Ah, there's the rub. Frequently when someone asks me "How do you write a book?" what they're really asking is "How do I get a book published?"
There are a thousand ways to answer that, but the most honest one is that once a book is at a certain level of competency, no matter how good it is, or how many books you've written or previously published, sometimes luck is what separates a book that gets a book deal from one that doesn't.
You can't control luck. But there are a number of things that will make it easier if you want to write a book that has a chance of traditional or successful indie publication. You can boil that down to eight basic steps.
- Think of market appeal before you write. I don't mean you have to outline or suddenly become a plotter. I mean that at the basic level, you have to know why your book should be published. Why would someone think it is worth spending money to purchase? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- What's your story question? This really boils down to the reason that readers would buy your book--and why they keep turning the pages. What is it they need to find out? Will Character succeed in XXX?
- What are the stakes if your character fails? Think of this as why the reader should care.
- What books would your books be shelved with at the bookstore? Is it primarily a teen romance? A teen fantasy adventure? A work of literary fiction?
- What two books most directly compare to your idea? You can put this in terms of a "meets" that will help you focus. Compulsion, for example, has been called Romeo and Juliet meets The Raven Boys or Beautiful Creatures meets the Body Finder by my publisher, or Romeo and Juliet meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets the Sixth Sense by an agent I respect. The School Library Journal called it Romeo and Juliet meets Gone with the Wind. I think you get the picture. The meets is a shortcut way to describe the book, and the sooner you do it for yourself, the better.
- How is your idea the same but significantly different? You don't want to write the same book that's already been written. So what's your twist? What makes your book unique but at the same time familiar enough to appeal to readers.
- Opening image and inciting incident--where does your story begin? At what point does something critical happen that launches the story events? That's the inciting incident. But don't start right there. Back up just far enough from there to give readers an image of the protagonist's life before things go wrong. What do they need to know to setup the character, the setting, the situation, and the story question, and the stakes for failure? How will this before show readers how your story is different from similar stories and why they will want to read it?
- Point of no return--what's the first big thing the main character does that turns the direction of the story? After the inciting incident that jump starts the story, there must be an action that your character takes that sets her on a path that inevitably leads her into the rest of the book. It's best if this is something the reader isn't going to expect.
- Reverse course--what's the big change of direction in the middle? Everything your main character did in the first half isn't working, so what decision/action/growth does she undertake in the mid-point that reverses her course and sets her off in a different direction? This can be an emotional change or a physical change, but the reader shouldn't see it coming. It's a BIG change.
- Victory is snatched away--why does your protagonist think she's about to win, and who does that go horribly wrong? What makes your protagonist feel like she's about to solve all her problems only to have something go drastically and unexpectedly wrong in a way that readers didn't see coming? This is also known as a twist. The bigger the twist the better!
- Surviving the black moment--how and why does your protagonist get through the dark despair after victory is snatched away? How does she apply what she's learned so far to get herself back on the path to eventual success (or even greater failure)? What turns her into the person she will become? Why might she be able to succeed now where she failed before?
- No holds barred, no quarter given--what's the final BIG confrontation that changes what we think we know yet again and determines success or failure for the protagonist?
- Closing image--how does success or failure impact the protagonist and how can you show us a snapshot of that so we know how her life and situation has changed?
Writing a novel isn't easy. It's not for everyone. And the truth is, not every novel is going to be published. You have no control over that part of the process.
What you can control is getting the novel written and making it the best that you can make it at this particular point in your life and your career. Don't hold out for perfection. Perfection doesn't exist.
Success for writing a novel is measured only by your life and your story. If you get to the point where you can type "The End," that's worthy of celebration, and whether your novel ultimately finds a home with a traditional publisher, get's put out in the world as an indie publication, or gets put back in the drawer of your desk will not change the fact that YOU wrote a novel.
You've got this. You CAN write. Now go on, have faith and give it your best shot!
What's YOUR Story?
What are you working on? Tell me in the comments below! Have you started working on a book? Have you been writing for a while? Do you have a story in the back of your mind?
This Week's Giveaway
by Amanda Panitch
Random House Books for Young Readers
22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after.
Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend.
After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and memories of those twenty-two minutes that refuse to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police.
Now that she’s Lucy Black, she's able to begin again. She's even getting used to the empty bedroom where her brother should be. And her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school, a boy who will do anything to protect her. But when someone much more dangerous also takes notice, Lucy's forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind.
One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning. . . .
Purchase Damage Done at Amazon
Purchase Damage Done at IndieBound
View Damage Done on Goodreads