Want to Write Popular Novels? Here’s How to Start!

Writing Novels That Sell with Adrienne deWolfe

I was reading a marketing statistic recently that said that 50,000 new Kindles are purchased every month by readers around the world.

That’s mind-boggling! To give you some perspective, in the old days (as recently as 2000,) a midlist paperback novel in the Romance genre may have had a print run of only 35,000 books – total. And Romance is the most popular category of adult commercial fiction in the world!

With the growing popularity of e-readers, the potential reading audience for your novels is growing astronomically. The days of having your audience (and your income) limited by the costs of printing and shipping are rapidly fading into the past. That’s great news for writers!

But the emerging electronic market has also opened the door for a lot of poorly written commercial fiction to get formatted as “e-books.” This trend has made many readers leery about investing money in a novel that was written by an unknown author.

If you goal is to write profitable books, you need to attract tens of thousands of readers, who are happily spreading the word about you and your novels via their iPhones or their social media networks. You also need these readers chomping at the bit to buy your next book.

So how do you start?

You write a good book.

Here are five tips that will get aspiring authors headed in the “write” direction:

#1. Read Voraciously in Your Sub-Genre (“Niche Market.”)

If you want to establish yourself as a commercial fiction writer, then you need to understand who your target readers are and why they read the types of books that you want to sell.  You won't do yourself any good financially or career-wise if you write a novel that nobody wants to read.

Every category of commercial fiction has sub-categories. You need to be an expert in yours. Don’t assume that because you’ve read one Space Opera (for instance), you’ve read them all. For market research purposes, read at least 30 books that were published by new names in your sub-category over the last 2-3 years. Reading books that bestsellers were writing 10 years ago isn’t going to help you understand market trends in the 21st Century.

#2. Take an in-depth course on novel structure from a successful, commercial fiction author.

Most creative writing courses that are offered at American colleges teach how to write literary fiction. This is an important distinction, and must be understood. In literary fiction, the writer’s primary goal is to indulge in self-expression; consideration of the reader’s taste is secondary. Literary storylines are rife with angst, and endings are not often happy.

The primary purpose of commercial fiction is to entertain the reader by evoking feelings. Endings tend to be happy (the guy gets the girl, the world gets saved, the murder gets solved, etc.) A commercial writer’s style appeals to the common man; and thus, a broader range of readers. Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thrillers, Westerns, and Horror novels are considered Commercial Fiction.

#3. Set writing goals and stick to them.

Once you start writing, it’s easy to stop writing. At the beginning of your project, you’ll be riding the wave of your enthusiasm. Aspiring authors have lots of ideas and lots of good intentions -- until the cold stark reality sets in.

If you want to finish your story, you have to cough up fresh material, day after day. To make matters more challenging, you have to write your story in a coherent manner, filling it with characters and plot twists that your readers will find entertaining, or at least interesting.

These tasks aren’t easy, even for veteran published authors. That’s why so many people talk about writing books . . . but never actually finish one. To keep yourself on track, establish a daily writing routine and a daily word-count goal. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of the time and effort that you must expend to write your novel.

#4. Network with veteran writers who are knowledgeable about the business of writing.

Don’t wait until it’s time to select a cover artist or to hire a literary agent to start learning the business of writing! Start early. Seek out allies and mentors who have had success in the type of fiction that you’re writing. Join forums. Attend conferences. Network with other writers in your hometown. Learn “publishing etiquette” before you submit your book proposal to any publishing professional.

If you’ve chosen the self-publishing route, stay on top of the market! Trends in electronic publishing change constantly. New technology explodes onto the market every few weeks. Book covers that were “adequate” to sell novels one year ago are not doing the job today. If you don’t have time to keep up with the ever-changing trends, hire someone who does.

#5. Attitude is everything:  get yours “write!”

Talking about writing isn’t writing. Reading about writing isn’t writing. A writer learns his craft by knuckling down and going to work.

My writing teacher, Rita Gallagher, once told me, “Books aren’t written. They’re re-written.” Even when you think you’ve mastered every trick, you’ll find yourself challenged by some freaky new writing dilemma that you hadn’t anticipated. To fix that problem, you may have to re-write hundreds of pages. You may have to toss out characters that you absolutely loved for the good of the “greater work.”

Most daunting of all, a writer has to gird himself to face critics. You won’t go far in the writing business if you can’t cope with contrary opinions in a gracious manner.

Novel-writing isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need a powerful determination to succeed. Persistence, humility, and a hunger for self-improvement will keep you on the right track.

But the most important ingredient to your success will be the courage to write every day. Ignore the nay-sayers, and stay focused on your dream.

In the words of Irwin Shaw, “If you’re a real writer, you’ll write no matter what.”