Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Write and Publish a Novel

  1. Read the type of novel you want to write. Lots of them.
  2. Study genres and subgenres. Which one best suits the story you have in mind?
  3. In the selected genre, what are the publisher's length constraints?
  4. Make a list of possible publishers. What are they looking for? Do they accept queries from authors, or only agents?
  5. Learn the craft. Take classes. Read books on writing. I found some great online classes.
  6. Write a synopsis. Include story question, main characters and settings. See sample synopses.
  7. Write an outline of scenes. Identify point of view character, scene goal, conflict, and, if it is important, date, time, weather. Estimate 2,000 words per scene.
  8. Prepare bios of the main characters. Add other characters as needed.
  9. Write the first three chapters. Don't ask me what a chapter is. You'll know it when you see it.
  10. Revise the synopsis when needed.
  11. Revise the outline when needed.
  12. Edit the first three chapters until you are ready to share your writing with others.
  13. Join a writers' support group where others will critique your work in return for your comments about their work. There are a lot of ways to do this. Some publishers will get new authors together to help each other. Organizations such as the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) have local chapters or online groups that do this. Romance Writers of America have subchapters. You Write where you are assigned readings randomly. For each story you critique, you get a credit for a critique of your work.
  14. Send copies of your work to your friends and ask for honest feedback, but believe in yourself.
  15. Find manuscript contests you can enter. This is an excellent way to get useful feedback. The first level of the contests are usually handled by authors. But, if you come in first, second or third, you have an excellent chance of getting your work read by an agent or a publisher's editor.
  16. Keep writing. If you are unpublished, agents and publishers don't care too much about how great those first three chapters are. They want to know you can finish the book.
  17. Polish, polish, polish. Hire a professional copyeditor if you need to. It cost about $1,200 for each of my books. Unless you are an English major, this could be your largest expense.
  18. Write a query letter. These are described in novel writing books and writing classes.
  19. Update the list of possible publishers you made when you studied genres.
  20. Make a list of possible agents.
  21. Don't bother trying for an agent or publisher until the book is complete and has been professionally copyedited.
  22. Editors and publishers want exclusive review time and they are sometimes slow, requiring three or more months to respond. Some authors send their queries out simultaneously anyway.
  23. If you get an agent, great. Having an agent opens the door to more markets. There are many publishers that will not accept proposals from anyone except agents.
  24. If no agent, send queries to publishers. Publisher's websites tell you how. They are slower than agents. Usually, you will need to send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters. If they like what you've sent, they will ask to see the entire manuscript.
  25. Traditional publishing should be your first choice, because the publisher has the ability to market your book in many more places than you can otherwise.
  26. If traditional publishing not possible, select a self-publishing company. I used for the print edition and the Kindle edition. I used for the other eBook editions, including Apple's iPad. Research this.
  27. You are the publisher and will need to make decisions about book size, font, cover, ISBN, barcodes, setting a price, etc. It can be learned, but it is not all intuitive. In my town, many of the members of writers league have done this and will be glad to help. It's much easier the second time.
  28. CreateSpace and Lulu both use Print on Demand (POD) methods. The cost of the printed version is the same no matter how many copies you buy. Also, they will sell and ship books for you so that you don't have to do that yourself.
  29. Bookstores will not stock books unless you allow for refunds. This can be costly, so most self-published books don't appear in bookstores. My book is available on consignment in two local bookstores on consignment.
  30. If you self-publish you also have to do all the marketing. However, you would need to get involved in this with a traditional publisher as well. I've found that book signings with or without talks is the best ways to sell books.
  31. Maintain a presence on the Internet and the social networks. I write a blog and maintain a website. Also, I work with other authors throughout the country to help advertise each others books.
  32. Encourage people to review your book and provide free copies for reviewers. You need to have a strong page since they are the largest online bookstore. My book was a best seller on one day due to my concentrating sales on a particular day.
  33. Write another book. 


  1. Great list! I'm going to pass this on to my writing group.

  2. Nice job, Sidney. Thanks for putting this out there.

  3. Sid, there isn't much you left out. One thing I need is to always have a goal. Other writers help with motivation, and that is vital if a person is competitive. My goal for more years than I can count was simply to see my name on the cover of a novel. Raise the bar, always look forward, and Never Forget to Pray. God chooses the readers, no matter how many or how few.

  4. Well said, LoRee. I have a writing prayer I read each time I write. Working with other writers has helped me stay on schedule at times.

  5. Thanks for posting this list. It is great to have so many details in a checklist that one can occasionally forget.

  6. Thank you for the comment, Royce. I'm following up on this article by expanding each point. So far, I've only done one, but I'll do more in the future. See