And down, down to Goblin-town You go, my lad!
How to write and sell a book in 10 easy(ish) steps
1. Take one fabulous idea
It's impossible to overstate the importance of your concept in terms of how successful your book becomes. Stephenie Meyer writes perfectly good, competent prose - but her story idea (ordinary girl falls for sexy vampire) turned her book into a cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, Stephen King are all similar: decent writers blessed with stunning ideas.

Agents know this and - no matter what your genre - a strong premise is essential to selling a book. Given any two broadly similar manuscripts, agents will almost always pick the one with the stongest central cocept.

So how do you get your genius ideas? And how do you know if they're good enough? The answer to the first question is that you can get your ideas from this post on our blog - and you can check if they're good enough by seeing what they sound like as an elevator pitch: a short 50 word summary of your novel. "A school for wizards"? Four words in and that's sounding good ...

2. Build yourself a blistering plot
The next huge essential for any novelist is a story that simply forces the reader to keep turning pages - and fortunately there are definite rules about how to achieve this. The two crucial rules are:

A) Give the protagonist a major life challenge very early in the book and don't resolve things till the very end; and

B) If a particular chapter doesn't advance the story in a specific way, you have to delete that chapter.

Sounds simple? Well, actually, the principles aren't that hard to understand, although executing the advice can a wee bit trickier. Meantime, we suggest you go into the subject in a bit more depth via our main plotting advice, some useful follow-up advice - and guest blogger Gary Gibson's magnificently illuminating suggestions about what to do when you hit a problem.

3. Next ingredient: an unforgettable character or two
Long after a reader has forgotten the details of a plot, the chances are they'll remember the character who impelled it. The two things you absolutely have to bear in mind when constructing your characters are:

A) Make sure that the character and the story bounce off each other in interesting ways. So if, to take a stupid example, your character has a big fear of spiders, the chances are that your story will have to force your character to confront those fears. You have to bring your character into their zone of greatest discomfort.

B) Make sure that you really, really know your character. After all, it's seldom the big things that make a character sizzle with life (Amy is a 32, slim, blue-eyed, retail buyer - who cares?). It's the little things that make her seem human (Amy has a passion for Manhattan in winter; she fell off a horse when she was 12; she collects a shell from every beach she's ever visited.) If you want to check if you know your character well enough, we suggest you use our ultimate character builder.

One more thing that matters is where you place your camera. Do you write in the first person? The third person? Do you have one viewpoint or two or ten? These can be quite tricky issues and we strongly recommend that you check out this item on points of view. Also (and this is a bit more advanced) do check out Emma Darwin's sage advice on psychic distance. (Emma is one of our fine editors, but this page is from her own website not ours.)

4. Don't forget to give your character some inner life
One of the commonest problems we see is when a character does and says all the right stuff ... but the reader never really knows what he or she thinks or feels.

And this is one of the very simplest things for a novelist to do. You just need to remember that your protagonist has a rich inner world - and you need to tell us about it. Not just the bland everyday things either ("Mike felt hungry so he sat down to eat"), but the things thatmake him different and unique. Get more inner worldy advice.

5. Dramatise, dramatise, dramatise!
Your job as a novelist is to show the action unfolding on the page - readers don't just want a third hand report of what has just happened. That means you need to tell the moment-by-moment, as though you were witnessing the event. Consider the difference between this:

Ulfor saw the descending sword only in a blur of silver and black against the sky. He swivelled his shoulder in an effort to escape, hoping that the armour on his back would guide the blade harmlessly away. But the swordsman above, a swarthy little troll with yellow teeth and a spitting grin, was too fast, too agile .. [etc. This form of narration is known as "showing"]

And this:

Ulfor was badly injured in a swordfight. [This form of narration is known as "telling"]

The first snippet sounds like an actual story; the second sounds like a news report. Obviously you will need to use the second mode of story telling from time to time, as a simple way to convey facts and speed things up, but for the most part your tale needs to consist of scenes of dramatic action glued together with bits of more economical narration. It's crucial that you understand this right, so if in doubt check out our guide.

6. Write well
OK, we know this sounds obvious, but it's no good having a fab idea and a brilliant plot if you can't write good, clear English. Your book is made up of sentences and if those sentences don't convey your meaning succinctly and clearly your book just won't work.

Fortunately, almost everyone has the capacity to write well enough: you just have to focus on the challenge. In particular, do think about the three building blocks of good writing:

A) Clarity. You need to express your meaning clearly.
B) Economy. Never use ten words when eight would do.
C) Precision. Be as precise as possible - and that normally means you have to see the scene clearly in your head before you can describe it clearly to a reader.
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