I receive several emails a week from folks who’ve read my books and would love to write their own. So, I decided I’d put together a basic overview of my writing strategy, together with the process I go through to stock Amazon’s shelves.
I would stress that this is my process. It might not work for everyone but it works for me; being a process I’ve honed over the last four years and ten novels. Hopefully, it’ll help you in some way.
I’ve tried to list the tips/steps as intuitively as possible, rather than overwhelm you with information. Just click on the relevant header to reveal each section.
That sorted, let’s get down to business…
1. The average novel is around 90,000 words. If you write 250 words a day, you’ll have written a novel within a year. Write 500 words a day and you’ll be done within six months. Set a realistic daily/weekly target and stick to it. If you don’t think you can make that commitment, I’m not sure you should bother starting.
2. Some writers literally make up their story as they go (known as ‘pantsing’). I wouldn’t recommend this for a beginner as you’ll end up heading down multiple blind alleys (yep, I did). Like a road trip, you need to know where you’re starting, where you’re intending to end up, and the various waypoints you want to visit on the way. Write down the basic waypoints of your story before you begin but never be afraid to deviate if the story demands it. I’ve changed the planned ending to four of my books.
3. If you can afford it, I’d recommend you write your manuscript using dedicated writing software. Microsoft Word is great once you’ve finished your first draft but it’s severely lacking in the required functionality to write a 90,000-word novel. The most popular writing software (the one I use) is called Scrivener. You can check it out on this link. If you don’t want to spend any money, you could try yWriter, which is free.
4. There are hundreds of books dedicated to the art of writing but I have three basic rules. Firstly, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s your job to encourage the reader through those three parts as seamlessly as possible. Secondly, emotion is critical. Whether you make the reader laugh, cry, gasp, or shiver, your story must invoke an emotional response from the reader, and regularly. Thirdly, it’s vital you create characters the reader can relate to. Engaging, relatable characters can transform a weak story but the greatest story will never be read if the characters are flat.
5. There’s no set rule on how long chapters should be – end a chapter when it feels right, whether that be after 500 words or 5,000.
6. Some writers tidy up their writing as they go while some don’t edit anything until they’ve finished the first draft. Do what works for you. Personally, I begin every writing session by reading back and editing work from my previous session.
7. There WILL be times you hate what you’ve written. There WILL be times you want to give up. I promise, this is perfectly normal and if you’re struggling, take a break for a few days. I’ve yet to meet an author who doesn’t experience low points while working on their latest project.
8. Tell people you’re writing a book, and when you’re expecting to finish it. Having some level of accountability is healthy, and it’ll keep your motivation stoked.
1. I upload the manuscript to my Kindle and read it front to back as it’s a very different experience to reading it in Word or Scrivener. I’m not looking for typos or spelling mistakes – I want to ensure the story knits together. Don’t be surprised if the first dozen chapters suck. I find my writing improves as the book progresses and I get into the story so pay particular attention to those early chapters as they’ll help a reader decide if they want to invest time reading your entire novel.
2. Once I’m happy with the outline story (and filled any holes or patched any obvious mistakes), I then do a basic grammar check using Grammarly. This usually picks up the worst of the typos and grammatical mistakes but it’s NOT faultless. No software will catch all your mistakes so don’t rely on it alone.
3. I’ll then run the manuscript through a screen reader (try Natural Reader – it’s free). This is a tedious process but it picks up so many issues no grammar checker will, like starting consecutive sentences with the same pronoun (He did this. He then did something else. He wasn’t happy), and missing words.
4. I then read the book on my Kindle again, fine-tuning the manuscript in either Scrivener or Word as I go. I guarantee I’ll still find issues to fix, and swathes of text to cull. Cutting text is as important as fine-tuning when you’re trying to maintain the pace of the story.
5. I’ll then send the manuscript to five or six beta readers. Their job is to find holes I’ve missed or any glaring mistakes. They usually read the book within a few days and I can fix anything they flag up. Assuming you don’t have beta readers to call upon, this is where you’ll first share your work with friends and family. Hopefully, they’ll all be candid in their feedback.
6. At that point, I’ll send the manuscript to my editor. She’ll have it for a few weeks and send it back with another raft of issues to fix. Basic proofreading can cost as little as £50 per 10,000 words while a full edit can cost upwards of £1,500, depending on the book length. If that’s within your budget, Reedsy can help you find a suitable proofreader or editor. If you can’t afford a proofreader or editor, at very least work diligently through all the other steps I follow.
7. I fix the issues highlighted by my beta readers and read the entire book again on my Kindle. By that point, I might make a few dozen minor changes but the manuscript should be clean. Expect to be sick and tired of reading your own words.
8. I then publish the ebook, and my private Facebook group will flag anything they find. In a typical manuscript, you’ll NEVER catch every single issue (even major publishing houses don’t). I always hold-off publishing the paperback for a week or so, for this reason.
By this point, you should have a relatively clean manuscript, ready to publish. There are really only two practical options unless you want to pay some scrupulous vanity publisher (don’t – just don’t). Let’s start with the option most budding authors seem to prefer…
If you want a deal from a publishing house, you first need a literary agent as most of the major publishers no longer accept unsolicited submissions. This is the first challenge. Most agents receive scores of submissions every week, and they can afford to be picky. They’re also incredibly slow at responding so you could be waiting many months to hear back.
I’ll be blunt here – the chances of an unknown author securing the services of an agent are not great. Obviously, it happens but I’ve known some authors try for years to secure representation. I could probably write a book on the challenges of securing a publishing deal but in this instance, I’ll refer you to an industry expert, Jane Friedman, who has penned an in-depth article on the process.
If you’re not keen on waiting months (or years) to get your book out there, you could pursue the same strategy I did…
Amazon – love them or loathe them – control 90% of the UK book market. Back in 2007, they identified an opportunity to bypass the gatekeepers in traditional publishing when they launched Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); a platform which allows authors to easily publish their work and offer it for sale on Amazon.
It’s possibly a subjective view but KDP is by far the simplest way to get your book (ebooks and paperbacks) into the hands of readers, and earn royalties. I won’t bore you with all the details as you can find all the info you need HERE.
What I will say, however, is that I publish exclusively on Amazon and in less than four years, I’ve sold over 200,000 books. I now write full-time and earn a decent living from it. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for KDP.
MY VIEWS ON TRADITIONAL VS. SELF-PUBLISHED
I’ll start by saying I’m biased. As I’ve just stated, I almost certainly wouldn’t have a writing career if it wasn’t for self-publishing. That’s not to say I’m blinkered on the pros and cons of both publishing options.
I’m blessed to be where I am today but every time I walk past a book shop, I can’t help but feel envious of all those authors with books on the shelves. It’s unlikely to happen for me as long as I’m self-published. Equally, some folks can be a bit dismissive of self-published authors, like we’re not ‘proper’ writers. When you secure a traditional publishing deal, it does feel like validation.
I’ve been offered several deals by publishers, and I’ve been approached by a number of agents. I’ve declined all those offers. That might seem crazy but the honest truth is I’ve never been tempted by the finances on offer. One publisher offered me a deal for my first novel, The ’86 Fix, a few months after I self-published it. The advance they offered was the equivalent of what that book typically made in three months. Financially, it made no sense signing over the rights to my book and walking away from thousands of pounds.
The royalties on offer via KDP are three or four times that you’ll earn through a traditional publishing deal, and they’re paid monthly (rather than every six months). I do have a traditional deal for my audiobooks but the money I make from those is a pittance compared to what I make from ebooks.
I know several authors who’ve had a few of their books traditionally published and they’re all still working full-time in other jobs. For me, this is now a career and I can’t pay my mortgage with validation. So, please keep in mind that while you might hanker after a publishing deal, it’s no road to riches. In fact, whichever route you take, it’s unlikely you’ll earn a living from one book … BUT, one book will hopefully lead to another, and another. With self-publishing, there’s no limit to how many books you publish, or how often.
Of course, your motivation might not be money so do what’s right for you. This industry is full of so-called experts and a lot of the advice is contrary so take it all with a heavy pinch of salt. I include my own advice in that.
There you have it – I hope it’s of help.