Finally, because all the decisions are being made by you, your book can be released in as little as a 3-4 months (versus the waiting game many publishers can play when there’s no immediacy or current market for your work).
There are some major pitfalls to self-publishing though.  Because everything is up to you, all the start-up cost is your responsibility, too.  (As will be all your promotion; more on that in the marketing segment.)  Most of the major self-publishers offer online distribution with the major companies: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.  Some even have marketing packages that include wider distribution, press kits, and press releases, but these options are usually extra.  They may even give you a web page on their site for readers to purchase from you, but again, they won’t advertise for you.  It will be up to you to promote your book and direct people where they can purchase it.   As I said in my introduction to this series, without the funds to invest in your book and its promotion, your project is dead in the water.  Deciding to self-publish is a major investment, even after the physical publishing part is done.  The self-publisher you choose will simply get your book in bound form; the rest is really entirely up to you.
Regardless of which publisher you choose, traditional or self-, you’re going to want to research your options in that field.  For example, publishing points in a contract with traditional publishers vary between companies, as do the prices of printing and individual publishing costs with self-publishers.  Know what you’re getting from the company you’re expecting to work with, and make sure what they are offering suits your needs.  At the end of the day, this is your baby, and no one is going to speak for it but you.
Happy hunting!

So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing

*Satisfied sigh*  You’ve completed your manuscript.  It’s finished.  You’re done.  Well…not quite.  You have editing to do.

Editing is arguably the toughest part of the writing process.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve been editing from the start: changing words, correcting grammatical or spelling errors, and rereading previous pages for readibility and fluidity.  But now, you have to take your manuscript and shred it apart to find high level errors you missed while writing.  You have to scrutinize plot, character development, and believability.  Plan to invest some time doing this because you have quite a few months ahead of you.  Yes.  Months.  You now have to make your book as perfect as an imperfect person can make it.  And a task that weighty never happens overnight.

The easiest way to do this is with the traditional editor.  You know, the person that charges anywhere from $250 upwards of $1000 to read and evaluate your manuscript, depending on the level of edits you’re asking for.  They will proofread for grammatical and spelling errors as well as syntax.  If you want to take it a step further, they can evaluate sentence structure and readability, character development and plot inconsistencies.  This purchase can get pretty steep.  But there are other options that you can pursue; some may even do it for free.

Do you have an old English or Lit professor that was hard on you?  You could consider asking them to read your manuscript.  College professors can get pretty busy though, so make sure its a professor you respect, and who remembers you fondly.  Maybe on one of their lighter or inactive semesters, they will consider helping you, and most likely for free.  You should also seek out English grad students.  They are taught to look for the errors you’re hoping to catch, and editing creative work is part of their graduate program.  If you’re planning to self-publish, your publisher will most likely also have an editing package you can pay a little extra to use.  If none of these options works out for you, don’t forget the suggestions made in the Writing segment of this series.  If you joined your local writer’s association or a freelance writing workshop, there are tons of other authors and writers at your disposal that you could solicit for editing help.  If they are not available or able to help you themselves, they can at least point you in the right direction.

Now, of course, you could edit your novel yourself.  The video to the left, posted by The Editor’s Blog, shows you how to do it step by step.  Essentially, they tell you what a traditional editor would be looking for if you were to hire one to edit your book.  However, in my opinion, it is better to get someone else to read your work, even if it’s just an avid reader or one of the aforementioned suggestions.  A second (or even third or fourth) pair of eyes on your work will help you to catch errors you may not otherwise.  You have to remember: you’ve been working on and rereading your manuscript for months, maybe even years.  You know what it’s supposed to say, so your brain may be filling in words, thoughts, backstories and other content you may not realize aren’t actually in your manuscript.  Having someone else read through your work will help catch those questions you wouldn’t otherwise ask because you know your own story so well.
For instance,  Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, while editing her hit religious thriller, Pentecost, realized she had made a major character development error.  Her main character is an academic, but apparently has significant martial arts abilities.  However, because Joanna knew her main character’s backstory, she neglected to mention how her main character acquired these abilities, leaving the reader questioning how her main character was suddenly able to go out and kick butt.  Joanna realized it was a significant part of the character’s backstory she would have to weave in to the manuscript.  Thankfully, Joanna was able to catch this error.  But, what if you decided to edit your manuscript yourself and you didn’t?  You would hate to see such a significant error plastered all over a book review after it’s already too late to correct it.  (You can see the rest of Joanna’s story here.)

Whatever you decide, editing is a tedious and involved process that takes time and patience to perfect.  Be diligent because you will get frustrated at some point.  Take a step back, regain your focus, and keep plugging at it.  Again, sharing the load with someone else during this process also significantly reduces your stress level.

So take the next 3-6 months and make your work as perfect as you can.

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing

So you’ve got your idea, you’ve fleshed out characters and plot, and now you’re ready to write.  Or so you think…

In all fairness, while my experience writing The Grim may very well be an individual experience, I feel it only fair to warn you: The Grim took five–count ’em, five–long years of writing.  There were moments I gave up.  There were times where I thought what I had already written was ridiculous, mundane, preachy, and a whole host of other adjectives with which I berated myself every time I sat down at my laptop and stared at the next bare page.  I wondered frequently if anyone would even care what I was writing.  And that’s the first thing you have to do before you even lift your fingers to tap a key on that keyboard:

Are you writing about something you care about?  Does the story and its characters matter to you?  Do you have something prominent to say, whether its literary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance, erotica–whatever it is, it has to matter to you.  If you don’t care, no reader is likely to either.  Besides, how can you promote it later if it’s some half-brained effort you don’t believe in…?  You became a writer because you love it; show that love for your craft in your work.

Now, writeEvery day.  I know, I know.  It’s ridiculous.  You have a life, a job, children.  You’re a soccer mom, an entrepreneur, your daughter’s recital is tomorrow, there’s an important presentation due at work, the church needs cookies for the bake sale, and you totally forgot to eat today.  But you want to be a novelist, a writer, the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.  So like everything else on that list that matters to you, you must make writing a priority.  I know our lives get busy, but commit to at least glancing over your manuscript every day, if for no other reason than to add that comma you missed.  It keeps your work relevant and fresh in your mind.  Trust me, I made the mistake of stepping away from my manuscript.  One day went by, then two, and before I knew it, it took a co-worker to remind me about my book, asking, “Hey, how’s the writing coming?”  By the time I got back to The Grim, it had been eight months.  And catching my stride after that…well, let’s just say it was an uphill battle.

There are people who will convince you that writing a novel is easy.  I suppose that’s up to the individual writer.  For me, I struggled most of the way.  My main character’s story was so emotional for me, and I wrestled with her development every time I began to write.  I am also somewhat a perfectionist.  I knew where I wanted her story to end, and it was important to me to get her there in a certain way.  This contributed to the length of time it took to finish the project, because I had set goals, and I was determined the meet them just so.

That said, here’s your next important tip: let the story tell itself.  You are the architect, but the story knows better than you do where it’s headed and what it needs to say.  I know that sounds funny now, but you’ll see once you get started.  I wanted things to happen in a particular way when I wrote The Grim.  But if you know your characters, their back stories, and plots well, the story will build itself with minimal assistance from you.  You’ll be surprised how all the pieces come together.  The notes I fleshed out for The Grim was not the story I ended up with…and my novel is better for my lack of “interference”.

Of course, it never hurts to learn more about your craft.  As a matter of fact, I’d insist upon it.  Take a literature course, or attend a writer’s workshop in your area.  Local recreational services or community colleges usually offer them pretty frequently.  Also, Google your state’s writer’s association, pay the membership fee, and join.  Trust me, in the long run, it will be so worth it.  Not only are those groups comprised of others just like you, but they offer tremendous programs that cater specifically to your needs as a writer: writing workshops, editing services, publishing contacts, book fairs, and sometimes even job offers.  I belong to my local group and got a part-time position running the charity writers’ workshop they developed for high school students.  The seminars they hold are quite informative and can get you pointed in the right direction.

So, now you’re perfectly equipped to start tapping away on those keys!  Ready, set, go!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing

So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea

I’m not going to lie to you; sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel is finding something worth writing about.  I can’t tell you how many unfinished manuscripts I have in what I call my “writing box”.  I’ve gotten 50, sometimes even 100, pages in and realized the story I was developing was crap, that my characters were basic, unrealistic, or downright annoying, or that the premise upon which the story was based didn’t carry long enough to generate 300 pages of copy.  *Sigh*  What are you going to do, right?  Well, here are some tips that help me when I’m stuck.

Inspiration can come from anywhere.  Most often, it comes from personal experiences.  For example, I’m employed by a prominent mental health clinic in my area (hey, I’m an indie author, remember?).  My debut novel, The Grim, is about a girl who is sentenced to an inpatient psych ward.  Sound familiar?  You wouldn’t believe the stories I could tell about the things that go on at the clinic where I work; mental illness, while no laughing matter, certainly has its odd and peculiar moments, to say the least.  It also gave me a pretty solid background on the subject matter, and the parts I wasn’t sure about, I had access to professionals who could fill those holes in.

In addition, a lot of my main character’s experiences, road blocks, and issues were things I had endured myself, so her perspective in a lot of ways was an excising of my own feelings and opinions.  While you don’t want to do this frequently, that background knowledge can help inspire you to create a realistic, identifiable character with depth and dimension.  Remember, art is the best imitator of life.  On that note, you may also want to delve pretty deeply into some of the dark things you or someone you know may have experienced.  If you check out my blog on suffering, I discuss how pain is the most identifiable human emotion.  Find some of it, anywhere around you, and try to expound on it.  However, if you do end up basing a character or plot on someone you know, don’t tell them, and don’t recite it verbatim.  Generally, people don’t appreciate their lives being used as some writer’s novel experiment.

You know that spunky kid you see walking home from school every day?  Or the homeless guy standing in front of the pharmacy that always only needs just one dollar?  Or maybe that super friendly public transit bus driver that smiles and winks every day?  These are excellent character starters for your book.  Play with some ideas, flesh out a few and see what you come up with.  For instance, why does Mr. Homeless always need a dollar?  What does he do with the dollars he collects?  Why does he stand there, at the pharmacy, every day?  How did he lose everything?  What’s his name?  Where is he from?  Do you see where I’m going here…?

Another method is to think up some crazy, wild or silly scenes.  Flesh them out with nameless male and female characters, and then ask yourself questions, like I did a moment ago with Mr. Homeless.  See if you can build a full story out of the climax of that scene.  The answers to your questions don’t have to make sense at first; just write them down.  You can go back later and decide what’s worth using.  The point is to get your Muse to descend from the heavens and perch on your shoulder.  Once you’ve gotten that, you’re home free…for the most part.

I have to say, I watch a lot of writers sitting in coffee shops and their local McDonald’s or library and pound away on their laptops.  And I’ve noticed there’s one thing writers/authors tend to have in common: we take ourselves way too seriously.  Lighten up!  In my experience, the Muses don’t like brooding, and that dark, mysterious author thing is pretty cliche anyway, don’t you think?  If you’re still pretty stuck, take a step back.  Watch a good movie, enjoy some time with friends and family, and come back to it later.  Your laptop and flash drive will still be there tomorrow.  And maybe–just maybe–your Muse will be waiting there, too.
This video is of a show I found on YouTube called Hiccups.  In this ep, one of the characters decides it’s not hard to write a novel…