One of the most popular questions I get from a new author is: “how do I know that my book will sell?” From an aspiring author, the most popular question is: “how do I know that my idea is a good one?”
The answer to the first question is — “write for a market, then do your best promoting your book. No one knows for sure.”
The answer to the second question is — “a good idea for you is an idea which has a market and which is EASY for you to write.”
Let’s talk about EASY ideas. For any author, not only for a new author, finding ideas which are easy for you to write is vital.
Are you a new author? Keep it simple and easy
Ideas are everywhere; not every idea is a good idea for you. If I gave you ten minutes, I’m sure you could come up with ten ideas for books.
They might be all great ideas, but here’s a secret from the world of professional writing. When a commercial writer is offered a gig, his first thought is: “What will this take?” In other words, how easy is the project?
Challenging projects take time. Clients are rarely prepared to pay for all the extra time a project consumes. So the professional’s primary aim is always to keep it simple and easy — or get the client to pay for extras — otherwise he doesn’t eat.
You can use the same question: “What will this take?” when you get an idea for a book. Time is money for you too. Most importantly: if you make a habit of choosing challenging ideas, you’ll end up with many partially-written books on your hard drive.
Ideas for fiction: write what you enjoy reading (keep research to a minimum)
My reading tastes are eclectic — I’ll read pretty much anything. Checking my home library however, and my Kindle library, it’s easy to see that I like historical romances from various time periods, mysteries and thrillers.
What do you like to read? If you like vampire novels and space operas, it may be hard for you to write a contemporary romance, no matter how popular these romances might be. You could do it, of course. But you’d spend so much time reading in the genre that it could take you a year or more to write the novel. Perhaps you’d start the novel, then get bored, or frustrated, and never complete it.
The best fiction ideas for you are ideas for novels which are in a genre you know, and which you can write with minimal research.
That said, if you get an idea for a novel which will take HUGE amounts of research, but you can’t get the story out of your mind — go for it. Inspiration trumps everything else.
Ideas for nonfiction: write what you know (or can easily find out)
As with fiction, your aim in finding great ideas for nonfiction books is finding ideas you love, but which are easy for you to write. Ideally, you’ll write from your own experience, or write about something in which you’re hugely interested… as long as there’s a market for your passion.
New author or experienced professional: answer “what will this take?”
Ask yourself: “what will this take?” before you invest time and energy in a fiction or nonfiction idea. Not only will you write more books, but you’ll sell more too.
You want to write a book, but you gave up after one page, or one chapter. Maybe you’ve written a book, but hate it, so it’s on your hard drive, a symbol of your failure.
Would you believe me if I said that there’s no such thing as failure, and you CAN write your book, starting today? All you need to do is become familiar with your inner critic, and expose him for the illusion that he is.
The big reason you can’t write a book
I work with writers every day. A huge part of that work is separating a writer from his killer “musts” and “shoulds.” These faux strictures and rules stem from the writer’s inner critic, and they’re immensely harmful until the writer recognizes them.
Once you recognize the lies your inner critic is telling you, and recognize the source, you can go ahead and write happily. Unfortunately, this recognition is hard, because the words your inner critic whispers activate your sympathetic nervous system: this is your fight or flight response.
Fight or flight shuts down your thinking processes. The only way to counter this is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, so that your body calms and you can think again.
You can’t rid yourself of your inner critic, but you can stop giving him attention. Vital: never argue with your inner critic. That way lies disaster. Remember that he’s an illusion, he’s not real. 🙂
Let’s look at some tips which will help you to ignore your inner critic.
1. Practice gratitude daily: list 5 wonderful things
Although you might think that gratitude (of all things!) can’t help you to write a book, guess what — it can. It’s not only free, it’s a way to turbocharge your creativity.
Gratitude floods your body with chemicals from your parasympathetic nervous system. These chemicals are completely natural, they make you feel good, and they put you into a “writing” mind state.
Keep a gratitude journal for a few weeks; it can change your life.
2. Fool your inner critic: “I’m just practicing …” — and smile
Uh-oh… You’re happily writing, and your inner critic chirps in your ear: “how could you write that? You can’t write that…”
Remember: he’s an illusion. You can’t argue with an illusion and win. Mentally say to yourself. “I’m not writing anything serious. I’m just practicing and having fun.”
And smile: just a little Mona Lisa smile. Smile slightly with your eyes and tilt your lips upward at the corners. According to The Atlantic, a full research study,“Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response,” was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Smiling is a psychological thing. Just do it. 🙂
3. Create a routine for your writing: do the same thing, every day
Every writer who writes commercially has a routine. Without a routine, you can’t get anything done. Routine includes:
Where you write: desk in your home office, or coffee shop, or…?
How you write: computer, iPad, longhand on a legal pad…
When you write: early morning, lunchtime at work, on your commute…
How long you write (research, outlining, and editing don’t count)…
It takes around four days to establish a routine. Eventually, if you keep following your routine, your inner critic fades. You’ve established a habit, and your inner critic is powerless against habits.
4. Say “thank you” to your inner critic, and write
Remembering that your inner critic is an illusion, when something he says catches your attention, say: “inner critic”, or “thank you”. You’re labelling the thought, rather than engaging it. This prevents you following the thought down a rabbit hole of endless discursive thought.
Mentally label the thought, and start writing immediately.
5. Meditate (breathe) for ten minutes a day
The voices in your head, including your inner critic, are not real. Your biggest challenge in dealing with them is realizing that you’re being baited by an illusion. Meditation can help you to recognize your inner critic as easy-to-ignore background noise.
Eventually, meditation helps you to recognize your thoughts as thoughts. Thoughts are not real. Meditation can’t eliminate thoughts — your mind chatter continues, but meditation slows it down. Meditation also prevents the constant triggering of your sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response. You’ll find that on days when you meditate for ten minutes, you’re much calmer — your inner critic is either missing, or if present, is ignored. Not bad for just ten minutes out of your day.
While there are endless ways to meditate, the simplest way is to breathe and count your breaths, because your breath is always with you. 🙂
Your inner critic is a toothless tiger, so write a book
We’ve focused on your inner critic’s role in preventing you from writing a book. However, he appears in many guises in all areas of your life. You’ll discover that when you follow the tips above, your entire life improves. 🙂
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 →
“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
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.
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 →