How to Write a Novel

Most of what we've been taught
(about writing in general and about
How to Write a Novel in particular)...
are lies.

There are many writing myths that will trip up the unsuspecting writer and either stop him cold or send him off on a wild goose chase in pursuit of a silver bullet that doesn't exist. How to Write a Novel
A writer from Hungary asks a typical question:

"I am not working on a novel, only it gets into my mind sometimes. Maybe I would get some money if I would write my story, something from my life. Do you think it can be interesting for some people?"

There are two answers to your question. Both of which are true.

First -

If you really want to tell that story, then you should write it, because it will probably haunt you - until you do.

Second -

I must also tell you; learning How to Write a Novel and marketing that novel to make money takes a lot more time and knowledge than people imagine. And for every "best selling" book that is published (not counting the ones that were rejected) only one in 1,000 earn back the pitiful advance usually paid to the first time author.

And in the last decade the publishing business has gotten worse. While publishing cost have increased, sales are declining. So, publishers are taking on fewer first time authors, paying smaller advances, and even dropping "mid list" authors (writers, whose sales of their second or third books may be making money but not very much).

That's all the bad news. How to Write a Novel

Now, Here's the Good News.

What you are really asking is how to write a novel and make money at it. The How is very easy - the What is a little tricky but it can be easily learned.

How to write a novel that people buy, read and tell their friends about is a learned skill - like any other. And while sales for conventional publishers are down the demand for good stories, well told has never been higher.

Marketing and selling such novels - is a learned skill. Like marketing and selling anything else.

The irony is that while demand is increasing conventional publishing is going broke. Why this is happening is also ironic. The simple facts are - conventional publishing houses don’t know how to pick good books in the first place - nor how to sell them.

For a full report on this issue, read my article "The Good, Bad and Ugly - of the Publishing Business". And you'll see that How to write a novel - is not the problem.

This situation combined with the explosion of the internet, digital technology and "print on demand" has created a unique opportunity for aspiring authors to "self-publish". Which means they can make more money for their work, while maintain greater control, faster than ever before possible.

Self-publishing as the wave of the future with one BIG proviso, the author must, Must, MUST hire the services of a professional editor and proofreader. The editor would ensure that the premise, structure, and design of the overall story works and the proofreader would ensure that the completed manuscript is as free from typos as humanly possible.

But there is a fly in the ointment - Most people advertising themselves as "book editors" will be the same people who sunk the publishing industry in the first place. This industry is going broke because 80% of novels published fail to make any money. These failed novels are the novels that these now out of work editors - selected for publication and did the editing on. And these editors came out of the same public education system that has aspiring writers confused about How to write a novel.

Can anyone say, "blind leading the blind"?

The field of self publishing is experiencing phenomenal growth however; the vast majority of the self-publishing authors aren’t making any money for three simple reasons.

  1. They didn't take the time to learn how to conceive, design and compose a good story, nor how to tell it well - before they wrote the manuscript.
  2. They skipped over the editing process - relying only on proofreading.
  3. They don’t know how to market and sell their books - even if they did manage to produce a "good" one.
How to Write a Novel
How to write a novel is not the issue - What to write - is.

So, there are three different fields that you need to learn - to make money as a writer.

  1. How to conceive, design and compose a good story.
  2. How to turn that well told story into a good book.
  3. And how to sell those books in sufficient quantity, fast enough - to make money.
Let's consider the easiest one first. how to write a novel

You should notice that the How to write a novel becomes What to write and is addressed in #-1 above. I go into this in detail in my upcoming book "The Story Engine" which my e-zine subscribers will be the first to know about.

Click here to get your free subscription plus a special bonus.

How to Write a Novel
  • Publishing a Good Book -
  • (Note: Most aspiring writers are really asking about publishing when they ask about How to Write a Novel - because they think getting published is the big problem.)

    This is the simplest of all. And why I say there is little reason to pay a conventional "publisher" 80% of the profits for your book. With digital technology and "print on demand" any writer can have their novel available and listed in the book catalogs and distributed on all the major markets in Europe, Canada and the US - including Amazon, Barns & Nobel and other on-line book sellers - for a one-time fee of about $400 bucks.

    You will have to provide a PDF document to the printer which includes not only the text of your novel but; the front, and back cover and spine graphics and text, and the ISBN and UBC. The printer will receive each order, print, bind and ship each copy, collect the money and send you a check each month for the difference between the money he collects and price you pay for the printing and shipping of each book.

    You are literally being the "publisher". And this way you could get as much as $8 per book instead of .87 cents with a conventional publishing house.

    You will need to do all the marketing and promotion of your book - however, if you went with a conventional publisher you would need to do that anyway. As I mentioned above they not only don’t know how to market novels, they don’t do it.

    The only advantage of paying a conventional publisher is that they will (if they like your book) print up about 5,000 copies and ship them out to a number of brick-and-mortar book stores. The "publishing house" does that at there expense on top of paying for the editing and proofing, cover designs, ISBN, and UBC and whatever "advance" he pays you for the rights to "publish" your book.

    Having an actual physical book sitting on the shelf of a few hundred book stores will sell some books. And the publisher makes a substantial investment to make that happen.

    However, in exchange for his one-time investment the conventional publisher keeps about 80% of the profits - for the life of your book.

    Summary - getting your book printed and distributed is the least of your - how to write a novel - worries. Provided you have a decent book in the first place.

    Which leads us to the next problem - which authors do not pay enough attention to. How to Write a Novel

  • Marketing a Good Book -
  • (Note: most aspiring writers never consider marketing when they ask about How to Write a Novel - but they should. It's second only in importance to having a good book in the first place. Because, no matter how good your book if its not actively marketed you wont make much, if any money at all.)

    P.S. Simply punting your book on a web page hardly counts as "marketing" at all. how to write a novel

    While there is a great deal of good workable information on marketing, little of it has been adapted to the selling of fiction books. And some of the information on marketing is just false and will waist a lot of time and money without producing results. But it is far easier to wrap ones whit's around this subject than that of writing a good book in the first place.

    Point is - the marketing and selling of books in quantity sufficient to make money - can be learned. There is plenty of good information. You just have to find, understand and use it. Which means you'll need to invest time and a little money to get your books sold.

    And that investment will only be worthwhile if you have a good book in the first place.

    See my article "The Book Must Sell Itself"

    Which leads us to the largest problem for every aspiring writer. How to Write a Novel

  • Writing A Good Book -
  • (Note: most aspiring authors should be asking about this when they ask about How to write a novel - but they wind up asking the wrong question. Instead of How they should be asking a bunch of What questions. Starting with What is this story about. What should my characters Do? What is the time frame of this story, and a hundred other What questions BEFORE they even start "writing".)

    While there appears to be a large quantity of information on writing; most of it is false and/or misleading because it focuses on How to write a novel while the biggest problem for aspiring writers is overlooked. Anyone with an eighth grade education, knows enough about the How to write part of the business. The problem is not the How to write but the What to write. How to Write a Novel

Public education does not teach students "what to write".

In fact, starting in 9th grade our public education system begins a systematic process of destroying ones ability to write decent fiction in three ways.

Children are forced to diagram sentences, write book reports and read and write poetry.

How to Write a Novel
Diagramming sentences focuses on How to write but addresses nothing in regards to What to write about. How to Write a Novel

The diagramming of sentences - kills any creative ability to communicate through the written word by focusing all the writers' attention on a pseudoscience of labels assigned to various types of words. They call it "Parts of Speech". Realize that man has been telling his fellows stories for over 10,000 years (and that's just "recorded" history) before academics seized the language, cut it up in little pieces, and stuck arbitrary labels on the parts. how to write a novel

So, let's see. We have over 10,000 years worth of storytelling experience against less than 150 years worth of "English Grammar". Which one do you think might be more workable?

Memorizing the labels, and the supposed rules and countless exceptions to these alleged rules of "grammar" will not make you a "writer" - let alone a better writer.

Book reports attempt to focus on How to write a novel or story but they miss wildly for the following reasons. How to Write a Novel

Book reports - force young readers to read and comment on books that are over their heads and without any system for understanding basic story structure and therefore what the writer is saying and more important, how he's saying it. And the students "reports" are returned all marked up with a red pencil for spelling and punctuation; again focusing their attention on the words rather than ideas and how they are conveyed.

While there exists a perfectly good technique for disassembling a novel to learn how it works (it's called a critique) one would have to understand the basic principles and structure of stores in order to utilize it - but this is not taught to students.

Instead the teacher dispenses a list of caned questions and the "smart" students turn to "Cliff Notes" for the acceptable answers to the stupid questions. Hence, nobody learns anything about the fundamentals of storytelling.

The study of poetry attempts to teach How to write a novel or story but the field has forgotten they are supposed to be "telling a story" and have subsequently focused on being artsy with obscure words and phrases that render their point - incomprehensible to the reader. Hence poetry today has virtually no audience outside academia and the "intellectuals" that teach it. As a form of storytelling it's all but extinct. How to Write a Novel

Studying poetry - Both of the above are bad enough but "studying" poetry in the 10-11 grades is arguably the worst. Poetry is the Mount Everest of literature - hardly where one would start.

And then to be forced to write poetry, as ones first attempts at storytelling. You might as well shoot the bright-eyed, aspiring author in the head. Of course his first attempts are going to be terrible. And he will give up, convinced that writing is beyond his understanding. The cruel joke is that his English teacher is probably a failed poet or novelist, and doesn't understand it either - but must act like he does. how to write a novel

Follow this link to better understand what Writing Poetry has to do with How to Write a Novel, Sort Story or Play.

While one may argue with my assessment of the specific causes, no one can argue with the fact that since the introduction of public education (in the 1800's in the US) the literacy level in the United States has been in a long steady decline.

And public education brought about the broad dissemination of "English Grammar" as a subject.

So, the very system that is charged with creating future writers and readers is clearly flawed. If this methodology worked we would have a nation of Hemingway's, Poe's and London's instead of a nation of idiots addicted to text messaging and blogging about their dog, cat or what they had for dinner.

And that's why I teach aspiring writers, "What to Write" when they ask How to Write a Novel. How to Write a Novel

The hardest part for most writers when they are struggling with "how to write a novel" is shedding the baggage of a public education system that stuffed their pretty heads with a load of BS instead of teaching the basics of what a story is, what it does and how it goes about performing its magic. how to write a novel

For you (and the tens of thousands of people like you; who have some idea percolating inside, demanding to get out) you just need a logical system based on fundamental principles for turning that "idea" step by step into a good story, well told.

Then you hire a good editor to verify that the execution actually aligns with the intention and design. Then your story is ready for publishing, distribution, marketing and sales.

That's when you start making some money - at sales.

So, you see there is a process, actually a sequence of processes that if taken in the correct order and utilizing the correct technical know-how at each step, lead from the bright idea to a finished novel.

Writing, Publishing and Selling a good novel isn't rocket science or brain surgery. Just about anyone can do it - to the degree that they understand and utilize:

  1. The correct product
  2. The correct nomenclature
  3. The correct raw materials
  4. The correct tools
  5. The correct procedures
  6. The correct sequences
  7. The correct techniques

In about that order of importance.

Write on...

Richard A. McCullough How to Write a Novel

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© copyright 2011 - Richard A McCullough is the creator & editor of the Fiction Writers source for Writing Better Fiction Faster and Selling More of What You Write.

Copyright - you may freely republish this article, provided the text, author's credit, active links and this copyright notice remain intact. how to write a novel

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