Part 1—So You Wanna Write a Book?
Stage 1: The Idea
This can either be the easiest or the hardest thing in the world when it comes to writing a book. Coming up with a compelling idea that you can guide through the length of a novel is most often a fantasy itself. At least, at first. Not every idea you have—and there will be many—are award-winning. Not all of them will work for you. That’s okay. Keep having them. Ideas are important. Write them down, save them. Maybe one day, they’ll be exactly what you need.
Stage 2: Writing the First Draft
This stage is daunting for most new writers. Old hands will all give you the same advice: that no one sees the first draft but you, so it’s okay if it’s not good, but there’s a substantial difference between hearing the message and understanding it. Start with baby steps. What kind of writer are you? Do you write an outline? Do you collect your characters and map out each of their journeys? Do you need to get to know the world before you put the first chapter down, or do you just dive right in? The two most well-known categories are Planner and Pantser. Once you know which one you are (or a combination of both!) you can get started.
As a Planner myself, I like at least having an idea of where I want my story to go. I like to know who my main character is and what they’re going to do. I need to know what I want to accomplish with the book.
* Quick tip: Fantasy is the hardest genre to write without an outline, so even if you’re a Panster, you should have a written outline of the journey your book is headed on! *
Actually getting down to writing the draft can be a messy process. Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to go. Skip that scene. Pick up the story from where you want it to get to and remind yourself to come back later. Chapter 3 not working? Put it on hold. Maybe call a friend. Written your characters into a rut? Take a break, then reread the story to figure out where things started to go off-track. Find out where your tires hit the nail and avoid it, so your car doesn’t end up in the ditch. [For more advice on Overcoming Writer’s Block, click here.]
Stage 3: Self-Editing, then Alpha and Beta Readers
Draft 1 complete. Great job! From here, take a break. Put the book aside for a few days, maybe even a week or two. You need to get it out of your system so that you have fresh eyes. When you come back, edit, edit, edit! No, that doesn’t mean send it to a professional right away—there’s so much that you could be doing on your own before then. It’s a tedious thing, but if you want to write a book, I believe you have it in you. Read your work. Make notes to yourself. Ask questions about the characters: their actions, their personalities, their motivations. Ask yourself about the setting. Is it vivid? Realistic? If you find a typo or two, fix it, but don’t go looking for them; you can fix them later. Right now, the story is what matters. [For more tips on Getting the Most Out of Self-Editing, click here.]
After that, some people might tell you that the first step is sending it to a professional editor or an agent. “A publishing company will take care of the rest.” You could do that, and there’s even a possibility that your book might be accepted and taken the rest of the way on its journey to publication, but you can never go wrong with asking for a second opinion.
Alpha and beta readers are those people that voluntarily read your book and give you their opinions. They’re the OGs, and most of the time, if they like your book, they’ll come back for more. This process is free—or it should be, though there are professional readers who will charge for a more experienced eye. As a professional editor myself, I don’t see the point in charging for beta reading. It’s a way of giving back to the writer community. I can always give them my info for future editing work.
* Quick tip: Showing your appreciation for alpha and beta readers is the best way to maintain a good relationship with them. Accept that sometimes they may not have the time to deliver on their promise to read your book, or they may be late because something came up. Thank them for their time and their thoughts, even if what they say isn’t what you’re looking for. There will be people who don’t like something you’ve written, but 9 times out of 10, they’ll share what could’ve made it better in their opinion. Be sure to include their name (ask if it’s all right with them first) in the acknowledgements of your book. It shows that you care, and if you write another book, they’ll be more likely to want to work with you again. *
The next thing you need to know is the difference between the two types of readers. Alpha readers, as the name suggests, are the first. They read the messy draft, the one full of typos or pieces that you haven’t quite figured out yet. They read the drafts that are usually hard to read, so always be extra nice to them!
Beta readers, being more common, read your manuscript after it’s been self-edited a few times. Ideally, they get the draft with fewer typos, with the storyline complete from start to finish, and you’re just looking for comments like “Were the characters relatable and realistic?”, “Did the beginning grab your attention?”, “Were you satisfied with the ending?”, and so on.
Part 2—Getting Ready for Publication
Stage 4: The Split
At this point, with the manuscript written and self-edited to the best of your ability, you can go one of two routes. Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing? This isn’t a matter of whether your book is good enough. It’s not a choice to be made because one way isn’t going to work. If you’re sending your book out to agent after agent and getting rejected, don’t lose heart. Don’t fall back onto self-publishing just because you want your book out there. That’s not the way.
* Quick tip: To decide, ask yourself how much control you want to have in the process. Are you willing to invest a lot of money into editors and designers to be able to control every step, or would you prefer to put in the effort of finding an agent who will represent you, even though you’ll have to surrender some control? That’s the best way to decide. *
Extremists will say that self-publishing is ruining the business. That’s true and untrue. Yes, self-publishing makes publishing a book much more accessible, but the problem with that is: Everyone can do it. Anyone can write anything, find a self-publishing site, and paste it on the internet for purchase. Some people don’t take the time to go through the process like you are so diligently doing, and their lack of effort clogs the market with books that aren’t up to par.
If you’ve been sending your book to agents, spending hours writing query letters and being met with rejection after rejection, take a step back. What is it about your book that’s not working? Do you need to refine your pitch? Maybe you just haven’t found an agent that matches what you’ve written. Maybe they love the book and just have too big of a workload. Maybe, after a long period away from your book, you see things that could be improved. Maybe the market has moved past what niches your book follows and you need to put it aside until that market comes back.
You might have packed your book full of things you loved in other books, and it gets buried under everything. It might not have a clear theme or message (“Why should we care about the characters? What can it teach us?”).
Whatever the reason, don’t give up. If you want to publish traditionally, keep at it. In the meantime, start working on another book. Never stop writing. Maybe your first book won’t ever be published—maybe it’ll be published in 5 years, 10 years. That doesn’t change the fact that you’ve written a book. You’ve invented characters and places out of nothing, written a story that never happened anywhere but inside your own head and on the page. That’s a wonderful achievement! Now keep going. You have another story in you.
On that note, let’s look at the second method.
If you want to go the self-publishing route, the only meaningful reason why is because you want to have complete control. Self-publishing may be easier to get to, but don’t think by any means that it’ll be easier to accomplish. Having all the control means doing everything yourself. You write the book. Now you have to find yourself an editor (maybe more than one!). You need to find someone to design the cover, someone to design the interior, and someone (maybe a team) to market the book.
Of course, you can do all of this yourself. I’m going to say one thing right now: DON’T DO IT!
That’s not just because I’m an editor and I’m saying this to sway your choices. I’m saying this because it’s common sense. Editing your own work can only take you so far. The human brain misses things, especially if you’re the one writing. It’ll insert words, reframe sentences, etc., all without you noticing. Even I, after spending years training to edit prose, will look for a second opinion.
There is a third method called Hybrid publishing, but unfortunately, it’s full of vanity presses and scammers who want authors to pay thousands of dollars for their book being published. You shouldn’t have to pay for publication. You can pay freelancers for their work (editing and designing) but never pay a publisher upfront for publishing your book. The scammers don’t care about the quality of your book, nor the quality of the work they put into it. They get their money from your payment, so it doesn’t matter to them if your book does well or not.
With traditional publishing, they’re investing in your book. They’re getting it edited and designed and marketed so that it will do well, and the royalties you get are small because of all the people who need to get paid from it.
With self-publishing, you’re the one paying everyone, so the book doing well is how you get that money back.
Stage 5.1: Editing (self-publishing)
If publishing traditionally, the company you’re working with will set you up with editors. It’s a different story for self-publishing.
After your alpha and beta readers, you have your choice of professionals. Editing can come in many forms, but the two main categories are Content editing and Technical editing.
* Quick tip: Most editors will give you a sample of their work. They’ll let you know how big, and you can send them a piece of your writing for them to edit for free, to see if they’re a good fit for you or not. This is dependent on the editor. *
Content obviously comes first. This is the developmental stuff, the stylistic and structural stuff. Does the plot progress in a realistic manner? Are there scenes that need to be added or cut for context or because it’s not necessary? Are there things that aren’t appropriate for the intended audience? Are there inconsistencies in the world, the facts, or the timeline? This kind of editing is on the higher end of the editing price spectrum, but you can probably see why. It’s not surface level. It requires a keen eye and hours upon hours of research and planning. If there was any time you read a book and something didn’t make sense, or a detail changed that bothered you—that’s what the developmental editor fixes.
First though, if you’re looking for a more general eye for a lower price, I’d recommend going for an editorial assessment. [Click here to learn more about Editorial Assessments.]
This kind of editing will sometimes be quick. Depending on the level of planning, or the skill of the author, it might be good right from the get-go, with minor changes. Sometimes, it can go back and forth, edits and revisions made time and again until everything is just right.
For my own developmental editing work, I’ll most often write up a book synopsis and/or outline based on the manuscript. I’ll keep track of characters and what they’re doing, check for discrepancies in facts or worldbuilding, and make comments on sentences or paragraphs that need to be rewritten. I would also, of course, request all planning information that the author is willing to divulge—knowing how to hint at future events, how to share information with the reader without exposition, etc.
Stage 5.2: Editing (self-publishing)
Once the novel is to your liking, the next step is technical editing. This is copyediting and proofreading, both of which are the same process, though at different times. Copyediting is done before the book has gone to the designer. It’s done typically in a document (MS Word, Scrivener, etc.) or as a PDF, double-spaced on 8 ½ x 11-inch paper. Your copyeditor will catch spelling errors, repeated or missing words, misused or missing punctuation, and more. They’ll make sure names and places are consistent (Michael Brown vs. Michael Brawn), and that the entire document follows the same dictionary (English CAN spelling: favourite, colour, toward, etc.).
When copyediting, I’ll make a collection of words (if not provided by the author) including names of characters and places, words made up by the author, words that are commonly misspelled, and abbreviations.
Stage 6: Designing (self-publishing)
Like with editing, a traditionally published book will be designed by the company publishing it. Sometimes, the author gets a say in what it will look like, inside and out. Other times, they do not. That depends on the publisher.
With self-publishing, again, you have all the control. The fun part is finding a designer that will make your vision come true; the less fun part is the money those book covers will cost. A beautiful, professionally made custom fantasy book cover can cost up to $2000.00 US—but let me tell you: it’s worth the price. The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply to books or their covers at all, because people will most definitely judge your book by the look of its cover. If you’re self-publishing the book, it’s more likely to be on someone’s computer screen, through Amazon or Barnes & Noble or some other website. They’re scrolling by, so your cover needs to catch their attention! With so many books flooding the online markets nowadays, the cover might just be the difference between someone buying your book or buying the one right under it.
A book cover designer I’ve worked with in the past is Alex Perkins from PerkyVisuals. He does excellent work, both custom and premade covers on his website, which you can take a look at here.
* Quick tip: You can have the front cover of the book planned out, but the final dimensions of the book come from the number of pages in the final product. Have an estimate ready for your designer, but it’s better to have the interior designed before they begin work. It’s much easier for them. *
Once the cover catches their eye, the interior of the book is the next thing that your reader sees. Now, as a book designer, I look at self-published (and even some traditional published books) all the time and see errors that bother me. The typography isn’t just there to look pretty; it’s supposed to make the reading experience as enjoyable as possible. It’s the method by which your story is delivered to the reader, so make it easy for them.
I could go on for pages and pages about all the different aspects of book design, but I won’t for the sake of you reading this. You don’t need to know specifics, and any questions you have can be brought up with the designer you decide to work with.
Books now come in two main formats: print and electronic. The most common and best place to start with print is a paperback, no matter how tempting the hardcovers may be. If your book does well, you can always over hardcovers later. As for electronic, those are better known as eBooks, and the most common format is ePub.
* Quick tip: I’d recommend commissioning both an eBook file and a print file from your designer because there is a big market for both. Some people only read with their Kindles; some only read print books. Getting both is a good balance, but if your budget is tight, eBooks are cheaper for readers to buy, easier to produce, and pay higher royalties. Plus, less paper used. *
Stage 7: Proofreading (self-publishing)
I mentioned this above in the editing section and will talk about it again now. Proofreading is the copyediting done after the book has been designed. Once you have the interior formatted and the cover finalized, you can upload your files to whatever self-publishing website you’ve chosen: KDP, Lulu, Ingramspark, Barnes & Noble, etc. [Articles about Choosing the Right Self-Publishing Site, and The Process of KDP Publishing are in the works.]
With a paperback, you would then order a proof copy to make sure everything looks the way you want it. At this stage, you can skip hiring a proofreader if you think you can just go over it yourself because most of the mistakes will already be taken care of by the copyeditor. The proofreader will also be catching any errors the designer may have introduced into the manuscript or overlooked (missing page numbers, incorrect running header, inexplicable blank pages, widows & orphans, etc.). This is very rare, but it does happen.
Part 3—Getting It Out There
Stage 8: Ready to Publish! (self-publishing)
Just kidding. Preparing to publish your book is a lot more work than just hitting the “Release” button on your computer. The only difference is that it’s available online. So what? Books are added every day (every minute, maybe!). How is anyone supposed to find yours?
The answer: marketing! Yay! (not) Of course, I say this lovingly. Some people love the nitty-gritty process of getting together their promotional material and interacting in person and through social media.
If you’re serious about your book, chances are you’ve already been talking about it online. You’ve been looking for readers, editors, and designers, after all. You’ve been looking for feedback on the book cover and the newest drafts of your book. You’ve been talking to family and friends about it, and the chances are that you even have a website already.
If not, you still have time. You’re the one in control; that’s why you’re doing self-publishing.
Having a website is by far one of the best places to start for you as an author. You’ll have an ‘About the Author’ page in your book, won’t you? A website is a place to connect to your readers on a more personal level, share bonus content, and build the hype. It’s a place for readers to learn more about you and your work, maybe even scroll through your social media.
Should you hire a professional?
If you’re not willing to put in the research yourself, or you want to but have no clue where to start, I’d say you should. You’ve already put so much love, effort, and money into making your book the best it can be, so why not hire a professional to get people reading it?
Of course, if you’re on a budget, there are still plenty of things you can do on your own and with the help of family and friends who want to support you. Build the hype, get people interested. Your book is ready to go, but you don’t need to send it out into the world the second that happens. You want to give it the best chance possible.
After your website, social media is the best place to start. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Pinterest. Those are all places that readers and your fellow book lovers hang out. [Click here to read 10 Strategies to Promote Your Book for Free] Join groups and pages and accounts that share your interests. Join the discussions and become a member of their communities. It’s not about spamming them with ads for your book. It’s not even about you. It’s about helping your readers find something they’ll love.
Having social media doesn’t guarantee sales, though. If you’ve already published a book on Amazon, you’ll know that it’s much less of a bookstore than it is a search engine. Amazon sorts books by how well they’re doing. If you publish your book and receive 40 to 100 reviews in the first week, you know that it’ll rocket up to the top of the list. If you sell over 1000, 2000 books in the first week, it’ll be called a ‘bestseller’ (numbers may vary). This is where ARC readers come in.
ARC readers are ‘Advance Review Copy’ readers, and what they do is right in their name. They’re people who receive your book for free, either through a website like BookSprout, BookFunnel, or otherwise, or directly from you. This copy of the book is ready for print (the final edit has been completed). You send it out early, a few weeks at least, so people can read it and write their reviews in time for the launch. Then, they’ll publish their review. These are guaranteed reviews for you, and if all goes well, you’ll have an amazing launch and a bestselling book.
* Quick tip: Join groups on Facebook dedicated to ARC readers. People in beta reading groups might also be interested in joining. Family and friends are not recommended (family especially) because of inherent bias. *
One last thing to talk about: The launch itself. A book launch can be a physical or online event. It’s the day that your book is fully available, and most of the time, if you plan the event in advance, you can get a bunch of people to show up for signed copies of your book. Isn’t that exciting? I won’t go into too much detail about Book Launch Events right now, but it’s definitely worth researching or talking to your publicist about.
You’ve Published Your Book. Now What?
First of all, congratulations! You’re now a published author! You should be very proud of yourself.
Do you feel the excitement? Maybe a little bit of stress? Relief that it’s all over and the book is out there? Hold onto those feelings. Channel them into what you do next because you should work on your next project while you’re still hyped up.
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