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





1 reply
  1. scott spangler
    scott spangler says:

    Thanks for this little article. I recently finished reading Ironhold Station and I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading more of your stuff. I’m just making the foray into writing Sci-Fi and I enjoy reading little tidbits of wisdom like these. Now I need to read the rest of them. Thanks!


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