I’ve seen many first-time authors give some great and not-so great advice about publishing their first book. While many authors will disagree with my advice here, I can assure you it’s only through watching other authors that I’ve come to the following conclusions. Here’s how you can write your very best book.
Start with an outline. It’s obvious, I know. But I’ve heard so many authors say, “Just start writing!” Writing a book takes organization. Without your thoughts clearly organized for reference, they’re just going to jumble everywhere, confuse you in the middle of your writing, and force you to backtrack.
Choose a schedule. Now, for those of us who hate schedules, I suggest keeping a flexible schedule. For example, one author friend of mine wrote whenever she could—whether that was when the kids were at school or when night fell and everyone else was asleep. That’s still a schedule—just a flexible one. You have to pick the best time for you to write and stick to it. And no, writing at 5:00 a.m. might not be the best bet for you. Maybe you’d prefer to write at 10:00 p.m. You have to do what works for you.
Challenge yourself. I think this is the perfect time to plug in NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t taken part yet, you really should. To write 50,000 words in one month is a challenge that may suit many authors. If you need a kick in the pants, get an accountability buddy—maybe even one who wants to write a book too. How fun would it be to meet up with your friend at Starbucks and write your books together? That’s my kind of challenge.
Do not edit it until you are done. That sounds funny coming from a book editor, doesn’t it? But if you’re constantly editing an unfinished book, then you’re going to have—tada!—an unfinished book. Write your book, and then go back through it to fix any plotholes.
Visit the library. This is a refreshing idea that can jumpstart your creativity. Writers are notorious recluses. Get out of the house and go to the library or bookstore. Find the aisle with your genre. Find where your name would hit the shelf. Imagine how cool it would be to see your book there. That’s great motivation! Also, check out some books while you’re there—some that will help you make your book better.
After you’ve finished the first draft, put it away. I learned this from Stephen King. It’s a genius idea, really. Tuck away your first draft in a drawer or the closet and stay away from it for a couple of weeks. When you come back to it, you’ll have a refreshed mind and will notice so many things you had overlooked.
Rewrite. Sarah Kay said, “Artistry is important. Skill, hard work, rewriting, editing, and careful, careful craft: All of these are necessary. These are what separate the beginners from experienced artists.” You will find yourself rewriting and rewriting, just like your teacher made you do in English class. She made you do that so you could see that it’s possible to always better yourself.
Ask for feedback. We all need constructive criticism. Pick some people who are not family members to read your novel. Your family will be so happy and proud that you wrote your first book that they won’t find a thing wrong with it. Get some friends who will be honest with you. Ask them if there were things in the manuscript that didn’t make sense; if there were things they found fascinating and not so fascinating.
Hire an editor. “Of course she would say that!” Editors are more than just grammar Nazis. We help make your book better. We give you ideas to bring out the character of the nefarious Johnny Wit. We help you restructure sentences to give that perfect flow. We spot things an unprofessional would never, ever spot. Professional editors are also trained to format your book the way publishers insist on. After working in the publishing industry, I can assure you that we know when a manuscript has not been properly edited. I can look at one page and tell you if it was done correctly—and so can my professional editor friends. Publishers want to know that you cared enough to have your book professionally edited. In fact, it could cost you a contract with a publisher.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors? What worked for you, and what didn’t?