Grammar Series: All About Punctuation

Grammar Series: All About Punctuation

Everyone knows when to use a period, but what about those punctuation marks scattered throughout your manuscript? Understanding their use might be the difference between a well-crafted book and a poorly written one. Punctuation doesn’t have to be painful if you know the difference and when to use it. When used correctly, it can elevate your writing.

Let’s take a trip back to grammar school, shall we? These basics might seem elementary, but they’re oh-so-important, and it never hurts to brush up on your grammar skills. Here, we’ll break down the most commonly used punctuation and when and how to use each.

Comma

Commas separate clauses, such as two independent clauses or an introductory one. You’ll find them often before a conjunction like “and,” “but, “yet,” and “or.” Not sure when to use it? If the two clauses could stand alone as separate sentences, you can combine them with a comma.

Example: She drove to the store, and then she went inside.

(No comma: She drove to the store but it was closed.)

Likewise, use them between items in a series or list.

Example: She went to Target, Macy’s, and Home Depot.

The Oxford Comma, also known as a serial comma, is the comma that comes before the last item in a list. Highly debated as to the necessity of this punctuation mark and can vary between languages (such as British English and American English), but technically, there’s no right or wrong way. It depends on style preferences. When in doubt, ask your editor. Here are two examples:

He visited France, Italy, and Germany. (with serial comma)

He visited France, Italy and Germany. (without serial comma)

Semi-colon

Oh, the notorious semi-colon. This often misused, misunderstood punctuation mark causes writers many a headache. Often used to replace the word “and,” it combines two closely related thoughts. Perhaps a more concise way to eliminate the need for an extra word when you don’t want to separate into two sentences. Another common use is to separate detailed lists where a comma would be confusing. It also can precede words like “however” and “therefore,” as in the examples below.

Example: He loved golf; however, he wasn’t very skilled.

Example: Let’s go to the store; I need to buy milk.

Example: They visited Orlando, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Colon

Unlike some punctuation that can serve various purposes, colons are mainly dedicated to offsetting lists, bullets, or a series of items.

Example: At the store, we need to get the following:
Milk
Bread
Eggs

It also can be used to summarize a sentence. In these instances, the word after the colon is typically capitalized.

Example: She felt two things when she entered the room: Cold and nervous.

Hyphen

Let’s clarify one thing: Not all dashes are created equal. (See what we did with the colon there?) Hyphens are the smallest of dashes and used for two primary purposes. First, use a hyphen to add a prefix to a word, such as ex-husband and re-enter. Next, use a hyphen to make a compound word like high-rise and mother-in-law. Here are two more examples.

Example: The two women were co-authors of the book.

Example: The children rode the merry-go-round at the park.

 

Dashes

What separates dashes from hyphens is their length (dashes are longer) and their use. Here’s an easy way to remember: En dashes (–) are about the width of an N, and Em dashes (—) are about the width of an M.

En dashes show ranges, such as page numbers, dates, and times. However, en dashes are often replaced with a simple hyphen.

Example: I’ll book you from 2:00–3:00.

Example: Please read pages 56–61.

On the other hand, em dashes show pauses or breaks in the sentence, much like commas. They help offset a side thought, as in the example below. Their use is very much a stylistic preference; some writers prefer them to commas or vice versa.

Example: Starchy vegetables—such as potatoes and corn—are high in antioxidants.

You can also use an Em dash to cut off a sentence or dialogue.

Example: “Did you pick up the—”
“The dry cleaning? Yes, I did.”

Parentheses

These curved brackets represent an explanation or afterthought as part of the sentence. They’re often interchangeable with em dashes. Use them to enclose supplemental information, such as comments and digressions.

Example: The students (and their teacher) went on a field trip.

Example: Using proper punctuation is hard. (But don’t say that to your editor.)

Notice how the entire sentence, including the period, is inside the parentheses.

Quotation marks

Quotation marks indicate the spoken word or something that is a direct quote. They’re used in pairs, meaning that if you start a quote, don’t forget to close it at the end. In most cases, quotation marks always go outside the punctuation.

When quoting within a quote, use single quotation marks. For example, if the internal quote comes at the end of the sentence, you will end up with single and double quotation marks side-by-side.

Example: Mary said, “My teacher said I’m one of her ‘favorite students.’”

Example: “Summer is my favorite season,” Johnny said.

Finally, use quotation marks when mentioning shorter works, such as essays, short stories, and poems.

Example: My favorite short story is “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Apostrophes

Apostrophes indicate possession. Who’s car is that? It’s Bob’s car. (The car belongs to Bob.) When the subject is plural, the apostrophe goes after the “s.”

Example: The student’s desk.
The students’ desks.

Use apostrophes to create contractions. For instance, “can’t” instead of “cannot.” Contractions help make your writing more concise and improve the overall flow.

Brushing up on grammar basics is a quick and easy way to be sure your writing is up to par. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned writer, there’s never a wrong time to review proper punctuation. So keep this guide on hand or bookmark it as a go-to reference for your next writing session, then come back for more grammar guides as we strive to make your work shine.

Grammar Series: Tighten Your Writing For Conciseness

Grammar Series: Tighten Your Writing For Conciseness

Concise writing is a skill that takes time and practice, but it’s worthwhile because it means your finished book will be much better. Why? Because concise writing is easier to read. Also, readers can quickly spot a book written by an amateur. It may sound as easy as cutting words to get to a lower word count, but conciseness is about much more than length. It’s a style and ability to set your work apart. So, just how do you tighten your writing for conciseness? Read on for 11 tips you can implement today.

Cut unnecessary words

Yes, this is the most obvious suggestion for tightening your writing. Cutting unnecessary words, or employing brevity, will instantly produce tighter copy. Take a look at a sentence and ask yourself:

  • “Is there a shorter way to say this?”
  • “Is every word here necessary?”
  • “If I remove or change a word, is the meaning still the same?”

Often, there’s a shorter way to say the same thing. For instance, “she nodded her head,” can be tightened to “she nodded.” The head is implied (Do you nod anything aside from your head?). Keep the following mantra in mind: Less is more. Aim to write less and say more at the same time. It sounds contradictory, but strong writing will follow this approach.

Avoid jargon

Knowledge of your audience and language is essential. Jargon, or overly technical vocabulary, might cause a reader to put a book down. Don’t be tempted by the power of thesaurus to throw in complicated words. The average novel is written between a 7th and 9th-grade reading level.

Simpler is better

You’ve heard the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. When in doubt, simpler is better for word choice, sentence length, etc. Why write “utilize” when you can say “use” (Hint: Did you know there’s a Microsoft Word tool that gives you statistics about your document, including average sentence length and reading level?)

Write in active voice

There are two main voices in writing: Active and Passive. You want to write in an active voice because it is considered stronger and more direct. An easy way to check your active voice is to ensure the subject is acting. You can recognize it by thinking, “Who did what to whom?” Here’s an example:

Active: The teacher passed out the exam.
Passive: The exam was passed out by the teacher.

See the difference? It’s a minor tweak but has a major impact on your writing. Many writing softwares can scan a document for passive voice, which is a great chance to catch it.

Check your adjectives and adverbs

Writers love adjectives and adverbs because they help describe your subject or setting. It’s fun to see how descriptive you can be, but all the exposition can get a little wordy. Try to cut a few qualifiers here and there to see if your description is still evident but in a more concise way. Adverbs are often unnecessary, and a stronger verb gets the same point across. Instead of “he ran quickly,” you could say “he dashed” or “he sprinted,” which implies quick running.

Remove unnecessary punctuation

If you’re a word person, chances are you love extra punctuation, such as colons, semi-colons, and dashes. However, setting a clause off with punctuation only increases the sentence length when it might have been possible to cut the sentence length or eliminate the clause. Re-read the passage to see if it’s necessary or if you can insert a period instead.

Remove “start to”

Did your character “start to stand,” or did she just “stand”? Did he “start to stir the pasta,” or did he just “stir” it? In most instances, “start to” is unnecessary and can be removed.

Do you really need “really”?

She’s really pretty. He’s very tired. Try replacing “really” and “very” with a stronger verb. Eliminating a descriptive word will greatly help brevity.

Use contractions for flow

Fiction writing should be natural, like how a person would speak. Contractions are more conversational and help with the overall flow. For example, instead of “I cannot come tomorrow,” say “I can’t come tomorrow.”

Cut a few dialogue tags

He said, she said. Yes, readers need to know who is speaking in a scene, but only some dialogue tags are necessary. When characters go back and forth in conversation, you don’t need to include their names each time. Once every couple of lines makes the scene flow easier and helps tighten the writing. However, it’s important to use tags when a new character enters the conversation or if there’s a big gap, such as internal thought or description.

“That” is a problem (sometimes)

We use the word “that” a lot because we believe it gives more specificity. In reality, many sentences can stand alone without it. Read the sentence and remove “that” — does it still make sense? Here’s an example:

Sara thought that the play was boring.

Sara thought the play was boring.

Now you have a better idea of writing concisely and how to achieve it. So, get your manuscript out and start revising! The finished product will be better for it.

What to Expect When Working with Page Publishing

What to Expect When Working with Page Publishing

Since 2012, Page Publishing has provided thousands of authors in all genres the tools and services they need to publish their books. We know the publishing process can be daunting, so we strive to make publishing your book as easy and stress-free as possible. Because we are a full-service publishing house, we take care of everything from copy-editing to the distribution and marketing of your newly published book. Our experienced staff will ensure that your book is free of grammatical errors, has eye-catching designs and illustrations, is professionally printed, converted into an eBook, and is available in stores and online for purchase. Let us handle all of the intricacies of publishing your book so that you can focus more on your passion, writing.

We have broken our publishing process into four steps:

  1. Editing: We review your book, page by page, checking for grammatical errors, redundancy, and consistency to ensure quality work.
  2. Design: Our artists will create an inspired cover design and illustrations that fit your vision.
  3. Print & eBooks: Your finished publication will be professionally printed with the necessary ISBN and barcode and converted into an eBook.
  4. Distribution and Marketing: We will assist in distributing and marketing your book to retailers nationwide.

Unlike other publishing companies who may request your manuscript and then go MIA for weeks, we keep you in the loop during each stage of the publishing process. When you become a Page Publishing author, you will be assigned a publication coordinator who will work with you and be your main point of contact until your book is on the market. Your publication coordinator will be available to address any questions or concerns throughout the process. They aim to ensure that you understand each step of the process and have a positive publishing experience from start to finish.

Full Copy-Editing

All authors know the importance of copyediting, but it’s not always enough to proofread your work. Having an extra set of eyes to review your writing is essential. That’s why we have a team of experienced editors to review your manuscript, page-by-page, checking for grammatical errors, spelling errors, word usage, sentence structure, redundancy, and inconsistencies. Our editors edit according to the Chicago Manual of Style but can utilize any method you prefer. Of course, we want your book to be everything you imagined, so you will have the final say on any edits we suggest.

Inspired Designs

We have all heard the phrase, “never judge a book by its cover,” but an intriguing cover design can turn some heads and grab the attention of potential readers. We have a team of highly talented artists who can help add life to your publication. Whether you want vibrant colors, black and white, illustrations on every page, or a clean and simple layout, we will work with you to make your vision come to life.

Page Layout

When reviewing each page of your book, our artists will implement elements of style, including font size, font choices, margins, and paragraphs, to ensure the consistency of headings, titles, and chapters. In addition, we optimize all photographs, illustrations, or drawings to enhance the reading experience. A visually appealing and easy-on-the-eyes layout is crucial to a book’s readability and success.

Illustrations & Children’s Books

If you are a children’s book creator, you know how much impact excellent and engaging illustrations can have on your finished product. We have created thousands of unique illustrations over the years. Our highly experienced team of illustrators will work closely with you to create anything your imagination desires.

Print & Ebooks

After our artists have provided your book’s flawless design and layout, it is ready to proceed to the printing process! First, we will obtain the ISBNs and barcodes for the printed copy and the eBook. An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique set of numbers used to identify a specific book, typically above or below the barcode. Your ISBN will list you as the author and Page Publishing as your publisher. While an ISBN and barcode are not required to sell your book, stores will not stock a book without them, so they are considered necessary.

Printed Book

Your book is finally ready to print! You have multiple copies of your book to share with friends, family, and the public. We know that you are excited to get your book out there and share your work with others, so if you need more copies, you can purchase them at a generous wholesale discount under our Author Discount Program.

eBook

After you approve your book for print, our team will convert it into an eBook. An eBook is an electronic version of a printed book, allowing readers to read your book on a computer or handheld device. We will convert your book into the formats for Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindles, Barnes & Noble Nooks, and Google devices. We want to ensure your book is available to readers in multiple formats.

Distribution and Marketing

Your book is finally finished! But what next? We will provide you with a customized author web page hosted on the Page Publishing website. Your author web page will display your book’s cover design, book synopsis, and direct links to platforms selling your book, so it’s easy to purchase.

Publicity

You will be assigned a publicity team. Your team of experts will prepare press materials based on the information found in your About the Author summary and book synopsis. We send your press materials to a targeted priority list of print, broadcast, and online media contacts for local, regional, and national companies.

Distribution

Your printed book will be available nationally and worldwide; your eBook will be available through all standard eBook stores, including Apple iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play. In addition, our team will provide you access to sales reports via the Page Publishing Author Portal and ensure you receive your generated royalties.

Become a Page Publishing Author

Let us help you through the publishing process and get your book out into the world. Our goal is to provide a stress-free and easy publishing experience and to offer continued support after your book is on shelves. We love to see “writers” become “published authors” by the end of their journey with us. So, if you want to become a Page Publishing author, contact us today!

What Is an ISBN and Why Do I Need One

What Is an ISBN and Why Do I Need One

You’ve seen these numbers before, whether on the back cover by the barcode or on the copyright page. But do you know what ISBN numbers really mean? And more importantly, why should you, as an author, care? Let’s take a close look at ISBN numbers and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique, 13-digit number that’s used to identify published books. Until 2007, ISBN numbers were only 10 digits, but with the explosion of self-publishing, they’re now extended to 13. This string of digits isn’t just a random combination—each ISBN follows a set formula for simplifying identification and cataloging books in databases. But what does it mean? Here’s how a typical ISBN breaks down:

  • Prefix: This is either 978 or 979 and is the code for “books,” signifying that this set of numbers refers to an ISBN.
  • Language/Registration Group: Books written in English are identified with either a “0” or “1.” Books translated from English to another language will require a separate ISBN.
  • Publisher: Each publisher has its own code. You can find or search for publisher numbers through the Global Register of Publishers.
  • Publication Info: The next six digits represent the book’s title, edition, and format.
  • Check Digit: The last digit, which is mathematically calculated to validate the ISBN. It is often “0” or “1.”

ISBN numbers are required for all physical books if you want your book to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores or available in libraries. Booksellers will not accept books without being able to process them in their systems, and that requires a registered ISBN. The good news is that once you have an ISBN, it can be used internationally and it never expires. However, it cannot be reused, meaning that once you assign an ISBN to a book, you can’t go back and change your mind.

So how do you get an ISBN? There are two ways authors can secure an ISBN for their work.

  1. Provided by publisher or platform. Traditionally-published authors and authors who work with hybrid and small presses should be assigned an ISBN, which the publisher purchases on the author’s behalf. Many self-publishing platforms, such as Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital, offer free ISBNs. One caveat to Amazon’s free ISBN is that you will then be required to list Amazon as the publisher.
  2. Purchasing your own ISBN. Some independent authors prefer to purchase their own ISBNs through Bowker (MyIdentifiers.com). Owning your own ISBN means that you can publish “wide” rather than exclusively with Amazon. However, ISBNs aren’t cheap—a single ISBN from Bowker costs $125. For authors planning to write more than one book, the best deal is to purchase a bulk package of 10 ISBNs for $295. Since they don’t expire, you can hold onto them for use on future projects.

As mentioned, ISBNs are needed for physical books, but authors should also remember that they need a different code for each version of their book, including paperback, hardback, different language translations, large print, etc.

So, you’ve got your ISBN and assigned it to a book—great! But, what if something changes? (Because there are always changes in publishing!). Covers are sometimes updated for branding purposes, or prices are changed for promotions and sales. Does that mean you need a new ISBN? No. Thankfully, small changes like those are okay. However, there are a few instances where a new ISBN is needed (which is where purchasing the bulk set of ISBNs comes in handy):

  1. Any new version or variation of the book. This would include publishing a large print edition, foreign languages, and paperback vs. hardback.
  2. Additional material added. Small grammatical edits are fine, but if you add new chapters, the book now needs a new ISBN and may be considered a second edition.
  3. Formatting updates. This would include changes to the binding, or if the book is re-published in another trim size. For instance, paperback vs. mass market paperback.

Common questions about ISBNs

Does my ISBN provide a copyright for the book?

No. ISBN numbers are completely different from copyright and trademarks and are used for classification and identification purposes only. Authors own the copyright to their work if/until they sell rights to a publisher. From there, copyrights are administered by the Library of Congress.

Is an ISBN the same thing as an ASIN?

No. ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) are used by Amazon exclusively. These 10-digit numbers are alphanumeric and help Amazon manage products sold on its platform. On the other hand, ISBNs are the universal number for identifying a book. Books sold on Amazon will have both. But ASIN numbers are not necessary to include on the cover. Remember, if you want to sell your books in physical stores, you will need an ISBN, not an ASIN.

Is an ISBN the same thing as a barcode?

No. These two things are often placed together on a book’s cover, but they’re not the same. The barcode is the set of vertical lines used for scanning the item into the point-of-sale system. It includes additional information, including the price and currency in which the book is being sold. Together, the ISBN and barcode hold all the identification of the book. Self-published authors can purchase barcodes at the same time as their ISBNs from Bowker, whereas others will opt for a free barcode from their self-publishing platform, or be given one from their publisher.

Key Takeaway:

Understanding what an ISBN is and how it’s used is important for all authors regardless of publishing path. However, self-publishing authors may need to be even more informed and aware of their use, whereas authors with a hybrid publisher can cross off one additional thing from their to-do list.

Types of Publishing Paths

Types of Publishing Paths

Publishing Paths Explained

You want to write a book. Or, you’ve already written a book (yay!). One of the most important things you need to decide is what publishing path is right for you. Here, we’ll break down three of the most common routes to publishing, including pros and cons, so you can make an educated choice based on your personal needs and wants.

1. Traditional Publishing

What most people think of when it comes to book publishing, this path is the oldest and most established. Some familiar names in this category are known as the Big Four publishing houses: Penguin Random House (which recently acquired Simon & Schuster), HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan, each with their own imprints for various genres.

Traditional publishers work on an advance pay system, meaning that they take on all the financial risk up front, and pay the author an advance (lump sum) to buy rights to the book. An author will make royalties on each sale only after they earn out their advance.

Unlike generations ago when authors could reach out to publishers directly, traditional publishing today requires a literary agent. The agent works on behalf of the author to secure a publishing deal, and in turn, takes a cut of the sale (typically 15 percent). This middleman is an important and necessary step in the traditional publishing path—but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Literary agents get pitched thousands of books a year from authors seeking representation, and only a small fraction are actually signed.

Similarly to the Big Four, many small presses work within the same traditional model. The difference here comes down to budget: Most small presses don’t offer an advance. However, the upside is that many will accept queries directly from authors, without the need for a literary agent.

Pros of traditional publishing:

  • Best distribution for your printed book. If you want your printed book in bookstores, it is more likely with traditional publishing.
  • Possibility for additional opportunities, including foreign rights, film options, and licensing deals.
  • More media attention. You’ll have a better chance for coverage, visibility, and reviews.

Cons of traditional publishing:

  • Loss of control. When you sign a deal with a publisher, you give up your rights to the book, in turn allowing the publisher to make final decisions on things such as cover design, title, and more.
  • Slow timeline. Traditional publishing is notoriously slow, meaning you could wait years before your book even comes out.
  • Difficulty in securing an agent. Before you can even think about working with a publisher, you must achieve step 1, which is to sign with an agent. In today’s crowded landscape, this is becoming harder and harder.

2. Hybrid Publishing

An emerging path, hybrid publishing is also known as “assisted publishing,” wherein authors pay a company to help them publish their book. Authors fund the entirety of publishing in exchange for the expertise of the publisher. This model works for people who have a budget, and who aren’t interested in the business of self-publishing.

There are a variety of hybrid publishers, some of which have better track records than others. One thing authors should consider is whether the publisher has a vetting process or manuscript evaluation. This will differentiate a true hybrid (which carefully reviews books) from a vanity publisher (which will publish anything regardless of quality).

Pros of Hybrid Publishing:

  • A higher guarantee to get your book published. There’s no extra hurdles to jump through in terms of securing a literary agent. Once your contract is signed, you’re set. Plus, it’s a shorter timeline than traditional publishing.
  • More control. You have more input into the editing, design, and book title.
  • Less stress. You’re essentially paying for all things to be taken care of in terms of formatting, design, and production.
  • Higher royalty percentage than traditional publishing.

Cons of Hybrid Publishing:

  • Less likely for printed books to be in brick-and-mortar stores. Most hybrids publish with Amazon, while some work with several eBook providers and a few have agreements with large distributors, such as Ingram.
  • Less media attention. While there are marketing packages, many authors will be expected to do a lot of the promotion themselves.
  • Requires investment from the author.

3. Independent / Self-Publishing

Unlike decades ago when your only hope of publishing a book was at the mercy of a publisher, the internet has changed the game, allowing authors to publish themselves. Self-publishing, or “indie publishing” refers to authors who manage all parts of the publishing process, from editing to design and even distribution. Some authors have experience in these facets, while others will hire out services such as formatting or cover design. Still, when it comes to publishing the book, the author remains in full control.

Some of the most common platforms for indie publishers include Amazon KDP, Nook Press, Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Books. Authors have direct access to publishing tools and print-on-demand services, making it feasible to set up physical and eBooks on their own.

Pros of Self-Publishing:

  • Full control. As an indie author, you make all the decisions when it comes to your book, from artistic choices like cover design and title, to business decisions like when to release, pricing, where/how to market, budget and more.
  • Little upfront cost. Most platforms are completely free to set up and publish a book. The money factor comes into play for marketing and promotion, or if you need to hire experts for services.
  • Highest royalties.

Cons of Self-Publishing:

  • You’re in charge of everything. While total control is appealing in some aspects, it can also be overwhelming.
  • Distribution is difficult. It’s hard to get self-published books into bookstores or libraries.
  • Less mainstream media attention, including coverage and reviews. It’s up to the author to market the book (or hire a publicist).
  • Easy to rush. With publishing a click away, it’s tempting to want to rush the process. But indie authors should take the time to produce a professional, quality book with a strong marketing plan in order to increase their chances of success.
Where to Start When Writing a Book

Where to Start When Writing a Book

It’s said that roughly half of Americans want to write a book, but only about fifteen percent actually start that book, and even fewer complete it. If you’re among this percentage who have a book idea but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll cover all the details of writing a book, including everything from story development to the nitty-gritty of timing and even post-writing steps. Use this handy guide to jumpstart your creativity and get your book project off the ground. Because at the end of the day, only YOU can write your book. Stop waiting—it’s time to turn your dream into reality.

What type of book do you want to write?

In general, fiction refers to stories created from the author’s imagination. The plot, setting, and characters are made-up, and while they can sometimes be based on actual events, the details are fabricated or used as inspiration. Most novels, novellas, and short stories are categorized as fiction.

On the other hand, non-fiction books are factual and focus on actual events, including history, biographies, self-help, business resources, and more. Moreover, these books are objective, reporting the truth rather than stretching it.

An intriguing combination of fiction and non-fiction is a category referred to as narrative non-fiction, which uses elements of fictional storytelling to make non-fiction books compelling and dramatic. Creative non-fiction is a newer trend gaining popularity for both writers and readers.

Now that you know the difference between the categories let’s dive a little deeper into fiction and talk about genres.

Common Fiction Genres

What’s a genre? When it comes to fiction, stories are put into sub-categories based on style, plot elements, and tone. Here are the most common fiction genres:

Literary Fiction

Works of literary fiction are character-driven rather than plot-driven and focus on the inner character’s journey. These books are often considered highly artistic and don’t necessarily follow the typical format or tropes of genre fiction.

Mystery

Mystery novels follow a detective or law enforcement as they try to solve a case. Stories often center around a case or crime, and the duration of the book drops hints to resolve all questions by the conclusion.

Thriller / Suspense

Thrillers are plot-driven, suspenseful novels that typically have dark elements. They keep readers turning pages by utilizing cliffhangers and twists.

Romance

Romance novels center on the relationship of two people, with a lighthearted storyline that reaches a satisfying conclusion. These books can range from steamy to clean and sometimes include the sub-genre of “chick lit.”

Historical

Historical fiction transports readers to another time and place from the past. It’s a vast category, including everything from the beginning of time through recent history. As a result, historical novels require extensive research into the time period, especially if they involve real people and events.

Science Fiction / Fantasy

Sci-fi is a broad book category that includes elements, not from the real world. This genre is speculative fiction and dystopian fiction, which explore imaginary universes, time travel, futuristic settings, and worlds without boundaries.

Horror

Horror novels include ghosts, demons, monsters, and more, with the intent of scaring or shocking readers. These books make readers’ hair stand on end and create unease while reading.

Magical Realism

Unlike sci-fi/fantasy, magical realism centers on the real world with magical elements sprinkled in. The imaginary elements are considered normal in the setting of the story.

Developing a Story Idea

Maybe you have a fully fleshed-out story in your head. Or you only have a few details in mind. One doesn’t need to look far for story ideas. Consider what’s going on in the world. Can you take a current event and put an imaginary spin on it? Look to your own experiences, or those of a friend or family member, then use those ideas as inspiration. Always ask yourself “what ifs” and let your mind wander to explore new ideas.

Once your story idea is solidified, start brainstorming titles. Many writers wait until the book is complete to give it a title, while others have a title in mind from the get-go. Either way, make sure the title is a reflection of the book and genre in which you’re writing. Research other books in your category to get a sense of style and trends, but don’t feel chained to them.

Elements of a Good Book

When it comes to crafting a readable, engaging novel, a few elements are considered crucial.

Character

Character development includes building primary and secondary characters that have depth, personality, and relatability. Their motivations must be clear, even if the reader disagrees with them. It’s essential to avoid “flat” characters—those that are presented at the surface level. Instead, aim for three-dimensional characters who feel rounded with strengths and flaws. Part of character development involves laying out the character arc and the transformation (internal journey) throughout the book.

When writing your cast, beware of cliches, which make characters less believable and can turn off readers. Instead, try to make your characters truly unique, just as all people are in real life. Of course, in your story, these rules apply to both the heroes and antiheroes (antagonists). But, believe it or not, even villains need to be well developed.

Conflict

There’s no story without some sort of conflict—this is what creates the plot. Something needs to happen to the character to set them off on their journey. And let’s be honest: No one wants to read a story where nothing happens. Conflict creates agency, which propels the story forward. It can be external or internal—everything from an asteroid pummeling toward Earth, or an affair rocking a marriage. Pacing your novel often depends on the type of conflict. Will your book be a slow burn? Or a runaway train barreling toward the end?

Tension

Conflict and tension work hand-in-hand. Beginning with the inciting incident (the event that sets the plot in motion), tension is crucial to keep the pages turning. You want readers to continue wondering what will happen next, how the conflict will get resolved, and whether the characters will get what they want. So, whether the tension is external or internal, keep the stakes high, constantly toying with what the character stands to lose.

Overall Theme

Some novels are purely for entertainment. However, others weave essential themes throughout the story, including the importance of family or friendship, the power of self and identity, sacrificial love, good versus evil, and many more. Sometimes books are tied to cultural movements, such as feminism or equality. In all of these cases, one of the author’s goals is to make the reader ask, “What is this book really saying?” Is there some sort of bigger or deeper meaning? If so, make sure it fits the genre and reader expectations.

A few more technical details

Point of View

Before you start writing, you should decide which point of view you want—that is, how you want your narrator positioned. First-person POV uses one (or more) of the characters as the narrator. The book will use “I” statements (“I did this,” “I said that”). First-person is considered closer, so the reader can get into the character’s head. On the other hand, third-person POV is where the author narrates from a more distant view, using “he/she” statements. Within this POV is the omniscient approach, where the narrator is all-knowing and can move freely through all characters’ minds.

There is no right or wrong when choosing a POV. It’s primarily a personal choice or one dictated by trends within genres. Some authors feel more comfortable writing one POV over another. If you’re unsure, try writing a scene in each to see which comes more naturally and feels right for the story.

Word Count

How long should my book be? It is a common question new authors face, and the good news is that there are standard guidelines based on genre. Generally speaking, novels range from 60,000 to 100,000 words. However, readers have come to know certain genres for specific lengths, particularly Sci-Fi/Fantasy, which often reaches up to 120,000 words. Some historical novels often lean toward the higher end due to world-building and extensive research. Anything less than 60,000 words would fit into the novella or short story category.

How long will it take to write my book?

This question is very personal, depending on many external factors like jobs or family needs. There are, however, a few ways to set yourself up for a streamlined writing process:

1. Research Phase

Even if you’re not writing historical fiction, every story requires some research. It could be coming up with ideas, character development, or even reading comp books. Other books require extensive research that could take significantly more time.

2. Outline Phase

Some authors consider themselves “pantsers” in that they write “by the seat of their pants.” On the flip side are plotters, who function best with a plan and outline. Determine where you fall and what level of outlining makes sense for you.

3. Drafting Phase

You’ve made it to the fun part—it’s time to write! Of course, no book is complete after a single draft, so be prepared to revise and edit many times (you could end up with four, six, or even ten drafts!). With that in mind, the drafting stage varies from author to author, depending on how much time is dedicated to writing. Some can produce a first draft in weeks, while others take months.

My book is done—now what?

Once you’ve drafted and revised (and revised some more), it’s time to get outside eyes on your manuscript. The first step is to find beta readers. These are readers who will read your book and provide big-picture feedback. Beta readers are not typically compensated for this service—they do it because they are avid readers and enjoy helping writers. Find betas outside your circle, meaning people who can be objective and unbiased (don’t use family and friends!).

Many authors are part of critique groups, where writers exchange manuscripts for review and feedback. Gathering opinions from average readers and experienced writers is a great way to cover all your bases. In addition, critique partners can view a manuscript with an eye for craft and mechanics.

Finally, all books should go through professional editing before publishing. Developmental editing looks at the manuscript’s structure and involves an in-depth analysis of what’s working and what’s not. Copyediting and proofreading go line by line to catch any typos and grammatical errors. All of these services can be hired out by professionals and freelancers.

Are you ready?

You’ve got the idea. You’ve done the planning. And now you know all the ins and outs of writing a book. So what are you waiting for?