Most first-time writers start writing when inspiration strikes. Rarely does someone sit down and plan their first book. (Maybe not rarely, but it seems that way to me.)
In the heat of inspiration, the novice writer grabs their tablet and starts writing furiously. Every time they come up for air, they think, "Wow! This is really good!" It probably isn't "really good" because first drafts aren't that good.
We all know the misconceptions a novice makes about being an author, getting their book published, and what they will say when they make the rounds as a guest on all of the hottest talk shows. (The word "misconception" is a clue here.)
Here are a few basics for those who aspired since childhood to be writers and are planning their first work. This is not an exhaustive list.
- Select a genre. Romances have a specific formula for success, but all story lines are basically a bell curve. Everyone, except me, says to read A LOT to learn to write. There is probably some value to that, but I drive A LOT and I am not a mechanic. My thinking on reading to learn to write is that it is a good way to mimic another writer, particularly if they have several books published and you've read all of them. I'd rather see a fresh and authentic voice on the works submitted to Cactus Rain. There are tons of genre lists that came up when I ran an internet search for genre -- try it yourself. This is the one I use.
- Determine the reader. Thinking that the answer to "Who will read this book?" is "everyone" is all wrong. Not everyone will like every book. Define who really will like the book you're planning to write. Do research. Talk to the local librarian about what is popular and with whom. Look at how many books of the genre you selected are in the local bookstores. Research what the big publishers are publishing. You can't write to follow the market, because by the time your book is written and published, it will be two years from now. However, with research you can learn the trends and their shelf life so that your expectations are realistic.
- Be unique. There are a finite number of plots, so what is unique about your story? This goes back to learning to write through writing classes and books on how to write rather than reading other works to learn to write.
- Name it! Experience writers have a WIP title for their manuscript. WIP stands for Work In Progress. Usually the title is shortened to its initials. Try not to totally love the title because it is highly likely it will change. Everyone knows that the publisher has the right to rename a book and almost always does just that. I come up with titles rather quickly as I read manuscripts (and usually a cover image). If you're going to self-publish, search the planned title to make sure it has not already been used. The idea of using a popular title so that people accidentally find YOUR book is flawed. If your book isn't the one they were hunting, they will move on as soon as they realize it is the wrong book. Besides, while titles cannot be copyrighted, they can be trademarked.
- Cover Art. If you are planning to get published by a publisher, you are likely only going to have the cover design shown to you out of politeness. You won't have much voice in the cover design and that is a good thing. Keep in mind, it isn't your money being spent to publish the manuscript, and the publisher knows a lot more about what the cover should look like for the genre (for marketing appeal). It is more complicated if you are going to self-publish. Check out the colors of that genre in the bookstore. Most young adult novels have a picture of a teenage girl on the front. Chick-lit is more cartoonish looking. The rules can be broken, but they rarely are because it is all about marketing and people DO judge a book by its cover.
- Voice. Brush up on basic grammar and select a voice for the story. Who is telling the tale? (First person narrative is more difficult to write because you can't write anything the main character didn't witness or wasn't told by someone.)
- Set the pace. Pacing is what makes a book a page-turner. Action has a faster pace than literary fiction. The pace is determined by word choices, length (actually, shortness) of the sentences and paragraphs, and in some cases the length of the chapters.
- The basics. Of course, you have to have interesting characters and "good" names for them; interesting setting, AND a well written story.
Hopes this gives you a few things to consider. Write right. Party on!