The Journey to Making a Bestseller: Designing a Concept and Planning Your Outline (Series #1)

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I spoke last week about an epiphany I had when I realized I was showing other authors how to get published and the things I have learned from working in the publishing business, but doing things my own way. I have decided to take my own advice and write my own bestseller. It may flop or it may fly. Here, I am going to document my journey.

There is a lot of luck involved in being a bestseller; being in the right place at the right time, but I believe the essential need here is skill. You have to be able to write well. Great books get published. But, you say, even good writers have books that never sell, so what’s that elusive process? Today we will talk about how to get started. Every week of this series, I will take you through what I have learned and where I am in the process of writing my new masterpiece. (I am moving a little slow right now because I am also going over my galley proofs for the book I’m releasing in two weeks.)

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First, before anything, you must have a kickass concept. You can have great writing, but without an original concept, your book will fall short of the “bestseller” category. There are lots of places to come up with story ideas, but if you are lost, here are two websites that list ideas to choose from or mix and match. and Just Google “story ideas” for more suggestions.

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I’ve got my concept, it was a blend of two different ideas. And a working title: A World Apart. Once you land on a concept, you’ve got to plot your book. This all sounds easy, but you may spend days to weeks coming up with the concept that is universal enough to relate to everyone, and yet original enough to stand on its own. Then, plotting the book. Here you need to know the progression of the story from front to back, that takes some time.

There are some great plotting worksheets online. One I like is by Annie Neugebauer. You can find it here: . She also has a character chart that I found helpful. Though it downloads, it won’t save to my machine, so I made an excel spreadsheet of my own with some of my own categories.

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Remember, you want a character-led story, so make sure that the characters make logical choices that move the story along. You don’t want to think, “I need that to happen eventually, so I’ll make this character do X, Y, Z, to get to that point.” That kind of writing feels contrived. It is led by the author’s story, not the characters’ beliefs and emotions.

So, you’ve got an outline of how the story will go. Now, I want you to get out a ring of notecards. Take them out and write a snippet that defines each scene per card. They could say anything from, “He finds the door,” to, “The boys are exploring in an abandoned mansion when they hear voices downstairs, they get closer into the hallway and overhear two mobsters shake down a third. When someone is shot, the boys duck into the first door they see, which is a set of basement stairs. They see light and think they can get out, but it turns out to be a small window. They find a door with a key in the lock under the stairs. But when they open it, it looks like it leads into another basement. The only problem is, there is no house next door.” Yes, this is from my book. As much information as I put, there is still a lot more unsaid. That will come out when I am to the writing part.

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When you have something written on each card that gives some kind of detail about that scene, take your cards and make sure they are in the order you want before you put them back on the ring. You may decide to shuffle a few around, or take a card out, or add one.

Write down the cards’ information on a page. I call this my sceneology. But essentially now you have your synopsis. No need to write it later and decide what to cut. These are the important parts of your novel and they make up the synopsis you will need to query later. (Bestsellers are published by large or decent-sized publishing houses, so they will require an agent. It can be done other ways, of course, but this is my recipe.)

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So, I think I’ve got my story, concept, and synopsis. I will order my notecards in my ring and get writing on the manuscript this week. The most important sentence is the first, and the first page is paramount. What if the first sentence isn’t good enough? Don’t worry. Don’t worry about anything in this phase. Just write.

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Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” So when your first draft sucks, you are in good company. The company of the best writers in the world.

Incorrectly quoted to Ernest Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Meaning, give up trying to write a perfect draft. Write passionately, and from the heart. Put blinders on those things that rule your thoughts during the business day and immerse yourself in your story. You can always put your writer hat on later and edit it with all your skill.

The point of these two sayings are linked. Basically, I would make my own quote to say, “Worry not about the draft, just strive to get out a complete story arc…then edit to perfection.”

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If you need a second opinion on whether you should waste your time with this concept or not, take that typed synopsis and send it to your best betas. Ask them if they follow and if it looks like a logical progression. Ask them if they see plot holes or implausibility. Does it have enough rising action? A climax and resolution? Better to fix it now, in the planning stage than have to shelve an entire novel because you don’t check until it’s finished.

This week, I am getting feedback on my synopsis. I have my character sheet filled out and my sceneology. I guess as soon as I get a green light from betas, I will flip to my first notecard and write that scene. Next week we’ll talk about the research involved in writing a novel.

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If you are feeling inspired, write along with me! Let’s see where we all are by next weekend. Let me know in the comments!

Until then, keep writing!


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