In our fiction authors’ class, we discussed when you should start writing your novel. How much preparation do you need? Prepping a novel can take forever. You need character bios, an outline, and research too.
If you spend too much time on preparation however, there’s a good chance that you’ll give up on your novel. You lose your inspiration, and tell yourself that you’ll develop a “better” idea.
Several of the authors admitted that they’ve done this. One author said that she’d spent two years researching a novel, and had given up on it. She couldn’t face writing the book.
Short-cut your preparation for writing your novel
Let’s look at how you can eliminate procrastination, and build your motivation, by starting your novel quickly. More and better ideas will come to you while you’re writing.
Here are some strategies you can try.
1. Start writing immediately: no prep necessary
If you wish, you can start writing your novel immediately, without any preparation at all. Just start writing.
Bestselling authors Stephen King and Dean Koontz both use this “just start” strategy. Yes, your first few chapters will go slowly, because you’re developing your characters, and your story question, but you’ll be writing.
2. “This novel is about…”
With this strategy, you write yourself a letter about your novel. Start with the phrase: “this novel is about…”
The benefit of this strategy is that it gives you the impetus you need to write your blurb.
Essentially, your blurb becomes a mini outline. The benefit of this strategy is that you can look at the bones of your story. It’s easy to see if you’re missing an essential element, such as an antagonist, for example.
3. Start with a genre trope
Every fiction genre has its tropes. That is, devices, or themes.
To see how this works, visit the Mystery, Thriller & Suspense genre on Amazon, and select the Mystery sub-genre. You’ll see that Amazon obligingly lists sub-genres of Mystery. They include: Cozy, Historical, Women Sleuths…
Scroll down the sidebar, and you’ll see Moods: Action-Packed, Fun, Romantic, and more. Further down in the sidebar, you’ll see Characters and Settings for the Mystery genre too.
In the Mystery genre, forensic investigation has become a trope.
The romance genre has dozens of tropes. Amazon lists them for you: Amnesia, Beaches, International, and so on.
When you start writing your novel with a trope, you save time. Not only do you use a device which is popular in your genre, you’ll find yourself with more ideas than you can handle.
4. Start with an image: day dream about it — “what if?”
This is my favorite method of writing your novel, FAST.
I start with an image — any image which captures my imagination. I look at the image, musing about the person, or people in the image. If the image is a setting: a gorgeous beach on a tropical island, or a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps, I imagine someone walking, or running in the image.
Try this strategy yourself.
You can find images anywhere: in art galleries, in magazines, or even on Pinterest.
Have fun with writing your novel.
Starting your novel super-fast ensures that you’ll maintain your inspiration.
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.
You’ve written a book or two. Sales are slim to none. You know that you need to market, but HOW? It all seems so complicated. Indie author marketing can be a huge challenge, but it needn’t be.
When I coach writers in book marketing, I ask: “what’s fun for you?” because book marketing begins with your mindset.
Here’s a secret. I spent much of my writing career despising marketing. Looking back, that was quite a trick, because I’m a copywriter. I could market anything, but hated marketing my writing, or my writing business. And by “hating” I mean in a visceral sense. The idea made me nauseous.
Finally, I decided that I was being silly: if I could market for others, I could do it for myself. Since I had to do it, I asked myself: what’s fun for you? Fun for me turned out to be blogging.
Your mileage will of course vary, but if you can work out what you like — and could perhaps love, you’re well on the way to becoming a true indie author…
… If you understand how book marketing works.
Assuming that a fairy godmother isn’t about to smack you silly with her magic wand anytime soon, and turn you into an instant bestselling author, you need to understand book marketing essentials. If you’re not aware of the WHY of tools like blogging/ social media and advertising, you can’t use them creatively.
(There’s no shame in that, by the way, some global publishers haven’t a clue either.)
Start with this foundation: indie authors wear two hats — author, and publisher.
Two hats: author and publisher — publishing must be profitable
You’re comfortable wearing your author hat. Toss that hat aside for a moment, and put on your publisher hat.
Hat on? OK. 🙂
A publisher’s goal is the same as that of any other business: turn a profit. No profit, no business. So, as a publisher, how do you turn a profit? You’ve got a book, or a bunch of books (a bunch is better)… your sole aim is to sell those suckers.
You can market and sell your books in any way you choose. However, remember FUN. If marketing your books isn’t a giggle, you won’t do it. So keep thinking about the fun angle. There are so many ways of marketing books that you’re sure to find something you like to do.
Let’s explore some essentials to help you to develop a “profits” indie publisher mindset.
1. Time and money: you need both for profitable publishing
Everyone wants instant success. That’s fine. I want that too. However, I’m realistic, and know that Murphy’s Law applies. Everything takes longer than you expect, and things will go wrong.
To counteract this, make a commitment to yourself: whatever it takes. You can’t be half-hearted about your publishing venture. Expect it to take time to make money.
Then expect that you’ll invest the money you make from your book sales back into your business: you’ll get better covers, will buy advertising, will improve your website — whatever it takes.
2. Hook buyers: buyers buy because of an EMOTION
Humans are emotional creatures, and readers read to experience emotions.
I recently wrote:
Each and every fictional genre has an emotional key — emotions readers want to feel while reading that kind of fiction.
If you can zero in on the emotions that readers want, AND can tap those emotions in your fiction, you’ll write stories that readers will love.
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s essential that you read widely in the genre in which you’re writing. You MUST understand what emotions readers want when they read your genre.
For example, in any type of romance fiction, the HEA (Happily Ever After) is pretty much non-negotiable — if your romance doesn’t end in a HEA, you’d better be able to generate those emotions in other ways, otherwise readers will avoid your stories, and you’ve wasted time writing them.
If you’re getting few sales, and readers aren’t connecting with your fiction (or nonfiction), consider emotion. Start looking for your own emotional reactions to what you read too — you’ll begin to understand why books become bestsellers.
Bestselling authors are regularly trashed by literary critics who whine about the poor writing. (Dan Brown springs to mind.) When you check out bestselling books, you’ll see what the critics don’t see: the bestsellers connect with readers on an emotional level.
3. Visibility and discoverability: get discovered
With millions of books available, it’s hard to get your books in front of readers. If you want readers to find your books you need to do marketing and advertising. Every little bit counts.
Consider that perhaps you’re overlooking the simplest forms of marketing, such as the possibilities of marketing in your own books, in the front matter and back matter:
Advertise (subtly) in your front matter
Be aware that Amazon shows the first 10% of your ebook via its Look Inside feature. Keep the essential material in your front matter short. Remember your copyright info, of course.
Use that 10% to subtly advertise your ebook. Anyone reading via Look Inside hasn’t bought your book, so spend a little time thinking what you could show up front, to encourage your reader to buy.
4. Make “free” work for you: get creative
Check any authors’ forum, and authors complain about all the free ebooks which are available, and demand that authors be paid… Well… There are so many things wrong with that mindset, that I don’t know where to start.
Remember that you’re in the business of publishing, and that while “free” is useful as part of your marketing mix, it cannot be your entire marketing strategy. No business can be successful if it competes solely on price.
If you’re using “free”, and only “free” as a self-publisher, you need to rethink how and when you offer readers free ebooks. We’ve talked about using “free” before. Freeis a part of pricing your products. It’s not marketing. Think about your marketing mix, which is: product, price, promotion, and place.
Consider YOUR situation. It will be different from other authors. Make a list of what you want. (And please write the list, don’t try to keep it in your head.) It’s essential to assess where you are, because unless you know, you’ll have doubts, and will change your pricing at whim.
Read that article, and then consider developing a simple marketing strategy; it starts with your product. Then get creative, and come up with some creative ideas for your marketing.
5. Make friends and influence people: word of mouth counts
Authors want to write their books. We don’t want to be bothered with things which take us away from our words. However, as indie authors, we don’t have a choice. We need to put on our publishing hat, and market our books.
The more people who know you, or know of you, the more attention your books attract. You need to get onto people’s radar, in any way you can.
Consider these ideas:
Partnering with other authors in anthologies, and book bundles;
Writing guest posts on large blogs — or smaller ones too;
Collaborating with other authors on promotions…
You’re a publisher: think long term for profits
As an indie author, you’re your own publisher. You’re running a business. Your business must be profitable. You can make it happen. Think longterm. What could you do today, to make your business profitable in a year?
For an indie author, marketing is essential. You can develop an amazing business. Create some goals, and make plans to achieve them, today. Start by asking yourself how you can make it fun.
Today, the opportunities for writers have never been greater. Back in the day a writer who was making six-figures a year seemed a creature of myth. These days, highly successful writers are making six figures a month.
You’ve published an ebook, or perhaps more than one. Congratulations: you’re a Kindle author. I work with many authors and they all want one thing: more sales. We all want guaranteed bestsellers. But it’s impossible to guarantee a bestselling book, sadly.
That said, you can make it more likely that your ebooks will sell more copies, and with very little extra effort. Here’s how I know this. I work with authors every day. They make avoidable errors. Once they correct those errors, their ebooks start selling well.
Often not as well as they’d hoped, and for a simple reason: they haven’t baked-in sales potential. An author writes the book he wants to write, and gives little thought to his readers.
Make the decision: correct your authors’ tunnel vision
All authors have tunnel vision. I do, you do. It means that we’re focused on the writing. Readers don’t care about that. They want what they want — entertainment if you’ve written fiction, and useful, practical information if you’re writing nonfiction.
Long before you start writing, think about readers. What appeals to them? In this article, we’re discussing fiction, but you can use the same process for nonfiction too.
Start at the level of ideas.
Ideas sell, so before you start writing, focus on your ideas
I’m fond of saying that authors can write what they want. That’s true. You can write whatever you like. However, you also need to know what’s selling. Not so that you can slavishly go and clone the latest bestseller… although that does work for many writers.
I like to look at the top bestselling books at least once a month.
Check out the titles. Read the book descriptions, and the reviews. Make notes if you like, or don’t make any. The point of the exercise is that you’re starting to pay attention to what sells.
It’s surprising how many authors (both new, and veteran) focus solely on themselves. However, even if you want to get published the traditional way, the first thing an editor or agent will ask you is: “what’s this book like?”
You’d better be able to answer:
“It’s Harry Potter for adults”; or
“It’s a modern version of Pride and Prejudice”; or
“It’s for women interested in online dating”.
When someone asks you “what’s this book like?”, they’ll usually be able to work out who the book’s targeted at. If they can’t, that’s the next question: “who’s this book for?”
An editor or agent asks these kinds of questions, because they know that no one’s going to read your ebook, and then decide what it’s like, and who it’s for. You need to know that. Moreover, you can train yourself to think in these terms. If you can do that, you’ll write salable books.
You can train yourself to improve your ideas
When you start paying attention to what’s selling, you’ll start thinking in terms of salability, and you’ll have taken a huge step forward in your self-publishing career.
As we’ve said: you’re not trying to copy bestsellers, or clone them, or anything else. You’re trying to gauge the pulse of readers all over the world. Way back in the 1980s, I read a lot of gothic romances. Publishers are putting those books into the Kindle store these days. I’ve downloaded a few, and now dislike the way they were written.
That’s natural. Times change. What appealed to readers 40 years ago doesn’t appeal now.
When you train yourself to improve your ideas, your subconscious mind gets in on the act. It will start feeding you ideas, based on your own experiences, which will be in the spirit of what readers love today.
Start paying attention to what’s selling.
Make lists of ideas of ebooks you could write.
If an idea appeals, ask yourself: “what’s this book like?” and “who’s this book for?”.
If you can do that, you may not write an ebook which hits the top 100 bestsellers, but you will be a Kindle author who sells more ebooks.