If you love reading, the thought of writing a book probably sounds pretty incredible. The potential to touch people’s lives, entertain them, and maybe even changing the way they think, is thrilling.
It might also feel overwhelming. So many writers and aspiring authors get caught up in self-doubt, convincing themselves that writing an entire book is too hard or they’re not talented enough.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it, because being a writer certainly isn’t easy. However, it’s also not impossible. One reason why many people abandon their manuscripts is because they don’t go into the writing process prepared or with knowledge of the proper course of action.
To make it easier for all of you romance writers-to-be, we’ve made a list of the steps you need to take to finally put pen to paper and finish that book.
PHASE 1: Preparation
Step 1. Where are you writing?
One thing you should consider is designating a writing space. Today people can write just about anywhere. Establishing a writing space is a good way to stay focused. For instance, if you write on your living room couch, which is a space you probably associate with watching TV and relaxing, it may be hard to concentrate there. Likewise, when you do have downtime, you may find that you can’t simply enjoy vegging out on the couch because being there reminds you of work.
Now, this doesn’t mean that a comfy place like your couch or bed is a bad writing spot. Everyone is different. Some like to write in complete silence, others like the background noise of a café. Where you work from is up to you, but picking a spot (or a few places) to help you write can be helpful, especially when you’re writing your first book.
Step 2. What are you writing?
Chances are you’ve had a bunch of ideas for a book floating around in your head for a while. To write a book from start to finish, you need to pick one of these ideas and stick to it. Make sure that the story is something you’re passionate about. You’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on this one story. You’ll be miserable if you’re spending so much time and creativity on something that doesn’t excite you. Also, don’t try to write your own version of someone else’s book. Write what you want to write about, not what you think will be a bestseller.
After you settle on your story idea, answer this question: What is your book about? Write up a brief explanation, almost like an elevator pitch. It should be short and sweet – no more than a few sentences – but also specific. The more specific you can be, the better. ‘A woman meets a man at work and falls in love; they have a complicated relationship’ doesn’t provide much clarity about the book’s essence and ultimately isn’t a helpful start to your outline. ‘The president of a company falls in love with her new employee. She tries to resist him to avoid an HR scandal but eventually she succumbs, putting her career at stake’ is much more detailed and therefore a better starting point.
Step 3. Create your outline
Before you even begin writing, you should make an outline. Doing so helps make your work more digestible and it gives you a guide to follow. Think of it as a map. As you write you may start to feel lost and lose perspective on where the story is going. In these times you can refer back to your outline to get your story back on track.
You may already be familiar with the general fiction novel framework that looks like an upward slope or someone climbing a mountain. The beginning – the base of the mountain – sets the scene, introducing the book’s tone, characters, and setting. As the mountain begins to get steeper, tension in the story starts building. That’s what makes a reader want to keep on reading. Then, the top of the mountain is the climax – the crux of the story that the reader has been eagerly anticipating. The mountain then begins to slope downwards and the story has its conclusion.
Let’s use the example we used in the last step. The beginning of the story establishes the woman’s role as the president of the company for which she works. We get a sense of who she is – her personality, hopes, etc. Her soon-to-be love interest gets introduced into the storyline. The will-they-or-won’t they sexual tension between them continues to build until they finally begin their affair. The climax is when a rival leaks news of her affair to the media. The conclusion wraps up her story, letting the readers know what happens to the main characters and how they deal with the aftermath of the affair.
Using this framework can be helpful, but you don’t necessarily have to stick to it if you don’t think it’s right for your story. It’s an easy-to-follow guideline but you can always tweak it if need be. What makes it so useful is that it ensures that your story has context, tension, climax, and a conclusion.
Step 4. Schedule your time
Setting a writing schedule is critical, especially for anyone who isn’t a full-time writer. How much time you spend writing each week is up to you but it’s important that you block out time to work on your book. Otherwise it can so easily fall on the backburner as you juggle the other responsibilities in your life. It’s best to pick the same times and days of the week so that writing becomes a habit. It also helps you settle into your routine as a writer and you’ll find that the writing comes more easily. If writing the same days and times each week isn’t possible, you should still schedule your writing time in advance, even if it has to change week to week. Keeping a schedule makes writing a priority and will keep you accountable.
Writing a book is a significant time commitment, which is something you need to be aware of as you begin the process. Think of the most talented people in sports, music, and business. They’ve had to focus on their priorities and cut things out of their schedules. Successful writers do the same. You need to be willing to make sacrifices when needed and make sure that writing is always one of your priorities.
Step 5. Pick a deadline
Setting your deadline is another way to keep you accountable. It pushes you to stick to your writing schedule and to do your best work. Your deadline needs to be set in stone. Don’t think of it as a flexible deadline because this will only allow you to procrastinate or put off writing altogether. It’s hard to pick a date if you don’t know how long it takes you to write. After you’ve outlined your story, follow your writing schedule for a week or two and see how much work you get done. This will give you an idea as to how much time it takes you to write so that you can set a feasible deadline. It’s just as important to be realistic with your deadline as it is to stick to it. Choosing an unrealistic date will only set you up for failure and make you rush your work
We also recommend padding your deadline a little bit. Let’s be real – procrastination happens and sometimes emergencies pop up that prevent you from following your writing schedule each week. You’ll also have days where you aren’t as productive. Considering these factors is part of setting a deadline. It’s okay to procrastinate every now and then or prioritize other things in your life over your writing. What’s not okay is letting too much time go by that it puts you way behind schedule and makes the writing process stressful and miserable.
Writing tip: Limit distractions
If you’re easily distracted, silence your phone or even use an app for your computer and phone that blocks your browsers and email to keep you focused.
Step 6. Research
Yes, even romance writers need to research! Accuracy is part of telling a compelling story. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than having inaccurate information in your story. When you’re writing a book, you’re trying to convince your reader of something. It may be convincing them that your heroine is falling in love or trying to make a science-fiction alternate universe believable. Either way, doing so requires research. Going back to the example story, you may need to research business schools to decide where the main character received her MBA, the industry she works in, and HR policies about office relationships.
Aside from character research, you might need to research the story’s setting. For example, if you want the main character to work in Silicon Valley and you’ve never been there before, you’ll need to research that area. Setting is a key part of a story and having details about the story’s location makes your reader feel more connected and also makes you a credible author. For historical fiction, researching the time period is an absolute must. You can’t describe the clothes, vocabulary or political climate of an era without researching first.
PHASE 2: Writing The First Draft
Step 1. Consider your reader
What’s the most important thing about your book? It’s not the number of copies it sells, the quality of reviews it receives, or the publicity it gets. It’s the people that read it. At the end of a day, you want people to read your book, right? This means you need to always have your audience in mind as you write.
You’ll become pretty attached to your book. Some authors refer to their books as their babies because they pour so much love, time, care, and affection into each project. Becoming emotionally invested in your story and characters is great and will ultimately help your writing. However, it may also cloud your judgement. You may not realize that certain parts of the story are boring or redundant, or that the protagonist’s motivations are unclear.
The way to get out of your emotions and read your book with clear eyes and an open mind is to read it from your audience’s perspective. In the romance novel genre, you know that readers are expecting an epic love story or eroticism, or maybe a mix of both. Keep that in mind as you write. Think about what they’ll find interesting and what will make them want to skip to the next chapter. Another helpful writing tip is to think about yourself as a reader. After all, you were a reader before you became a writer. What would you want to read? What story would pique your interest? What would you find boring? When you view your writing from a reader-centric perspective, you’ll be able to write a story people want to read.
Step 2. Write a killer first line
Having an interesting opening to your book is so important for everyone, especially new writers. When you’re writing one of your first books and aren’t a well-known author, you don’t have a guaranteed fan base eagerly waiting for your book’s release. First impressions are everything and the opening of your story is your readers’ first impression of the book. If it’s boring, they’ll stop reading. You want to open your story with something that makes them have to read more because they’re dying to see what happens. Your opening line can be shocking, dramatic, or funny. Whatever it is, it has to be compelling to draw the reader in by grabbing their attention and setting the tone of the story.
Step 3. Add drama
People don’t want to read stories where nothing happens and there’s no conflict. They want action, adventure, passion, suspense. This is especially true for people who love romance novels. That’s an audience that thrives on dramatic stories. You can add tension to your story by having a major event happen in the storyline that drastically changes the protagonist’s circumstances. The protagonist could hear a secret that changes their life. There can be conflicts between characters. Bottomline is there are endless ways to spice up your story with drama and tension. It’s up to you and your storyline as to what will unfold and how.
Writing tip: Don’t edit as you write
We can’t stress this enough! If you critique each line after you write it you’ll never finish your first draft. What’s important in the first draft phase is to get the story out of you. Pour all of your thoughts onto the page and flesh out your ideas. Have an open mind and don’t be hard on yourself in the first draft. Editing will come later. All you need to focus on is this phase is the story.
Step 4. Write a satisfying ending
Wrapping up a story can be one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. The opening line is the reader’s introduction to the story but the ending is what they’ll remember after they finish the book. A satisfying ending doesn’t mean that the story’s conflict is 100% resolved. You’ve probably read plenty of books that don’t have a happy ending where everything is perfect for the protagonist.
Sometimes the ending is elusive and the reader is left guessing what happened, or guessing what would happen next if the story were to continue. What you don’t want to do is throw in a wild plot twist in the very last few sentences that feels irrelevant. An ending that comes up out of nowhere is a disservice to the reader. There are other ways to add shock value to the book’s ending that don’t feel random and careless. Practice writing a few different endings and see which one works best with your story.
PHASE 3. Editing
Step 1. Be an objective editor
As we already said in Phase 2, writing is a labor of love, and that love can sometimes cloud your judgment. Being a great self-editor requires you to be objective. Some things to consider as you edit are removing redundant phrases, deleting unnecessary words, limiting adjectives, and avoiding cliches.
It’s important to take self-editing seriously. Your eyes won’t be the last ones to review this book before publication. Depending on how you publish, it may be passed along to an agent or even a fellow writer to get their take. People won’t want to consider your story for publication or even for editing as a favor to you if they, 1. think there’s too much work for them to do, and 2. if they don’t think you take editing seriously.
Your best chances for finding a willing editor and getting your manuscript in front of an agent is to self-edit as best as you can.
Step 2. Find a second pair of eyes
You’ve already learned how to be an objective editor, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask someone else to give you some edits and feedback. It’s hard to be 100% objective as a self-editor. Having another person edit can help pinpoint things you missed. They also may have ideas or suggestions that you hadn’t considered.
Obviously a writer is the ideal person to review your manuscript, especially someone who has been published before. Realistically, not everyone knows a published author, but you can join a writer’s group or even search for freelance editors.
PHASE 4: Publishing
Step 1. Decide how to publish your book
It’s important to consider how you want to proceed with publication. There are pros and cons to both taking the traditional publishing route and self-publishing.
Getting a literary agent isn’t easy. It can take a lot of time and effort to send your manuscript to different agents. You also have to brace yourself for rejection because you’ll likely hear “no” way more often than you’ll hear a “yes.” Speaking from a place of complete honesty, sometimes you can write an amazing book and try your hardest to get an agent interested and still never get your book published. However, if you can land an agent, there are many benefits to traditional publishing. The publisher will handle everything: editing, printing, cover design, marketing, shipping, and more. It takes a lot of work off of your plate.
When you self-publish, you have to wear a lot of hats. You’re not just the author anymore. You’ll become the editor, designer, fulfillment and shipping center, advertiser, and many other roles. Many people find self-publishing unappealing because they don’t have the time or skills necessary to manage all of the moving parts of the self-publication process. On the other hand, you get total control over your book. You decide how to promote it, what the cover will look like, the book’s price, and more.
With a publisher, you give up control over those things as soon as you sign the book deal which can be frustrating if the author doesn’t share the same vision as the publishing team. Many people love the freedom of self-publishing and remaining in control. And obviously, the benefit is that you can guarantee that your book gets published. You’re not at the mercy of an agent sifting through hundreds of other manuscripts, hoping yours gets chosen.
It’s helpful to talk to other writers to hear their experience with publishing their books. Ultimately, the choice is yours and you need to do what you think is best for you.
Writing tip: Check your format
You want your manuscript to look professional when you hand it off to agents, editors, and anyone else reviewing it. A poorly formatted manuscript makes you look like an amateur instead of a real writer who just wrote a book. Text should be a black serif font in 12-point type on white paper. Use one-inch margins on all sides and set it to left alignment. Consistently use double-spacing throughout.
Step 2. Set up your website
Maybe it didn’t occur to you that you would need a website to be a writer. Well, in today’s digital world all serious writers should have a website, regardless of whether you use a publisher or self-publish. Your website can provide agents and readers information about who you are and also see other writing work that you’ve done such as blog posts or essays.
It’s also a way for you to market your book and yourself. If agents or readers interested in your book see that you have a professional website and a social media following, they may be more inclined to consider you. Today you don’t need to be a computer genius to set up a website. There are many options like GoDaddy and WordPress that have user-friendly templates.
Hopefully breaking everything down into digestible pieces has demystified the process of writing a book. It takes a lot of work and there certainly are ups and downs. But if one thing about writing is true, it’s that no other feeling compares to holding a copy of your very own book.