ORLANDO, Fla. — So you've got some spare time on your hands, and you're determined to do the one thing you've always dreamed of doing: writing the Great American Novel.
What to do? Where to begin? Here are nine ways to finally take charge of that blank page:
1. Just write.
Write like your life depends on it. Don't worry if it stinks. It will -- until it doesn't. The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. The second draft is you beginning to tell the story to others.
2. Remember: show -- don’t tell.
Characters are revealed by what they do, not by them telling the reader what they're going to do.
Also, the first 10 pages are everything. Readers, agents and publishers all make their decision there. (Really, it's probably more like page 1.)
Start with something out of the ordinary. Start mid-scene. Start with the danger, the risk, the question. There’s an adage in writing: Come to the party late, and leave early.
3. Find mean friends.
When you're ready to show your baby to the world, you want constructive criticism and honesty.
What you’re really looking for here is if they like the story, if they like the characters and if it holds their attention.
If it takes them too long to finish your manuscript, that's a sure sign of trouble.
What you really want is for the reader to come to you and talk about how the story made them feel. A story they couldn't put down. That's a winner.
Stephen King used to follow his wife around the house while she read, to see where in the book she stopped reading.
4. Should I pay for an editor?
Yes, without a doubt. Not even a question. Although I just made it one.
A good editor is your best friend and your best enemy. Look for experience, look at their client list.
If you're looking to save money and they're not established, ask them for samples of their edits.
5. Should I self-publish or go traditional?
Ah, the new-age question. Self-publishing means you keep more of your royalties, because there's no publisher other than you.
You also do all the work. You're the marketer, the web team, the secretary and the accountant.
Traditional publishing means you get less of the profit, but potentially more exposure.
They'll put you in bookstores, maybe get you exposure. But unless you're an already-established name, new authors are likely to get very little attention.
6. How easy is self-publishing?
It's not. Self-publishing is not just writing a great book. It's self-marketing, full-time.
You will spend your own money to publish and market the book.
There are thousands of self-published books released on Amazon every day. It's a swamp. What will make your book stand out? Not much.
Advertising is key, which costs money. Social media can be great if you've already got an audience. If not, you're starting out introducing yourself and then your book.
7. Beware of vanity presses.
These are the publishers who say they'll print your book because your story is great. You just have to pay them.
Don't pay them. Publishers pay you for your great book.
8. What books sell?
Romance is still a solid genre, although it's flooded. Thrillers, like murder-mysteries, still do well. Non-fiction, particularly self-help and finance, are solid markets.
A book series is far easier to sell long-term than a single standalone book.
If you're planning on writing your life story, make sure your life story is extraordinary, which means people should already know who you are.
None of this means that because your genre is hot, your book will be.
It's a tough business. You're competing with every new book, every book ever written, Netflix, Instagram and anything else that takes away people's time.
9. Write a great book.
This should be rule 1. Nothing else matters. They say you should write a million words before you write your first book. You'd better get started.
Believe that your book belongs in the world. Believe in the story, and then others will believe in it as well. Just write.
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