Authors who want to take their books from idea to paperback must become project managers. Like any other endeavor, writing and successfully taking your novel to publication has many steps, from “what if” to proto product, and from there to completion. It doesn’t matter if you are going indie or sticking to the traditional route.
Then there is the marketing of the finished product, but that is NOT my area strength, so I won’t offer any advice on that score.
Even on the surface, writing fiction is complex.
We all know a high-quality product when we see one. The manufacturer didn’t make it out of cheap components. They put their best effort and the finest materials they could acquire into creating it. Because the manufacturer cared about their product, we are proud to own it.
For authors, the essential component we must not go cheaply on is grammar. We don’t have to be perfect—after all, the way we habitually structure our prose (our voice) adds to the feeling of depth.
However, we must have a fundamental understanding of basic mechanical skills. These rules are the law of the road, and readers expect to see them. Knowledge of standard grammar and punctuation rules prevents confusion. Readers who become confused will set the book aside and give it a one-star review.
If you have limited knowledge of grammar, your first obligation is to resolve that. The internet has many easy-to-follow self-education websites to help you gain a good understanding of basic grammar in whatever your chosen language is. One site that I like is https://grammarist.com/.
Authors who are just starting out often write erratic prose. They will be inconsistent with capitalizations, insert random commas where they think it should pause, and use exclamation points instead of allowing the narrative to show excitement. They don’t know how to punctuate dialogue, which leads to confusion and garbled prose.
We must know the rules of grammar to break them with style and consistency. How you break the rules is your unique voice.
Readers expect words to flow in a certain way. If you choose to break a grammatical rule, you must be consistent.
Ernest Hemingway, Alexander Chee, and George Saunders all have unique voices in their writing. They all break the rules in one way or another, but they are deliberate and consistent. Each of these writers has written highly acclaimed work. You never mistake their work for anyone else’s.
Alexander Chee employs run-on sentences and dispenses with quotation marks (which I find excruciating to read).
George Saunders writes as if he is speaking to you and is sometimes choppy in his delivery. But his work is wonderful to read.
We who write need a broad vocabulary, but we also need to be careful not to get too fancy. To be successful, we need an understanding of the tropes readers expect to find in our chosen genre. We must employ those tropes to satisfy the general expectations of our readers. How we do that is our twist, the flavor that is our unique “secret sauce.”
We don’t consciously think about this, but organizational skills are critical because we want the story to flow easily from scene to scene. This is why successful authors are project managers, even if they don’t realize it.
Identify your Project Goals. Your story is your invention. Your effort, your ideas, and the skills you have developed will determine the quality of the finished novel.
Each author is different, and the length of time they take on a book varies. Some authors are slow—their books are in development for years before they get to the finish line. Others are fast—their novels complete and ready to be published in a relatively short time. Regardless of your timeline, this is where project management skills really come into play.
I use a phased (or staged) approach to project management. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.
Concept: You have a brilliant idea. Make a note of it so you don’t forget it.
The Planning Phase: creating the outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
The Construction Phase—writing the first draft from beginning to end. Take it though as many revisions as you need in order to get it the way you envision it.
Monitoring and Controlling—This is where you build quality into your product.
- Creating a style sheet as you go. See my post on style sheets here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.
- Finding beta readers and heeding their concerns in the rewrites.
- Taking the manuscript through as many drafts as you must to have the novel you envisioned.
- Employing a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
- Finding reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)
Completion—things we don’t have to worry about just yet while we are in the construction phase. But they will come up later.
- Employing a cover designer if you are going indie.
- Finding an agent if you are taking the traditional route.
- Employing a professional formatter for the print version if you are going indie.
- Courting a publisher if you are taking the traditional route.
After that comes marketing, something you must do whether you are going indie or traditional. Both paths will require serious effort on your part.
But as I said earlier, I have no skills in the area of marketing and no advice worth offering.
What I do know is this: write the basic story. Take your characters all the way from the beginning through the middle and see that they make it to the end.
Once you have completed the story and have it written from beginning to end, you can concentrate on the next level of the construction phase: revisions. This is where we flesh out scenes and add depth to the bones of our story.
Over the next few posts, I will work on some of the sublayers of depth in our next series on the craft of writing. First up, we will think about why a story isn’t finished just because it has an ending.