During coaching sessions with my students and on the Kick Start Your Book With Karen private Facebook group, I receive a lot of questions about how to write a book so I thought I would share some of the most popular ones, along with my answers. These questions cover everything from writing schedules to outlining, publishing and editing, so if you have a burning question about writing a book, chances are it’s listed below.
I’ve divided this post into three sections, planning, writing, and publishing to help you find what you are looking for more easily and I've also included a FREE checklist for each phase to ensure you don't miss any crucial steps when it comes to publishing your book.
If the question isn’t below, then please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to respond.
1. How do you turn an idea into enough words for a novel?
Great question! I get lots of ideas but not all of them work well enough to turn into a full-length novel. So how do you know which ones are worth pursuing? That’s when I see if I can turn the idea into a premise. A premise (at its most basic) is a one to two sentence statement that includes your main character, a new situation your character finds themselves in, and the main character’s goal. If you have these three elements, it’s worth pursuing. For three more ways to test your book idea, check out this post here.
2. How do you plan your storylines and plot?
I usually start with a premise, as above, and then start to plan the plot points as per the narrative arc. From there, I will then start chapter planning on an excel spreadsheet.
3. Do you start at the beginning of the story or jump around as the inspiration takes you?
It depends on the structure of the story. Because I usually have a detailed outline, I will often jump around especially if I’m lacking inspiration! Parts of a novel, such as the climax or the ending are often a lot more exciting to write! Also, because my novels are usually multi-perspective, I tend to write one character at a time and then mesh the chapters together.
4. How do you go from the idea in your head to getting it down on paper?
Once I’ve chosen my book idea, I then spend several weeks outlining the plot, mapping out my characters and their backstories, and visualising the setting. Once I have a strong sense of story, I’ll then start writing.
5. How do you structure your writing day?
I follow the Monday to Friday working week and usually write for several hours in the morning because this is the time I’m most creative. I save the afternoons for emailing, admin, meetings and marketing because I usually get an afternoon slump around two o’clock. My children come home at three in the afternoon as well, so I’m usually busy with them. During the weekends, I rarely write (unless I’m on a deadline). Before I got my publishing deal though, I had a very different writing routine which involved writing anytime I could, even if it was just for twenty minutes. I had to work around the demands of my job and my children weren’t yet in school so it was a case of write when you can!
6. How do you squeeze the entire structure of a book into a one page synopsis?
You don’t. A synopsis should only include the top-level elements of your book - key plot points, main characters, and the setting. You don’t need to go into detail nor should you write in the style of your book - it’s a factual outline of your book only.
7. Do you have the plot more or less resolved before you start?
I write psychological thrillers and readers expect a lot of twists so I always have the plot resolved before I start. In fact, I will often come up with the big twist first and then move on to developing characters and setting. This isn’t the case for every author and you might want to try it more organically but for me, the plot points act as markers to work towards and it helps me set a good pace for the novel.
8. In the premise, do you sum up the whole book and include what happens at the end?
The job of the premise is to summarise your book idea into a few sentences and at its most basic should include the main character, the situation or new world they’re entering, and the goal of the main character. If you are writing non-fiction, the premise would usually include the goal of the reader, in other words what they want to get out of the book, and the author’s proposed solution. You can see examples of a premise and learn more about how to write one here.
Writing & Editing
1. Do you ever go back and forth between chapter planning and writing?
I try to avoid it because I find it disrupts my flow but occasionally it’s unavoidable, for example if a chapter or a scene isn’t working. It’s better to address such things at the time rather than just plough on!
2. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
The first thing I do is work out why I have writer’s block. Am I tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Stressed? Usually, it’s either because I have other things on my mind which are distracting me or there are gaps in my outline. If it’s the former, I will either address the distraction (by doing it or writing it down as a reminder to do later) and if it’s the latter, I will go back to the outline and work on the chapter making sure I understand the following:
What is happening in the chapter and how does it move the story forward?
Is this chapter even necessary?
How does the character in the chapter change or behave and what prompts that change?
What is the main thing the reader needs to take away from this chapter?
3. How do you know if you’re any good or not?
I absolutely love this question which came from one of my students because it really gave me pause for thought! I’m still not sure how to answer it but my thoughts are as follows. I don’t think anyone knows if their writing is any good, especially in the initial stages before securing a literary agent. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if you don’t have doubts then you will never strive to improve your writing and that’s all any writer can do. It’s also good to remember that good writing can be subjective and what works for one reader doesn’t necessarily work for others. Ultimately, if you spend time understanding the rules of language, write regularly, take time to develop your craft, and listen to (the right) feedback, it’s inevitable that your writing will improve. Whether it’s any good or not remains solely at the discretion of the reader.
8. How many rewrites do you do?
I always do several rewrites of my novels. It would be lovely to get it right the first time (or even the third time!) but I always find something to improve.
9. What books/ podcasts help the writing journey?
I will do a full post on these but there are so many helpful resources out there. One of my favourites is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and I turn to Stephen King’s Memoir on Writing time and time again. I also love The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’m not a huge podcast listener for writing inspiration but The Honest Authors always offers good insights.
1. At what point do you think the writer should stop editing and move onto publishing?
I would only start my submission enquiries once I’ve edited my manuscript several times, received and included feedback from beta readers, put the manuscript aside for a few weeks, and then edited it again. Basically, I would move on only when I felt I’ve done my absolute best work.
2. What steps do you take to self-publish a book?
I have never self-published my novels but I think it’s a great entry point for new authors. To answer your question, I interviewed a self-published author who explains the whole process here.
3. How difficult is it to secure a publishing deal?
Traditional publishing has always been highly competitive and the pandemic hasn’t made it any easier. The first obstacle is getting representation from a literary agent (if you’re writing fiction) as they are the gateway into publishing deals. Literary agents review thousands of manuscripts and again it’s highly competitive. To improve your chances, make sure you approach the right agent who represents your genre, follow their guidelines on how to submit, and make sure your title and first few chapters are the best they can be as that’s what you will be judged on.
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