With lessons learnt by a rookie who has no business giving pretentious advice:))
1. Come up with a concept
Cross it out, come up with another, and so on, until you land on something that is original/interesting/inspirational/visionary/insert-another-positive-adjective from your Pinterest feed. This step depends largely on your genre. Make sure to find someone as a sounding board for your ideas, ideally someone either well-read or an expert in your literary field of interest. Wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel or write the second Fahrenheit 451.
2. Mould your characters
Using real people is the easiest and most entertaining way to create multidimensional (anti)heroes, though you might need some descriptive camouflage skills to prevent a mob of Facebook friends coming at you with pitchforks. An important tip: keep track of technical details, including hair colour, freckles and anger issues, and use them effectively when building plot. Little memorable quirks are essential for future reveals, such as where the audience can recognise a spy while your story’s characters are oblivious. As for creating believable descriptions, online lists of character-building questions are invaluable for this step. Inane questions like “What’s your protagonist’s favourite kind of fruit cake?” and “Would you rather work with your family, friends or soulmate OR alone? ” re:Buzzfeed may not be quite it, but any and every little detail should be considered when writing personalities as complex as your own.
3. Concept + characters + plotconflict = story
Pretend you are at once god and the characters’ invisible drama-queen instigator friend. You will be returning to this step of the algorithm many times over, especially if you decide to get developmental editor feedback. In all seriousness – this is the hardest part. My best advice would be always to keep track of the changes your characters go through, as well as to build up your readers’ expectations (and temporary anxiety issues) as the story progresses. Tension is the key to an audience’s investment in the plot’s resolution.
Enough said. Put some time aside for this.
5. Petition for feedback and, hard as it may be, embrace criticism
Taking any professional advice and accepting that your story skills or ideas may not be perfect is another hard truth in writing. My own experience essentially comes down to this post, but if I were to add to it in hindsight, I would state that this is the stage where at least 50% of your growth occurs. Both as a writer and as a human (performance feedback leads to improvement, leads to eternal zen yada yada yada, as personal coach influencers would have you believe). In all seriousness, though, do ask for criticism, be it from your editor, your beta readers or close friends/family. Any outside opinion is invaluable to understand the “what now?” and “what next?” of your writing.
Edit, edit, edit. With coffee and procrastination in between. Rinse and Repeat.
7. The Oxford comma phase
This is where your proofreader will cycle through all the 5 stages of grief, and then some. I do recommend not limiting yourself to vague editor advice on this one: get concrete, detailed help, preferably from an experienced writer. This bit of advice may seem both obvious and rather costly, but the sad reality of (self-)publishing is that books with gross and numerous errors are a more severe faux-pas than Crocs at a gala, at least from my experience.
8. The title
Write a list of 50 ideas, cross them all out, and rip the paper in half. Keep at it until one sticks – it should be true to the book’s genre, its contents, message and tone. Quite a few boxes to tick, but your title and cover are what the readers first see of your book, both in print and online. A quirky but valuable tip: Google potential titles and look them up in your genre on Amazon. Don’t publish ‘The Martian’ a second time, literally.
9. The cover
Two simple choices: hire someone or DIY. I chose to design my own cover, and while the process can be seen here, it wasn’t as simple as a 16-second condensed video time lapse. It is actually much the same as your novel itself: concept is vital, before you start on the layers and brush strokes. Sketch and brainstorm, or discuss with your cover artist, until the images truly add to your book’s content. I do so hate being a conceited commercialist, but keep in mind that your work’s appearance is a key selling-point to readers who know nothing about your story. Aim to hook your audience with your cover, same as you do with your words on a page.
10. Your Initial Public Offering
This one is a metaphor for your book launch. There is a lot of personal acceptance that goes into the decision to release your baby novel into the world. Especially if you are using your own name. Especially if it’s your debut. Lots of herbal tea, comfort food and self-reflective meditation is generally involved in taking the leap. Be brave. And after your book gets out there, the IPO stock market analogy becomes, in truth, quite literal. Your readers are your shareholders. Their reviews determine your offering’s value. So the clear goal of a book-writing startup is to make your novel the best possible product, starting with Step 1.
Good luck on the winding, yet ever-so-gratifying, road to a finished book!