Novel Writing 101


A friend of mine emailed me the other day and said she’s writing a novel–her first.

I applauded her. Writing a novel is one of her life dreams, and I believe she should go for it.

But she’s never written a novel before. She hasn’t attended any writer’s conferences or seminars, and she doesn’t hang out with a writing crowd.

So where should she start?

Well, she started by emailing me. She knows I’ve written some fiction, that I teach at writers’ conferences, and that my first novel won an award. So the assumption would be that I know at least more than my plumber about stuff like plot and character and other novel-ish things. She wasn’t going to rely on the opinion of her best friends (although I’m one of them). She wanted advice from a publishing professional–a good place to start.

So–because I was answering Teri at three in the morning–I immediately sent her my two top pointers. I’ll give you three in this post, with more to follow.

  • Listen to publishing professionals. Read their blogs: Michael Hyatt, Jeff Goins, Alton Gansky, Maria Keckler, and others. Subscribe to industry periodicals like Writers Digest and start acting like a writer if you plan to be one. That means studying the industry and the craft, like any other craft or profession. For instance, what specific genre are you writing in? What’s the average word count for that market? What are the current market trends for that genre? Who is your specific target audience?
  • Study the craft. Learn about point of view, plot, characterization, pacing, dialogue, theme, and setting. Know the rules of grammar and punctuation. Study formats for book proposals, and learn how to write a great marketing plan. Be willing to dive into social media, if you  haven’t already.
  • Build your platform. Writing your book is only one small part of the publishing picture. Today, publishers expect you to partner with them in to sell your book. “Platform” is your marketing influence–the number of people who know your name and who could be influenced to purchase your book. Platform includes the number of people who follow you on Facebook and Twitter or other Internet sites and who you speak to at conferences. It includes your credentials as an “expert.”  My friend Teri has been a caregiver for her husband for a number of years and has a growing platform as an “expert” in that field as she publishes articles and does research in that area. It takes time and patience to grow your platform, and newbie writers should begin doing it long before they begin pitching their first book.

So what’s YOUR advice for first-time novelists? Share it here. And I’d love to send along a signed copy of my award-winning novel Hallie’s Heart to the first person who shares advice from their favorite novelist about their journey as a writer.

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