How to Turn Your Book Idea into Money in the Bank, Part 1: Conception

Hello writers/self-publishers! Let’s jump right into a new series. Take it to the Bank is my latest resource for helping new writers develop their careers in the most frugal manner possible.

Each of these 9 posts will provide you with a quick exploration of successive chapters in the book, with links and helpful tips provided throughout.

The AHA Moment
Today we are exploring Conception–a titillating subject. One of the great joys of writing is first conceiving your book idea, that ‘aha’ moment, when inspiration strikes like Cupid’s arrow and you want nothing more than a few hot minutes to explore the idea.

When it strikes, everything else seems to stop. You must take advantage of this moment and jot down your idea.

The physical act of recording your inspiration will reinforce its importance in your mind, firmly establishing it in your memory cortex and moving it from a fleeting short-term thought to a vital initiative on which your creative mind will unconsciously dwell.

Fantasize About It

Remember when your school teachers snapped at you for fantasizing during class? Well, they were wrong-o! The best thing you can do at this point in your journey from Idea to Money in the Bank is to fantasize about it.

Let your mind wander down twisted corridors of imagination. Let it stroll through ancient enchanted forests. Let it lead you down the path of most resistance, where difficult quesitons are not merely examined, but hoisted, weighed, smelled, licked, and smashed with Nordic hammers. Let your mind fill up with scenes and plotlines. Let it run amuck.

Reader’s Digest has a nice simple post showing you 5 ways to come up with story ideas, while Ali Luke of Aliventures (who also wrote Publishing E-Books for Dummies) provides a comprehensive list of methods for you.

We explore in greater detail the importance of fantasizing your idea into an entire world, fully supported by characters and social systems and history, in the first step of Take it to the Bank, recently published and available for a short period for only .99 cents, here.

Enjoy, and have fun conjuring your idea into a book that will–through 8 more steps–lead to money in the bank!


3 Lies Every Writer Needs to Know About Before Writing a Novel

Lie Number 1: Teachers can teach you how to become a successful writer.

No one can teach you how to become a writer. Sure, there exist writing classes which will explain the use of adverbs and school you in the art of Perspective, and drill into your noodle the meanings of ‘linking verbs’ and ‘modal auxiliaries,’ but at the end of the day all these things will not add up to a saleable manuscript.

Even if you master everything they teach you and earn (and pay $100,000 for) your MFA in creative writing, odds are you’ll still have to face that vast blank void of disinterest that is the jaded/picky/fickle/hypocritical/judgmental publishing world.

If they reply at all, literary agents will send you only form rejections. Your alpha readers won’t get back to you. Your manuscripts will lie in a dusty, musty-smelling drawer, unread, unloved, and unpublished. Your fancy writing degree will remain on the wall, framed and futile, impotent, a relic of potential that cost you thousands and won you nothing but a shallow and fragile ego.

You could master George R.R. Martin’s Top 10 Rules for Success and still not sell that golden goose you call a mystery novel. Memorized all of Writing for Dummies? Well then, Mr. Genius Writer, you must be all set to write a runaway best-seller, right?

If it were that easy, every Joe with a Word Processor and a mite of ambition would be churning out winners left and right.

Okay, I’ll quit flogging the hog here. You get it.

So if we cannot be taught how to write like best-selling authors (or at least like mid-list novelists) how do we learn the art?

Ray Bradbury states that a writer is one who has ‘put into himself enough grammatical tools and literary knowledge that he won’t trip himself up when he wants to run’ with the ‘run’ here referring to writing with zest and gusto. Filling your stories with energy. Engaging with your readers by creating a world brimming with life. This is accomplished, Ray says, by infusing your writing (re: writing about) your loves and your hates. He goes on:

“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast you can go. The character in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. The zest and gusto of his need, and there is zest in hate as well as in love, will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.’ (Old Ray created his best work back in the day, Pre-Computer.)

This is all the advice a beginning writer needs to begin writing. It’s inspiring and basic and profound. And yet, it still does not teach us how to write.

Learning how involves engaging in three solitary activities—often and extensively (though perhaps not exclusively). They are:

  1. Reading—inside and outside your writing genre
  2. Writing—nobody was born a great writer. Your writing will improve the more you write
  3. Living it up—experiences enhance the writer, and by extension, her writing

Now, with that hypocritical advice done, we move on to the second lie.

Lie Number 2: There are guaranteed paths to success in the world of publishing.

‘Just follow these Seven Steps and you are guaranteed to be successful, because this program worked for established best-sellers, the biggest names in the business.’

Yeah, sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar (but not for the $14.99 they want for the e-Book version).

There is no definitive path to success (see my parody of this lie The (Psycho) Path to Success).

Anyone who claims that their way is the One Guaranteed Path to Success in the world of writing is totally blowing a gust of hot toxic air in your desperately-seeking-Susan face. Even if their method worked for them, there is no guarantee it will work for you or for anyone else. There are too many variables involved for any one path to work for everyone. You could try it. But in most cases it’ll cost you ‘only’ $299 for their Guaranteed to Sell 10,000 Copies of Your Book guide book to success.

Lie Number 3: Anybody can become a writer; you just have to want it enough!

A certain type of brute mentality is needed for someone to survive the brutal, competitive, and sometimes heartless world of publishing.

Armor-plated skin is also a necessity—along with an ego, checked by wisdom. To possess all three of three traits is rare enough, but the writer who wishes to thrive in this market must also be able to identify and rectify her weaknesses, be able to take criticism and unsolicited advice, and educate herself in the art of creative writing, all while also having something useful to say and keeping down a day job—in addition to everyday issues and family duties.

Do you think you can handle all of that?

Maybe you think so—and perhaps you even can handle it.

The truth is that most people cannot. Unfortunately for some, they find this out only after years of struggling and heartbreak. Many who do stick with it will never be traditionally published. You could write for years and never win over a publisher.

All those long nights and busy days scrapping at your desk, with nothing tangible to show for it, but a stack of papers filled with pretty words.

Can you handle that?

Few can. There are those who write for the sheer joy of it, who are not bothered by their lack of  the traditionally-accepted idea of success, and I wish to applaud you select few here and now. More power to you!

Just don’t make the mistake that millions of struggling amateurs have made in thinking that if you follow all the rules and master all the writing tips, you will automatically become a published writer.

It’s not that simple.

But it is possible. As Tolkien wrote, ‘The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while the Company is true.’

Ambition is a good thing, but it’s a deft hand and a deep devotion to your craft that will win the day for you.

Tolkien also gave us this lovely metaphor: ‘It’s a dangerous business, going outside your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’

Perhaps he was alluding to a writing career here. You must be bold in leaving your comfort zone. It can be exciting and unpredictable, but you must never forget why you left that safe, simple place you know and love for the hope of some new adventure (in writing).

So don’t give up. If you are meant to be a writer, and if you work your tail off and learn how to shrug aside neglect and criticism, and if you seek your own unique path to publication instead of following in the same steps of those who have gone before, you might just find what you are looking for.

Good luck, and don’t forget to keep reading—often and in every genre you can find.

3 Tips to Writing Successful Characters


Characters are the conduit through which your readers encounter, interact with, and explore your written world.

It is therefore crucial that they possess certain engaging qualities. Imagine following Bella Swan through Middle Earth. It just would not have been the same.

While there are plenty of useful qualities to instill in your characters, I have discovered (through reading and writing and publishing) that three resound especially well. They are:

  1. Characters who possess a unique trait, peccadillo, or habit that sets them apart from everyone else, making them instantly memorable.
  2. Characters with more than an ‘arc.’ They need a flood, something they will fight tooth and nail to survive and overcome
  3. Characters must have a great passion for something. This passion will flavor their every decision, dialogue, and act as they move through your created world. This passion gives them a zest for life that should leap off the pages and make readers fall in love with them

Writing Successful Characters

Unique traits make your characters distinct from each other and from other literary persons; they also lend credibility. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, his MC Roland Deschain has a habit of rolling his finger around in an impatient manner whenever someone is taking too long getting to the point. Despite his almost mythical nature, this peccadillo brings him down to earth and humanizes a hero.

For a character to learn something (as all MC’s must do), you need to create a wall, nearly insurmountable, for them to encounter and decide to climb. This not only creates intrigue, it also pushes your character to the breaking point, forcing her to perform drastic actions she never would have considered before.

Also, readers love characters brimming with life, people who display zest enough to infuse each page with enthusiasm and meaning—same as with real life.

At the risk of alienating Twi-hards, I would once again point to Bella Swan. When she circles the drain of depression and becomes a zombie for several months in New Moon . . . well, that was dull. She had no passion. The book didnt become interesting until she decided to go and save her precious vamp boyfriend.

In contrast, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings were engaging and likeable for their simple love of life. They have no real depth, but that doesn’t matter. They enjoy living, they enjoy loving things (eating, mostly), and they are adventurous. Even though they long for home, they don’t whine about it; they relish certain moments during their journey.

Write What You Love

Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the troublesome hobbits.

Enjoy the moment. Wherever you are in your life, embrace life. Whoever surrounds you, embrace them! We may miss the old days, but in the future we may look back on today with fondness, wishing we could go back and ‘do it all over again’ but enjoy it and be grateful this time around.

Forgive my tangent. I wax nostalgic this time of year.

Perhaps the point is that we should find a way (if we haven’t already) to develop a zest for life, a passion to go with our peccadilloes which, when combined, might just help us overcome the roadblocks in our own lives. And, armed with this knowledge and experience, we will then be able to expertly and successfully write such life and experience into our characters.

They say ‘write what you love’ and ‘write what you know.’ Good advice—especially when you love life and know how to write it.

For more on this subject, this love letter to yourelf and to your readers, you might check out this slick post.