Ten Useful Tips For New Authors

1. Outline (Rough Copy)

On creating a story, start with an outline. Put down the idea. Always know exactly what, where, when, and why. Write a one page synopsis of your story. From start to finish:

Bob owns a farm. He has horses. He marries Jane. She hates horses. Bob sells the horses. Jane falls for his neighbor. Bob misses his horses. The very basic structure. Take that outline and divide it into pertinent facts. One page per fact.

Bob owns a farm. New page. He has horses. Etc. Now add detail. Build on the idea, expand. What does the farm look like? Who is Bob? If you have divided your outline into 20 facts or pages, and you added 1000 words of detail for each page, you have 20,000 words and you haven’t even tried yet.

The actual writing of your book is completely up to you. Bring in your writing skills, proverbs, philosophies, twists, jokes, views, etc. The above process is just an example. There are many ways of achieving the same goal.

That said, starting with an outline is a choice. While I feel an outline is absolutely essential in completing a manuscript, many, especially advanced authors, feel it isn’t. This is geared towards new writers who may have a hard time finishing a work. The outline method works for me, perhaps it will work for you.

2. Length Of Chapters

The length of chapters is irrelevant, if you have a good story to tell. Page count is irrelevant. Short stories can be as long as 20k words, novellas can be as long as 50k words, novels can be as long as 200k words or longer. Average for a novel is 100k words. Average for a novella is 25k words. Average for a short story is 5 to 10k words.

But don’t concentrate on these. Just write your story. Words and pages will take care of themselves. The reader will read to the end an interesting story, no matter how long. A boring story won’t sell, no matter how short.

3. Themes and Characters

Write what you know. You can only talk about what you are familiar with. Don’t imagine too hard: just look around you.
If you know much about soccer, write a soccer story.

If you are a software engineer, and your main character needs a believable profession, make them a software engineer. Simple. You already know what they do, how they do it, and what they earn.

If you must tackle a subject or theme you are not familiar with, kindly do thorough research. A story must have basic facts about life as we know it, even if it’s about aliens.
Otherwise, few will be able to relate to it. It may interest a fraction of readers, but it won’t sell much. Present realistic characters. Wild imaginations don’t succssful writers make. It’s one thing to bring new, interesting ideas to the audience. It’s another thing to bring crazy and  unconvincing characters and wild story nobody in his right senses can read to the end.

People see things differently. But kindly stick to the basics of decency in creating a story. Avoid foolish, degrading, repulsive statements. We all know what is expected of decent, self-respecting author.

You may tackle so-called burning issues like women empowerment in muslim societies, homosexuality in USA, tribalism in Kenya, corruption in Nigeria, neocolonialism in Africa, side-effects of pornography, terrorism, or you can go back to old themes like slave trade and apartheid in South Africa. Or you can jump into the future to write about the Second Coming of Jesus or the rise of Africa as the world’s superpower. Or the rise of the machines to subdue humans.

4. Book Cover

There are many professional graphic designers you can hire to do cover work and illustrations for you. Search online.

5. Electronic Manuscript

The days of handwritten manuscripts are gone. Invest in a good laptop computer or a good quality desktop model. The industry standard for manuscripts is Times New Roman font, 12 point type, double spaced, left justified. Nobody wants to read a hand written manuscript. Save yourself a step and type it into the computer.


Be professional. If you’re going to be a writer, be as professional about it as you can in all things. Manuscript, grammar, editing, story, preparation, and marketing your work to publishers. If you are serious about it, then be serious. Follow the industry standards, look up the submission guidelines, learn to use Google, plot effectively, and target your audience. You need a computer to effectively achieve these.

6. Editor

Do spend some money on an editor. What you missed 100 times will be caught by experienced and fresh eyes. Editors aren’t cheap; save some money up and take the plunge.

Editing services are meant to improve quality. The editor is your Quality Assurance.  You pay for a service to improve your product. It is totally different from hiring a ghostwriter to write for you.

7. A Pen Name

Some authors, for personal reasons, publish under a different or fictitious name. Some want to hide their identities. A pen name is also called pseudonym. For instance, a well-known Cabinet Minister might secretly publish a novel under another name to reveal some corrupt deals taking place in the government.

Pen names are an effective way to change up your genre and your experience writing. It is also a good way to build up different fan bases for different genres of writing. You can publish under any name you wish, within reason, but for tax purposes your publisher will need your real name.

That said, pen names, while fun, I don’t believe are nearly as necessary now as they used to be. Unless you’re working at a very conservative company, but want to publish fetish romance or something, I see no other reason a serious author should use a pseudonym. Own your work. Fans will find out what your name is eventually. It’s a small world nowadays.

8. Criticisms And Reviews

People will critique your work. Some will like it, some won’t. It happens. Do not reply to reviews on Amazon.
Do learn from helpful criticism of your work. Humble yourself. It will help you grow as a writer.

Among the absolute worst things you can do as a published author, either self-published or otherwise, is to leave a 5 star review on Amazon on your own book. This is very amateurish, and one of the biggest taboos in the industry. If your book is getting multiple bad reviews, one and two stars, take what the reviewer is saying to heart and make the changes suggested.

Never argue with a reviewer in the comments. This makes you look petty and childish. Reviews are nice, good reviews are awesome, but your peers can tell if it’s a legitimate review or not. No, people don’t need to buy the book to leave a review. Verified purchase reviews are nice, but other reviews are just as legitimate if they were left by actual customers or people who have acquired the book through other means.

Making several Amazon accounts to leave false reviews on your own work is immoral and easily spotted. Paying for reviews is also very bad. Let reviews happen naturally and heed their content.

9. Publishers

Are you sleeping on a manuscript you painstakingly wrote because you fear no publisher would want to give it a look?
Or you fear the meandering, endless road to publication?
The world has changed. Publishing a book is nolonger a reserve for the big names like John Grisham, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, or prominent politicians and the so-called celebrities.

You can publish your own book now. Poetry, a novel, autobiography, etc.
There are plenty of online publishers now.
You just register with them, upload your manuscript and start earning royalties. So easy you can’t believe it. Your book will be available worldwide, hours after publishing.

As already discussed, only make sure it’s well-formatted, no grammatical errors, attractive and worth selling. Like anywhere else, nobody likes to buy a sub-standard good believing it’s standard. Do a nice job, as already said. Create a beautiful cover. Hire a graphics artist if possible.
Dedicate time to your book. Don’t sleep on your writing talent. Get published. Now.

(a)  Hybrid Publishers
Hybrid publishers have their place these days. They offer paid services like editing and cover packages, and some will upload your files for you to the various sites. However they are not cheap. I highly recommend doing a lot of research before going this route.

(b) Vanity Publishers
If they want you to pay them to publish your book, it is a vanity press and a scam. Never pay to publish. This is your golden rule. Never pay to publish. Google them. Page publishing, xlibris, vantage press, dorrance, famous poets society and poetry dot com are all examples of vanity presses.

They are very predatory and are known for taking advantage of inexperienced authors.

A vanity press looks legit on the surface. They will ask for your manuscript, and then send you a reply stating they love it and it will fit in with their publishing needs perfectly. This is the bait they put on the hook. New authors desperately want their work to be read and accepted. It is very exciting to get an email or letter from a big company stating your work is perfect for them. They then send you a contract. This is where it becomes clear they have no interest in your material, but are instead only interested in your money.

Vanity presses often have no criteria to meet when publishing your book, they will sometimes not edit it at all. You pay the vanity press for the 6 or 7 copies and that is all you get from them.

However, there are legitimate publishers.

Legitimate Publishers

(a) Createspace

This is an Amazon company, makes good quality paperbacks that print on demand. They are simple to use. You will be able to get your book in paperback on Amazon across their platform. Createspace is free to use. They offer additional services at a fair price as well. The basic service is free.

(b) KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

This is also an Amazon company. It’s free to use. It will publish your book for ebooks across all of amazons platforms. They also offer a paperback version as well. The createspace paperback is the better option in my opinion.

10. Book Promotion

Once your book is published, you can help promote it online, via your blog, facebook, Twitter or other social sites. You won’t be able to make substancial sales if you don’t take time to promote your book. That’s the way to go nowadays. It could be a classic book, a masterpiece, but if nobody knows about it who gonna read it?

Writers’ Market is the best resource for new authors available. It lists thousands of legitimate places to sell what you write and has instructions for each one.

Additional Information by Keith Nichols,
Guest Contributor.
(Used with permission)

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