It is said that everyone has a book in them. But often people stumble at the first hurdle, not knowing the basics of writing, what genre their idea will fit into and how many words they need to finish the book.
Equally some people have the problem that they have too many books in their imagination and don’t know where to start; the plot for a brilliant book springs to mind and then before this is written another equally fabulous outline is conjured up. While this may sound a wonderful affliction, it can lead to writer’s block. How do you know which way to turn when there are so many options? Time is then wasted writing outlines and starting books which are then abandoned when the next ‘big’ thing comes along.
Plan to succeed
The answer to this problem is in careful planning and a disciplined approach. Not all stories make good books and not every writer can create a good book even with the best idea in the world.
The reality of writing is that it is a lonely, hard slog, often with little or no reward at the end. Books are hard to write, there is an awful lot of planning and revision involved before and after the actual 60,000 plus words which go to make up the story. It’s a process that can be frustrating, torturous, or so time-consuming that you’ll want to give up. Writing a book is also emotionally taxing, you are exposing an awful lot of yourself, of your knowledge, the quality of your ideas, your writing skills, and your personality in your book, putting yourself out there in a way, which you may not want to do.
When the darn book is written the problem is not over. Books do not sell themselves. After writing the book, there is publishing, promoting, and selling all has to be done. That process can be heart rendering the book might not sell, it might be ignored completely, or get dreadful reviews.
All things considered it is important to write a book that at least has a chance of being successful, which means writing about something you understand. Watching a sci-fi movie at the weekend with the kids might have given you an idea for a wonderful story, but the reality is that without the barest knowledge of the sci-fi world your book will just not resonate with your audience.
Love your subject
The first step in deciding what kind of book you should write is to consider what kind of book you like to read. If you love thrillers, or romances that might be a good genre for you to start with. There are no bad genres, just bad writers.
If you have too many plot ideas and don’t know which to start writing begin by listing all of the ideas you have in a good notebook. Keep this, regardless of which book you decide to start on first. A clippings and ideas book is essential for writers. Keep jotting down ideas and things that inspire you – not all of these will go on to become books, but some will have potential.
Once you have the ideas listed, go through them again and write a brief synopsis for each. This will give you an idea of which ideas will actually have the potential to become a book. It is no good having a brilliant start to a plot line, if you can’t ‘see’ how the story develops.
Once you have the synopsis down for each book see if the story has the key elements necessary to make a gripping novel. The story needs to have characters who will engage the reader and a plot that will keep them enthralled, the rest of the essentials, pace, time, setting etc can be worked on, but without the first two elements the book doesn’t stand any chance of becoming a reality. You will come up against problem after problem and give up which will waste vital time.
Get tough with those random ideas
Once you have your list of prospective storylines these can be gone through carefully to see which has the best potential to become a book. The reality of the publishing world is that sometimes even the best books just don’t resonate with readers – and equally, those who are thought to be sheer trash will sell in millions. An author therefore not only has to have bucket loads of determination, a hide like a rhino, but they also have to have great foresight to be able to predict what the book buying public will want to buy. The reason? In reality it’s going to take you a few years to write and edit the book and what is selling like hot cakes now will be so in a couple of years’ time.
Looking at what books are selling now is no help at all. Thrillers and romances will always account for a huge chunk of the market. The book you write should be the kind you like to read, but it should also be one that you can write knowledgeably about, or one that you can (and want to) research well enough to write knowledgeably about.
Write about what you love
Don’t write for the market; write for yourself. If you are writing for the market it’s because you want to sell a million copies, become rich and famous. But if you write for yourself it’s because there’s a story you need to tell. You want to write the kind of book you’d enjoy reading, and you want to share a bit of your soul with the rest of the world. So write from your heart, rewrite like the toughest critic, and be sure to tie up all your loose ends.
If you haven’t been put off the idea of writing completely – then write the sort of book you like to read, then at least you will enjoy the experience!
What about genre
The word genre is used to describe the categorisation of something, be it a book, piece of music or anything else. The word comes from a French word derived from the Latin genus which basically means type, or sort. With books it helps to understand which genre the book fits into in order to find publishers and readers. Everyone who is looking for a new book to read will generally go by a genre they know they enjoy.
Books are divided into a multitude of categories or genres, but initially they are split into two major groups, fiction and non-fiction
Fiction is the most commonly known genre. It encompasses everything from literary works to adult and children’s commercial fiction. Fiction is an imaginary scenario and characters, although a new genre auto fiction is about events which could be partially inspired by real-life events.
Fiction can be divided into a multitude of sub-genres but for the purposes of this book we have detailed the most popular, although there will always be a cross over of genres, with some fitting into more than one. A romance for instance set in a fantasy setting could be either romance or fantasy, but it helps to have some idea of the genres.
1) Romance: This is a huge genre which can encompass anything from historical classics like Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice to hugely successful Fifty Shades. The basic plot is the same regardless of the setting and historical dates of the book. There is a huge amount of emotional turmoil and eventually, after all appears to end in disaster and heartbreak, there is a happy resolution.
2) Crime/Thriller/Mystery Another hugely popular genre. These are a detective solving a case after many ups and downs. Thrillers aim to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, good guys battling villains, with fast paced action and suspense. These can also be phycological dramas about stalkers, obsession and the like. This genre is a great one for authors who enjoy detailed plotting.
3) Science Fiction: This genre is about time travel, plots that are set in space, battling aliens. Alternatively, imaginary worlds could be created, such as Jurassic Park. With romance there could be a cross over into the fantasy genre.
4) Fantasy: Think of magic and the supernatural, with the author creating worlds of their own, such as talking animals, people having magical powers – the Harry Potter series of course is the major player in this genre, although books like Alice in Wonderland would also feature. This is a hugely popular genre and encompasses many fabulous books. The writer can have a tremendous amount of fun world building, but it is important to take notes so the book retains its accuracy when it is being written.
5) Historical Fiction: These books are obviously set in historical settings, but can also encompass crime, mystery, romance and the like. Research is of paramount importance to ensure the book setting is authentic. Catherine Cookson made a career out of writing historical fiction and this continues to be a very popular genre.
6) Auto/Realistic Fiction: This genre is used by authors who want to portray autobiographical details, but put their own embellishments on the plot.
With genre there are a multitude of sub-genres which encompass every plot, but the above gives the basics.
The second major genre is non-fiction, which as the title says is real. There are fewer sub-genres with the most common being autobiographies which are memoirs written by a person. Biographies are of a person but written by someone else, usually with their co-operation, although not always. There are also dictionaries and a multitude of reference books including ones for cooking, gardening, guide books and the like. Self-help books would come under the heading of non-fiction and are a hugely popular genre. There is a huge market for self-help books, including self improvement, diet, child rearing and health tips. When writing in this genre it helps the authors Kudos as an author if they are already an expert in their field as readers are interested in what they say and will have trust that they understand their subject.
Genre is not important when you are starting to write, although it helps to understand which genre your book will fit into as there are certain criteria the book needs to fulfil in order to satisfy the reader. A romance, for instance, won’t go down well with a reader if the protagonists don’t get together with a happy ending by the final page. Equally readers of a diet book won’t enjoy the book if the author has no real idea about how to help anyone to lose weight!
Genre becomes important when you are selling the book as agents/publishers, or if self-publishing the e-book sales site will need to know how to place the book so that it can be found by the most readers.
If you are unsure of the genre your book fits into write a short synopsis of it and look at the synopsis of other books the one your book is most like is the category it will fit into.
It makes sense to write in a genre you enjoy reading, your voice will flow more naturally if you are writing something you are comfortable with, your mind will automatically follow the path of books you enjoy reading and which it is familiar with, so since writing can be so difficult it makes sense to make things as easy as possible for yourself to ensure you get the book finished.
There is a common statement which writers bandy around which says write the book you want to read. Don’t think about writing in a genre because you’ve read somewhere that those books are the most popular, your voice won’t be genuine if you are trying to hard.
How many words?
Way back in the darkest past when writers slaved over a hot typewriter it was assumed that a double spaced page with 1 inch margins would contain an average of 250 words, with most novels using 240 pages, so there would be an average of 60,000 words in most mainstream novels.
Now of course we are all bashing away on laptops which have all kinds of gizmos that authors 20 years ago could only have imagined – novels virtually write themselves!
Why do we need word counts?
Before e-books publishers needed a word count in order to work out the amount of pages needed in a book to work out publishing costs. I remember being horrified at having to slash 100,000 words from my 250,000 word first novel – characters and whole sections of the story were slashed and burned. Lucky for us that has pretty much gone out of the window. With e-publishing there’s no costs involved other than for your editorial and design needs.
Push out the boundaries
Generally though the number of words in a novel varies depending on the genre, although you can super-size if you want to – here is a rough idea though:- most mainstream fiction would be about 120,000 words, although many books would be half that depending on the type of novel you are writing. Supersize books of course can run to 250,000 and beyond, but, especially if you are writing your first book, stick to a managable amount of words so that you don’t intimidate yourself.
Even if you are writing an e-book and are not going down the traditional route of hardcopy publishing there is nothing to stop you having a nosy around the web sites of publishing houses and see what their submission guidelines say about word counts for the particular genre you want to write in.
As a general rule
Every genre has its own word count preferences, although these should not be seen as the definitive. This is e-publishing our brave new world where we are free to push out the publishing boundaries that have chained authors for so long! As a general rule novels intended for the adult market will be longer than those targeted at children and young adults. Children’s books are around 16,000 words, although simple boks for very early readers would contain considerably less than that. A young adult novel will run between 20,000 and 40,000 words. In terms of adult mainstream fiction, that length would be considered a novella. Anything over 40,000 words is considered to be a novel. A novella would contain 17,000 to 40,000. A novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words and a short story anything under 7,500 words.
Really for non-fiction the word count for an e-book depends on what you have to say and how you want to say it! A precise to the point text book could contain upwards of 10,000 words, but if you are going to the effort of publishing a book why not make it a good one and get lots of facts and detail in there to make it something your readers will really get their teeth into and enjoy reading – after all – that’s what it’s all about!
- Plot. Write. Sell. Chapter Two
- Plot. Write. Sell. Chapter four