A lot of people start NaNoWriMo. Fewer people finish. Far fewer. But that doesn’t have to be you. You CAN write a novel and finish it. You just need to do a little preparation so that you don’t end up stalling in the center—or even at the end.
Here are eight simple steps to get you started!
1. 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?
- What are the stakes if your character fails?
- What books would your books be shelved with at the bookstore?
- What two books most directly compare to your idea?
- How is your idea the same but significantly different?
2. Have an idea of at least the seven basic plot points. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, you'll find it helpful to think through the essential architecture. You can always change them as the story evolves, but you will get to the end faster when you have at least a core game plan.
- Opening image and inciting incident—Where does your story begin?
- Point of no return--What's the first big thing the main character does that turns the direction of the story?
- Reverse course--What's the big change of direction in the middle?
- Victory is snatched away—Why does your protagonist think she's about to win, and how does that go horribly wrong?
- Surviving the black moment—How and why does your protagonist get through the dark despair after victory is snatched away?
- 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?
3. Write. Or write not. There is no try. Yoda is wise in all things, so put on your best Yoda voice and repeat that sentence several times before you sit down to write. Talking about writing is not writing. Blogging about writing is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing, unless you are thinking mindfully and being very specific about a particular aspect of your story. Writing questions about what you're writing is perfectly valid--that's valuable and leads to forward progress. Progress doesn't have to be huge. Fifty words. A hundred words. SOMETHING. Hold yourself accountable. As long as you add even a word or two every day, the book will eventually be out in a first draft. Don't worry about making it perfect at the drafting stage--that's what the revision process is for, and you can't revise what isn't yet on the page, to paraphrase someone—and no, I have no idea who said that at the moment.
4. Get thee a critique group. Join a professional writing organization like SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) or RWA (Romance Writers of America) etc., and use their mechanisms to help you find people online or local to you with whom you can exchange manuscripts. Make sure they are at least as determined and serious as you are.
5. Get thee some perspective. Once your manuscript is written and your critique group has helped you revise and polish it up, find several beta readers who will be perfect honest with you—this does not include your family, your best friend, your babysitter or employee, or your dog. And whatever they say after they've read your story, listen to their opinions, say thank you very much, and put it all away for two weeks or a month and then read your manuscript again and really think about their suggestions. Revise. Polish. Revise. Polish. Rinse repeat.
6. Craft a kick-butt query letter that explains the wonderful stuff in points one and two. You can find lots of information here on Adventures or elsewhere online about how to craft a query letter. And here's the truth. If your manuscript is ready to be submitted to an agent or publisher, the query letter is easy to write. If you can't make your book sound interesting or marketable, it probably isn't interesting or marketable enough. In which case, go back to item one above and start over again. Not looking for an agent because you want to indie pub? That's fine, but don't skip this step. Write your cover copy. If you can't make it sound appealing while honestly describing what's inside the covers, you're not going to want to spend the money on getting the book published—at least not yet.
7. Make up a list of agents who represent books similar to yours. Know WHY you think they'd be a good fit for your book, and be prepared to include a sentence or two about those reasons in the introduction of your query letter. Armed with your query and shiny first pages, submit your query to eight or ten agents. See if you get requests from at least twenty percent of them. If you do, then your query letter and idea are marketable. If you get requests but no offered, your idea is marketable, but your pages still need work. Go back to step two and start there.
8 Write something new. You grow as a writer with every manuscript that you have mindfully written. If you're not having any luck selling your first manuscript, write a new one. That doesn't mean you have to give up on your baby. But once you have multiple babies, you'll have more perspective and better skills.
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!
Martina Boone is the author of SIBA Book Award nominated Compulsion, book one in the romantic Southern Gothic trilogy, the Heirs of Watson Island, from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, which was an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookstores Alliance, a Goodreads Best Book of the Month and YA Best Book of the Month, and an RT Magazine Best of 2014 Editor’s Pick. The second book in the trilogy, Persuasion, will be published October 27, 2015. She is also the founder of as well as , the three-time Writers Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" site providing craft, inspiration, workshops, agent-judged contests, and giveaways.