“When I retire, I am going to write a novel.”

How often have you heard that? Perhaps you have said it yourself but have yet to follow up. As I began moving into retirement, my daughter suggested that I should write a book. She knows I enjoy writing, but I lean more toward short stories and feature articles like the ones I frequently contribute to this magazine.

Since then, I have written three book-length manuscripts and can share what I have learned from such undertakings. First, writing the draft is not all that hard. I found creating characters, developing their personalities, and putting them in various situations fun. If you have never done it, start writing, add more, and see where it takes you. Let the imagination go to town. 

What gets tough is the editing. There are some excellent editing programs that utilize the artificial intelligence that we hear so much about. I like Grammarly, which evaluates my work for correctness, clarity, engagement, and delivery. Since I was every English teacher’s nightmare regarding punctuation, I love how it captures many, not all, such errors. Occasionally, I get into arguments with Grammarly over semicolons, and sometimes, I catch something it missed. It is a useful tool, but human participation in the process is mandatory. 

A powerful tool in most word processors is a read-aloud feature that lets the author listen to the work as the computer reads it back. Adding the sense of hearing to the activity detects unintended word repetition and other errors.

It is always a good idea to get another set of eyes on your work, and if you don’t want to burden friends and family with editing, you can hire a professional proofreader online. 

The most challenging step is getting a publishing company to print your book. According to Google, the odds of an unpublished author getting work accepted are about 1 to 2%. John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected twenty-eight times before Wynwood Press accepted it. I went up to thirty-two rejections before deciding to self-publish my debut novel, Sally Peyton and the Missing Uyghur. I found an outfit called LuLu.com that uses on-demand printing to publish writers’ works. It costs nothing to produce a book, and the author pays a discounted price for a copy. The entire production of the book is in the author’s hands, including selecting the size, the format, and the book’s cover. That became such a fun experience, that I put together a collection of short stories and did it again. This is a good option if you are comfortable working your way through online software. 

If you are keen on writing a novel or a book of any sort, you might want to start by asking yourself why. If it is for money, you will probably be better off with a part-time job in a service-oriented industry. If it is for the fun of seeing your work in book form and having something unique to give friends and family members on special occasions, then self-publishing is an option to consider.

I recently published my short story collection on Kindle for those who want to read it online. I uploaded my WordPerfect file into the Kindle software and learned that I lost some of the formatting, such as the special fonts I had for chapter titles in the paper copy. Again, some tweaking was necessary, but overall, the process was easy and cost nothing. 

I hope I have brought out the novelist in you. If you get started and have questions, you can email me at [email protected].

Steve Bailey grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, was educated in Minnesota, and taught middle school for thirty-two years in Virginia. Contact him at vamarcopolo.com.

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