While the old saying goes that there's a book in all of us, how many of us will actually manage to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, let alone go on to publish a bestseller? I published my first book two New Years ago, and all four DCI Ryan thrillers were in Amazon's top 100 books of the year for 2016, with my latest High Force having gone into the top 10 on pre-release. So while I'm still fairly new to the writing game, there's a lot I've discovered along the way for anyone else taking that leap of faith to release their own novel into the world this New Year....
1. Write What You Know
Write what you know, and by this I don't mean scenarios you have personally experienced. After all, I've never been involved in several grisly murders, either as the perpetrator or the detective! Writing what you know is also about bringing in the emotions you have experienced over your life, or taking elements of personalities you have known. So write what you know, or what you enjoy, but take out any little idiosyncrasies to make sure you appeal to a wider audience.
2. Concentrate on Characterisation
People love to read about people and the most appealing stories are character driven. Yes, you need to do your research to make sure the procedures or places are right, but the focus should be on creating 3D characters that your readers can relate to.
3. Make it a daily habit
There may be a book in all of us, but that book isn't going to write itself. Only by treating writing for what it is, a career, will you ever get that book from your head onto the page. Work out how much time you can devote to writing each day, whether you have to fit it around an existing job or children, and stick to it.
4. Find your happy place
Set aside a place for you to write, where you feel at your most creative. For me, I have three desks around the house and I like to move around from one to the other so I keep my thinking fresh. I also go and sit in a coffee shop. Sometimes, the buzz of being around other people can help to get the creative juices flowing.
5. Always carry a notebook
You never know when and where the idea for a book might strike. My debut novel started life on a train journey from London to Edinburgh. Looking out of the window, I saw Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland and thought what a great place this little island, cut off by the tide twice a day, would be to set a whodunnit. I took out a pad, jotted the idea down for a plot there and then, and the rest is history.
6. A sense of place
Be inspired by the landscape around you, whether it is the countryside of your childhood home, a destination you visited on holiday or the cityscape where you work. For me, the landscape is just as much of a character as DCI Ryan or Dr Anna Taylor.
7. Be brave but be objective
Don't be frightened to try something new. But, equally know that it's okay to scrap an idea, or a chapter if it isn't working. If you're happy with the finished product, don't sit on it for a decade - because you just might have a bestseller on your hands.
8. Take control
You don't have to put yourself in the hands of traditional publishers and desperately wait for a book deal to come your way. Even though I was offered a traditional publishing deal, I chose to self-publish because I wanted control over how and when I released my books.
9. Be businesslike
It's no good having a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. If you self-publish, then you have to be aware that you're responsible for the aspects of publishing that would usually have been taken care of by a traditional publisher. Make sure you have a marketing and public relations strategy to get as much publicity for your book as possible. Don't underestimate how much effort is involved in promoting your book.
10. Be ready for the next one
If everything has come together: you've got your plot, your characters and your setting just right and your book is a success, just as you hoped, there's no time to sit back. Social media, in particular, has changed the way readers relate to and interact with authors, and you'll find they're immediately piling on pressure for you to publish the next one. It's a nice problem to have!