Novel writing tips

10 steps to writing a book: 100 writing tips (Part 2)

The first article in this two-part series shared 50 practical tips for the first five steps of writing a book, from finding a story idea to writing your first draft. Enjoy the second half of 100 writing tips, from revision to doing book promotion:

The first article in this two-part series shared 50 practical tips for the first five steps of writing a book, from finding a story idea to writing your first draft. Enjoy the second half of 100 writing tips, from revision to doing book promotion:

Step 6: Revise and edit your first draft

Once you’ve finished writing your novel’s first draft and had a brief, well-earned break, it’s time to get revising:

51. Have a revision plan

Just as you use a plot outline to stay on track and write the whole book, you need a revision plan that will keep you focused.

Sometimes it’s best to edit chapter by chapter, since you can make sure each chapter contributes satisfyingly to your main story arc and make sure each section transitions to the next smoothly. Block out time for revising each chapter and write yourself a list of questions before you start. Include questions such as:

  • How does this chapter contribute to the story arc (what is its point?)
  • Is there any section that could be more concise or flow better?
  • Are character motivations clear?
  • Am I giving readers a clear enough sense of place with setting description?
  • Would a first-time reader have enough information to make sense of the story, its plot and sequence of events?

52. Use helpful revision tools for writers

Online tools are very useful for revising. Copy and paste sections of your novel into Hemingway app to see whether there are awkward passive constructions you can change. You can also see elements such as the reading level of your writing – an important insight if you are writing age-specific fiction such as YA or Middle School.

A spelling checker in  a word processing program is helpful for catching out any basic errors or typos. Make sure you work through any words underlined in red so your manuscript won’t contain any easily-remedied mistakes.

A good online thesaurus is also helpful as it will help you find synonyms that enrich your writing. For example, if you describe a character trying to ‘navigate’ through waste-high mud, a verb for movement suggesting obstruction would be stronger. A thesaurus would help you find options such as ‘wade’, ‘push’ or ‘inch’ that better convey your character’s predicament.

53. Read through a full grammar and punctuation guide

Oxford essential guide to writing - 100 writing tips

Whether you choose the Oxford Essential Guide to Writing, Strunk and White or another credible manual, take some time to brush up on the mechanics of language. This will help you make sensible revisions that make your meaning and images as clear as possible.

54. Work from a printed copy

Screen fatigue and reading over the same text multiple times can make it easier to miss mistakes in your draft. If possible, print out your first draft so you can make edits or correct errors in hard copy. Then compare this edited version and make changes in your digital original, comparing print and digital versions.

Do this because it will help you to notice everything that isn’t working on the page.

55. Check that you have followed through on what your story opening promised readers

Once you have a complete draft, you can see whether your story as a whole delivers on promises the beginning makes to the reader. If the opening shows the discovery of a gruesome murder, for example, does the rest sufficiently explain what led to this situation?

56. Eliminate unnecessary telling

Janice Hardy’s excellent blog series on revising your novel in 31 days (a great supplement to these 100 writing tips) gives this as advice for day eighteen (it’s worth reading Hardy’s full post). For example, she suggests how to clear up ‘motivational tells’ that tell a reader why a character performed an action when showing said action is stronger:

‘Motivational tells explain motive, frequently before the character has even exhibited the action. For example, “To stop the mugger, John threw a rock at the guy’s head.” This tells readers why John threw the rock, explaining the action instead of showing it.

‘Look for ways to rewrite any motivational tells in a way that readers can guess the motivation by the way the character acts, thinks, or speaks. “John threw a rock at they mugger’s head. The man yelped and crashed to the sidewalk.” We can guess he threw the rock to stop him.’

Read Janice’s post for tips on replacing emotional and descriptive telling with more action-based alternatives too.

57. Track your changes

This should be standard practice if you are making substantial revisions to any piece of writing. Most word processing software offers some form of revision tracking (a helpful how-to on tracking changes in Microsoft Word is available here).

Alternatively, save multiple versions of your draft in folders on your computer or device labelled chronologically. Saving separate drafts will make sure that you can find any information you’ve cut that you may decide you want to include after all at a later stage.

58. Check that you have been consistent

When you revise, it’s important to have process work such as character sketches on hand so that you can make sure that you are consistent with your characer names and other details throughout your novel.

To make sure that your book is internally consistent, ask:

  • Does each characer look, act and sound the same at the end of the book as they do at the start? If not, is the reason for his change implied or explicit and understood?
  • Has each character’s goal remained constant (and if not are changes in goals explicable via plot events?)

Besides making sure you are consistent in terms of story, also make sure the nuts and bolts of your draft are consistent. For example:

  • Does every chapter heading use the same structure?
  • Are pages consistently numbered or not?
  • Is formatting consistent (amount of indentation, line-spacing and so forth)?

59. Make sure there is enough of a hook in every chapter to keep readers entertained and curious

When you revise, it’s not enough to just make sure that your story makes sense: It needs to entertain, too. Ask yourself whether there is enough of a hook in every chapter to keep readers invested.

Keep each chapter interesting by introducing conflict (a disagreement between characters, for example – it doesn’t have to be major) and/or suspense, new questions about the outcome of your plot or subplots or a new character. Ask yourself if the chapter has revealed enough and kept enough secret to make the reader want to know more about what happens next.

60. Rewrite until you know what it is you’re saying

The famous author John Updike said ‘Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.’

As you revise and rewrite, focus on this ‘message’ element of your novel: What is it trying to say? What are its themes? What is the point of what your character experience and what they learn in the process? Keep these thoughts as you revise so that the craft of your story, the way you present elements such as plot and characterization, supports what you’re saying.

Step 7: Get helpful feedback from others

Feedback from other is a crucial part of completing a novel. An external perspective will help you see the parts of your book that aren’t working that you’ve become used to passing over:

61. Join a constructive feedback group

There are multiple benefits to joining a writing group:

  • You’ll get constructive feedback from readers and writers of all experience levels (this will help you see how to give your writing the broadest possible appeal)
  • You’ll find a mutual system of support that will spur you on to finish writing your book

62. Get a professional editor

Once you have had some helpful feedback from your writing group, you might want more detailed insights from an experience book-editing professional. There are many reasons to get a professional editor to go over your revised draft:

  • A skilled editor who knows the book market will be able to pinpoint weak points that could lessen the likelihood of your book finding a willing publisher
  • An editor will help you turn your draft into the best possible version of your story while it still retains your unique voice
  • A substantive editor can make developmental suggestions that will improve the overall cohesion and impact of your story

Because many publishers will only read submissions that pass through a reputable editor and/or agency, it’s important to invest in making your book stand out from sloppier submissions.

63. Ask critiqe givers useful questions

When you appeal to your writing group for feedback, make sure that you guide feedback with questions about your work, so that you stand the best chance to get useful insights.

For example, if you submit a chapter in which a colossal argument takes place between two main characters, you could ask critique providers:

  • What do you think of the dialogue. Is it clear which character is angrier or the better arguer?
  • What do you think I could do to make this argument more [violent/bitter/one-sided/etc.]
  • Does the cause of the argument seem plausible?

Directing feedback this way makes sure that neither you nor your feedback givers’ time is wasted.

64. Stay focused on the actionable part of feedback

It’s important to remember that not every piece of feedback you receive will be tactful or 100% useful. If another member of a writing group trashes your work, dig through for any objection that is similar to kinder critiques – there could be a pattern suggesting that an area of your writing needs attention, be it scene setting or showing character motivation.

65. If you need clarification regarding feedback, ask

If you get feedback on your fiction that doesn’t entirely make sense to you, always ask rather than discount feedback or make a change you aren’t sure about.

Also remember that if you’re in a critique community and give low-detail, vague feedback, other writers will probably respond to your writing with the same. So remember to give the depth of feedback you’d like to receive.

66. Focus on specific elements of writing in your group and workshop them

In your writing group pick a focus area to discuss each week or month (if you meet less frequently) because this will make sure everyone is working around similar goals and can share helpful ideas. For example, if your writing group spends a week discussing dialogue, reading other members’ dialogue and discussing this element of craft will give you inspiration for better character conversation.

67. Make sure you get feedback on each element of your own writing

To truly improve your first draft and write a taut and engrossing novel, make sure you get feedback on each area of writing. Explicitly ask for feedback on:

Getting useful feedback in all these areas will ensure that you don’t develop one aspect of your writing to the exclusion of others.

68. Get your work into good shape before you seek feedback

This is important advice K.M. Weiland gives on her writing blog. If you show your writing group or writing coach writing peppered with typos and other mistakes you could fix yourself, you won’t give them as much time to focus on the elements of your story that matter – your story arc, character development, setting description or scene structure.

69. Learn to separate criticism from critique

Sarah Peck gives this useful list on the differences between criticism and critique distilled from an article by Facebook’s design team :

  • Criticism passed judgement, critique poses questions
  • Criticism finds fault, critique uncovers opportunity
  • Criticism is personal, critique is objective
  • Criticism is vague, critique is concrete
  • Criticism tears down, critique builds up
  • Crticism is ego-centric, critique is altruistic
  • Criticism is adversarial, critique is cooperative

All writers have to develop thick skins for the former. When you send a story out into the world, there will those who find fault, those who find opportunity, and those who find sheer magic. The whole point of getting critique is that you can polish your writing until the third category grows.

Even though criticism adopts a non-constructive approach, you can still separate the objective insights from the subjective, personal impressions and gain insights. But focus 90% of your energy on feedback that falls on the right-hand side of the list.

70. Prioritise which feedback to implement

Learn to use feedback wisely. If you have received feedback from a group, prioritise issues according to what the largest number of people reported. If four people thought your character’s sudden, inexplicable passion for horses came out of nowhere, don’t rank fixing this below that one line of dialogue someone found clunky.

Step 8: Polish your manuscript

After you’ve revised and rewritten and received feedback, there may be some gremlins left over in your manuscript. Take time to polish your manuscript and make sure that you convey your story as economically and smoothly as possible:

71. Start from the large-scale overview and work smaller

When you’re polishing your manuscript, as Deonie Fiford advises, it’s wise to start with polishing the large-scale structural elements and work down to the smaller ones. Starting with a view of your novel as a whole will prevent you from getting stuck on going over small details at the outset.

Fiford’s advice is sensible:

‘Try and read the manuscript through once – in its entirety – without stopping to fix anything, without even a pen in your hand. When you get to the end, jot down all the thoughts you had. This is how an editor reads a manuscript when they’re doing a structural edit – because it allows them to get an idea of the overall structure of the work without becoming distracted by the smaller details.

‘At this stage you should be looking at the overall arc of your story – does it have a satisfying beginning? Are there any plot gaps? Is anything confusing? Are there unnecessary parts (like a character or a sub-plot)? Also, think about the overall voice and point of view. When you write down your first impressions, remember to include positives. It’s very easy to be critical, but it’s important to focus on the things that you’ve done well. You can use these elements to then build on the areas that aren’t working as well.’

72. Eliminate unnecessary words that obstruct flow

There are several words and phrases that clutter up your sentence without actually adding any meaning to the sentence. Lit Reactor has a good blog post outlining some of these.

‘In order to’ is one culprit. Use ‘in order to’ only if simply writing ‘to’ would create ambiguity (e.g. ‘I told her in order to see what she wanted’). If you write ‘I told her to see what she wanted,’ it’s ambiguous whether the narrator is telling something so he can determine the response or is saying he instructed the woman to see or decide what she herself wants. In this case, ambiguity could be avoided simply by saying ‘I told her so I could see what she wanted’ for the former.

73. Burnish your prose in every line

Making your writing glow with a polished finish means making sure there isn’t a single awkward line. One element to avoid is the clumsy repeated word. For example ‘She ran to the bus stop, but it was too late. The bus was already pulling away. She sat down at the bus stop and cried.’ Here the repetition of the words ‘bus stop’ and ‘bus’ creates a leaden, clunky effect. It could be rewritten as ‘She reached the bus stop too late. As the vehicle pulled away she flopped down and burst into tears.’

Vary rhythm and word choice to make your final manuscript vital and lively.

74. Read through your manuscript in reverse

This might seem strange advice, but often the latter parts of a book receive less attention since we read and revise from start to finish. This means that the greatest concentration and energy is often reserved for fixing and polishing first pages.

Read the chapters of your novel in reverse order once you have a final draft and make sure that you note any errors, awkward syntax or scene strucure along the way. Changing the order of scenes you work on will help to stop you glossing over significant mistakes you might have become blind to through habitual reading.

75. Cut some of your favourite words

Most of us have words and phrases we love. Yet sometimes you might overuse the same descriptive word or phrase to the point that it becomes noticeable. Keep a list of words and phrases you tend to use often and cut and replace instances throughout your manuscript so that there is enough variety.

76. Make sure your descriptive writing appeals to the five senses

Great writing is vivid because it helps us picture everything it describes. When you polish your final draft, make sure that setting appeals to each of the five senses. What do characters see, smell, hear, taste and touch? This type of ’embodied’ writing will place your readers firmly in your fictional world.

77. Keep your audience in mind

Even if your writing is technically good, it must still also appeal to your chosen audience. If you’re writing for a YA audience, your vocabulary should not be so flowery that the average reader has to sit with a dictionary nearby.

While you polish your manuscript, keep your intended audience in mind and make sure that you are speaking to them and their interests on every page.

78. Let your manuscript sit before your final pass through

Even after you’ve revised and rewritten, it’s wise to give your manuscript time to sit. Leave a week or two and focus on other tasks. Grow your author blog in preparation for promoting your book or line up author interview opportunities (if a publishing deal or self-publishing schedule is already set). Then return and give one final read through to make sure every comma and period is in its place.

79. Rewrite the first and the last page

If you have written multiple drafts (as many successful authors do), still leave more time to rewrite the first and final pages of your novel. Only write both once the rest of your book has been shaped into its final form and you have read through the entire manuscript at least once. This will help you pull together all the disparate threads of your novel into a satisfying opening and closing sequence.

80. Pick a strong title and (re)write chapter headings

Only once you have a final version of your manuscript will you know everything you need to choose a title that encapsulates the content and spirit of your story. Think of popular novels’ title structures for inspiration. For example:

  • Titles combining abstract and concrete nouns (A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin is a good example)
  • Single-word, strong titles (e.g. Beloved by Toni Morrison)
  • Titles borrowed from great literature (e.g. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, borrowed from a line from King Lear by another William; Shakespeare)

Be aware that if your manuscript is greenlighted by a publisher, you might have little to no say over the final title, depending on your book contract.

If your book has chapter titles, make sure that each chapter heading adds something or creates a note of intrigue. You could structure every chapter title similarly or make each different. For example, in E. Annie Proulx Pulitzer-winning novel The Shipping News, many of the chapters are named after types of knot (e.g. ‘Rolling Hitch’ and ‘Love Knot’). Others are simply character names (‘Quoyle’) or scene locations (‘The Upholstery Shop’). Make each chapter title relevant to its content. That way chapter titles:

  • Signpost where the reader is in the story
  • Arouse interest about the content and subject matter of each chapter

Step 9: Submit to agents and/or publishers (or self-publish)

Once you’ve polished your prose to make your writing sing, it’s time to submit your manuscript to agents and/or publishers, or go the self-publishing route:

81. Know the publishing scene

To start out with a clear sense of your manuscript’s options, survey the publishing scene. Identify:

  • Who the major publishers in your genre are
  • What their submissions processes are
  • The budget you will need for promotion and other publishing-related expenses
  • Which agencies have the best track records for helping aspiring authors land book deals

Learn the above because it will help you prioritise where to focus your relationship-building efforts.

82. Find a great agent (if you are serious about big 5 publication)

If you are serious about seeing your novel published by a major publisher, it’s wise to enlist a competent agent’s services. Most of the major publishing houses (such as Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) do not accept queries or unsolicited manuscripts and advise working through an agent. Simon & Schuster advises using to find a reputable agent.

83. Go with a smaller publisher that sees your value

If a larger publisher doesn’t yet see your value, this doesn’t mean that a smaller publisher won’t. Margaret Atwood advises authors to go where there talents are appreciated in her blog post sharing advice for writers.

There are multiple advantages to choosing a smaller publisher:

  1. You have a higher chance of publication (if your book is good and has demonstrable market appeal), especially if your novel is a niche subject pitched to a smaller publisher with niche interests.
  2. Positive sales figures attained via small publishing runs can be leveraged to pitch publishers in the future.

84. Master the art of the pitch

Top publishers, editors and agents receive scores of pitches daily, so make yours stand out. See our guide to writing a strong and concise pitch for your novel here.

84. Weigh up the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing

Indie author platforms such as the Amazon KDP store make it possible to sell your own novels direct without a publisher. You will still need:

  • A plan for how you will promote your book (via social media, digital and/or print advertisements, public appearances, etc.
  • Professional cover design, typesetting and editing
  • An ISBN number (depending on where you want to distribute your book – not all merchants require one)
  • You can find a full, detailed article on self-publishing via Jane Friedman’s blog here

The pros and cons of indie publishing:

  • Pro: Complete executive control over the appearance, pricing, title and other elements of your novel
  • Pro: Complete ownership of rights and revenue
  • Pro: Control over how and where your book is distributed
  • Con: Lesser access to the extensive book industry connections many publishers offer that aid promotional efforts
  • Con: More admin work for you than if a publisher were to share publishing responsibilities
  • Con: Having to build all your reputation yourself (as opposed to benefitting from the exising brand visibility of being carried by a recognisable publisher)

86. Plan how you will add to your first book with additional publications

Many writers aim to write a series from the outset because series help you to establish author visibility. Once you have multiple, compelling novels listed, readers who’ve enjoyed a first read will seek out subsequent or previous titles. Ideally, your publishing plan should include how you will continue to publish for the next few years.

87. Show publishers how you will contribute to book promotion

Today’s publisher wants to see that you are positioned well to promote your book and contribute to the marketing process. Spend time establishing your social media following and author website even before you pitch your manuscript, so that publishers can see you are no stranger to audience building. That way publishers will see you are prepared to share the book promotion process.

88. Keep an eye out for publishing drives and contests

Periodically, major publishers run contests to find the next big thriller, historical fiction or romance author. Keep an eye on publishing industry news and if you have a manuscript that you think might stand a strong chance of winning the contest, submit! Keep submitting, too. On any occasion you receive personal feedback, note anything that will help you improve.

89. Get involved on the publishing scene

If you are serious about becoming an author, it makes sense to get involved in your local publishing scene. Industry events such as writing conferences are not only great for meeting established editors, agents and publishing house representatives. They’re informative in their own right.

Jane Friedman advises also understanding the backgrounds and niche interests of publishing professionals attending your chosen writing conference so that when it comes to question time you can ask questions that will give you priceless insider publishing insights.

90. Do your research

Margaret Atwood on publishing a novel

Friedman’s advice for attending writing conferences also applies to pitching any publisher, be it a major publishing house or a biannual magazine. It’s always a good idea to do your research before you reach out to busy industry influencers. Says Margaret Atwood:

‘If submitting to an agent, magazine, or publisher, have a digital file… But first, do some research. Who are their present-day authors/clients? Are they remotely like you? If not, maybe try someone else?’

Step 10: Promote your published book

Once you’ve successfully published your book, the task remains to promote it so that you amplify its reach and build your book audience:

91. Promote your novel across the blogosphere

Creating a blog on your personal author website is a useful strategy for building an audience. You can intersperse candid articles on the experience of writing your book with helpful guides for other writers that draw on your own publishing experience. Whenever you publish a novel, you can create blog posts around it, focusing on subjects such as:

  • The inspiration for your book
  • The drafting, revising, editing and publishing process
  • Any interesting research you uncovered in the process of writing your book

Also outreach to fiction writing blogs that cover your genre and set up author interview opportunities. To see whether a blog is worth your time, check social following size to make sure there is an audience that is positioned to read and share your interview or guest post.

92. Use social media like a marketing pro

You can’t afford to ignore the promotional power of social media. A visual platform such as Pinterest or Instagram lets you share details such as cover design or visual quotes from your book with links to online stores where interested readers can buy copies.

Use social media networks such as Twitter for building relationships with other writers and book promoters who will help get the word out about your book. Read a detailed guide to using social media for authors by Chuck Sambuchino here.

93. Find public reading opportunities

Connecting with book lovers face to face is still one of the best ways to build a reader base. Find out about public reading opportunities at local events such as prose open mic evenings or library festivals. Get involved in your local book community and build relationships.

94. Entice readers with promotions and giveaways

Giving away chapters of your book for free or at a drastically reduced price can be effective for acquiring new readers who might not otherwise take the risk on a less established author. Make sure you announce your promo on your blog, on your social media channels, and schedule author interviews or guest posts to coincide with your giveaway for maximum reach.

95. Use video websites creatively

Video sharing websites such as YouTube and Vimeo provide another way to connect with a potential audience. You could create a book trailer that shows off your cover design, features you reading an extract from your book and includes text snippets of positive reviews by first readers.

In recent years, video content has become a more and more impactful way to reach a wider audience. As your book gains traction, you could also use a live video promotion to answer readers’ questions about your book or writing process.

96. Start or join a relevant Facebook discussion group

Facebook groups are still a great way to connect with other readers and writers. If you’ve written a gripping fantasy series, find fantasy-related Facebook groups that are open to new members or create your own and begin inviting other fantasy authors to join and discuss their reading and publishing experiences.

97. Don’t seek career validation through promotional success or book sales

This book promotion advice from Jane Friedman is essential. Remember that no matter whether you sell 1 book or 10000 books, the actual achievement itself of writing a book from start to finish and telling your story is a major achievement.

What’s more, this experience has equipped you with the skills and tools you need to keep writing better books until you write a book that is capable of being a publishing phenomenon. No matter what people say about writing talent, becoming an author is 90% persevarance.

98. Build an engaged audience via your author newsletter

Create meaningful relationships to promote your next book. A great way to do this is to use your blog to grow a newsletter and share helpful, valuable insights with readers. Friedman advises this in her post on book promotion, and Now Novel can also vouch for this approach. Our newsletter reader base gives feedback on articles on the blog that helps us improve our guides and how to articles as well as our author coaching services.

Show an email sign-up form prominently so that readers who appreciate your unique writer voice will be more likely to return and engage with you more. Often these readers with whom you’ve established a close relationship will be the first to purchase new books.

99. Develop a thorough book promotion plan and budget

To promote your book successfully, you need to put the same level of planning into your promotional strategy as you put into crafting a book outline. Develop a book promotion plan that covers all the ways you will spread the word about your book. Include a calendar for tasks you will complete in each of these areas:

100. Keep building and persevering

To grow your profile and get your novels noticed, you need to make building your audience part of your constant online strategy. It’s not enough to suddenly spring to life on social media every time you have a new publication coming out.

Remain active and share other authors’ work when it is relevant and engage in relevant discussions about your genre or the publishing world. With perseverance and dedication, you will build up a following that cares about the same aspects of fiction writing as you, an audience that will organically help to promote your next novel.

We hope you enjoyed these 100 tips on the 10 steps to writing a book. Ready to write your own novel? Start now with the step-by-step Now Novel book-writing process.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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