The answer I usually give is: “It depends”. I’ll explain what I mean after I run through some important background information…
A famous writer was asked how hard it was to write a book. He said: “It’s easy. I just sit at my desk and I write until it’s done.” Of course, he was being disingenuous, but the underlying message is that if you know what you’re doing and if you put the effort in, you’ll succeed.
Another author said that writing a book was “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration”. I’d personally change that to include 50% perseverance. Once you get started on your book you have to stick with it until you’ve succeeded. That really is the only way. There’ll almost certainly be problems licking your story into shape.
Words of Advice: You can make life much easier for yourself by using the right technology. Using the wrong software can actually make the job even harder. The software I and most other successful novelists I know use is the Marshall Plan, created by author and editor Evan Marshall.
This system started off as a series of books based around a rather complicated set of instructions for plotting and character-building. Lucky for us, everything is now contained in apps available for both Apple OSX and Windows. Believe me, this software makes the job of writing your novel at least 50% easier, especially for genre fiction like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Science Fiction.
What Should I Write?
Before you can begin you have to decide what you are going to write. This applies whether you are using book writing software or not. The first very basic decision to make is Fiction or Non-Fiction? I’m guessing you’ll already know the answer to that one, but if not, now is the time to make up your mind.
I always try and copy success. To see what’s selling right now, go to Amazon.com and look at the bestsellers (you can follow that link, which opens a new page). When you arrive, you’ll see something like this:
These bestsellers change on an hourly basis and include printed books as well as Kindle eBooks. You’ll see that the page is divided up into three columns. In the centre is the up-to-date list of best-selling books on the Amazon.com website. These include all categories. On the left is a menu of the categories, like Arts & Photography, Literature and Fiction, Romance, and so on. Click on the genres that most interest you to narrow down your options.
The third (righthand) column is a series of promotional recommendations like “Hot New Releases”, “Movers & Shakers”, and “Most Wished For”. You can ignore these for now, though your aim will be to eventually to get your finished novels listed here.
Always Copy Success
You should take a closer look at titles in the categories that interest you. Follow the links and look at the reviews. Take advantage of the “Look Inside” feature to read the first few chapters. This will give you an idea of what people are currently buying.
No one knows for sure how many each title is actually selling, but an author I know had a Mystery novel in the top 500 sales ranking and he was selling over 200 books a day. This was earning him an average of $1,000 every 24 hours. That’s a thousand reasons a day that could make writing a book worth your time and effort!
Words of Advice: Listed in no particular order, the bestselling fiction genres on Amazon are currently Romance, Erotic, Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult, Science Fiction and Horror. I suggest you make a close study of the bestselling books in your chosen genre. Readers have their expectations (eg paragraph, chapter and book length; narrative style; lead characters; style of language; and so on) and successful will authors meet these expectations. Unsuccessful authors will blunder in and begin writing a book that the target reader will not be comfortable reading or recommending.
Always try and meet your target reader’s expectations. Take time to decide who your typical reader might be. What is their age range, their gender, their country or countries, their level of education? Do research and make it as accurate a description as you possibly can. When you have done that, write with that particular person in mind. Obviously you should try and make your target as wide as possible: there might not be many one-legged Russian pole-dancing males, aged 65-80, buying eBooks from Amazon.
Story Structure and Plotting
It’s sensible that you know how stories should be structured, but it’s not essential that you become an expert, especially if you are using the Marshall Plan book writing software. No app can write the entire novel for you, but it can help you tease a great story out of thin air by knowing what questions to ask.
Usually novels are structured into three acts. Very basically: the beginning, the middle and the end. Usually there’s a big change in the lead characters’ situation at the end of act 1, something else big happens in the middle, and then at the end of the middle section – before act III – things look really bad for the main guy. That’s how most movies and novels of the past 50 years have been structured.
Story structure is quite a complicated subject and experts like Robert McKee and the late Syd Field put together $1,500 weekend seminars teaching professional writers how to do it. I’ve written a well-received eBook called How To Write The Million Dollar Story and you can buy it at Amazon for around $5. It summarises the main theories and puts it all into easy to understand language. You might want to check it out.
Words of Advice: If you’re going to write for Kindle, I suggest you don’t aim to write a single one-off novel, you plan a series. You will have noticed when looking at the Amazon bestsellers that a very high proportion of the books that are selling best are grouped with other titles by the same authors. This is because it’s a great way to market using the Amazon website to help you. The basic premise is that it’s easier to sell three books to one person than it is to sell one book to three people.
This means you can plan the three books in a series from the get-go. As with a TV drama series like Breaking Bad or 24, each episode (or book in your case) should contain a self-contained story, with the narrative progressing during the entire series. Make them good enough and your readers will come back for more. That is the secret of successful Kindle marketing.
Planning A Series of Novels
When you come to see how the Marshall Plan book writing software works, you’ll see that many of the decisions who have to make apply just as well when your planning a series as they do for a one-off novel.
Let’s look at the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Your lead characters of Holmes and Doctor Watson recur all the way through. The overall opposition is Professor Moriarty, though individual stories often have subsidiary villains. The landlady Mrs Hudson is a constant, as are brother Mycroft Holmes and the Inspectors Lestrade and Stanley.
As you’ll see in the next section, the Marshall Plan software for novel-writing means that a series is in many ways easier to write than a single standalone novel. Again, if we copy success we stand a better chance of succeeding. It’s no accident that Holmes and Watson became such iconic characters or that most detective stories repeat their chemistry.
That’s not to say that Agatha Christie copied Conan Doyle with her Poirot and Hastings, nor did any of the dozens of other famous examples of detective and “less clever” sidekick. It’s such a good way to write a story, especially in the Mystery genre. Use this example. Just make sure they are your own creations and not thinly-disguised examples of what has been before.
How Marshall Plan Novel Writing Software Works
When you first go into the software – which is pretty easy to download, even for a wuss like me – it’s good to take a look around. You’ll find tabs for story idea, plot tips, character profiles, and subplots They all come with lots of tips and hints on what to do and when. Features I wasn’t expecting include a directory of nearly 8,000 names, complete with meaning and origin, plus a section offering dozens of tips for self-editing your manuscript.
So, let’s get started. To begin a book with the Marshall Plan, you have to create a novel template. You then have to adapt it for your particular story. Because I’m writing a series, I always begin with three templates and title them 1, 2, 3. For example, if my series is about a vampire hunter, I might call the three templates “vampire-1”, “vampire-2” and “vampire-3”.
You then input your genre, word length and other variables. If in doubt, I suggest you follow the lead given by the book writing software: it’s been programmed to help you succeed.
You then get to define your lead character and give him or her a goal. If you are planning a series you should keep in mind your overall goal, but enter the goal for just this novel. For example, if you are writing a series about post-nuclear survivors, the goal for the first book might be that your lead characters reach a location where they hope to discover help (whether they do or not is up to you!), and the goal for the entire series might be that they set up a new community that is safe and thriving.
And that’s how you do it… simply adding information when you are asked. Of course, you will have to stop and work stuff out from time to time, but you’ll be surprised how much simply flows on from the previous answers. In many cases, you will encounter obstacles you never thought about, but the software helps you solve those easily and painlessly.
Nothing is set in stone and you can easily alter anything as you go along. Believe me, I speak from experience when I say that doing it this way is far better than discovering some huge problem when you’re not using book writing software and you’re halfway through writing your novel. This is what used to happen to me when I was writing without the Marshall Plan. It’s no fun having to rewrite a novel you’ve half written because of a simple plotting mistake. Some people don’t even spot glaring errors until they show it to someone else — and that’s even worse!
Words of Advice: My favourite aspect of the Marshall Plan novel writing software is the way it can kickstart you when the dreaded “writer’s block” sets in. Click on almost any tab and there are helpful instructions and tips on where you might want to take your story. They’ve given me quite a few “lightbulb moments”, I can tell you.
People who say that using software like this leads to formulaic writing and bad novels, are just wrong. When you use an app like this all you are doing is allowing ideas and influences into your writing. It’s like having a teacher standing over you, making suggestions and helping you write.
I genuinely thank my lucky stars someone took the time and trouble to develop this software. It makes my life as a writer so much easier and more simple. Here’s a quick Youtube video showing how to use it:
Alternative Book Writing Software
Search in Google for and you’ll find plenty of software that claims to help you write your novel. Some, like YWriter5 and Storybook, are free. The problem is, you get what you pay for. You’ll find it hard to discover any successful authors who recommend apps like this. Why? Because they usually are too simple to be of much use, or have some flaw in them; maybe they’re even trying to sell you something else.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty nervous entrusting my precious novel and the huge amount of work involved to software I downloaded for free or a few dollars off the Internet. I honestly don’t know why anyone would create complicated software for free and in the back of my mind is a little voice telling me “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Maybe I’m just being over-cautious, but caution is the best advice toI can give when talking about the hours and hours of work that go into creating a novel.
It’s true that the Marshall software isn’t the cheapest on the market. So, what do I say when people ask me questions about whether one or other of the “alternative” options are worth buying? It’s simple: you should always buy what’s best and avoid throwing money away on something that’s not as good. The Marshall book writing software costs $149 and has a 30 day money-back guarantee. I saved more than that when I wrote my first novel using it.
I’ve tried many of the “alternatives” (it’s my job, after all) and many people I know have tried yet more, and we all agree that there is only one option we would spend our money on and only one option we are happy to recommend: that’s the Marshall System. If you can’t afford it then hang on to your money until you can. Here’s a link that takes you straight to the Marshall Plan website.