34 Essentials to Writing a Fiction Novel
[Last Updated: 17 February 2019]
If you haven’t written a book yet, and you’re considering it – have a look here. Use this as a guide. Nothing is written in stone, but as a whole, it works for at least one person. Me. If you’ve already written books and don’t feel confident that you’re covering all the essentials, you will get something out of this.
I’ve written thirty-seven books (fiction and non), and I have a pretty good idea how I need to go about it to get it done. It’s funny but many writers fear the writing process. That’s the least of my worries. I have a blast writing the first draft, or it just doesn’t get written at all. To me, writing the first draft is better than sex. I say what I want, how I want, I even have sex with whomever I want, and I tell the story just like I’d tell it to my friends. What happens later is the bitch of it all. There is so much more that goes on that is scarier and that costs money. I fear those things more.
Let’s just stumble into it then. Here is everything you need to write your first fiction book. These are what I call The Essentials because if you’re going to write a book, you want to do it right, and doing it right takes some time and planning. Nobody can bang out a best-seller without doing any of the following. I made this rather light reading. Don’t miss the seriousness underlying the process. The process is nothing to tamper with.
1. Pull a Fresh Idea Out of Your Ass. OK see, this is how this article is going to go. You on-board with this, or no? Here’s your chance to bail.
Pulling a fresh and steaming idea from somewhere is crucial to your success.
OK, it need not come from your ass, but where else do all great ideas come from? Right. Once you do, go to Google and search on the topic to see if any other creative genius pulled it out of her ass first. Make sure that in all your brilliance you aren’t just rehashing an idea you saw in a movie, article, or book from years back. It’s OK if you are if you make it substantially different and better, but it’s just a good idea to check to see if anything pops up during a search.
Start with an idea that is so good it starts your mind racing to the point of being manic. Euphoric. Because starting from that edge of sanity will help you find the required 40-100,000 words you’ll need for your book. Your mind needs to be racing and firing on all cylinders or plungers, or whatever you have going for you. You have to be revved up, and emotional about it. Real emotional.
Don’t misunderstand. You need not be crying, screaming curses, praising Christ, and flipping around in a puddle of your own spit while you write the book. Not that emotional. But there should be some heavy underlying emotions about what you’re writing.
For example, when I’m writing a book that I’m on fire about, I have this recurring thought that I’m writing a masterpiece. I’m fulfilling prophecy. It’s like I’m writing The Book that is going to end my hardships and change my life, change everyone’s lives. It’s like a forethought of my ultimate pre-ordained destiny being played out. I’m lucid as crack. I’m anxious to get the words out of my head before I forget any of them. If everything is per the usual, I’m also twisted up tight on mud-black coffee and frozen Kit Kat bars. If you don’t also have this crazy state of mind that tells you this is THE ONE – then just don’t bother writing that story at all, it isn’t the right one.
Don’t write a detective story. I hate those. They’ve been done to death. And before my friend Joel Villines wrote one, I’d have said, don’t EVER write a zombie story. The subject has been done way beyond death and there is absolutely no point in it.
Then Joel wrote a zombie story. I began reading it. I had never ever read a zombie story before, because, well, I just don’t care. Never watched a movie about the subject either. But, because it was set in Thailand and I knew the areas and nuances of the place, the story was excellent. And funny as shit too. But Joel did it way over the top. If you’re not going to take a boring subject and ramp it up WAY over the top of what has been done before, don’t even think about it.
Amazon, Apple, Google, Sony, Barnes, Kobo, and every book-stealing file sharing site on Al Gore’s internet has tens of millions of books to sell readers who you’re trying to reach with your book. Detective stories are verboten. Don’t write anything that doesn’t pull the reader’s emotions through a cheese-grater. Don’t write something that doesn’t surprise the hell out of your reader. Don’t write something like that Vonnegut nonsense. That was OK back then. Today, no.
Take a cue from Marilyn Manson’s “This is the NEW SHIT!” song. It’s brilliant. It’s new. It’s not the old shit. It’s the new shit. Readers are craving the new shit. Give it to them. Slap them in the face with some new shit and sign your name to it. This is what readers what. This is what you must give them. And, be careful what you want.
2. Don’t Even Give a Thought to Legacy Publishing. You’re doing it yourself. There is no reason in the world you need to submit your book to a publisher to see if they approve it. You’re approved. Go write your book. More on this later.
TECH GEAR I USE and RECOMMEND 100%:
3. Forget Everything Other Writers Have Told You. This is absolutely essential. This is my show, let me toss you this way and that. If someone else is influencing you as you read this and try to wrap your head around it, it will never work. My style could be considered a minimalist style to some degree, but I also put a hell of a lot of emotion and attention to details in my books. Mostly emotion. If you’re not emotional about the book you’re writing, find another topic.
Don’t write for your writer friends. Forget your writer friends. They’re the idiots that give new writers 1-stars at Amazon and make up the most ridiculous horseshit reviews to make it seem like you shouldn’t have written a book, you should have fornicated with your meatloaf instead. Writers try to make you look too stupid to write a book or, breathe air.
Write for the masses. Here’s what I found out about the masses when I wrote for them. First I found out the above, all writers are impetuous self-righteous assholes. Then I found out that the masses, once the book is available for a while, will write so many glowing reviews about your books that they drown out all the asshole writer reviews. That’s a sweet and welcome turn of events. So, I lost my fear about writing just how I want to write. Even in this blog, you can see many grammar errors and odd ways of saying things that could have been straightened out, smoothed over. I just don’t care.
I didn’t go to school to write books. I went to school to study psychotics, the deranged, the addicted, and the otherwise afflicted. I just happen to enjoy writing, so this is what I occupy myself with. Mostly.
I couldn’t tell a dangling participle from a dancing dingleberry, and honestly? I just don’t care. My editor, she cares about that stuff. That’s what she gets paid for. I don’t even want to see the corrections she made to my drafts. No, I don’t want to learn ‘the right way.’ I just don’t care. Fix it, and send it back so I can shoot it up to Amazon and get paid. I don’t care to learn what a pronoun is. I figure if I learn it, I’ll be an asshole too. I have too much to get done to be an asshole.
4. State Your Motivations. There are a thousand reasons people have for wanting to write a book. What are yours? Sit down and brainstorm all the reasons why it’s essential to write this book. If you don’t have strong motivations, you’ll never finish. Your motivations should be major and resemble the following. Here are ten of mine.
Vern’s Writing Motivations
- Kindle sales have dropped, and I want to continue working at home and taking naps.
- Payoff wife’s school loans.
- Pay off my debt back in the USA.
- Move to Hawaii.
- You are untested in the thriller genre, see what you can do.
- It’s impossible to kill it in Google with blogs anymore. Write books.
- You received scores of supportive emails from readers of your last two fiction books.
- If you smash it spectacularly, you can relax for a year.
- If you smash it to hell, you can go to Mars in a few years.
- You have terminal cancer and you’ll be dead next year.
The last one isn’t a joke. It is, but it isn’t. I take it very seriously. Some people motivate themselves by promising to buy a car, a ring, or something special they’re excited about. I don’t get excited by things. I have to scare the F*#K out of myself to motivate me. It’s the only thing that works.
I tell myself daily that I have terminal cancer that is going to kill me by sometime next year. I don’t know when, but it’s going to get me. If I don’t maximize my writing opportunities now, I’ll never reach the goals I’ve set for myself. That’s unacceptable. I WILL reach my goals with writing and I will run a 30-mile trail race in early 2015 (update – I dorked my sacroiliac and was on my back for 8 weeks). Telling myself this shores up my motivation and I don’t have any problem sitting down to write every day for a month or more.
5. Outline the Story. Outline, timeline, character list, and description of the story are all essential steps for me, but sometimes I skip the outline if I have a strong grasp of the story – especially for short stories.
I usually start with a description of the story as it comes to me. I get it down on the computer so I don’t forget it. If it comes in a dream, I’ll wake up and turn on the voice recorder on my phone and talk into it, telling as much as I remember. I usually write about 1,000 words or so in the description and then get to work on the outline and timeline. One of the last steps, before I start writing, is to figure out more about the characters in the book.
Somewhere, someone has researched the fact that outlined stories are better.
Outlined Stories Are:
- easier to write
- faster to write
- less prone to going off-story
- rated higher in comments and reviews
- better sellers
I don’t have any evidence that any of the above is true, but just in my own experience, all of them are right on.
OK, truth time. I don’t always outline. But, I always at least complete a timeline, or I find myself completely lost numerous times while writing the story. Doing both assures me of the best possible outcome, but sometimes I am just so damn excited to start tap dancing across the keys with my fingertips that I just go straight into the story after creating a timeline for the story.
What’s a timeline?
I draw a squiggly line on a piece of 8.5 x 11″ paper held in landscape orientation. Then I add the major twists and turns in the story to the timeline. I start at the bottom and move upward. At the top, the end of the line is the end of the book.
Sometimes I can barely do that before I’m off to the races, writing like a meth-infused madman until I finish the book. Other times I can move from the timeline to the outline. Ideally, this is what should be done because the outline will give your novel structure you can see at a glance. You can change the outline around to make it more impactful. It’s much easier to see what is wrong with a story while looking at the entire book outlined in fifteen pages than it is to look at the book chapter by chapter and try to figure out what you might move around to make the story work better.
I outline by chapter. I try to just have one or two main points to the chapter. Usually just one is perfect. The whole chapter is about that one thing that is crucial to the story. If I know how it’s going to happen, I’ll flesh it out a bit in the outline. Usually, as I’m creating the outline, I am writing a good portion of my story because going from one point to the next my brain is firing off important ideas that I don’t want to forget. Sometimes I get caught up in it and find I’m going full-bore and writing the book, instead of just doing the outline.
I outline in Microsoft Office’s Excel program usually. Sometimes I just do it on a Google Docs Spreadsheet. I’d rather do it in Excel so I have it on the computer whether I have internet access or not, but if I foresee I’ll have WIFI access for weeks at a time, I might do it in Google Docs. Yes, I know I can set up Google Docs on my computer, but I have 24 GB of data there and when it starts syncing it looks like it’s going to take a full year to complete it. I don’t have much space on my MacBook.
I pay no attention at all to supposed crucial elements that every highly successful book has, which should be repeated in your book if you want to have some chance of taking over the world. For the same reason I don’t want to learn the intricacies of grammar, I don’t want to learn about how to structure my book so it’s more like other books, successful or not.
I have my own ideas. I’m writing my own book. It has nothing to do with other books. I write the way I am. My book is a reflection of me. If it’s incomprehensible, that will tell me something about myself. I may choose to fix it, or I may just learn from it and carry on.
In 2001 I made this website called Mindbombs.com. Someone else has the domain now, but you can probably still find my old site if you use the internet archive “way back machine.” This storage system has stored data about websites from the past that you can have a glimpse of. Oh, what the hell, I’ll look for it. Yep, it was there. I’ll drop the screaming skull log on the right there. The site was focused on nonconformity and helping people understand all the influences the media has on us.
On that site, I wrote this 20,000+ word rant about how I was tired of being told what to write and how to write. I haven’t changed much. I decided to go against the establishment and write the way I wanted. I got some great feedback and actually met a very good friend as a result of publishing that. She happened to live in my home town. She was just a fascinating person. I’m glad I wrote it just because it led to me meeting her!
But there were so many people I met as a result of writing that piece. I had hundreds of emails and offers to have it read on radio. I had interview offers from two major websites. What happened was that I was connecting with people that were like me. People who could have joined my email list. I didn’t know how important it was back then, but today this is what marketing gurus like Seth Godin are screaming about. Find your 1,000 true fans!
The point is, be yourself. Forget about the perfect formula for a book. Write your book. Make it interesting. Make it fun. Twist things up a bit. Surprise people. Shock the hell out of them. Whatever you do, don’t write a book just like someone else’s book. There’s no YOU in a book like that. Write a book that makes you happy. My “The Ultimate Life” book was like that for me. It sold squat. I still love that book more than any I’ve written.
My outlines take at least three days, and sometimes as long as ten days.
What if You Don’t Want to Outline or Timeline?
You have to at least write up a description of the story. What are the major points? Who are the main characters? What are their ages? Gender? Who are their siblings? What is their story? How tall are they? How much do they weigh? Why are they making an appearance in the story? What motivation and goals does each character have? How does it end?
Print the outline once you have it finished. Tape it up on a wall in whatever room you write in, so you can refer to it when you need to.
6. Kill Your Distractions. Read this just so you understand what all can be considered distractions, there are heaps of them and they’re all waiting to call you a failure when you don’t produce that book. Kill spouses, mom’s, dads and mothers-in-law, kids, dogs, squirrels, birds, stuff on your wall, post its, alarms, televisions, radios, coffee percolating, clocks, watches, your mobile phones, your WIFI, your neighbor’s open WIFI, and your To Do List.
Ideally, there should be nothing around you that is familiar and that might remind you of something else you could be or should be doing. The perfect way to make this happen is to rent a room somewhere for a month, two months. I did this while writing my last fiction book. I have a real problem keeping all the details in my head while I write 80,000 words of a story I made up on the fly from scratch. The process goes much better when I sit at a desk in a hotel with the window open where they are doing elephant rides in the rubber tree plantation below.
The first couple days I went, the woman at the hotel desk who is also the owner, looked at me strangely as I went upstairs to the room with one backpack and came back down in five to seven hours every day to check out. I told her I’m writing a book. She probably didn’t believe me, but she noticed that I never used the bed, the shower, asked for the WIFI password or called for room service. She started charging me just $6 per day instead of the usual $15. Hey, it’s Thailand, $15 is actually damn expensive over here for my taste! I finished 80,000 words in twenty-two days for my first draft.
When I’m in book writing mode, nothing else matters, everything else is a distraction. That’s my wife, my daughter, friends, exercise, website issues, website posts, packing envelopes with stuff we sold, and everything else already mentioned above. All of it is a distraction and it doesn’t get “in.” I have to set aside a three or four-week block of time where I can just write my ass numb on a daily basis. I can’t have anything else going on that’s more important. I don’t check email in the morning at all. I don’t check Facebook or Twitter.
During Novel Writing Month, I…
- wake up around 6:30 am. typically, but if I’m up at 3 am. to tinkle, I might start writing immediately.
- eat my bird food (wife calls it that) – it’s muesli and soy milk. With coffee, it fills me up until lunch.
- grab a couple of apples or dragonfruit for lunch and a bottle of grape or blue Gatorade.
- make my usual 20-ounces of black coffee and put it in my insulated cup for the drive over to the hotel.
- check in at the hotel about 7:30 am. Pay my $6 USD and go find the room.
- set up for writing. I have my outline taped side-to-side in a huge horizontal strip that I tape to the wall.
- open the window, turn the air conditioner on full blast, turn the fan on me, set my coffee on the table, crack the MacBook and commence to writing. I write furiously for a minimum of three hours. Sometimes it just flows, and sometimes it stutters. If it isn’t going smoothly I will stop after a few hours. If I’m flowing and in the zone, I might sit there until 7 pm. that night, not eating dinner or a decent lunch. Never interrupt a good flow!
7. Computer Setup. I’m hoping you write on a MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch because then you’d be just like me.
Why do you need that specific notebook computer?
- The retina screen is perfect. There’s nothing about writing a writer loves to see more than the words being written. The retina screen appears to have been made from alien technology, back-engineered just for writers.
- The touchpad is magic. Tech-nerd that I am, I’ve owned dozens of notebook computers over the years. There is nothing on the market like the MacBook touchpads. Get one, and put a smile on your face. I would buy this computer JUST for the touchpad, it’s that perfect.
- The keyboard is good. I know, you’re a writer. You demand the best. Well, the best keyboard is in the Lenovo ThinkPads, and their screens suck, their touchpads are worse, and they run on Windows, which is an abomination. Trade-offs people. I have come to like the keyboard on the MacBooks. I can type faster on them than on any other notebook, and with fewer errors. Still, there isn’t as much clickiness as I would like. Try typing on them at the store for a few visits, get used to them. They grow on you.
Give yourself the gift of life. Get a MacBook Pro 13 or 15-inch notebook computer with the high-definition retina screen. Here is an article I wrote about the MacBook Air which doesn’t have the retina screen, “25 Reasons to Buy a MacBook Air.” The retina MacBook Pro is basically the same thing, but better. I highly recommend it.
And here is my article comparing two MacBooks, “25 Differences Between the MacBook Air 11-inch and MacBook Pro 13 Retina.”
I use the Microsoft Office Word program. I’ve used Word since it came out, whenever that was. Somewhere around the time Word Perfect came out if you’re an old-schooler like me. Currently, I use their yearly family subscription program which allows me to install the software on up to five computers (Mac or Windows) for one-year. The subscription rate on the website is around $100. I got mine on discount in Thailand for some reason at just $70. You can pay month to month for $7-10 for one to five installations. Then if you don’t need it for a few months, stop payments. Restart as you need it.
I Like Writing with MS Word for a Couple of Reasons:
- I know where most menu items and shortcuts are because I’ve used it for more than a decade.
- I can easily password protect documents.
- It works well with Amazon when I upload my book to be converted to .mobi format.
- It also works with Smashwords – they want .doc files, which you can easily convert from .docx to .doc in Word.
There are other options. If you don’t know what to use and you don’t have any money to spend on Word, just get Open Office Writer. It is free. It works on Mac or Windows. It’s quite good and even allows you to convert your book to Word and PDF formats whenever you want. If you want to beat your head against a wall for a while, the “Pages” application comes with all Mac operating systems, so it’s free. I can’t stand the program, but maybe you’ll like it.
Eliminate all distractions on the screen. All programs have a cool view mode that does this for you. In Word, you go to VIEW | FOCUS. It is really a big help because you don’t see anything but the page you’re typing on. Here is a screenshot (CMD-SHIFT-3) of me using it now.
Click to enlarge.
8. Choose Best Narration Style. I’ve written all my fiction stories in first-person. I like the power of the God perspective, and I’ve started books that way, but I lose interest because I don’t feel like I’m in the story. I get bored, even if the story is really interesting. Decide which perspective fits the story best, and write that way. Give third-person a chance, it is a very powerful style, and worth learning. My next fiction novel will likely be in third-person style.
9. Write Straight Through the First Draft. As I said before, writing the first draft isn’t a chore, it’s a blast. I type as fast as I can, and my 80 wpm fingers can never keep up with my thoughts. I just try not to lose too much as it goes from my mind to the computer.
I write nonstop for as long as I can, at least a few hours, even if I have a bad day. If I can’t spell a word, I don’t worry about it. I just make sure what I’ve typed so far will clue me in enough to look the word up later. I add a ((( to mark every spot I want to come back to later to fix.
I don’t fire up the internet to look up background information about anything that isn’t already in my head. If I need to get something later, I add a note after the ((( mark so I can do that. Minimizing and eliminating distractions entirely is one key to being able to complete your book. It’s essential to give yourself a month or so to hammer out the book daily. I need that anyway.
Some writers can write a thousand words a day and finish a book in three months. I couldn’t possibly do that. I need hours of quiet time to immerse myself in the story day after day without a break. This helps me remember all the crucial details over the course of a month of writing. If I write sporadically, or with days of breaks in-between, I forget things and have to go back through the book to find what I did. That drives me nuts and is a major distraction to my writing – and mood!
When I write the first draft it is in its barest form. It isn’t well written. It isn’t anything like what I’m going to send to my editor. It’s the first iteration of many.
While Writing the First Draft, Don’t Worry About…
- spacing errors
What about font? Spacing?
I use Open Sans, Courier New, or Verdana when I write my draft. I don’t know why I use what I do. I guess I have moods where one of them just fits. I use 14 pt. font. I set the page to 150% zoom. I use 1.15 line-spacing. I like some vertical space between lines. Word gives this 1.15 option and it works perfectly for me. I like to be able to see four or five paragraphs in the vertical space on the page all at the same time, so this spacing setting allows that.
10. Get Off Your Ass!
There has been a lot of talk recently about people who sit long hours killing themselves faster because of it. I’ll go for that. I usually write for an hour on the chair and then move to the dresser where I might have to stack pillows, boxes, or anything else to bring the computer up high enough to type comfortably on. I stand for as long as I can, then go lay down on my stomach on the bed and type like that for as long as I can stand it. Then I go get something to drink, take a pee break, eat a piece of fruit, and go back to the chair.
I also swing my arms around, stretch, box, and do squats between bouts of writing. It gives my mind, and eyes a break. Staring at the computer screen for a couple hundred hours as you write your book can’t be good for your eyes.
11. Take a Break! Once you are finished with the first draft, don’t just jump into editing. Give yourself a day at least. Go play with your kids at the park for a day. Take them fishing. Go hike a mountain. Do anything to get you away from the computer and your book. I usually take one or two days, but at times I’ve taken a month away from books I’ve drafted. It is a real eye-opener to go read a book you wrote four years ago and see what you think now. Tip – don’t do it, you’ll end up re-writing it. Which is a bad thing. Move forward, not backward. Write new books, don’t keep revising those you’ve already written.
12. First Edit. My first edit is a spell-check. I’m anal like that. I can’t stand reading my story and seeing words misspelled. I have to fix them first before I can move forward. I know I’ll be spell-checking again before I send to the editor, but it’s something I take for granted must be done to keep me sane.
13. Second Edit. I search for all the ((( marks and fix what I can easily. After I do this, I’m eager to get into fixing the story, so this is a pain in the ass step, but it has to be done sometime. Better to do it now because if I start reading the story and find too many (((‘s then I can’t get into the story that deep.
14. Third Edit. This is where I read from the first page and correct words that don’t fit, and sentences and paragraphs that need changed or moved around. There is more. I do whatever I can see that needs to be done. That might be grammar, punctuation, capitalization, expanding an idea to explain to the reader better what I’m trying to say. There are many things I do during this edit. Too much probably. I should probably split this edit into a bunch of smaller edits, but I enjoy going through the book with a fine-toothed mind at this point.
This third edit might take a week. I am usually so anxious to get it done, and fixing so much, that by the time I get done the story is still a mess but, it’s better than it was.
15. Day of Rest. I usually take another day or two to relax and get my head out of the book. If I don’t, I might start hating my book. I don’t want to hate it, I want to love it. I absolutely hated my first fiction book because I edited relentlessly for months without a break. I know a hell of a lot more now, and one thing I know – I need frequent breaks from editing so I don’t become a hater.
16. Full Read-through. I read the entire book straight through, only stopping to add ((( where I see something that needs to be fixed. If it’s something complicated that I might not understand when I come back to fix it, I’ll leave a note behind the ((( to help me see it during the next edit. This step takes one or two days, depending on how motivated I am to read through the book again.
17. Final Edit. I go through the entire book again piece by piece. I read a chapter and think about how I could make it better. Should I be describing the scene or a character better? Could I add something that would describe the problem better or from a different point of view?
I do automated spelling and grammar checks. I check all numbers to ensure they are spelled out or formatted correctly. I check all the times and dates. I use “Find” to search for many things I typically screw up. I look at all paragraph spacing, headings, links, find all double-spaces, I check capitalization. In short, I check everything I know how.
There are usually some ((( marks I leave in for the editor that I don’t have a clue what to do with. She always knows what to do.
18. Send to the Editor. If you are wondering whether you should invest in an editor, I would say, you shouldn’t even write a book if you aren’t planning on hiring one. You need an editor. Everyone needs one. You need an unbiased view. You need an editor’s expertise and experience to make sure you don’t look like an idiot when you publish your book.
I write a lengthy note to the editor. I tell her everything about the book that I think is important. I tell her the main focus, which characters I think are important, and why. I explain why I did some things unconventionally – if I did. Nothing worse than her coming back and saying, “that whole page is hosed, yank it, or fix it.” And then having to write her back and say, “that was the email the main character got, it need not be spelled correctly or formatted correctly.” I make everything clear as I can for her so she doesn’t waste time, and I don’t waste time replying to her comments about something that I intended to do.
I also tell her what I’m looking for in the edit. Sometimes I want her to just go over and fix all the grammar issues. Other times I want the full treatment. Sometimes I give her full-reign, she can yank what she wants and change sentences at her whim. She’s a hell of a lot better at this stuff than me, she just prefers to edit rather than create books. She prefers the steady check to the crapshoot style of writing books and hoping they sell.
She has written some incredible short stories and won contests recently, so maybe I’ll be looking for a new editor in the coming months. If you want to ask if she’ll consider editing your book, email: Frithar@yahoo.com. Her name is Laura Lindsay. She has a BA from Penn State in English Lit.
19. Story Back from Editor. The editing process is a long one once Laura gets it because as usual, I’ve given her a barely readable mess she has to decipher and tear apart before it makes any sense to her. Then she has to change it to make sense for readers. We usually email daily for a week or so as she attempts to clarify what in the hell I was thinking when I wrote such and such. She’s gentle, you know, but every question hurts and, because she’s my sister, I can tell her to go suck eggs if she’s slapping me around too hard!
When I get it back I do a full read and see how the book hits me.
Did I nail it? Did I just change the world? Did I at least change the lives of some percentage of my readers? Should I start clearing my calendar for Oprah and the talk show interviews that are upcoming?
I know, I don’t watch TV but I know Oprah’s out. Well, whoever took her place then. I think about the book a lot at this point. Is it ready to publish, or is there something I can add to really make it amazing?
The editor always sends back a note about the book, which gives me something to go on. If she can see something that could make the book heaps better, she’ll let me know. Sometimes it’s a topic that she knows little about and she just trusts that I nailed it. It was that way with the meditation books I asked her to edit.
20. Title the Book. Coming up with a title isn’t just choosing something that fits your book perfectly. In fact, it has little to do with that anymore, unless you’re an established writer that already has a following.
If you have a large number of loyal fans, readers that purchase your books just because they know you wrote them, then you can title your book whatever you want.
The rest of us have to put a lot of thought into our title. The title you choose for your book has some correlation with the number of sales you’ll make. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes, and every online book retailer has a search function so readers can find books that interest them, based on keywords they use to search with.
The title of your book should have some great keywords that will result in your book showing up in the search results at these sites. If you name your book, “Knobs that Dorked-up the Oceans,” it will not sell because nobody is searching for that phrase or keywords in the phrase. If instead, you call it, “Chevron – Ocean Disaster Coverups” or something like that, then maybe you’re on the right track.
You with me?
So, while my next fiction book would be perfectly titled, “If the Horse Can’t Get Up, He Can’t Get Out.” I am not at all sure that is the title I’ll use. Probably I’ll call it something like, “Mafia Henchman at Mom’s Group Home” or something. I figure a lot of people search on ‘mafia’.
Naming a nonfiction book with good keywords is much easier than fiction, but still, you should probably make an attempt at it. A title with perfect keywords doesn’t ensure you of great search results and sales, but along with the other parts of your metadata you’ll add, it all acts together to give you a boost.
There is no doubt in my mind that my keyword choices for my title, description, keywords, and categories have made a tremendous difference in my level of success. You will need to do some research on choosing the best keywords for your books, this can be the topic of another helpful article here in the future. In the meantime, click here to see a YouTube video by Jason Matthews on the subject.
21. Find a Graphic Designer for Your Cover. No, you cannot do it on your own. Please, don’t even waste ten minutes of your time thinking you can. You just can’t. You can come up with ideas on your own that you give to your designer, but let a professional design your book cover, or you might as well never have written the book at all. Really, it’s that important.
I’ve done a fair bit of graphics in the past. I’ve developed over 100 websites since 1999, and I’ve done all my own graphics. Some of my sites did well, so I thought I could design my own book covers too. So I tried. The result was, I had book covers that I thought were pretty creative and good enough, but that was sub-par and losing in competition to every other professionally designed cover on Amazon.
Two Book Covers I Designed:
The two covers above are short stories and are FREE at Books link above.
I hired out and got these covers for $100 each:
See any qualitative difference?
You can say it, I can take it!
Joe Konrath, a wildly successful self-publishing author at Amazon, started out paying $300 for each of his covers some years ago from a professional designer. His designer now doesn’t respond to authors who need covers. He must have more work than he can handle from referrals.
Do not skimp on your cover. Figure you’ll pay $100 to $300 for a good one. The cover and title are the two most important parts of your book submission to online publishers. Your cover is competing with at least dozens of others with similar topics. Probably more like thousands.
Here, I’ll give you my cover designer: Roland Ali Suello Pantin, firstname.lastname@example.org. He lives in the Philippines and is very responsive by email. He is easy to work with and I have never had a problem with him. Tell him you need the cover to be formatted for Amazon, and any other online stores you plan on submitting to. I usually give him $50 to start, and $50 when he gives me the final high-resolution image.
When you get a chance, read this article about digital book cover design, it has some information you probably haven’t thought about, and it will help you give your designer a better idea about the essentials you want to be included in your cover.
22. Submit to Amazon. Don’t bother with the others until you get your book at Amazon. Each bookstore has different formatting requirements, and after doing it once, you might never want to do it again. So, it is better to get the best one out of the way first.
Kindle Digital Publishing platform (http://kdp.amazon.com) is what you can use to publish your own books.
Before submitting your book, read the formatting suggestions here. There are helpful guides for Mac and Windows users. Also on that page are numerous helpful links down the left column.
Upload your book and fill out all the data form fields as best you can. If you want me to fill them out, send me your book so I can read it or skim it and get an idea of what might work best. I don’t offer any guarantee, but for $80 I’ll give it the best shot I can, which is probably considerably better than your best shot. Just saying!
Once your book is converted you’ll be able to preview it. Do so and see what it looks like. Is it perfectly formatted? Of course not, nobody’s book is! Now you have to make it perfect. This is where you really have to get down into the submission guidelines and go through every one of them to make sure you are doing it right. This is well worth the effort and essential for good reviews. You’ll get horrible reviews if your book formatting is all dorked up. It’s well worth taking the time to iron out any problems in this area.
Fix and resubmit as necessary. There are services that do this for you. I don’t want to go searching the internet for them and recommending some to you because I’ve never used a service like that, I just gutted it out and formatted my own. Eventually, you’ll come out a winner. If you don’t have the stomach for it, find a service that will do it for you. If you’re submitting to Smashwords.com, you will probably be better off having a service format your book for them because it is nothing less than a nightmare. At least in the past. Maybe things have changed. I do hope so.
The reason it is so much worse at Smashwords is that they are formatting your book for multiple bookstores like Apple, Sony, Kobo, Barnes, and even Amazon if you want them to handle it. I wouldn’t, I’d submit directly so you can avoid Smashwords taking a cut. Especially for Amazon. Submit it yourself.
Recently I pulled all my books from Smashwords and went exclusively at Amazon. I did this because I saw sales fall off dramatically over the past year. I was making around $1,000 per quarter at Smashwords for a short time, and then around $800, and lately, that was more like $200. Going exclusive at Amazon allows authors to get paid for books viewed through the Kindle Select program and to manage other promotions for their books, which help sales quite a bit. I’m also writing a lot lately and I don’t foresee reformatting all my new books for Smashwords, it’s just too much effort for not enough reward at the moment. That might change in the future.
Choose a price for your book. Remember that the $2.99 and $1.99 price points are a good starting point, but your book might do well at $3.99 or $4.99. Play around with price-point a bit and see what price brings the most profit. It depends on the niche you’re in, and the competition you have in that niche.
An alternative to self-publishing is to let Amazon publish your book for you in the new “Kindle Scout” program. If they choose your book, they will promote it and give you $1,500, plus you will earn 50% of all commissions on the sale of your book at Amazon.com. It’s a five-year renewable deal potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if you have a good book. They take forty-five days to evaluate your book for the program. If you don’t get accepted you can just self-publish as usual.
This program just came out today – so I’m going to evaluate it to see if it’s a good match for my next fiction book. You must be a US citizen with a tax ID number from what I can ascertain from the submission guidelines.
To apply for the Kindle Scout program, click here.
23. When Your Book is Live, Sit Back and Watch Your Money Tree Grow Like Jack’s Fricking Beanstalk! Some books come out of the gate smashing it, and selling dozens, scores, or hundreds each day. It could be as easy as this, but probably won’t be. Amazon does a lot to sell your book with all the information you’ve given in the submission process, but there are many other variables in the equation that lead to the sale of your books. There are many things you can do that will help you sell more books. I cover some of them in the following points.
24. Create Your Author Profile. Amazon has a place for authors to create a profile. It is called “Author Central.” Click here. Fill out everything you can. Add a photo of yourself and one with your family, add as many photos as you want. Add video. Add a well written and well thought-out biography. Claim the books that are yours so Amazon knows without a doubt which ones are yours. Sometimes it doesn’t find them all, so it’s worth checking after you publish every book.
25. Create a Listmania Book List at Amazon. Create a few of them. Include your books on those lists. Include other books by no-name authors that have priced their works too high. In the past I’ve seen my book pop up in Google results as being part of a list at Amazon, so that is a very powerful tool to take advantage of. Google changes at their whim, so don’t count on it lasting forever, but it takes five minutes to create a simple list. Add notes in the list on the books you are familiar with, and especially your book. Make it seem like the obvious best choice. Click here when logged in at Amazon to create your own Listmania list.
26. Start a New Discussion. On the book’s sales page when you scroll down you can find the area below the description of your book called the “Forum” where you can start a discussion. This hasn’t worked for me, no matter how catchy I make my threads. If you can find people to engage with you, it can only help. Use catchy titles – linkbait style – to grab attention.
27. Link to Your Book’s Amazon Sales Page. If you have a website, write blog posts and link to your book at Amazon. Link directly using the bare minimum URL length. Here’s what I mean…
When I search for my book, “The Ultimate Life” at Amazon, they give me this URL:
You need to cut it down so it looks like this:
Use this link to link from your website to your book. Use keywords that help Google figure out what the book is about, like:
<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Life-Vern-Lovic-ebook/dp/B00FR302SA/”>Motivation for a Better Life</a> book.
The purpose of links pointing to your books at Amazon is that Google uses the links to assign a level of authority and trust to it. If many websites are linking to a book page on Amazon, it tends to come up more in the Google search results. That is a powerful way to increase sales. Thing is, you need a strategy for encouraging other sites to link to your page. If you team up with a couple of other authors who have published books at Amazon, you can all do each other a favor and link out to each other’s books.
There are many places you can link from – your website, your email signature, forum posts, comments left at other blogs, your profiles at any of the social media sites, from your Facebook pages, Twitter tweets, Tumblr blog, etc.
Ideally, you’d spend 20-minutes to an hour each day linking to your books for the first couple of weeks at least. Some people pay administrative helpers in the Philippines or other countries a couple of dollars per day to create links to their books. This might be something to consider if you don’t have the time yourself.
28. Vote Up Positive Reviews. Some authors say don’t read the reviews of your books or they’ll drive you mad. It’s true, some of the negative reviews will drive you bonkers. It’s those paperback writers I mentioned earlier. There is also an entire category of book readers that wish they could be authors themselves, but don’t have the drive or know-how to go about it. They’d rather tear you a new rear-end than write a book of their own.
But, there is an upside to closely checking your reviews. You can sway the comments a little bit by voting that the good comments were “helpful” and bad comments were not. Comments with the most helpful votes go to the top of the list. So too do the negative comments that rip you a new one.
I go through and vote for comments on all my books every couple of weeks on a regular basis. When you first publish it is pretty essential to get some decent comments voted up quickly before you have some knob rip you wide open to bleed all over the place, right on the page that’s supposed to be selling your books! I strongly advise you to ask your friends to help you vote up the good comments. This alone can be a major factor in whether your book sells or tanks initially. Later on, as the rest of the buyers’ vote, it will all even out, but when you have negative comments listed at the top of the heap, it absolutely KILLS SALES.
I don’t advocate buying reviews, but, I would give your book away to a bunch of friends and fans that promise to review it. Personally, I think people that review books that were given to them in that way should mention it at Amazon, and I’ve asked my readers to do that so there is no conflict of interest. Well, there is, but future buyers of the book can read their comments and decide whether they want to read the book in light of it being given 4 or 5 stars from a friend or fan of mine that read the book for free.
Reviews are probably the most important variable in the equation, besides cover, title, and description. Altogether, these four things, well five – including the quality of your book, matter most. Get all these things right, and then employ some marketing techniques to help things along, and you’ll sell some books. You might sell large numbers of books. For some blasted reason, there is a little luck involved in the whole process too.
29. Marketing Resources
- 34 Ways to Market Your Book and Author Brand at Pinterest
- Jason Matthews covers Amazon Keyword Tips in this 20+ minute video worth watching.
30. Other Online Publishing Options.
- Barnes & Noble Store and Nook
- Smashwords.com – for a commission of sales they can publish your book at a number of other online bookstores including Amazon, Barnes, and Apple.
- Apple iBooks – With an Apple computer you can publish at the iBooks store after creating your book in the free iBook Author program. I created a free book about Thailand’s Venomous and Non-Venomous Snakes using this tool. You can grab it for free at my ThailandSnakes.com site here: Free Snake Ebook. The link comes in an email after you sign up. You can unsubscribe after you grab the book. Just go grab it to see what is possible. It’s all drag and drop and it creates a file that is ready to sell at Apple, or you can give it away free to others that use iPhones and iPads, or in PDF format. The iBooks Author books look great on the iPads.
- Write Sex Stories and publish yourself.
31. Other Bloggers Talking About Digital Publishing.
- Joe Konrath. Joe found himself at the forefront of digital publishing after some astonishing success at Amazon where he has sold over 1 Million books. He is one of the strong voices of the self-publishing industry and his blog, and comments on his blog posts are essential reading.
- Hugh Howey. If you ever need the inspiration to continue writing, just check out Hugh’s survey of published authors. It’s on Google Docs here. It’s anonymous, but most of those that took the survey probably told pretty close to the truth. In particular, the comments over on the far right are very interesting reading. Just go to File / Download As / Microsoft Excel. Open it in Excel on your computer. Then you can sort by columns. Sort by highest to lowest on Column “O” – Author income. Then read the comments from that group of the highest earners in column P. Very enlightening. If you never really thought it was possible to make over $3,000 per month with just ebooks – this will be a pleasant surprise for you. This is one of the most inspiring things I can do, and I do it a couple times a month. Thanks Hugh!
- Gary McLaren. I found Gary first at Twitter where he blasts us with tremendously helpful article links. If you’re on Twitter – follow him @GaryJMcLaren, you won’t be disappointed. His blog is also worth a visit: Publish Your Own Ebooks (.com)
Joel Friedlander. Also publishes great links on Twitter @JFBookman.
32. Digital Book Editors
- Laura Lindsay. email@example.com
- Karyn Marcus. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Crystal Watanabe
- David Gatewood
34. Cover Art
Are you WONDERING IF THE LATEST MACBOOK PRO (Late 2016) is GOOD FOR WRITERS? Here are my thoughts on that >
Or what about, Is the New MACBOOK PRO Good for ANYONE? >
All images are ©2014 Apornpradab Buasi, except the following:
©2014-2019 Copyright Vern Lovic at VernLovic.com.
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