How to Publish a Book

Process for Creating a Novel

1. Figure out, “What is the overall idea for my novel?”
Until you know what the novel is about, the big picture, you can’t really write it very well. You’ll be like a blind man wandering in the dark. Sure, you’ll get somewhere, but it’s a tedious process.

2. Market Check
“Ask yourself, is there a market for this kind of novel? How large is the market? Do I want to write this kind of book, or is it outside my career path? How do I write well for this market? What is my competition?

(See Treatment in The Advanced Story Puzzle.)

3. Brainstorm
In The Advanced Story Puzzle I talk about several ways to brainstorm, using visual imagery, auditory imagery and so on, and you might find that certain techniques work for you better than others.

“To create a novel you need a character, in a setting, with a problem. Just having one or two of those elements doesn’t work. You need to brainstorm all three.

But when you brainstorm them, you create a “loose idea” of what your story is about.

(See lessons 1-3 in The Advanced Story Puzzle. )

4. Research
Once you know some information, you might begin doing research. For example, in a historical novel, I might research who the people were who were at a meeting in 1856. I learn all that I can about their backgrounds, their input into the meeting, and the outcome of it. In the same way, I might research locations and dates. I might go to that location and visit historic sites to look at a building or study local flora and fauna, or read weather reports for that day in history, or look up news articles to find out what hot topics were going on. Research can include reading, watching videos, travel, reading books, and so on.

Market Watch
Even if you don’t think you need to do research for a book, let’s say a light romantic fantasy, you do need to know your markets. This means you need to look at the best works among your competitors and begin figuring out how to beat them!

To do your market research, you will need to read books, watch movies, read articles online, study your competition on publishersmarketplace.com, and possibly even travel to exotic locations.

5. Firm Up the Plot
Once I’ve researched the characters, settings, and problems, I’m ready to begin creating the plot. The plot is more than just a retelling of what happened, I need to relay why it happened, who made the critical decisions, what the protagonist hoped would happen, and so on, and what they intended would happen.

In plotting a novel, I look at the protagonists, antagonists, and various other characters, along with the whims of nature, and create a structure for understanding the story. Who does what, how, for what reason, and with what effect?

6. Outline
Once I have a plot, I need to decide how to tell the story on a scene-by-scene basis. I decide if a scene will be narrated or brought to life through description. Will conversations be summarized or relayed in full?

Each novel needs around 100 scenes, with the appropriate setting. In my outline, I tell when and where the scene is set, who the protagonist is, who else is in the scene, what the protagonist is intending to do, and then describe the action of the scene, how it plays out, in such a way that thing change in surprising ways, so that the reader never knows where the story is going exactly. Each scene outline is typically from one to three paragraphs long.

7. First Draft
Once I have a structure for the novel in mind, I begin writing each scene as I want it to appear.

8. Course Corrections
Most novelists find that when they are between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through a novel, that they make new and interesting “discoveries” about their characters. The story gets more complex, and as a result, they might change directions a bit. This often forces them to stop writing for a bit and reconsider their work.

Now, this is very important: it’s okay to change course, but don’t stop for long and don’t throw your novel away! Go ahead and stop for three days and make minor modifications to your plot. The truth is, your plot was probably fine when you began, and you don’t really need to hesitate and revise the whole thing.

You may make course corrections a couple of times in your novel, but don’t doubt yourself.

9. Completion of First Draft
When you finish a first draft, you’re probably not done. You will find that some scenes are weaker than you intended. You might decide that you need to focus on a certain character more. You will want to do a second draft” but wait!

10. Beta Read
Before you polish your novel, give a rough draft to some beta readers. These are people of the age and gender for your intended audience. That means that if you have a book for 10 year-olds, then you want your readers to be 10 years old. Focus on how they feel about the novel! Let them help you figure out how to polish and fix up your book quickly.

11. Second Draft
After you get your feedback from beta readers, go ahead and revise. See my class on “Editing to Greatness” for advice on polishing. You fix your plot first” deleting, adding, and revising scenes (in that precise order).

12. Possible Second Beta Read
Get new readers for your polished version. People who read the first story will have views that are tainted by previous exposure.

13. Final Polish
You might find yourself going through a manuscript to make multiple passes. For example, I like to go through the dialogue in each scene to make sure that my character voices are spot on. I like to look at the beginnings and endings of each scene to see if I need stronger hooks. I like to make sure that I place metaphors and similes in proper places, etc.. When you have polished a novel, you’re ready to send it to editors and agents, or perhaps send it to critics and reviewers if you are self-publishing.

That final polish is a time to do a gut check. Is it really better than the competition? Do you feel that the themes are deep enough and universal enough to move a wide audience? Was your approach to telling the story memorable? A lot of factors go into this.

14. Send it out!
Now start your next book.

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