How I Wrote Two Full-Length Novels in 18 Months

So when I decided to finally start writing The Biographies of Ordinary People, after wanting—and trying—to write it for years, I felt ready. I had both the skills and the practice to succeed. I had three years of experience in outlining ideas, writing compelling narratives, and hitting my deadlines. I’d been paid for my short fiction, and people had told me me how much it resonated with them.

In other words: I consistently wrote 14 articles a week for five freelance clients. I could add two more chapters.

Finding My Readers

My career as a freelance writer and editor has taught me two things:

  1. I like immediate gratification from readers.
  2. I like getting paid for my work.

I wanted the same experience with The Biographies of Ordinary People. I had built a readership through my freelance career, and I knew that many of those readers were interested in my fiction, so I set up a Patreon project that would allow people to read and respond to draft chapters of The Biographies of Ordinary People as I wrote them, in exchange for a small monthly pledge.

This worked beautifully. I had my group of readers, I had financial support, and—most importantly—I had an early test of the novel’s viability. Were my readers enjoying it? Did they want to know what happened next? Were they sympathizing with the characters and responding emotionally?

(I was even able to make some course corrections based on reader response, which helped improve the novels.)

Knowing that I already had reader interest, and that people were willing to pay for this story, also gave me the advantage when I began exploring different paths to publication. I ended up going the self-pub route, for reasons I outline in detail here, which meant that I could publish both novels within a year—and also meant that by the time we got to Vol. 2, readers would get a book that took place in the immediately-recent past.

At this point I’m guessing some of you are ready to start planning your own novels and the rest of you are skeptically wondering if my book is any good. (It’s too structured! It’s self-published! It should have gone through years of revisions!) Here’s a five-star review from Foreword Clarion Reviews:

(It’s a good thing I’ve got that second volume almost ready to go, so I can keep building on the momentum of the first one.)

So write your books, whether you write them like mine or whether you choose a completely different tactic to get from the first word to the 90,000th. But keep in mind that, at least in this case, building a structure and setting up a sustainable workload helped me finish my project. That, and writing a lot of short pieces first.

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