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How to Write Your First Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide

Have you always dreamt of seeing your name on the cover of a book? Writing a novel is a somewhat intimidating but tremendously rewarding feat, and it often appears that most people think about it but never do it.

Whether you have a story churning in your head, or it’s but an inkling of an idea, this guide on how to write your first novel will help you with each step during your journey from pre-writing to completion. You’ll find out that with the right approach and determination, writing up your first novel is possible. And is also quite an enriching and transformative experience.

Let’s start!

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 1: Develop Your Idea

Finding Inspiration

Every great novel must have had that initial spark of inspiration. This can come from anywhere: a character who intrigued you, a setting that felt different, a theme that was too powerful to ignore, or even one random thought.

To work on ideas, try using a journal and record your random thoughts and observations throughout the day. Read widely across genres, watch films, and talk to people. Very often, inspiration comes from precisely the opposite direction you might be looking.

To learn more about this topic, checkout bibisco’s article on how to find inspiration for writing.

Choosing Your Genre

A very important thing to consider when learning how to write your first novel is choosing the right genre, as this is what will define the tone, style, and structure of your novel. Think about the genres you enjoy both reading and writing.

Whether it be mystery, romance, science fiction, or fantasy, opt for a genre that excites you. This enthusiasm will sustain you through the writing process.

Research

By the time you have at least a broad idea of the genre, start doing some research. This includes knowing the conventions and expectations of your chosen genre at least a bit. Look up some similar books and see what works and what does not.

Also, research any specific details that revolve around your story: historical context, scientific facts, and cultural subtleties. More fuelling details add depth and reality to your narrative.

Crafting a Premise

Boil that down to a potent premise. A compelling premise has the protagonist, their objective, and the stakes and alludes to what causes the conflict. For instance: “A young wizard has to vanquish a dark lord to save his world.” You have the main idea everyone will be interested in right there.

This will be the baseline and the polestar for your novel-writing journey. By elaborating on your idea and developing it entirely, you lay a good foundation for your novel. This groundwork will make the subsequent steps of outlining, drafting, and revising easier and more pleasant to undertake.

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 2: Plan Your Novel

Proper planning of a novel helps one delve into writing so much more quickly, considering that it is such a big task. A good plan will orient you and help you organize yourself so that the massive task of writing a full-length novel feels somewhat approachable.

Outlining

The outline of your novel is a roadmap for your writing journey and is one of the most important things to learn about how to write your first novel.

There are numerous ways to outline a book; each writer uses whatever works. Some writers need elaborate outlines, with plot points for every chapter, while others can make do with an overall idea of the main events in the story.

Think of an outline that includes the introduction, main plot points, climax, and resolution. This will make sure that each story remains on point while you can logically track a flow of events.

Since you are writing your first novel, you can rely on established story structure models such as the Hero’s Journey, the Three-Act Structure, or the 7-point story structure.

Character Development

Characters are the lifeblood of your novel. Develop your major characters with the time needed by giving them strong backgrounds, motivations, plus strengths and flaws. For your main character, your antagonist, and your key supporting characters, create in-depth character profiles.

The more you know about your characters, the more realistic and three-dimensional they will be to your readers. Think through their arcs—how they will grow and change throughout the story. A well-thought-out character arc can add dimension and emotional punch to your story.

Setting

The setting of your novel is not just a backdrop; it can influence and set the mood, tone, and direction of your story. Describe for your readers the world in which your characters live. Whether it is a “real” place or a fictional one, consider how that setting will affect the plot or the characters of a story.

Is it a bustling city that makes your protagonist’s life exist at a fast clip, or is it a quiet village that introduces a sense of calm or isolation? Include sensory detail: sights, sounds, smells. Make your setting come alive in the imaginations of your readers.

Themes and Symbols

Consider the underlying themes and symbols you want to interweave with your story.

Themes are some overarching ideas you intend to tell, such as love, power, betrayal, or redemption. Symbols can include objects, characters, or events through which you imply deeper meanings of the themes.

Intercalating themes and symbols in an artistic manner within one’s book makes it richer and provides readers with a more thought-provoking reading experience.

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 3: Write the First Draft

Setting Goals

Clear, attainable goals are crucial for keeping the momentum going, say, when writing your first draft. Set a daily or weekly word count target—whatever works to ensure you stay on track. An example could be 500 words daily or 3,000 a week; just keep the pace steady.

Make up some kind of estimate about how soon you can produce the first draft, maybe in three months or six months, according to your program and writer tempo. A steady, regular tempo will help you build momentum and avoid burnout.

Writing Techniques

Novel writing is a marathon and not a sprint. These are some techniques that will keep you on track and motivated:

  • Freewriting. Allow yourself to write. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Get your ideas down, and you can revise at any time.
  • Pomodoro Technique. Divide your writing time into focused periods or intervals (example: 25 minutes of writing followed by a 5-minute break). It has been shown to improve focus and decrease fatigue.
  • Daily Routine. Establish writing habits within your daily routine. Find a time of day when you are most productive and build up habituation around that time.
  • Minimize Distractions. Create a good writing environment with the slightest distraction possible. Switch off the notifications, find a quiet place, and make sure other people know that around you, you must have uninterrupted time.

For more insights on this, read bibisco’s article on time management strategy for authors.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a serious stumbling block. Here are a few things to help.

  • Change of Environment. A nice change of scenery now and then, for instance, writing in another room or even at a coffee shop, can inspire creativity.
  • Incremental Goals. Divide your writing into more achievable, bite-sized tasks.
  • Get Inspired. Read books, watch movies, or simply listen to music that will uplift you. Because sometimes, it is those excellent creations that bring back the fire.
  • Write Through It. Even if you’re not feeling inspired, write something—anything. Writing through the block can often help you break free of it.

If you want to learn more about this topic, take a look at the dedicated article on overcoming writer’s block in the bibisco blog.

Embracing Imperfection

Remember, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s a preliminary version of your story where you are laying the foundation. Allow bad writing to come through without trying to overedit as you move along.

The goal is to get your ideas down on paper and finish the draft. Later on, you will perform the revisions and do lots of polishing.

By setting realistic goals and employing effective time management techniques, you can successfully navigate the process of writing your first draft. Embrace the journey, stay motivated, and remember that every word brings you closer to completing your novel.

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 4: Revise and Edit

Taking a Break

After you finish writing your first manuscript, you should rest before revising. This break allows you to gain distance from your manuscript, helping you approach it with a fresh and more objective view.

Be it for some days or weeks, taking yourself away from work will bring in significant improvements in your ability to notice faults.

Self-Editing

This is the phase at which you look into the fineries of your manuscript. Consider printing your manuscript. Reviewing a physical copy of your manuscript can offer a fresh perspective and help you notice issues you might miss on a screen.

Highlights of editing include:

  • Polish Your Writing. Ensure your writing is clear and polished. Look for any awkward phrasing or unclear descriptions that need refining.
  • Consistency Check. Verify that all elements of your manuscript, from character names to timeline details, are consistent throughout.
  • Structural Issues. Ensuring that your plot has clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Look for blatant plotholes or inconsistencies in the plot.
  • Character Development. Verify that your characters are well-developed and their arcs are satisfying. See to it that their actions and motivation are consistent and believable.
  • Pacing. You need to check just how the pacing unfolds so that your story takes your reader with it. Balance fast-paced action scenes with slower, more reflective moments.
  • Dialogue. Read through your dialogue to make sure it is realistic and moves the story forward or reveals character somehow. Avoid empty dialogue.
  • Show, Don’t Tell. Work to reveal feelings and events by using action, thought, and dialogue instead of telling the reader what’s happening.
how to write your first novel: bibisco's timeline tool helps you find plot inconsistencies
bibisco’s timeline tool helps you find plot inconsistencies

You can learn more about self-editing, by reading bibisco’s dedicated article on top editing tips for refining your manuscript.

Seeking Feedback

Constructive feedback is one of the most helpful parts of the revision process. Here’s how you can achieve it.

  • Beta Readers. Find beta readers—people who read your manuscript and give feedback from a reader’s perspective. They can help point out things that should not be there, plotting issues, and so much more.
  • Writing Groups. Join writing groups or workshops where you will be able to share work with other people—a great way to get motivated, inspired, and rejuvenate your spirit.
  • Receive Feedback. Accept all feedback and act on it. Look for common themes in your feedback and use it to guide your revisions.

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 5: Finalize Your Manuscript

Professional Editing

After self-editing and incorporating feedback from beta readers, consider hiring a professional editor. Here are the different types of editing services you might use.

  • Developmental Editing. Focuses on the overall structure and content of your manuscript, including plot, character arcs, pacing, and thematic elements. A developmental editor will help you shape your story into its best possible form.
  • Line Editing. Concentrates on improving the flow and readability of your prose. This includes refining sentence structure, enhancing word choice, and ensuring the tone and style are consistent throughout your novel.
  • Copy Editing. Ensures your manuscript is free of grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors. A copy editor also checks for consistency in terms, names, and formatting.
  • Proofreading. The final step before publishing. A proofreader will catch any remaining typos, formatting issues, or minor errors that may have been overlooked in previous rounds of editing.

Hiring a professional editor can be a worthwhile investment, as they provide an objective and expert perspective that can greatly enhance the quality of your novel.

Formatting

Proper formatting is critical, especially if you plan to submit your manuscript to agents or publishers or if you’re preparing for self-publishing. Here are some general formatting guidelines:

  • Font and Size. Use a standard, readable font like Times New Roman or Arial, in 12-point size.
  • Margins and Spacing. Set your margins to 1 inch on all sides and use double spacing for the body text. This makes the manuscript easier to read and mark up.
  • Page Numbers and Headers. Include page numbers and, if required, a header with your last name and the title of your manuscript. Position the header in the top right corner of each page.
  • Title Page. Create a title page that includes the title of your manuscript, your name (or pen name), and your contact information (email address, phone number, and mailing address). This should be centered and located about one-third of the way down the page.
  • Chapter Headings. Start each new chapter on a new page. Center the chapter title or number about one-third of the way down the page, and ensure it stands out by using a bold or slightly larger font.
  • Indentation and Paragraphs. Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches, and do not add extra space between paragraphs. This maintains a clean, professional appearance.
  • Scene Breaks. Use asterisks (***) or another clear marker to indicate scene breaks within chapters. Center these markers to distinguish them from regular text.
  • Consistency. Maintain consistency throughout your manuscript in terms of formatting, style, and punctuation. This creates a polished and professional look.

By adhering to these formatting guidelines, you ensure that your manuscript meets industry standards and is easy to read, enhancing its appeal to agents, publishers, and readers alike.

How to Write Your First Novel – Step 6: Publish Your Novel

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing means taking the manuscript to literary agents or directly to any of the publishing houses. So here are a few steps for doing that

  • Research Agents and Publishers. Identify agents and publishers that represent or publish work in your genre. Look for submission guidelines on their websites.
  • Prepare a Query Letter. A query letter is a one-page pitch that introduces you and your novel to potential agents or publishers. It should include a brief synopsis of your book, your bio, and why you’re reaching out to that specific agent or publisher.
  • Submit Your Manuscript. Follow the submission guidelines carefully. Some agents may request a query letter, a synopsis, and the first few chapters, while others might ask for the full manuscript.
  • Be Patient and Persistent. The submission process can be lengthy, and rejections are common. Keep submitting to different agents and publishers, and consider any feedback you receive.

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing allows you to retain creative control and higher royalties but requires more work in terms of production and marketing. Here’s how to self-publish your novel.

  • Choose a Platform. Popular self-publishing platforms include Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Apple Books, and Smashwords. Research the pros and cons of each to determine the best fit for your book.
  • Design a Professional Cover. Your book cover is the first thing potential readers see. Invest in a professional cover designer to create an eye-catching and genre-appropriate cover.
  • Format Your Manuscript. Ensure your manuscript is properly formatted for both eBook and print versions. You may want to hire a professional formatter or use formatting tools provided by the self-publishing platforms.
  • Set Your Price. Determine a competitive price for your book by researching similar titles in your genre. Consider pricing strategies like introductory discounts to attract initial readers.
  • Upload Your Manuscript. Follow the platform’s guidelines to upload your manuscript, cover, and any other required information. Double-check all details before hitting publish.

Marketing Your Book

Whether you choose traditional publishing or self-publishing, marketing is crucial to your book’s success. Here are some strategies to promote your novel.

  • Build an Author Platform. Create a professional author website and engage with readers on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Use these channels to share updates, behind-the-scenes content, and interact with your audience.
  • Leverage Book Reviews. Reach out to book bloggers, reviewers, and influencers in your genre to request reviews. Positive reviews can significantly boost your book’s visibility and credibility.
  • Plan a Launch Campaign. Plan activities leading up to your book launch, such as cover reveals, giveaways, and virtual launch parties. Engage your audience and build excitement around your book’s release.
  • Utilize Paid Advertising. Consider using paid advertising options like Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, or BookBub to reach a larger audience. Monitor the performance of your ads and adjust your strategy as needed.
  • Attend Events. Participate in book fairs, writing conferences, and local author events to network and promote your book.

How bibisco can help you write your first novel

Writing your first novel can be an overwhelming task, but bibisco novel writing software is here to help you every step of the way. bibisco offers a range of tools designed to simplify the writing process, from organizing your plot and developing your characters to structuring your chapters.

The software’s intuitive interface allows you to create detailed character profiles, manage locations, and track writing goals effectively.

how to write your first novel: bibisco's chapters management tools.
bibisco’s chapters management tools.

Additionally, bibisco’s built-in note-taking and research tools ensure that all your ideas are easily accessible and well-organized. By providing a clear framework and a user-friendly environment, bibisco enables you to focus on what truly matters: bringing your story to life.

Conclusion: how to write your first novel

Publishing your novel, whether through traditional means or self-publishing, is a significant achievement. By following these steps on how to write your first novel, you can navigate the publishing process and share your story with readers worldwide.

Remember, the journey doesn’t end with publication—continuing to market your book and engage with your readers is key to building a successful writing career.

Congratulations on taking this monumental step towards becoming a published author!

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