How to Write a Novel that Sells

By Diane O’Connell

Writing a novel is an ambitious undertaking, but an even greater challenge is to write a novel that sells. So how do you make your novel attractive to publishers and readers — even before you’ve written a single word? Read on for five steps to writing a marketable novel.


1. Get Clear on Your Vision

All novels must start with a vision: the spark that ignites the idea for your novel. When building a house, for example, you don’t start with the blueprint. You actually start way before that, by deciding things like: Will it be a weekend cottage? A starter home? Think about this when first approaching your novel’s vision.

A clear vision will act as your beacon throughout the writing process. To clarify your vision, start thinking about each of these components: who your story is about, where and when your story is set, the big plot idea, and the genre.

For more, read 6 Ways to Generate Ideas For Your Story.


2. Create Compelling Characters

Authors must take time to fully develop their novel’s characters before thrusting them onto the page. Knowing your characters’ histories will help you determine what happens in your novel. Here’s why: understanding exactly how your character will react to your story’s external forces determines how the plot will unfold.

This requires taking a close look at your characters and getting to know them on a deeper level — almost as well as you know yourself.

For more, read: The ABCs of Crafting Flesh-and-Blood Characters.


3. Establish Your Book’s Structure

Too often, I’ve seen writers who know their vision and have a clear sense of their characters just start writing scenes. But first providing a structure — where plot and character journey converge — will better allow your novel to unfold, while making writing easier for you.

There are six Key Moments you need to have in place before writing: the Current Reality, or the establishment of your main character and setting; the Happening, or the setup of the story’s problem that puts the plot in motion; the Choice, when the main character makes a decision that alters the course of events; the Moment of Truth, your character’s biggest turning point; the Final Confrontation, where your character confronts his ultimate demons; and the New Reality, which shows how your character has changed from the start of the novel.  

For more, watch my video, 5 Secrets to Writing a Bestselling Novel: Secret #3: Your Story Structure.


4. Write Fast and Ugly

Many authors rush into writing their novels, dressing them up with all sorts of beautiful language without first making sure that what they’re hanging all this “writing” on is sound. This can create major problems.

Once you have your elements in place, lay out the bare bones of your plot. Write quickly, just hitting those main plot beats. Avoid trying to make it look pretty. This tactic first allows writers to get down all the key elements of a scene, pushing forward to get to the end without getting hung up on details. Revision comes later.

For more on embracing ugly first drafts, read: The Curse of the First-Time Author: Ugly Drafts.


5. Revise, Revise, Revise

Once you’re ready to tackle the revision process, resist the urge to get sucked into doing little edits — like tinkering with grammar — before first testing larger story issues such structure, character arcs and key moments. Then move on to looking at smaller storytelling elements, such as description, action, exposition, and dialogue. Once you’ve made several passes looking at both larger elements and smaller elements, you can tackle the mechanical issues, such as grammar and syntax.

And, the more you can get professional guidance, the better shot you’ll have at writing a novel that’s attractive to publishers and readers. For more on working with a book editor, read: 3 Unexpected Ways a Book Editor Can Help You.


NovelMakersHandbook_3These tips were adapted from my award-winning book, The Novel-Maker’s Handbook: The No Nonsense Guide to Crafting a Marketable Story.


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