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New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy

New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy

“I’ve done everything I can think of — bought advertising, did a blog tour, gave away free copies… Why aren’t my novels selling?” My coaching student was in despair, and that’s understandable. If you do everything “right” it’s devastating when a novel doesn’t sell.

Today, every novelist faces huge competition. In 2011, a novelist who could string together 60,000 words could make a great income. Not so in 2017. Authors who quit their day jobs to write are going back to those jobs because their incomes have dropped.

“My beta readers love my novel — I’ve got five star reviews. But no sales…”

My student sent me copies of his novels. I opened the first one and spotted the warning signs of a fatal problem right on the first page. I speed-read through the novel — and yes, the novel was dead on arrival.

Which brings us to…

New novelist: your simple strategy to write a selling novel

Here’s the strategy. Your novel must have a point. All the screaming excitement of your novel can’t and won’t make up for it if there’s no point.

The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers. In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:

  • In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
  • In romances — will the boy get the girl?
  • In thrillers — will the hero save the world?

Oddly enough, when a novelist writes a novel which has no point, it’s often sadly plain right from the first page. I call these novel openings “much ado about nothing.”

My student’s novel started with his hero in bed, waking up. OK — a fine opening, as long as the room explodes, or there’s a dead body beside him. There wasn’t an explosion, or a dead body. Nothing, except a whole heap of excitement about… waking up in the morning.

Readers are smart. When they buy a novel, they want a story that’s a real story. In other words, they want novels which have a point. When a novelist generates false excitement about waking up in the morning, readers are turned off. No matter how gorgeous your book’s cover, nothing makes up for nothing happening in your novel.

3 vital tips you need to write a selling novel, starting today

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write a selling novel.

1. What’s your point? Who wants what? Why can’t he get it?

Your novel must have a story question, and your story question must be concrete — something you can kick. 🙂 It shouldn’t be: “love conquers all” or similar. That can be your theme, if you want one.

The easiest way to decide on a story question (even for pantsers) is: who wants what, and why can’t he get it? Think about your favorite novels. You can identify the story question easily. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, it’s who gets the “young man of large fortune from the north of England.”

You’ll usually find the story question in the blurb (book description) — here’s the story question from the blurb of the bestselling novel, The Night Manager:

At the start of it all, Jonathan Pine is merely the night manager at a luxury hotel. But when a single attempt to pass on information … backfires terribly, and people close to Pine begin to die, he commits himself to a battle against powerful forces he cannot begin to imagine.

2. Write in scenes, and include the important elements of a scene to maintain suspense

In Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction, we said:

Scenes are the building blocks of your fiction

In the 21st century, every reader understands drama.

TV and movie stories are delivered in scenes. If you want lots of readers, you need to learn to deliver your stories in scenes too.

Readers are impatient. They just want the story. Deliver. Show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.

Want to write great fiction? Devote time to learning how to write scenes. Include these elements in your scenes to maintain suspense:

  • Setting;
  • Character development;
  • Sensory details — sight, sound, and more;
  • Plotting — movement on the story question.

3. STOP IT! Stop with the backstory junk already — readers don’t care about the past

In Writing Fiction Made Easier: Get Out Of Backstory Hell we discussed the pitfalls of backstory (that is, the history of your characters, before the story starts.) We said:

Important… Don’t worry about backstory in your first draft. Just write.

Remove ALL backstory when you’re editing.

You can add backstory into your novel/ novella/ short story, very carefully after your “slash and burn” editing fury. Restrain yourself. Only a sentence or two at a time. And only if you must add it for the story to make sense.

Backstory stops your story dead. Readers DO NOT CARE about what happened before the story starts. Occasionally backstory is necessary, because it makes character motivations clearer, and reveals something that readers must know. At those times, drop in your backstory in a sentence or two… please.

“Does it make sense? Is it important/ exciting/ fun to know?”

One of the definitions of “novel” is interestingly new or unusual.

This particular definition is a good guide to knowing what to write about in a novel. Keep it interesting, above all. For a new novelist, a big challenge is “writing” their novel. Bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard said:

My most important rule (for writers) is … if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

A very good rule. Be wary of anything you think is “good writing.” New novelists tend to fall in love with words, and that leads to horrors like writing about their characters waking up in the morning. There’s nothing interestingly new or unusual about that.

Keep your wits about you. When you’ve written a scene, or are about to write a scene, ask yourself if your idea for the scene makes sense. Logic counts.

Wondering about my coaching student? He’s fine. He’s happily rewriting, after we developed story questions for each of his novels. He tells me that he feels a lot more confident, and knows that his revised novels will sell.

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

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Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. More info →
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How To Write A Book Without Trying

How To Write A Book Without Trying

You want to write a book but you have challenges. Maybe you have no idea how to start your book. Perhaps you can’t decide what to write about. Alternatively, you’re in the middle of writing a book, and say that “I can’t finish my book.”

Here’s the solution to each and every one of your challenges: stop trying.

Write a book the easy way: just write

Several times each week I suggest to a writing student:

  • “You’re over-thinking this…”; or
  • “You’re getting in your own own way…”; or
  • “Just start…”

Nothing happens until you stop thinking, and start writing.

It’s a lesson I learned many years ago, but here’s the thing: you (and I) need to learn this lesson over and over again.

The only way to get out of procrastination hell is to DO: right now, this minute

Procrastination masks itself so it takes time to wake up to what’s happening.

For example, I was happily procrastinating on a book I’m ghostwriting for a client. I kidded myself that I was doing research. It took the danger of the imminent deadline to metaphorically slap my face and wake me up. I was forced to realize that my so-called research was just over-thinking and procrastinating.

Let’s look at three ways to break free of deadly over-thinking and procrastination and write a book the easy way.

1. Break out a stack of index cards: one card equals one thought

This is my favorite method of getting out of my own way; it primes the pump for writing.

This method works well if you’re not sure what you want to write about, or if you’ve stalled out on a book.

Grab a stack of index cards; the 3 x 5 size.

Without thinking about it, write five thoughts, one per card.

Put those five cards away, and put 20 blank cards in your pocket, or in your purse. During the day, and before you go to sleep, write another thought on each of those 20 cards.

First thing in the morning, grab your stack of 25 cards and read them.

Today, you write.

Before you start writing, read the 25 cards again, and then just start writing. Chances are that a sliver of inspiration has managed to break through, and you’ll write easily for an hour or two. (Or whatever time you have: ten minutes, half an hour — the time you have isn’t as important as sitting down and writing.)

Keep using the index cards if you find them useful. If you don’t, just write.

Write nonsense if you like, but write. Within a couple of days, you’ll be inspired to write your book, or complete your book if you’ve already started.

2. Write the final scene (fiction) or final chapter (nonfiction)

I love this method.

Oddly enough, when you want to write a book but can’t get started, writing the end before you write the beginning helps. I have no idea why it works, it just does.

Sit down at your computer, and without thinking about it write the ending of your book. Accept whatever comes.

One of my students had been contracted to write a photography book for her client. She wrote the final chapter, and was shocked when it was the final chapter of a memoir. Not quite what she expected, but it was OK. Once she’d got that off her mind (she wrote an outline of the memoir in an hour after completing the final chapter) she started on the client’s photography book.

She told me: “I wrote my client’s book quickly — it just flowed. The client’s thrilled. She’s recommended me to a friend, and I’ve just committed to writing an ebook for the friend.”

Occasionally when your creative self needs to get in touch with you, the only way is to block you. With this method, you’ll unblock, and all your writing will flow.

3. “Today I finished my book — here’s what it’s about”

This method is quick and simple.

Set a timer for 20 minutes, and start the timer.

Write “Today I finished my book — here’s what it’s about”, and keep writing, without lifting your pen from the paper, or fingers from the keyboard, until the timer sounds.

Then start writing your book, or keep writing if you’ve already started.

Which method will you use? Use your intuition

Which of the above methods to write a book should you use?

Use whichever method appeals to you. Which method seems easiest, or most fun?

You’ll notice that none of the above ways of writing your book call for you to grit your teeth with determination, or force anything. They unlock your creativity and inspiration. Remember them, and use them.

Have fun. 🙂

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out our ebooks for writers.

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

Nonfiction Ebooks Goldmine: Write and Sell Nonfiction Ebooks In 24 Hours Or Less

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 5
Genre: Writing
You're a writer. You need to make money from your words. What if you could create AND sell a nonfiction book in just a day? More info →
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How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”

How To Write Fiction When You “Don’t Know How”

You want to write fiction, but you don’t know how. That’s OK. No one else knows either, because fiction flows from your imagination. Unlike nonfiction, which is grounded in facts, and depends on logic, your fiction wilts and dies if you try to use the same mind state in writing it that you use for writing nonfiction.

Consider that essentially: fiction is daydreaming and igniting experiences in your readers.

Want to write fiction? Get out of your mind

Children are good at daydreaming. If you listened to your schoolteachers when they said “pay attention” you might think that daydreaming is wrong. However, fiction writers know that they daydream their stories to life.

Big tip: it’s not about the words.

In my fiction writing classes, new fiction writers focus on the words. That’s natural, because you’re getting used to writing. However, as we suggest in step 4, below, there are no perfect words. More to the point, if you focus on the words, your imagination will sit in a corner and sulk.

Your basic fiction writing mindset is: dream first — and start with an emotion.

Here are some simple steps to help you to write fiction when you “don’t know how.”

1. Start with an emotion: emotions trigger memory and images

I like this list of emotions from Byron Katie; download the PDF.

If you’re a newbie fiction writer, try spending five minutes a day feeling emotions.

Here’s an example. Feel apprehensive.

Hard, right? You need a situation. Imagine that your boss asked you to take the company’s biggest client out to dinner. The client made a lewd remark to your wife. You hit him. The police have been called.

How do you feel? Do you feel apprehensive?

Just for a moment, imagine yourself in that scenario. How does it feel to be apprehensive? What thoughts go through your mind?

As an exercise, come up with a little scenario of your own in which someone feels apprehensive.

If you spend five minutes a day on this little exercise, you’ll make your imagination stronger, and that’s a good thing for fiction writers.

2. Grab a person, anyone will do

I talked about my favorite character-creation method in Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers:

All you need to create a basic character is an adjective, combined with a noun. The noun is usually the character’s job. Some examples:

  •  Naive model;
  •  Bedazzled lottery winner;
  •  Hardworking hairdresser;
  •  Jealous chef.

You can come up with any number of these thumbnail “characters” in a minute or two.

Choose an adjective and a noun, and create your character.

Now go back to your list of emotions, and choose one. Let’s say you chose impatient.

Create a little scenario in which your jealous chef (or whoever) feels impatient. Let’s say that the restaurant owner is complaining to the jealous chef that someone left a negative review for the restaurant on a social media website.

Your next step is to keep asking WHY.

3. Keep asking: “why?”

Grab a pen and a sheet of paper, or open a new computer file, and talk to the character you’ve just created. Keep asking him: WHY — you can add “who?” and “how?” too, if you like. 🙂

Write it down, don’t try to do this in your head.

You daydream your fiction, but you also need to write stuff down, otherwise you won’t remember it, sadly. Day dreams are just like night dreams. They can be hugely involving, but the moment they’re over, they start to fade. So get into the habit of dreaming first, then writing what you dreamed.

Keep going, until the story becomes clearer.

Congratulations: you’ve just experienced plotting. Easy, right?

4. Assure yourself that there are no “perfect” words, just emotion

Many authors find that their biggest challenge in writing fiction is getting out of their own way. Avoid thinking too much. Just daydream, and write down the first words which come to you. You can tinker with your words in revision, but not when you’re writing.

When you catch yourself wondering whether “temper” is preferable to “rage” you’ll know that you’ve just jolted yourself out of the fictive dream, in which:

the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it…

(If you get the chance, read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. It’s a wonderful book.)

You DO know how to write fiction: just day dream, and write down your dreams

That’s pretty much all there is to writing fiction.

You can now write a bestseller and get your revenge on all those teachers who called you a dreamer. Have fun. 🙂

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check our our ebooks for writers.

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →