So you want to write a novel?
Actually, you’ve wanted to write this novel for a long time, haven’t you? You’ve daydreamed about it, visualizing the cover, imagining your name rising to the top of the bestseller lists.
Yet somewhere deep in your gut, the thought makes you queasy.
And you can’t quite locate the source of this dread. It’s just there, smoldering beneath those bright layers of hope and inspiration.
You know this because you’ve tried to start your project several times, and each time, the dark feeling won.
And it’s particularly frustrating because you know you want success.
You have something to say, something to share with the world. You want this book to be awesome, something you can be proud of, something you can drop into conversation at the next office party or barbeque:
“Actually, Jim, my summer was great. I just finished my novel.”
The worse part? You know you can do this, but you can’t help procrastinating.
So you scour the internet for advice, for some magic-bullet mantra to soothe your fears.
You’ve been waiting to pull the trigger.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
The truth is pretty simple, isn’t it:
You haven’t pulled the trigger because you don’t feel ready.
Writing a book feels like driving cross-country without a GPS, like building a house without a blueprint…
You’re smarter than you think.
The nagging voice is telling you something’s missing: a solid a plan, a template for making your book-writing progress smooth and successful–all the way to the finish line.The nagging voice is telling you something’s missing: a solid a plan, a template for making your book-writing progress smooth and successful--all the way to the finish line. Click To Tweet
You haven’t started because you’re unsure about where and how to begin. Make sense?
No worries. This article will help you get your heroes humming, your vampires vamping into the hearts of readers everywhere.
It’ll provide you with a focus, a means for putting your writing mind and business in order.
So thank that little voice in your gut; it’s been guiding you all along.
Too many writers fall short of their goals, settling for half-finished novels for months or years, never realizing they needed a strategy.
So read on, future Hemingway, and take some notes.
I’m rootin’ for ya.
Here are 7 things to do before writing your novel.
Investigate: Get to Know Your Genre and Your Audience
This may seem like an obvious point, but too many budding novelists don’t think beyond the creative process of writing their book.
They rarely consider the nuts-and-bolts work of actually selling it.
Book sales depend on a good PR and marketing plan, and your genre and target audience drive that process.
Take time to learn about the other authors in your genre; consider the differences between devoted fans and casual readers.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking your work is unique, that it doesn’t fit any traditional genre definitions.
While there are a few very narrow exceptions when this might apply, for the most part, you will be carving out your niche in one of the major categories:
- literary and commercial fiction,
- genre fiction,
- non-fiction (commercial and non-commercial),
- young adult, and
Find your genre, and learn everything you can about the notable people working in it.
Get to Know Your Protagonist
Your protagonist is the driving force behind your novel, the character whose fate matters most to your story.
Don’t confuse the protagonist with the hero; sometimes, it’s a villain (think Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” or Tyler Durden from “Fight Club,” or the evil Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” for example).
If your readers aren’t deeply invested in the protagonist’s fate, you haven’t done your job as an author.
Amazon best-selling writer Joe Bunting says a successfully portrayed protagonist must be forced to choose her fate and accept the consequences of her decisions; one who doesn’t is a background character at best.
Practice writing internal debates for your protagonist when she is faced with a decision to help you truly understand her motives and psychology.
Know Why Someone Would Care (Your Hook)
Your hook sets your book apart from others in the genre, and it’s something you should be able to communicate in just a sentence or two, max. Ask yourself:
- What makes my [romance, mystery, sci-fi, drama, historical fiction, etc.] book unique? With Sally MacKenzie’s series, “The Naked Earl,” “The Naked Duke,” etc., the hook is right in the title.
- What is one thing you’d tell an editor about your book? Colleen Gleason, in her Gardella Vampire series, used “It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Regency England.”
- What do you want readers to know about your book? Back to Gleason again, her official tagline says it all: “Belles, balls, beaux…and stakes?”
Write a Compelling Book Synopsis
The synopsis is not the same as the back-cover blurb that sells readers on your work.
The synopsis is for publishers and agents who need to see the arc of your story: what happens, who changes, the nature of the core conflict, what’s at stake, and how the story ends. Aim for a single page, 500 to 600 words max, and avoid just summarizing your plot.
Include feelings, emotions, and decisions that advance the story.
Don’t include dialogue or purple prose, and if you’re writing a “formula” genre, be sure your synopsis hits all the points in the formula.
Outline Your Book: Know Where You’re Going
Some authors prefer “organic” writing, but for most, having structure actually makes the writing process easier. Here are some great reasons to outline before you begin:
- You know what you have to write. If you feel like writing a scene from the middle of your novel because you’re stuck on a piece in chapter 2, you can do it, because your story’s structure is set.
- You can easily add or enhance the plot or subplots if you uncover something new and interesting in your research or writing process. A formal structure helps you see where the new information fits best.
- You can immediately identify holes in your plot or flaws in your character development.
Establish a Writing Schedule and Commit to a Word Count
Discipline is key to your success as a writer. Like everything in life, failing to plan is planning to fail. Here are some recommendations to help you stick to your schedule:
- Give yourself measurable goals and deadlines (complete chapter 6 by Friday, or write 1,500 words today, for example).
- Put “writing” in your daily calendar, preferably at the same time every day, and treat it like any other schedule commitment.
- Make a plan for completing your novel, with ordered tasks and deadlines, so the project is broken into manageable tasks that don’t seem so intimidating.
Start Marketing Now! Build Your Author Platform Before Your Book is Finished
The author platform is a concept most easily described as your ability to sell books because of your reach and reputation.
Don’t confuse an author platform with an active social media presence; it’s far more nuanced and organic than that.
Here are some tips to build yours:
- Publish your work in reputable outlets that cater to your target audience.
- Create your own platform (website, blog, newsletter) and build a body of work that organically grows followers.
- Attend and/or speak at networking events in your genre and sphere of influence.
- Partner with influencers in your genre to extend your visibility (content, marketing, PR, social media).
Join the conversation.
What pre-writing tasks have we missed?
Share your thoughts below.