I am by no means a professional writer. I have just completed my first novella, which was a frustrating (albeit highly enjoyable and satisfying) experience. Along the way, I have learned a lot of things which, had I known before, would have made the process a lot easier. As I said, this is not professional advice, just my personal opinion.
1. If you model your characters after real people, it makes your characterization a lot easier-This can include real people that you know (NOTE: if you choose to do this, make sure that you keep their identities well concealed unless you have their permission to use their identity), famous people, or characters from books, TV shows, or movies. Make sure, of course, that you change the name and some other things about them (such as profession, life history, nationality, family, etc) so that you are not copying the character. In my novella Ice, the character of Manuela Escribano is based loosely on Griselda Blanco. This is the key: based loosely. (In Ice, it is pure coincidence that my small-town police chief is named Andy; he is actually named after my cat.)
2. Have an outline-While this may not work for everyone, it certainly makes ironing out details a lot easier. However, it is important to be flexible. As you write, you may find that your story just changes on its own.
3. Read other novels from your preferred genre as often as possible-This works best if you read BOTH famous, well-known authors AND lesser-known authors (best-sellers tend to be based on what’s trendy at the time, not necessarily the best quality stories).
4. A professionally designed cover is worth the money-You cannot submit any book without a cover, and unless you are an artist or good at graphic design, this is a service you need.
5. A competent editor is also important-you probably don’t need to spend major buck on a pricey editor, but someone with a command of the language needs to look over your book before you publish. Even better if you can find more than one person.
6.Research EVERYTHING that you are not 100% sure of-plot holes are not the same as incorrect facts. You are going to look like a fool in if you put something in a story that is factually incorrect. This takes a lot of work and you may have to talk to some professionals with expertise in the field (for example, if you are writing a police drama, talking to some police officers would help).
7. Choose setting of places you have actually visited-This is why my novels will all be set in south Georgia (I have one planned set in Guatemala, which I have visited. I may have to take another trip there again as my memory of the place is a little foggy) If you have never been to new York, writing a book set in New York may come across as phony. Readers can always tell genuine from real, even if only subconsciously.
8. When your book is ready, you will know-Don’t post it on Amazon or anywhere else until you feel certain it is complete (and even then, expect revisions and rewrites to be a continuous process). It took me three years to finish Ice because it just never felt “done.” I’m glad I waited because I was able to think of additional subplots that I feel made the book more complete. Additionally, I deleted scenes that, after thinking about it for a while, were irrelevant or may even have come across as offensive. There is no such thing as the “perfect” book. Just rely on your instincts as a writer.
9. Your first story is probably not going to be a bestseller-Think of your first story as your practice novel. You’re not going to make the NFL just because you shoot a basket. Writing, like any other skill, is a skill that needs to be refined with continuous practice, perseverance, and attention to constructive criticism from readers.
10. It is YOUR story. You are under no obligation to make any changes you do not like.-This is why I say hold off on hiring an editor. He or she may ask you to make changes based on his or her personal opinion. One editor I looked into even offered to “ghostwrite” a “better” version of your story for a $10,000 fee. Think of it this way: What if William Faulkner had listened to an editor? Sound and the Fury would have been completely different. Ernest Hemingway’s sentences wouldn’t have been so “choppy.”
11. What makes a good story? Chemistry!-You could have a well-written story with an awesome plot line, but it isn’t going to do any good if it doesn’t make your readers feel good. Reading a good book releases dopamine in the brain, and if it does not have that effect on your reader, it is not going to hold his or her interest. Have you ever been on a date with someone who was beautiful, funny, charming, well-dressed, rich, etc. but somehow you just didn’t find him/her attractive? It’s because the chemistry just wasn’t there. it is the same concept between reader and story. My all-time favorite novel is One Hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book has no discernible plot line, is overly repetitive, and is not especially well-written, but i was hooked from the start and finished it in three days. Garcia’s other novel Love in the Time of Cholera just did not have the same “magic” and I just never got around to finishing it. So don’t take it personally if you get some bad reviews or there are people who don’t like your book. It doesn’t make you a bad writer.
12. Have fun and be yourself-That’s the most important thing.