Putting Together an Indie Novel: From Concept to Completion, Part I

Guest Post by Michael Rothman

 In this article, I plan on covering how an Indie author would go about taking an idea for a story, and cover some of the primary items an author should consider when they begin what might be a massive undertaking. Since there is a good amount of data that I’ll be covering, this article will be split into two bite-sized sections. The first covers topics such as knowing your audience, novel research, and realistic time allotment. All the things necessary when you consider writing that first draft.

The second part will cover the logistics of the publishing process: the author/editor relationship, creating of a book cover, acquiring an ISBN, and formatting of your manuscripts. I hope by the time you’re done reading the second article, you have a fair idea of what to expect, and sufficient pointers to get started on going from concept to completion.

For many would-be authors, the task of writing a novel may seem daunting. Let’s face the facts that 95% or more of the people who start writing a novel never finish.

“Why?” you might ask.

Well, I certainly can’t speak for most people — heck, I can barely speak for myself, but I do have a few opinions on the matter. A lot of this has to do with lack of pre-work and not realizing the investment of time that is required.

Let’s speak briefly about some of the things that a typical author needs to consider when they initially undertake the writing of a novel-length book.

  • Initial Concept
    • Most books start with a concept, some kind of idea that makes the author go, “Hmm! I’d love to write a story around that.”
    • That’s usually the easy part.
  • Who is your audience?
    • Some elements of what come next really depend on your audience.
      • Some people are confused about who they are writing for. Let’s realize that you are unlikely to write something engaging for a 2nd grader that is also entertaining for a college-age student. Your novel is unlikely to target everyone, so keep in mind what the demographic of the typical reader is that you are shooting for.
      • The age of your audience affects some of the things you have to worry about as an author. For instance, if you are writing for young children, they might be quite forgiving that you don’t know the difference between an arc-welder and a brazing torch.
    • Understand that if you are writing for certain age groups, there are taboos.babies
      • The easiest example is the introduction of certain mature topics in a children’s book. For instance, if you are writing MG, the concept of alcohol use is usually a no-no. I’ve had people criticize my work because I had thirteen-year-olds holding hands and give an occasional kiss on the cheek, with lots of blushing tossed in. Most people in the United States don’t realize how puritanical their audience is.
    • Many caveats are cultural. Sometimes we can’t help but stumble into things that are considered rude in other cultures. For instance in Thailand, if you touch someone with your left hand, that is somewhat equivalent to sneezing in their face. It’s considered unclean and rude.
  • Research
    • The older the audience, the more likely you are to have to research some things. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t experts in thirteenth century metalsmithing. However if you are going to write about someone who is a metalsmith, you can be guaranteed to find yourself being critiqued by readers who have been doing that stuff for forty years and feel you’ve maligned them in some core way by incorrectly describing the annealing process.
    • The thing to be certain about is your accuracy in the concepts you describe, and maintain a level of consistency across your story. If you are inconsistent, people will catch it and you’ll lose readers’ interest quickly. An example would be if Sonja’s hair is blonde in one chapter, auburn in the next, then back to blonde for the remainder of the story without any explanations. You’ll have readers harp on you incessantly. Rightfully so.
  • Organization
    • Architects vs Gardeners
      • How you organize your story is a somewhat religious topic amongst authors. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson use the terms architects and gardeners when describing how people organize or plan their stories, and I think that’s a very fair way of describing it.
      • As an architect, you tend to create an outline of sorts (the level of detail varies) which plots the inevitable storyline that you are creating. I find that this method is very useful for going through the mental exercise of where your story is going, and helps you avoid the pitfalls of writing yourself into a corner. Like Brandon, I happen to be one of these types, and can lay blame for my natural proclivity for it on my engineering background.

        Stephen King, gardener.
        Stephen King, gardener.
      • As a gardener, you start with a beginning and oftentimes a destination, and you grow the idea of your story more organically. You aren’t sure where it will take you, but you start writing and you continue to write until your story hopefully comes to a satisfying conclusion. I suppose the risk of this method of writing (which MANY people swear by) is that you are more prone to writing yourself into a corner. You might find a thread in a story that, once written, you realize doesn’t fit the rest of your overall book and either needs to be scrapped or rewritten.
    • As an architect, you’ll typically end up with a bunch of research, storyboarding, notes and miscellaneous fodder to begin the writing process.
  • Doing it
    • Time
      • Most people don’t realize how much time it really takes to write a novel. It’s easily hundreds of hours, minimum, for an average 90,000 word novel. That’s why people oftentimes start, get a couple pages into it, maybe a chapter or two, then discover that they really enjoy fishing instead.
    • Real Life
      • Your real life must be able to support the time required for doing it. This means that family has to be supportive of your investing time away from them. Let’s not forget most authors have a day job when they are starting out. Heck, many authors have been publishing books for decades and never stopped their primary job.

Now that you’ve gotten to this point, as an indie author, there are several logistical hurdles and processes that you need to undertake to go from the first draft to a distribution-ready book. We’ll discuss those at length in part II of this write-up on Friday.

Mike has had a long career as an engineer and has well over 200 issued patents under his name spanning all topics across the technology spectrum. He’s traveled extensively and has been stationed in many different locations across the world. In the last fifteen years or so, much of his writing has been relegated to technical books and technical magazine articles.

It was only a handful of years ago that his foray into epic fantasy started, but Mike is a pretty quick study. He’s completed a trilogy, has a prequel under consideration with editors, and is actively working on another series.

In the meantime, if you want to see his ramblings, he lurks in the following social media portals:
Twitter – @MichaelARothman, Facebook, his blog, and his books.


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