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Writing a Novel That (Actually) Makes Money

I am NO expert at writing a novel that will win you awards. Or help you become a New York Times bestseller. Or establish your reputation in the literary canon. (Just head over to Amazon and you'll find thousands of books willing to take your money.)

But i can tell you what i've learned - the hard way - about writing a novel that a good amount of people will actually pay for.

So, here are 5 tips writing a novel that's entertaining, emotionally- satisfying and attracts readers for years to come.

Writing a Novel Tip #1: Write a Damn Shorter Novel Than You think You Should

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating. The #1 key to a successful career as a novelist is to break up LARGE novels into smaller (ish) novel chunks of series goodness.

This doesn't mean churning out those 5K words worthless spam crap you see on Amazon. But it does mean shooting for a more comfortable 20-25K range for your fiction.

This is because:

  • It's what readers want (I know it sounds weird, but it's true)
  • It makes it easier for your existing books to be found
  • It helps you SPEED up the time to publication

Now, the length will depend on the genre. (Thrillers can usually go shorter than romance.) But whatever length you planned on before, reduce it by 50% and start from there.

Quick Tip: Write shorter books. And more of 'em.

Writing a Novel Tip #2: Write in a Genre People Give a Crap About

Sorry to all those wanting to write a literary post-modern treatise on the malaise of the human condition. But if you want to make some actual, serious money from your novels it REALLY helps if your novel is one of these:

  • Romance
  • Erotica
  • Sci-Fi
  • Fantasy
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • YA

This isn't my personal taste. I actully like Kafka-eque novels about existential ennui. But most people are busy, and have things to do. Like make money and watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

So, if you want to have a fighting chance of finding a seriously good audience for your novel then SKIP the Albert Camus philosophical debates...and go for a good-old cozy mystery instead.

Writing a Novel Tip #3: Ground Your Novel in One Central (Huge) Dilemma for the Main Character

I come from the film development world originally, where plotting and structure are as important as getting a botox-infused A-list actress to sign on to your project.

And I know that fiction writing is a bit more fluid in its story structure. But...

...there is one element that I believe marks the difference between a kick-ass, best-selling novel and a mediocre prose collection.

And that is having a central character facing a HUGE MONGO dilemma. Now this dilemma doesn't have to rise to the level of Sophie's Choice.

But it's really helpful - for both artistic and marketing reasons - to have a simple, but powerful dilemma facing your hero or heroine.

Do I be with the man I love (even if it means becoming a vampire)? (Twilight)

And the best, coolest thing about dilemmas is they DEMONSTRATE character, without all those boring, long speeches where characters EXPLAIN how they feel.

Dilemmas are your friend. Embrace them. (And your readers will embrace your work.)

Writing a Novel Tip #4: Make Sure Every Chapter Ends With Scary Violins

Now I'm not suggesting you pen your novel like you're writing a soap opera. (God forbid you write something that helps laundry detergent.) But...

As you write your novel think about each chapter having that "dramatic violin stinger" feel to it. These are the music scores - the Dun! Dun! Dun! - that let you know something BIG is happening.

And the best way to do this is to have UNANSWERED questions at the end of your chapters.

Example: You know in all those soap operas where two characters are talking and one of them says:

Jane: But if Jim's not the father...then who is?


What would be horrible is:

Jane: But if Jim's not the father...then who is?

Beth: Well...probably Bob.


Doesn't quite work, does it?

So try your best to end each chapter with some unanswered question or twist or surprise or something that points your readers to the next chapter. (And if you're able to do that over and over, you'll have a best selling novel on your hands in no time.)

Michael Rogan

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