This is a series of posts for aspiring writers, established authors, and anyone inbetween. To take a look at what goes into a novel before, during and after it is written. Please feel free to comment if you have helpful advice that will contribute to making this post more beneficial to everyone out there. Or, post a question and I’ll try to find an answer!
The main part of the writing a novel is just that—writing. But when you’ve made good progress or you’re just about finished, particularly if you’re aiming toward finding an agent or getting published, there are other things concerning your novel that need to be considered.
Titles are important, sometimes the first thing a reader or consumer will see when they come across your book. Or the first thing an agent will see. I’m terrible at titles, but I am starting to realize more and more that they can determine whether or not someone will buy your book. This isn’t always the case, but there are many readers that browse by titles. So what have you got? Right now, the title of my first book is Through It All. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too simple or common. But if I change it, will it still do a good job at representing the book? These are questions I have to ask myself, as you will when searching for a title. Most of the time I come up with the title for my books from an interesting or predominant phrase in the book. Sometimes I’ll end up at the bookstore looking over titles to see what draws my interest. I gravitate toward titles that draw me in, that make me think, that beckon me to pick up the book and learn more. I’d be interested to hear how the rest of you come up with book titles.
Word counts are also important. When you look for an agent, your word count will help define where your book fits. And your book needs to adhere to guidelines in order to be submitted to most places. General fiction, novellas, non-fiction, etc. Here are some loose guidelines:
Full-length/mainstream fiction (including chick lit): 80,000 to 100,000
Paranormal romance/urban fantasy: 80,000 to 100,000
Sci-Fi and Fantasy: around 100,000 words, with higher counts for Epic fantasy
YA : 50,000 to 80,000
Crime and mysteries: 70,000 to 100,000
Literary fiction: 100,000 plus
Historical Fiction: 100,000 plus, sometimes even up to 140,000
Novellas: Around 50,000 words or less
Suspense and thrillers: 75,000 to 90,000
These are just narrowed down estimates based on figures I’ve heard and actual novels lengths of popular books out there. Of course, as you know, there are always exceptions.
Make sure you know your genre. Agents will want to know. Other people will want to know. This will also help to determine what word counts you need to adhere to, etc. If you’re not positive of your genre, do some research. Read other books to see if yours would fall in the same genre. Or ask another writer or someone who’s read the book and may help you be able to determine this.
Adhering to some basic guidelines when formatting your novel will help later on with submission and insure you don’t have to entirely reformat your manuscript later on.
Keep margins at an inch to an inch and a half, preferably one inch.
Always double space your manuscript. Keep it left aligned, not justified.
Keep a simple font, like Courier or Times New Roman, with the point size at 12.
Page numbers are recommended, often at the top right hand corner of each page.
Begin all new chapters on a new page.
Paragraphs must be indented and there should always be an extra space between scene breaks, or even better, a symbol or marker that indicates a change in scene (this is particularly helpful when there is a scene break at the beginning or end of a page).
These are just beginner basics but will probably make your job easier in the long run.
One or two line summary:
This isn’t necessary right away, but something to think about, especially the closer you get to sending queries or if you plan on attending writers conferences and talking about your WIP. This is a quick summary of what your book is about. People are going to ask you so you might as well come up with something quick and simple that you can tell them. This will help you later when you get closer to the query/publishing/marketing stage. Mine is:
A terrible loss and heartbreaking prophecy lead Shannon on a challenging course to return home and battle with the trials of her waning faith.
Quick, to the point, 25 words or less. Of course this is something that sounds better on paper than said out loud. Imagine the whole elevator pitch scene. What would you say to an agent? What would draw them in but manage to be brief and succinct at the same time?
Build your platform:
This is something more and more people are recommending authors start ASAP. Build readership if you blog, make friends, join writing groups, network, visit agent blogs and comment often if you plan on querying them (so they know you’re really taking in what they want), tell people about your book, speaking engagements or classes. Find a link. Know what people you’d want to market to and find an “in”.
These are some general topics you will be dealing with as you progress and complete your manuscript. In the upcoming weeks we’ll get more into what happens after a book is complete, you’re ready to edit, and then you’re ready to begin sending your manuscript to agents or editors.