Over the years, I have partipipated in several online writers’ groups. Some are general, targeted to writers of fiction and nonfiction of any genre; others focus on novice writers or publishing or specific genres. I no longer participate in some and continue to participate in others. Regardless of the forum, platform, community or whatever else you want to call it, the same questions recur. Most run along a handful of general themes.

1. Is this is a good idea for a book?

Whether your story concept is good enough to develop into a full-length novel depends entirely on you. It depends on your ability to develop the story, to write it, to persevere. It depends upon your skill as a writer and your creativity. How resourceful are you? How invested in the idea are you? If you believe the idea is worthy of development, then you’ve either got to have the wherewithal to develop it or let it languish. By “wherewithal,” I mean you either do it yourself or you hire a ghostwriter.

2. Is the idea unique?

The short answer is, no, your idea is not unique. According to literary experts, there are only a limited number of archetypal plots, and your story will fall into one of them. That doesn’t mean it’s not unique. The originality of your well-used, worn-out plot comes from what you do with it. How you twist the plot and develop it makes the story unique.

3. Can I write that?

Most authors who ask that question really mean “May I write that?” They’re asking for permission or validation. This question stems from worry that whatever they write will offend someone. My response: yes, you may write whatever you want. Whether you can is a question of ability. You need no one’s permission to write the story (or stories) in your head. Whether those stories are marketable is a different matter.

3. How do I start my story?

The simple answer is to write. Just write. Tell the story. However, a lot of people need more instruction than that. They need a plan with milestones. Those people benefit from an outline. For those who really don’t know how to start and are stymied by the blank page, I suggest beginning with “Once upon a time.” When the story is well under way, those four words can be deleted. Or keep them if you like. 

4. I wrote my story … how can I get it published?

Cool your jets, my friend. A lot of people think they’re finished when they reach the end of the story … but they’re not. You see, writing the story is the fun part. After your mind and fingers have vomited the story onto the page, it’s time for the real work to begin, that tedious phase involving editing and revision. This requires putting distance between you and your work. It vastly benefits from objective eyes. The editing and revision phase of the publication process begins with the author reviewing the entire manuscript and correcting the flaws and errors, filling plot holes, weaving in or removing subplots, and making other changes that change a raw story into a well-seasoned dish. When the author has done the very best he or she can, it’s time to hire a professional like me.

To restate this, getting published depends on the path you wish to take: traditional publishing or self-publishing. Your decision determines what you do. Either decision requires you engage in rigorous, meticulous self-editing and revision.

5. Do I need an editor?

Yes, you need an editor. I’m a professional editor and I need an editor. Whether you should hire an editor is another matter. If you’ll be pursuing traditional publishing, then you probably don’t need to hire an editor. (The publisher that accepts your manuscript will run your manuscript through several rounds of editing.) Many authors who pursue self-publishing assume that self-publishing is DIY. Not so. The author who self-publishes assumes the responsibilities of a traditional author, which means engaging professionals to provide the services that bring the book up to professional standards for public consumption. (NB: Robust editing software is helpful, but cannot substitute for a human editor.)

No doubt I will continue to respond to these and similar questions, because I really do want to help writers produce their best work. But they need to go into these projects with their eyes wide open. They should understand what they’re getting into.