Writing your first book (or second, or tenth) is an extremely exciting experience, but it’s also not that easy. I want to help you do it, because I love seeing new writers succeed!
The info on this page is just your starting point, my fellow writer. But don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of other content for you!
If it’s too much right now, you can find my three latest posts just below and my three most popular posts at the very end 🙂
SO. How do you write your book?
First up, let me say that I despise guides that demand you do everything their way. So much of writing and self-publishing your debut novel is a learning curve, but it should be your learning curve.
Please take everything here as a rough guide only. What worked for me may not work for you and vice versa.
Below are the things I found the most helpful and vital to my success. I recommend you try them, but don’t give up if they don’t work for you.
Not sure where to start? These are the three latest posts:
The one thing that takes most new writers by surprise is how long it takes to go from their first idea to having a bestseller.
Fair word of warning ahead: your book isn’t likely to become a bestseller. Not overnight–overnight success like the ones you see on TV takes years to achieve.
Moreover, you’re not likely to get it right the first time, maybe even the second or third time. Writing a book–and self-publishing it, if you’re so inclined–is a learning curve, and it takes a lot of work. If your first attempt receives more negative reviews than positive ones, then that’s not a sign you should quit. Learn from it, and do better next time.
Having said that, you should do everything you possibly can to make your book great.
This page addresses some of the things that go into writing your book. Each section has links if you’d like to know more, but this right here should give you a good first idea of how much is involved 🙂
If you’ve already written it and are ready to self-publish, click here.
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The Reputation of Indie Writers
Maybe you don’t want to self-publish, but if you do you need to be aware that it’ll be hard. We indie authors don’t have a great reputation.
These days, it’s extremely easy to publish a book. You write a book, you upload it to Createspace, KDP, or wherever else you’d like to do this, and then you hit ‘publish’.
I’m sorry to tell you that’s not enough.
When I was nineteen/twenty, I wrote a book. I was really keen to get it done and sent to publishers so that my SO could get out of a job he hated and so I could do what I wanted–write books.
Here are some of the reasons that didn’t work:
- I sent a first draft…
- … to two publishers.
- I was rushing to write THE END.
- I didn’t accept criticism.
The number of publishers aside, these are the reasons indie writers have a bad reputation too. Or some of them, anyway.
As I mentioned above, it takes time to write your book. It takes time to self-edit it, an editor will need time to go over it and edit it properly, critique partners and beta readers take time,…
You get the idea. And that’s just the editing part!
In short, this is a tough industry. People aren’t kidding when they say you need a thick skin! Accept criticism, work with others to improve your book, and don’t rush into getting it out there.
Once your book is out there you can’t take it back. You can remove it from online retailers, but the negative reviews won’t go away. You only get this one first chance.
The secret to self-publishing successfully is to take pride in being an indie author without making it obvious that you’re self-published.
You can read more about self-publishing your book here, but for now, let’s focus on writing this thing!
World building is one of my favourite parts. I love creating a new world from nothing, fill it with everything that makes it believable and unique and exciting, and get the map designed professionally so I can adore it in print.
It’s a complex thing, but I’d like to think reviews haven’t called me the Queen of World Building for nothing.
Don’t treat your world like one thing. Every country is different, and that means different religions, languages, rituals, habits, currencies, and so on.
I like to draw a vague map first, fill it with borders, and go from there. You can also loosely base your countries on real places, which will help inform your world building.
Here are a few things to get you started:
- How is each country governed? If your book is set during medieval times, for example, you might have a king or a queen. If it’s based on a real place, do some research–how is the real-world equivalent governed? Who ruled at the time your world is set?
- What is its main religion? Not every person in each country needs to be religious, but chances are there’s one ‘accepted’ main religion. And speaking of which, different religions have different creation myths. What are yours?
- What’s the currency?
- What’s the spoken language?
- What is each country known for? Its battle prowess, silks, culture, magic, manufacturing?
The most important thing to remember is that, while you can base your fictional country on a real one, you don’t need to copy every detail exactly when you write your book.
How much history do you need?
I’m a huge fan of lore in video games and books, so the more the better if you ask me. You don’t need to have a detailed timeline of the last thousand years, though.
Start with what’s important to your main character, and go from there. If any historical events come up as you write, make a note to flesh it out later.
Your book’s world doesn’t start with the first chapter, it started long before that just like Earth started before you were born. The more you know the more it’ll inform your world.
Your world, your rules
You can mix it up and essentially do whatever you want–within reason. Rivers still need to flow downhill (unless you have a good explanation for why they’re flowing against nature) and originate in mountains, towns tend to pop up around rivers or lakes, and forests don’t start like a wall might–trees slowly grow denser.
If you’re not sure what you can and can’t do, study a real map.
Want to know more? Start here:
Your characters are the heart of your story. Without them, you don’t have a book! Readers love an imaginative world and a fantastic plot, but we respond to emotions–and your characters will evoke those.
One of the most common mistakes new writers make is create ‘perfect’ heroes. They create characters who are good at everything, have the best friends, and never seem to do any wrong. They’re all strengths and no weaknesses.
People, however, have both, so your characters need to have both, too.
Perhaps even more important than your original character ‘set-up’ is their development. As we go through life, we learn, we change goals, we make mistakes and have regrets, and we forge relationships which further forge our characters.
It may sound complicated, but it’s really simple. Everything that happens to your character impacts them in some way. Some things will only make a tiny impact (your character eats a bad curry so it puts him off curries), others will have huge, long-lasting consequences.
For example, if your character watches someone die, it doesn’t need to be a loved one to affect him. It could make him think about religion, the afterlife, his own mortality. Maybe it makes him more protective of those he cares about, makes him take more risks to live life to the fullest, or maybe it makes him a recluse because death lurks around every corner.
My advice is to plan your character, allow them to develop differently than you intended if that’s what happens naturally as you write, and let their environment, relationships, and events shape them.
Want to know more? Start here:
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser (or a plotster hybrid, like me), having at least some idea of what your book is about and where it’s heading is a good idea.
If you’re a pantser, rest assured you don’t need to start plotting to do well–you do you. But I do recommend you have at least a rough idea for one simple reason:
If you know what’s happening and where your story is going, you’re less likely to get stuck.
Many writers struggle with writing the middle, but an outline will help.
Here are a few basics every story needs:
- The first chapter needs to set up your story, introduce your character, and set up the ending.
- An inciting incident, which sets the main character on his path.
- An important event or decision after which there’s no going back to your character’s old life. Going forward must be his decision.
- A moment near the end where it seems like the bad guys are winning.
If you’d like a bit more guidance, sign up for my mailing list and download your free novel project planner. You can also download a worksheet in my NaNo prep session here, but you also get it if you sign up.
Choosing a POV
One of the biggest problems for new writers is deciding which POV to use. What’s best for your book? Third person or first person? Present tense or past tense?
There are two easy ways to decide which POV is right for you:
- If you prefer reading books in a specific POV, chances are you’ll prefer writing it in the same.
- Pick one and simply start writing. You’ll likely fall into one over the other naturally.
First person narrators can let us into the characters’ heads more, but third person narrators might show us more detail in the world.
It depends on your own style and your voice, which you’ll only develop if you keep writing. I write primarily in third person but I don’t rule out a first person narrator if it fits a future story.
Personally, I haven’t had any trouble letting my readers into my characters’ heads in third person, but again, it depends on your voice.
Every writer is a little different. The best way to figure out which POV is right for you is to experiment and see what feels natural.
Write First, Edit Later
Sooner or later, you’ll be tempted to stop writing and fixing what you’ve already written. Maybe something about the first chapter bugs you, or maybe you wrote a chapter yesterday you know needs work.
Don’t touch it.
When your writing is still fresh in your memory, you can’t edit it because only distance lets you do it well–and I still recommend you get an editor.
I’ve written chapters I thought were terrible so often only to come back to them a few months later and see that it’s not that bad! In fact, some of it was pretty decent, but if I’d tried to fix it right away I might have cut it.
I’ve also written my best chapters when I wrote without constantly interrupting myself. It’s called ‘freewriting’, and allows your words to flow without hesitation. If you’ve never tried it, set aside ten minutes and give it a go!
The hard, uncensored truth is that your first draft will be shit. Every first draft is. No author, no matter how famous, writes perfect first drafts.
As Neil Gaiman said, the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. No one will ever see it, so relax!
All your first draft needs to do is exist. The real work–polishing it–comes later.
Find out more here:
I talk about beta readers in the section on self-publishing, but right now I’d like to talk about critique partners.
There’s one huge difference between the two, and that’s that critique partners can help write your book. Not literally, of course–it’s still your job to get the words on paper/screen–but if you’re stuck or need to bounce ideas, your critique partners are there for you.
For example, my draft of Blood of the Dragon was too short. My critique partners helped me figure out how I could expand the plot and get more out of the story.
You can find critique partners anywhere. Social media, especially Instagram, has worked best for me. The only requirement is brutal honesty. If they are writers themselves, it might help them pick your plot apart too.
You can read more about the difference between critique partners and beta readers here:
When to Write Your Book
All this is well and good, but what if you’re raising two children, working full-time, and have a marriage and social life to uphold?
“I want to write but never find the time.” Does that sound familiar?
The solution is right there in the problem. To write your book, you’ll need more than five minutes here and there. The amount of time you’ll need isn’t just lying around, waiting for you to stumble across it.
You make the time yourself.
Still easier said than done, I know.
I’ve talked to writers who get up an hour earlier so they can write uninterrupted before it’s time for the daily school run.
I’ve also talked to writers who stay up an hour longer after everyone else has gone to bed, or who write on their lunch breaks.
Anything to get the words down.
As with so many things in this business, writing a book isn’t easy. You may well have to make sacrifices to make the time, so it’s important you know what it would mean to you to write your book–
and what it would mean to you if you never got there.
Who to Write For
There are a lot of websites out there telling you to write to market. This essentially means that, instead of writing the books you want to write, you write what sells well.
I’m in two minds about this. Yes, you should take into consideration what your readers want to read, but no, you shouldn’t let it control your entire writing career.
For example, romance books generally sell well because people love those kinds of stories, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no market for your genre. It may be a smaller market, but everything has fans.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay any attention to what readers like, however. Feminism is going strong, so your weak female side character who needs saving all the time and can’t look after herself won’t win many fans.
It also goes a little deeper than ‘just’ your story. When you publish books you run a business, and if you want that business to become your career it can’t all be about what you want. Your readers matter.
In fact, they’re vital to your success, so you shouldn’t ignore them.
If your book contains sensitive subjects such as rape or suicide, you need a trigger warning. If you only have one small mention in the entire book, inside the book and under the blurb on Amazon and Goodreads is fine.
If your plot revolves around sensitive issues, you need the warning on the cover, under the blurb, where everyone who might struggle with the topic can see it before they reach that point in the book.
Your cover shouldn’t need a trigger warning. You need to be happy with your cover, but if it’s a graphic image of a mutilated corpse or a knife cutting open a wrist, you could do more harm than you intended.
I strongly suggest you hire a cover designer, who will take into account everything you want and deliver a cover you and your readers will love.
You need to be happy with the finished book. First and foremost, you should write the book you want to read, but you shouldn’t ignore your readers either.
If you need a little push to get started, motivation to see a draft through to the end, or simply like a challenge, I recommend you give the beautiful beast that is NaNoWriMo a shot.
There are two camps throughout the year and the main event in November.
Thousands of writers sign up every year, and while not everyone gets to the goal of 50k, everyone makes progress.
There are no camps in November but the group spirit is amazing because writers all over the world share their progress on social media. It’s an incredible experience.
If you ‘win’, you can order your winner’s shirt which has a different design every year. You also get a certificate with your name, your book’s title, and the year you participated.
There are two smaller camps you can sign up for, one in April and one in July.
Unlike in November, you set your own goal. You can declare 50k if you want, or you can set a smaller goal if that feels more realistic.
You can also join a cabin or create your own. There’s no obligation, but cabins can be a great way to join a smaller group, meet new writers, and cheer each other on.
I always create my own cabin, and you’re welcome to join! Keep an eye on my social media profiles in March and June, I always announce them early 🙂
Camp is a good start if you’re not sure about the big event in November.
Let’s start preparing together here, in the first of five sessions:
In my experience, there’s no better place for writers than Instagram. It’s a visual platform, so it naturally lends itself to cover reveals, proof copies arriving in the post, and little insights into your writing life*.
I recommend you choose no more than two platforms and stick to those. Social media takes a lot of time, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Pick two you like (and preferably where your readers hang out), and make them your main social hub besides your website.
No matter which platform you choose, it’s the perfect space to promote your book for free. Different sites have different strengths, but I dare say that cover reveals work well anywhere.
Beyond that, you might also like to share videos introducing your writing, book trailers, share progress updates (some writers keep a weekly or monthly YouTube diary), post teasers, or host giveaways.
On top of that, the writing community is wonderful and welcoming. All you need to do is say hi!
Learn more about social media for writers:
*tip: people love seeing writers’ desks!