- Ready to take your story from a whimsical dream, and turn it into a REAL, hardcore book, sitting on your shelf?! Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of writing and publishing your own book, but the steps have never been clear for you. Maybe you’re well on your way, traveling down this path, but now you feel completely stuck. No matter where you are on your writing journey, this Ultimate Author Guide is bound to encourage, give fresh direction, and maybe even spark some new ideas!
1. Determine Your Premise, Capture Your “Why”
In my limited experience of life in the professional author world, I’ve concluded that their are two different kinds of writers. Patient and careful planners, who map out every detail of their story ahead of time, strategically mapping premise, plot, and character qualities. And then there are the whimsical, go with your gut, write whatever comes to you, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants-ers!
I fall into the category of the later. I enjoy the thrilling, risky, (and sometimes incredibly frustrating!) challenge of beginning a story without being absolutely certain as to where it will end.
But, there is one crazy important element that both of these differing writing styles require: every story needs a “why.”
Everything we do should have a purpose. As should every story we tell. So why are you writing? What is your moral premise? What lesson, or virtue, as subtle or as obvious as it may be, do you want your readers to walk away with after they’ve closed your book?
Do you dream of filling them with courage? Hope? Reassurance that a happily-ever-after will come if they don’t give up? A message of forgiveness and second chances? A reminder that simple, seemingly unimportant characters can become great world changers? What is your why?
Write it down.
I would also highly encourage you to write down your most basic premise. Your short summery can be as simple as: Hero (your main character) must solve/do/overcome (insert problem), in order to rescue/resolve/etc the high stakes.
Sound simple enough? It is. If you don’t know who your hero is, what the main problem is, what the stakes are, and how they’re going to resolve it, then I would really encourage you to figure it out! Write these things down in your author journal. Having your simple why, premise, and short summery recorded is going to help SO much throughout your storytelling process!
2. Scribble Your Outline
Emphasis on the word ‘scribble’. For some authors, outlines are erected like strong, metal jail-bars. They tell their characters, “You may go this far, and cross no further!” It creates boundaries for their stories, so they don’t end up barreling down a rabbit trail that has nothing to do with their “why”.
But for me, my outline is merely a suggestion. During my creative process, I like to stay really free and open to the possibilities of things being subject to change! If I become to ridged in what I can and cannot do, my creativity is squelched. (Again, this is just a personal preference! Some authors LOVE having a solid outline and stink to it no matter what!)
But if you’re like me, and the idea of creating an outline sounds restraining or even monotonous and un-necessary, I would highly encourage you to scribble one out anyway! Thinking through the overall ebb and flow of your story is super important.
There are lots of wonderful Plot and Outline printables, questionnaires, and creative tools available online, to help you think through the “big picture” of your story. At first glance, the plethora of resources can be overwhelming. What is the right way to outline? What if I do it wrong?! Which method should I choose?! Ahhh!
If this is your first novel, and you’re brand new to plotting and outlining, don’t despair. It’s not as daunting as it appears. Simply start with one method, try it out, and see what happens.
If you’re already in the process of using a certain method to plot and outline, great, stick with it! But if you’re looking for some ideas, I’d recommend this lovely blog called Helping Writers Become Authors!
Or, if you want to keep things extremely simple, try using this quick and easy template to think through the most important elements of your tale. (Note: if this outline feels extremely cinematic, that’s because it is! Most Hollywood movie producers follow an outline very similar!)
Story Beginning – Introducing your main character, vividly painting the world they live in, showing what makes your character completely loveable and totally relateable, and makes us want to be her best friend. Subtle hints at the possible problems to come are always great too. 😉
The Game Changer – Huge, life-changing event that presents the hero with a massive choice to make. Something that will push her terribly out of her comfort zone, and flip her life upside down.
Responding to the Change – Hero reacts to the huge change in her life, and runs around like a chicken with her head cut off, stumbling, wondering how to make this new thing work. Great time to display flaws, mistakes, and the realistic scrambling of what would happen if this was real-life.
Another Game Changer – The main problem (you know, the one pre-determined issue you wrote about in your summary!) should be super clear, and effect the hero’s life in some way. This is also a great place to insert your high stakes. Hero can now become focused on figuring out how to solve the problem.
Determined Response – Taking the battle into her own hands, facing it head on, and failing. The tension rises, the stakes get higher, and readers should be anxiously devouring any fingernails they have left.
Final Puzzle Piece – After much struggling, another crazy important piece of the puzzle is revealed. (Ideal time for personal revelation, character growth, or the moral lesson of your story finally embraced by your hero.
The Ultimate Climax/War/Confrontation – Basically Utter Craziness!
The moment where evil has a head-on collision with good, and the hero spills her guts out in total determination, becoming the EPIC HERO we were all hoping she was!
Happily Ever After – Wrapping Things Up, Cue Characters Dancing, Happy Music, and Final Credits (Unless of course you’re gearing up for Book #2, then you’ve got to leave some things open ended! 😉
Again, my plot and outline are usually very “scribbled” and a lot of things are subject to change. Don’t feel like you have to chain yourself to your initial plan. But it is wise to have at least somewhat of a plan, even if you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er.
This is also the time where you want to plan your characters. Everyone has a different method for this! Some authors spend weeks filling out character question-airs and others spend minimal time, choosing only to go with their gut and write about a person who appeared on the stage of their mind, and shouted, “Put me in your story, woman!” In my opinion, those characters are the best! They’re already SO vividly real! The ones who you don’t have to put much effort into creating…it’s like they’re already there and ready to rumble! I have one of these characters in Regal Hearts, and it always amazes me how easy it is to write characters like that!
3. Finish The Book (Seriously. Finish It.)
This is where the true work begins.
Sitting down, flexing your fingers, and writing your novel. Word, after word, after word.
You can do this!
Writing is 99% mental and 1% physical. If you have negative self-talk running through your mind, telling you that you’re a horrible writer, you can’t do this, nobody wants to read your stuff…then you’re going to have a really, really hard time finishing this book.
But if you choose to start positive, and STAY positive, you’ll cruise right through this baby! Set a realistic, reasonable goal for yourself, and stick with it! Writing goals can vary, and the best part is that YOU can set them however you like! Be it daily, weekly, or monthly, create goals that work for you, and then SMASH them like the champ you are!
Personally, my writing goal is to write five pages per day on my WIP (Work In Progress). When I first started, I felt like I was running a marathon! Writing five pages a day, totally wiped me out! But I stuck with it, and over time my mental endurance has built up, my writing has improved, and writing 5 pages a day is pretty simple!
This is my far going to be the longest and hardest stretch of things on your To Do list, so whatever you do…DON’T GIVE UP!
FINISH YOUR BOOK! (Even if it’s awful. Just keep going! This is just your rough draft, remember?! It’s okay if it’s horrible! JUST FINISH!)
4. Begin Initial Round of Axing
Oh, the joys of editing. (Just encase you missed it, that sentence was DRENCHED in sarcasm.) Editing is my least favorite part of this entire process. Reading through that first, initial rough draft is always a little bit painful.
And then, it’s time to pull out the axe. Sometimes you find mega plot holes. Terrible characters. Goofy ideas that once sounded brilliant and now fall entirely flat. Sometimes you have to remove a character. Switch the plot-line. Change the setting. Cut out entire CHAPTERS from your precious book! Yup, yup, editing can cut to the core.
But you can do it! Tackle your story with a critical eye, but remember to be gracious. Block out those negative voices that might suggest your story is a failure. It’s not a failure! It’s a work in progress. So keep working it. Keep tweaking. Keep editing and re-arranging until you have a story that sparks!
5. Enlist Beta Readers
After doing everything you can to improve your manuscript, it’s time to enlist the troops! (And by troops, I mean friends and fans who love reading works within your genre!) It’s time to enlist Beta Readers. (You know, those people who have a BLAST with their library card!)
What are Beta Readers? Beta Readers are basically little fairies who will fly through your story and sprinkle their magical pixie dust of suggestion and approval all over it…haha, well, not quite.
Beta Readers are just extra eyes that can give you their initial thoughts of your raw work. If you’re looking for an audience to praise you and tell you how spectacular your project is, eh, this might not be the right audience.
What you’re looking for in Beta Readers, are honest (yet kind) souls who share their true thoughts on your story. They might love it! Or, they might ask super practical questions, pointing out plot-holes you may have totally missed! They might offer feedback that is utterly ridiculous which you just need to throw in the garbage, or they may say something extremely helpful that you can ponder and consider reworking!
The most important things to remember when giving an open call for Beta readers is…
-This is just one person’s opinion. You don’t need to follow, or take to heart, everything submitted to you. If there are important issues that several readers point out, then yes maybe it would be wise to look at those things. But don’t change your entire story just to cater to the personal preference of one highly opinionated person. It’s impossible to please everyone, anyway!
-Make sure readers are interested in your genre. If you write Christian fiction, don’t ask random strangers on the internet to help you out…people who don’t read Christian fiction are going to hate your story! So make sure you approach those who read within your specific genre.
-Make it totally clear, upfront, what you’re looking for from your Beta’s. Do you want chapter by chapter feedback? Are their specific questions you want them to answer? Do you want to know what they love, or don’t love about a certain character? Are their areas in your story that you’re insecure about? Ask them! If you don’t want them to point out your spelling errors, tell them that. Making your goals totally clear as to what you desire from them, is going to eliminate a lot of unnecessary feedback and wasted time.
6. Hire People to Do What You Can’t (Editing, cover design, formatting, etc)
You’re the author. But you can’t do everything. Nor, should you try to do everything.
I know it’s tempting! Go cheep. Save money. Do it all yourself. But that isn’t always the wisest plan. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you should seriously get a professional editor. Editing your own work might work for your first self-published books or two, (it’s okay, there’s grace, I did the same thing!), but if you’re ready to up your game as a pro author, get some professional help!
I’m blessed to have some amazing friends who have offered their editing services to several of my projects. If you’re interested in getting a referral, email me, email@example.com and I can see if your project might be something they’re interested in. (Super affordable, perfect for indie projects!)
Another fabulous editor I would recommend is Rachelle Rea Cobb.
Cover design is also a huge area where you want to enlist help!
My unique, one-of-a-kind cover for The Coronation was created by two, highly talented individuals! Najla designed, drew, and added water-color like elements to the castle!
I found Najla on Fivver.com, and I couldn’t have been happier with out it turned out! The awesome thing about Fivver, is that there are SO many creative souls out there offering their service for cover design, and their rates are amazingly affordable! After Najla designed and colored the castle, I sent that image onto Deloris from Prodesignsx Designs and she created and formatted a lovely cover! If you’re looking for someone to format your cover, I would highly recommend her services.
As important as your cover is, you can’t forget about formatting the inside of your book as well! Proper spacing, page numbers, table of contents, and so many other tiny little details aren’t always easy to iron out.
If you’re using a self-publishing format like Create Space, you definitely want to hire someone who can help you with this, or simply to do it for you! Trust me, it will save you a LOT of headaches and frustration in the long-run! If you’re in need of something like that, again, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll put you in touch with one of my friends! 🙂
7. Create Your Marketing Plan
Before your book is even out, you should start working on your marketing plan. (And yes, this is fun! Clearly, all my emotions about marketing are expressed in the GIF above, haha!)
But why is marketing so important? To put it bluntly: Books don’t sell themselves.
The number of paperback copies sold each year is staggeringly low! Even big-time authors with famous publishing houses have to create a marketing plan! So how can you create yours?
Here are some ideas to get you started…
-Be active on Social Media. (You don’t have to be on every platform out there, but choose your favorite, and post often!)
-Plan a Blog Tour! (Blog Tours are SUCH a fun way to connect with other Bloggers, and spread the word about your new novel! If you don’t what to go through the work of planning a tour and contacting bloggers individually, there are people out there who will help you plan it! I’d recommend Tessa Emily Hall & Laura Pol! They both have really fun, affordable services!
-Create cute, pinnable quotes from your book (using a website like Canva or PicMonkey), and ask your Beta readers to share them!
-Plan a Good Reads Giveaway!
-Ask your Beta readers to post their honest reviews on your Amazon and Good Reads page.
-Submit guest posts to your favorite blogs and magazines that are in your unique niche!
Each idea might sound overly simplistic. But if you brainstorm a variety of marketing ideas, and plan how you’re going to connect with your audience, network with new friends, and bless potential readers, it all adds up! The best thing about marketing, is that with so many different ideas and possibilities, you can choose whatever sounds the most fun, whatever your budget will allow, and whatever works the best for YOU.
Have fun experimenting with different ideas! Be sure to write down everything you do, and keep track of what worked, and what didn’t.
8. Edit, Edit and Edit some More!
If you’re using a self-editing platform and have conqured all the steps above, it’s time to ORDER YOUR PROOF COPY! WOOT WOOT! There are few things more exciting in life, than getting a real, hardcore, totally smell-able, totally feel-able, totally READABLE, paperback copy in the MAIL!
Then, after you have a mini dance party, and the excitement fades, it’s time to crack open that book and…edit.
Yes. I said edit. The dreaded E word.
You’re not quite to the finish line yet, my dear!
It is so, so important that you edit your proof copy…mark it up, and then, go back to the original file and make all the necessary changes.
At this strange in the game it can be SO tempting just to whip through this process, and not take the time required to double, and tipple check for mistakes. (Trust me, I’ve done this. Be patient with yourself. Keep editing.) The extra time required to do so is going to be worth it. So keep breathing, keep plowing through, and know that you’re ALMOST there!
9. Launch Your Baby!
Oh my cupcakes, you made it! It’s time to launch and release your book! There are all sorts of ways you can celebrate! Some authors like to plan Live Launch Parties at their local bookstore, church, or coffee shop.
If you’re excited about your release, your followers will be too! Make it fun! Host a giveaway! Get other bloggers involved! Have a Facebook party! Do whatever floats your boat, so long as you make it a PARTY!
10. Continue Marketing
The work isn’t quite over yet. Remember that marketing plan you created above? Now is the time to implement it! Your book is hot off the presses! Now is the time to really focus on promo, because there’s something exciting to readers about a ‘new’ book. Strike while the iron is hot!
Continue growing your reach. Keep blogging, posting on social media, submitting guest posts, and doing your thing!
Oh, and one more thing. Want to know the biggest marketing secret I’ve learned so far? It’s so simple and exciting, it’s going to blow your mind! Ready? Here it is…
Write your next book.
That’s it! Once you’ve reached step ten, it’s time to start this process all over again! Why is writing your next book such a powerful marketing move?
Because with each new book, you’re going to reach new readers. Word of mouth will continue to spread, and your marketing ideas will change overtime. You’ll reach new people, new audiences, and their friends will tell their friends….and on and on it goes. The most successful authors in the industry are those who have written tons (and I mean, TONS) of books! Readers LOVE a good ongoing series, and once they become attached to their favorite characters, they don’t want to let go!
So don’t leave your readers hanging forever. Start working on the next installment to your unforgettable adventure!
With each new tale, you’re bound to become better and better. So keep practicing! Keep writing! And no matter what, don’t give up!
Let’s Talk About It! Do you have a WIP? Where are you at within the 10 Step Process? Comment below! I love hearing from you, lovelies!