Writing a Great Book Outline and Writing to Target
I have recently finished my very first debut novel so don’t consider myself an expert on this but I was greatly helped by using a system for writing the book. This system kept me to time and was just what I needed. The system I used I have adapted from one I learned from a course on Udemy called Reverse Engineer Riveting Fiction
The first thing I need to say is that I did veer off but not hugely and you will see what I mean when I explain it.
Obviously before you can develop a plan there needs to be a story in your head. My story evolved but I had the basics of the plot before I started writing.
I had a main character (initially it was 2), sub-characters important to the plot, a scene (set on a cruise ship), a theme – murder mystery (initially thriller but turned out to be cosy as I don’t do graphic), a beginning, a middle and an end (I had two in mind).
The next thing was to decide on a rough word count. There is some debate over words needed but in general they are as follows:
Word Counts are not written in stone
Depending on what you read there are different opinions on how long a book should be so I have gathered a few together but they are just guides. Publishers will have minimum and maximum word counts for different books and generally frown on shorter novels and those that are too long.
- Novel 40,000 words or over (generally 60,000 for mystery, 90,000+ for non-series novel). Some authors and publishers recommend 50,000+ with a maximum of 120,000 but Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix is over 250,000 words!
- Young Adult 40,000 to 80,000 words
- Biography & general non-fiction 50,000 to 120,000 words
- Memoir & self-help 40,000 to 90,000 words
- Novella 17,500 to 39,999
- Novellette 7,500 to 17,499
- Chapter books for children start at 16,000
- Short story under 7,500
- Flash fiction 500 to 1,000 words
- Children’s picture books 400 to 800 words (some of mine are 1,200)
Splitting the Story
Splitting the word count to write the book
In my case I opted for 56,000 words (it has ended up being nearer the 60,000). As this was my first novel and I wanted to keep to time, I decided to aim for the same number of words per chapter using a table system.
The book had to have a beginning, a middle and an end and I wanted tension to build until the climax so this had to be factored in.
The grid or table includes the number of chapters split into one quarter for the beginning, one half for the middle and one quarter for the end. These quarters are then divided into 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and so on, depending on how long the book will be and how many chapters you want to include.
So for example for a 60,000 word book using a 6 grid system 6 x 4 or 24 chapters.
60,000/24 = 2,500 words per chapter (guide only, can be flexible)
There would need to be 6 chapters in section 1, 12 in section 2 and 6 in section 3
In this example there will need to be at least 24 chapters of 2,500 words each split into sections.
I outlined each of the chapters with points that would be included in each, building on the story and adding tension as the story developed. By the halfway stage the tension was building and by three quarters it was higher with no resolution in sight. The final quarter then built on that tension but arrived at resolution.
Writing in this way kept me to time
I used 56,000 with the 5 grid system 5 x 4 or 20 chapters
56,000/20 = 2,800 words per chapter.
Writing the outline for each of those chapters helped me meet the target of writing the 2,800 per day. I didn’t stick to 20 chapters and have ended up with over 30 but that didn’t matter. The system helped me write the required number of words per day because I knew what I wanted to include in each of those grids.
Writing at a slower pace or writing more words
If you want to write at a slower pace you can write half the amount per day e.g. 1,400
If you want to write a much higher word count you will want to choose a higher number of grids resulting in more chapters. For example:
9 grid system 9 x 4 = 36
100,000/36 = 2,778 (give or take) words per day or half if you want to write slower
This is a system that has helped me and I hope that it helps you. If you want to learn more about this system check out Reverse Engineer Riveting Fiction by Geoff Shaw where he explains it much better and outlines plot building within the system.
For years people have been saying that we are living in a post-literate society and many people claim that Donald Trump is the first post-literate president. The argument is supported by the amount of television people are reported to watch. A recent article in the Mail Online suggests that the average Brit watches 24 hours television per week which equates to ten years of adult life in front of the box!
Reading Declines during Secondary School
The BBC reported that a recent survey by the National Literacy Trust found that after leaving primary school, enjoyment of reading declines- particularly among boys but also among girls.
Having said that, they also found in a survey conducted in 2016 that reading for pleasure was gradually increasing among 8-16 year olds. Girls read a bit more than boys but, for the first time, reading does not appear to be influenced by social background according the report. White children are less likely to enjoy reading than black or mixed ethnic backgrounds and Asian children are the most likely group to enjoy reading.
Why Literature Festivals
When Derby introduced a literature festival a few years ago, I was excited and it has proved to be a very popular yearly event engaging people from all over Derbyshire and further afield. Literature festivals raise the profile of books and reading and the popularity of the Derby festival can only be seen as positive in that respect.
My only reservation is that it tends to be aimed at main-stream publishing and can work out to be quite expensive. Having said that, I am delighted that it is thriving as it raises the profile of books as well as being good for Derby. The festival is held in June each year and attracts a host of famous authors. Tickets tend to be over £12 each making it difficult for an average family to visit more than one event.
Indie authors, to date, have not been invited to participate in any way. Indie authors who are self-published now form a large part of the marketplace, particularly in relation to ebook sales and have become much more professional in approach over the past ten years thanks to organisations such as the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). Initially there may have been some authors who did not pay due diligence to their text and editing but anyone trying to publish sub-standard books learns a harsh lesson very quickly. Mainstream publishing still turns it’s nose up at Indies’ but readers less so. If I want to read a good book, I don’t look to see if the publisher is mainstream. I read the description on the back or online if I am purchasing an ebook. If the book turns out to be poor quality inside (be it mainstream or indie) I will not read a book by that author again! So indie or non-indie, I want a good book that is well formatted and not littered with mistakes as do the majority so personally, I don’t care whether a book is traditionally published or self published.
At the turn of the year I began thinking about hosting a literature festival in my local area to engage local people with authors and reading. I asked about this on the ALLi forum and discovered that many of my fellow Indies were doing just that. Although the majority were charging and therefore paying authors to attend which is perfectly reasonable, I wanted to provide an event free of charge. One of the leading lights of ALLi, Debbie Young does just this at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival which has been running for five years and has grown exponentially. I have decided to follow this model and the first Oakwood Literature Festival will be held on Saturday 12th May 2018 in the Community Centre in Oakwood!
I am delighted that, although this is on a very small scale for the first event (as the money is initially coming out of my pocket!) I have managed to engage some excellent authors who are all willing to give their time for free!
Activities on the day
As well as four talks by panels of authors and author readings in the main hall, there will be a bookshop cafe, a prize raffle and tombola. The cafe will be a Narnia themed cafe as I feel I am stepping through a wardrobe into an unknown land!
The authors attending come from a variety of backgrounds and write in various genres including historical fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, fantasy fiction, non-fiction and children’s fiction so there is something for everyone.
You will be able to find out more about each author attending on the main website but for the first year we have:
Debbie Young who will be launching the first festival and chairing a couple of panels. Debbie writes cosy mysteries, short stories and non-fiction
Myself, Dawn Brookes and I write nurse memoirs, children’s books and will shortly be launching my own murder mystery novel
AA Abbott who writes suspense thrillers and dyslexia friendly books
Celia Boyd who was born in Derby and writes historical fiction
David Ebsworth who writes historical fiction
Kate Frost who writes women’s fiction and YA fiction
Paul Gaskill who is a Derby author and writes YA fantasy fiction
John Lynch who writes historical fiction and is a ghostwriter
David Robertson who writes children’s books
All being well, the Oakwood Literature Festival will become an annual event and will grow. My vision is that it will be able to support itself through sponsorship and the cafe and I would love it to become a yearly, family friendly event held annually in Oakwood across all of the main venues that we have within a half mile radius of each other. For this year though, space is limited but we hope to put on a great day free at the point of entry like the NHS that I loved and worked for for over thirty-nine years!
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Great News – I will be library stock!
Not me exactly, but my work. I was delighted to hear from my local library this week that they were happy to purchase stock of my memoir Hurry up Nurse. I have to say that since publishing the kindle version last August, followed by the paperback in September I have been on a very steep learning curve. I don’t know quite what I imagined would happen when I published the book – immediate best seller……………? I soon learned I knew nothing about marketing books.
Marketing – a new lesson
Suffice it to say that I hadn’t anticipated the amount of work that goes into marketing a book once it’s published. It is definitely like learning to drive – it all starts after you pass your test! Many reading this I am sure will relate to this, particularly if you have begun a self publishing journey. After the initial flurry of sales from friends and family died down, it was learn, learn, learn. I think my poor Facebook friends must have got sick to death of the sight of my book cover and I hope that they have forgiven me for going into overdrive! I know this article is about being stocked in a library but I just wanted to write down all of the ploys for marketing books I have had to learn along the way.
Social Media – What’s that?
First of all there was social media! What? I need to create a separate Facebook page, twitter account, Pinterest, Google +, YouTube, blog, website! Are you kidding me? The reality is – yes to most of these but it doesn’t have to happen all in one day. I think the first priority for me was to create a separate FB page and then to resist the temptation and stop bombarding my normal account friends with posts about my books! I am almost there, I promise. Twitter I just cannot fall in love with so have not gone there – never say never though! YouTube has been an easier journey for me because I love teaching and training, I did always want to be an actress! Blogging is relatively new but again, because I like sharing knowledge I am starting to enjoy it!. Building a website – not an easy task but I have managed to build one for publishing and one for property investment. Having a website and getting traffic to it are two different things but that is a blog post for another day. As you can see marketing books is not easy.
Anyway, back to the main theme, this has been a good week for me, as I said, Derby Libraries have agreed to stock my book and I did have an order yesterday from Gardners for normal and large print versions so they have been true to their word. They have also kindly arranged a ‘meet the author’ session in one of my local libraries for later this month.
Contacting a Library
I started by going into my local library, I initially gave one of the staff a copy which they said would be sent to acquisitions – I think that is short for charity bag or bin as it disappeared! Next, I went into the library on a quiet day and asked for the name of the librarian who was responsible for purchasing books and she kindly gave me a contact email address. I wasn’t sure I would get very far, as, like many libraries around the country the county libraries are strapped for cash and some have been facing closures. I sent off a nice email introducing myself and my books and asked for a meeting. I explained that although self-published, the books were of a high standard (following a correction to a faux pas made early on) and would be happy to show examples. I heard nothing for a month and so decided to try again and I resent the message but added a little bit of personal understanding about the difficulties libraries were undergoing – I meant every word because I love libraries. I even offered to donate my books for free as stock. I am not sure whether it was this email or the start of the new tax year that brought a response but I am delighted that it did! They have ordered 6 normal print and 3 large print books and I couldn’t be more pleased about the extra exposure this will bring to my work.
A Great Week
I have had a really good week which makes up for all the plodding I have been doing over the past six months. I had a lovely email from an American reviewer today encouraging me in my work and saying that she had no doubt I could be a Best Seller! Wow, what a confidence booster that was. Whilst this article is about marketing books and being stocked in local libraries, I am still not totally comfortable with marketing but this week has been good. I am also learning more about outsourcing but again, that is a subject for another day.
I couldn’t end without a bit of marketing could I so the book can be purchased on my website or on Amazon.
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Traditional Versus Self Publishing
Most authors dream of being the next J.K. Rowling or even the modern day Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. However we look at it, life for the average author is tough to start with. I am speaking as if I have loads of experience……..
Although I am a relatively new self published author, I do have the experience of being both traditionally and self published and so for this reason, I wanted to write this blog post. I also wanted to get it all down in writing while the whole self publishing thing is still fresh in my memory – it is important to capture the moment at my age! I didn’t realise that there was a traditional versus self publishing argument until I self published my own book.
My traditionally published book was one I co-edited with a colleague and is a textbook. There was one shortcut I made during that route and that was that I didn’t have to approach an agent as textbook editors still allow direct contact from would-be authors. I was able to ring the editor, talk through my proposal, get a go ahead and then jump through all the other hoops required, knowing that the book was highly likely to be accepted for publishing.
In this article I thought I would like to consider the advantages and disadvantages to both forms of publishing as the publishing world has been taken by storm over the past few years by the whole Indie scene, mainly due to that ever growing phenomena called Amazon!
- Kudos – The first thing my friends asked me last year when I published my nurse memoir was who is the publisher? Even my oldest friends were less than encouraging (note I said oldest not best!)
- Agent – if you have an agent (and you have to for traditional publishing), they will contact the publishers for you and their contacts will mean they are heard
- Advance – money is not everything but it is nice to have a bit of money up-front that assures you that someone believes in you – it might be the last money you ever see from a publisher!
- Distribution – this is probably the biggest positives of traditional publishers, they have an army of sales and distribution channels with industry contacts at their fingertips to distribute books.
- Bookshop access due to their distribution channels (note I say access)
- Editors/proofreaders at their fingertips and they pay them, not you!
- Industry standards – this is another important lesson for all Indie authors to take on board, books via publishers will have gone through a fairly rigorous process before hitting bookshelves
- Reviewers – instant access to reviewers, with some of them famous. For my textbook the forward was written by Lady Cumberlege!
- Marketing – linked to distribution, they can market your book for you – note I say ‘CAN’
- Finding an agent – even J.K was turned down on multiple occasions when she first started out! Its hard and agents are very reluctant to take on new authors. If you are a children’s author it is harder and as for poetry……..?
- Slooooow – Its really slow, with a lead time of around 2-3 years from proposal to book in hand!
- Editors are constantly moving on – my editor left just before publishing and you have to start again with a new one
- Less control – although you can have some input regarding cover design e.g. colour, you don’t get much input
- Not guaranteed to be in bookshops – the biggest lesson I learned was that the publisher does very little to market your work once published, they send out some review copies and then its left to the author to promote. It did make Waterstones in universities though, which of course helps
- Lots of revisions, although this should happen whether Indie or traditional
- Royalties – the royalty rates are paltry and in many cases you might never see any money again after the initial advance due to the royalty rate being a percentage of net profits. Most authors are lucky if they get 10% of net.
- Speed – this has to be one of the attractions, you can work as fast as you like and get your book to market within a much shorter period of time
- Control – it is up to you how fast or slow you work, you get to have input on cover design, formatting, book size, page length and everything in-between
- Direct access to editors, proofreaders etc usually through ‘outsourcing’
- Marketing – although this is really hard, nobody believes in a book more than the author and this it what I have learned through the difficult times
- Networking – it is fun, networking with other authors in the same boat as you – some of them on the opposite side of the world but you gain a whole new world of friends
- Satisfaction/pride – When that first printed book comes through the door there is not greater feeling and there is the added satisfaction that you did it all by yourself
- Royalties – You retain between 35-70% ebook royalties and around 30% print on demand depending on size, colour, number of pages so can be less
- You are the publisher – you have complete control over what happens to your book and you can call yourself a publisher as well as an author
- Doing what you love to do? I hope so because otherwise it is going to be all uphill and there are much easier ways to make money!
- Expertise – not only do you develop expertise as a writer but also as a publisher, marketer and all things in-between
- Print on demand – a vital part of self publishing that helps keep costs down are companies like Createspace (Amazon) and Lightning Source
- Working with local Independent bookshops for me has been one of the nicest things about being an Indie author
- Expensive – it is important not to overspend but to spend money wisely on absolute necessities such as proofreaders, editors, cover design, marketing budget
- Standards – some indie authors put out books full of errors and I learned from doing this initially that proofreading is absolutely essential, thankfully as an indie author you don’t usually print off 5,000 books before realising your mistake – poor publication and formatting drags indie authors down
- Almost impossible to get into bookshops – the major wholesalers of books in the UK are Gardners & Bertrams and it is really difficult to get them to stock your book. I have received orders from both and have whilst Gardners are easy to deal with, Bertrams not so. WH Smiths don’t use either but that doesn’t mean they will stock and Indie book
- Difficult to get literary awards – its not impossible because there are some awards specifically for Indie authors
- Charlatans – there are large numbers of people out there promising the world and delivering very little for the money. As Indie authors we are wide open to being taken in by scammers. There are many genuine courses for authors to help with marketing and editing but there are a lot that are not worth the money. Be picky – be careful!
- Lack of kudos – in some cases, people do not think they are reading a genuine book unless it comes from a traditional publisher
- Reviews – one of the hardest things to do is to get genuine reviews for a book, apparently only around 1-2% of Amazon customers review purchases
I hope this article has given some food for thought regarding traditional versus self publishing and I know its not exhaustive because there is so much more to learn. It is not meant to be a guide to self publishing so I have not included the ‘how to’ element – that can wait for another day. If I have missed anything out please feel free to comment – no spam please or it will be removed.