The 12-Part Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors

What this MWM Series is and what it is not. A beginner does not necessarily mean young – I was in my 50’s when I started writing novels! But if you are a quitter – this won’t work.

 

The Fiction Writing Process — For Beginning Authors

 

#1.  Develop Your Long-Term Support Team!

 

—In my case, it was my sister, Lura (her nickname is Wink). Wink read each rough Scrapyard Ship (my first book) chapter as they rolled out… Back then – some eight years ago – it was do-or-die time. We (my wife, Kim, and I) were broke. She was working double shifts so I could write.

Many beginner authors will find themselves in this situation. When you’re starting out there is no money coming in, and if you self-publish (as I do, on Amazon) you won’t see any money until after 60 days after your book is published… and that is IF your book becomes popular enough to make money. This business is not for sissies.

Again, that is why it is so critical to have support. Wink was always great at not only telling me what I needed to hear but telling me in such a way that I knew she really believed I had what it takes to succeed. That’s why she (and Kim) are always in my acknowledgments.

Early support from true cheerleaders is always motivating. Someone that will tell you – you are great! Find your person, or – even better – people.

Tell your support person (or group) what your motivations are and ask for help to get there. The more specific you are the better. I told my sister I wanted to write a book that was entertaining, that fit into the scifi realm, nothing too over-the-top technical – just a helluva lot of fun to read. I told my wife that I wanted to make a living writing books. Both were true motivations, and each person supporting me knew where I was coming from.

BE CAREFUL WITH WRITING GROUPS! These meet-up-type groups may seem like a great idea, but there is a caveat.  I tried them too. However, unconsciously, not everyone has your best interest at heart when they critique your work. Staying motivated is paramount – so keep the wind in your sails with equal parts positive feedback. Keep this in mind when accepting feedback as well as doling it out.

To recap,  try these steps:

Figure out your true motivations for being a best-selling Indie Author . . .is it fame, is it to express your creative talent and being recognized, is it money (it was for me).

Find your support team. Most likely they will be family members and/or friends.

Tell your support team the kind of support you need.

If your support team involves a group, make sure to keep an eye out for naysayers.

Be generous with your feedback when it comes to other aspiring authors.

When I was working on my first book I reached out to other best-selling authors in the sci-fi genre. I was bowled over by the responses I received. BV Larson sent me some suggestions and advice. Hugh Howey asked me to call him. H. Paul Honsinger sent me a message that I want to share with all of you.

But first, know this: it’s one thing to ask for advice from experts (and then get it!), but then, you must follow it!

Here is the response I received from Mr. Honsinger. I reached out to him through LinkedIn in July of 2013. He wasn’t the most popular of the authors I contacted, but his words had a huge impact on me.

Sadly, I recently discovered that he passed away last year after a month-long battle with COVID 19. This post – and the posting of this letter – is a dedication to him:

First of all, good luck on the venture. I hope you meet with every success. Based on my own experiences (and those of my wife, who publishes under the name Laura Jo Phillips) here is what we’ve learned.

1. Have a very clear idea what your market is (or markets are). For each market, you should have a list of authors whose books are similar enough to yours that the readers of those books should like yours. Then make a list of the defining traits of the books from the authors on each list. Make sure your book checks off enough boxes on each of your lists that it is going to be genuinely appealing to those existing markets. If it does not, seriously consider finding a way to work those additional elements in.

2. Your blurb should specifically check the boxes for the readers. Use key words that invoke each element. People who go looking for a book to read are looking for one that has what they want–you want your blurb to tell what the ingredients are so that people who are hungry for that dish know it will taste good to them.

3. Your cover art should be professional looking. It is better to be very simple and clean than to be complex and amateurish. Be sure it looks good as a thumbnail–far more people will see it as a thumbnail than as full size.

4. Your blurb and author bio must be perfect. Lots of people are wary of self published books because they are often poorly edited. If you misspell a word or have a grammatical error in your blurb or bio then readers will think that the book is going to be full of mistakes and many will avoid it.

5. Make an announcement to all your friends, all your facebook friends, everyone you can possibly reach, and try to persuade as many as possible–not only to buy the book–but to all buy it within the first day or two of release. If you can get 20 or 40 sales in the first day or so, you will break into the “Hot New Release” lists in your genre on Amazon, which will get some attention for your book. People will start reading your blurb and will download the sample–if it is good and if there is a market, your book will take off from there. If not, then the problem is probably either that the quality is not there or that you have not targeted the right market with enough precision.

6. Make sure that the first chapter or so is totally boffo. Do NOT get your first book off to a slow, leisurely start. People will download that first chapter or so and if it doesn’t grab them, they won’t buy the book. The prologue to my first book was an after thought. Originally, I started with the cocktail party on the Halsey and went from there. Once I got up to the encounter with the Krag Baggers, I thought I needed to get off to a faster start, so I went back and wrote the prologue. With the second book, you can be a bit easier on the gas pedal because you already have an audience, but if you can start off right away with a totally whiz bang action sequence, you are going to get the audience’s attention quickly. If you start off with an exposition dump about how your world and universe work and who runs the galaxy and what kind of power sources they have, you’re done for.

I get asked this same question fairly often, and I give this same advice to just about everyone. It’s tough advice, but this is what has worked for my wife and for me and when I’ve seen people fail in this business, they’ve usually violated one of these rules. My father, for example, a far better writer than I, wrote a brilliant Western Historical Novel (Fire Hair, by Harvey Honsinger). BUT, there is no market–it’s a historically accurate, realistic novel with lots of gunsmoke and horse sweat, but it’s got a female protagonist and a lot of the drama is internal marital intrigue, lies, etc. So, it’s not really a man’s book and it’s not really a woman’s book–it’s for women with strong male sensibilities or for men who have a lot of empathy and understanding for how women perceive the world. We all know how common that is. So, my somewhat clunky space operas sell more copies on a good weekend than his brilliant western has sold in the two years or so since publication.

Anyway, if you have any specific questions, I will be happy to try to address them as time permits. I wish you the best of luck and hope you have at least as much success as I have. BTW, if you want me to take a look at your blurb, I will be happy to do so and to comment on it–just understand that my comments, while not deliberately hurtful or sarcastic, will be very direct. If the blurb makes your book sound boring, I will say precisely that. On the other hand, I will also praise what I see as being good. Just be warned.

All my best,
Paul Honsinger

On 07/18/13 1:36 PM, Mark McGinnis – Avenstar wrote:
——————–
Hi H. Paul

Just wanted to say thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn. I’m 60K words into my 1st SciFi novel, Scrapyard Ship. Your Man of War books have a big inspiration, so thank you for that as well. I’m another guy over 50 who’s discovered writing can be more than a hobby. Any words of wisdom of advice prior to my publishing to Amazon next month?

Kind regards,
Mark W. McGinnis

 

 

 

 

WIN

I read a lot. And by read, I mean I listen to audiobooks. I usually scroll the best sellers list on Amazon and hope something pops up that looks interesting… something that I haven’t read before. Sometimes it’s rough… I read so much, that finding good material is like finding a clean bathroom in a frat house.

The other day I was walking through a Barnes and Noble, and a title that caught my eye in the New Releases section…. WIN, by Harlan Coben. I picked it up and it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in years. The main reason that this book had me hooked: humor. It was funny.

Not slapstick funny, or even self-deprecating, but sarcasm with just the right amount of ‘bad.’ In other words, I wouldn’t say it was mean-hearted. But WIN (the main character) is an unapologetic rich guy who happens to be good at solving mysteries, and that doesn’t involve doing everything by the book.

After that book, I searched his other books. I was hesitant to delve into others. I liked the Win character, and the other books had a different protagonist, a sports agent. But once I started it, I was glad I did. It had the same humor and Win actually popped in here and there.

So, why does humor work so well – and when doesn’t it work?

In my opinion. Good books need a likable, but flawed protagonist. Writing in first person helps with relatability and so when humor is thrown in it’s like you’re having a chat with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while.

The trick is what’s the likable part and what’s the flawed part. The guy (or gal) might make you laugh, but he’s arrogant. The difference with this guy is he knows he’s arrogant. He doesn’t apologize for it, but he warns you. He makes no apology for what he does, it’s just how he operates.

The arc appears in other ways. The guy may mistreat women. This is a less forgivable flaw. One he recognizes, and deep down knows he could do better. And then opportunities arise through the story for him to do better. Nobody’s perfect. And so, the relatable deepens, and the reader routes for him (or her).

The humor allows for character and story development. The way the guy thinks and his mannerisms and how he reacts, and, finally, how he verbally communicates, are all clues to who he is (and was in the past), why he does what he does, and how he fits into the puzzle of the story.

Good writing can be like enjoying a great meal. You love the secret sauce on your Big Mac, and love it when the buns are fresh. The pickles some like, but I prefer my meal sans those nasty green things, not funny or likable.

 

 

 

 

Kenny Rogers Getaway

 

Last week I had a much-needed getaway. It’s been harder to get out of town, but we decided on getting a cabin through Airbnb, and go someplace, like Estes Park.

The hiking/views were great, the cabin… not so much.

I took my laptop, planning on doing a little writing. But plans change. When we got to the cabin it was directly on a busy highway, and there was a small patch of dirt next to the highway (in front of the cabin), where we were supposed to park our car. One slight swerve from a semi barreling down the highway and our car would be toast. The traffic noise was so loud I recorded it, in case we might need it as evidence later.

We knew we weren’t going to stay there but went inside mostly out of curiosity. It was advertised as ‘cozy,’ but it was more like a tiny house or a Winnebago without the wheels. The first thing that hit me was the cooked onion smell. I immediately left, trying not to gag… not successfully.

We wound up getting a hotel room in town, a roomy suite with 2 balconies, each balcony had a view of the lake. It was a little dated, but it was luxurious compared to the cabin. And it was about half the cost of the cabin.

 

 

We had a not-so-great dinner at the hotel. Right before our main course came the lights went out. And they stayed out. Apparently, a transformer had blown. We wound up returning our meals. They were bad, and we could barely see our food or each other. We sat in our room for about 2 minutes (in the dark), then decided to return home.

This type of trip is what I like to call a Kenny Rogers getaway. You gotta know when to fold ’em.

Cold

I don’t like the cold weather. The last 3 days it was -8, and that’s too cold for me. So, I realize I need to look for the pros of the winter season in order for me to get on with it.

Here’s what I came up with:

More time to work, with fewer distractions.

Time to get caught up on cleaning out my sock drawer.

An excuse to buy a new winter coat.

Enjoying the fireplace I put in my refurbished basement.

Watching my dogs roll in the snow.

Catching up on my social media accounts, like GoodReads.

Enjoying a cup of hot mint tea with my wife.

I found this quote about winter that I kind of like (by Terri Guillemets), and I just wanted to share it:

The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.

 

What Do You Really Want?

As you all know by now, I love my dogs. Sammi is our 6-year-old golden retriever and besides being unusually shy, she is pretty typical for her breed… mischievous, and adorable. And like most goldens, she loves toys… of the stuffed variety.

She especially likes to grab one when she is about to greet someone, a peace offering.

When we go on walks she leaves her toys at home. There are lots of scents, other people and dogs, trees, and other things to keep her occupied. Yesterday we went for a walk on the trail behind our house and we saw that someone had put a mitten on top of a metal post that was in the field adjacent to the trail.

 

Sammi saw it, too. She thought it was a toy. She made numerous attempts to get it off the metal post but couldn’t quite get the job done. Then she saw something else and lost interest. In the end, it wasn’t something she really wanted… it was just a distraction.

Another life lesson from my dog, or just a mitten? Just a thought…

 

 

Happy New Year

Welcome, 2021. It’s been an interesting year. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person, but 2020 was a tough one. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on the news and hear more positive and a little less negative?

I, for one, am happy to say goodbye to the past 12 months. GOODBYE.

I’m not much for resolutions, but this year, I would definitely like to travel more. As a writer, I rely on travel, seeing new places, and meeting new people as a way to gain a new perspective, which helps with my process.

Where would I like to go? Italy is way up there. And although I may travel by plane sometime this year, I’m not sure Europe is on the agenda for this year. Tuscany is calling my name, but I remain cautious when it comes to infectious disease.

Another place on the top of my list is Kauai, Hawaii. I got married there almost 15 years ago and it is (and I don’t use this word often) magical. It happens as soon as I step off the plane – the feeling of calm washes over me. It doesn’t hurt when you’re met with friendly islanders offering leis. But, again, that’s a long flight… I’m not quite ready for that yet.

A road trip is definitely in my near future, though. This winter, my wife, Kim, and I will probably go to one of our new favorite destinations, Sedona, AZ. From Castle Rock, CO, it’s about 11 hours. Sedona is perfect between 40 and 60 degrees in the winter. The sun is usually shining and there are a ton of hiking trails.

Traveling will be a little easier this year because we found the perfect dog sitter, who will stay with them most of the time. Yes, I admit, our 3 dogs are spoiled. Kim and I both work from home and besides writing, my life pretty much centers around them. It’s all good, as the rewards far outweigh the responsibility.

 

 

Happy Trails, Mark