First novel – top ten tips

John Mountford has been a keen commentator on this blog for many months. Has has just published his first novel, and I asked him to share some tips about his experience with us all. 

GOODREADS-AUTHORI have just Amazon-published my first novel, KILL MANDELA, two years and ten months after writing the first word. Despite the plethora of help for new authors on the web, I took my fair share of wrong turns along the way.

And so I decided to give something back by adding my bit to that vast pool of self-publishing help – and where better than the blog of one of the most helpful writers in the business, Rachel Abbott.

A quick disclaimer: these tips are from my personal experience, and may not perfectly match your circumstances. Nonetheless, I stand by them.

These are my



Amazon is your sales window, and so make sure that the novel you write fits clearly into one of their sales categories. Don’t wait until your novel is finished to do this – do it as soon as possible. There are two benefits to this:

  • You know who you are writing for while you write.
  • You give your novel the best possible chance to be liked.


Decide up front that you are going to publish both a print and digital version of your book. Why? Because your completed manuscript must be prepared differently for each, and it is best to write in the format you are going to be publishing in. This will save you many hours of frustration when you are preparing your completed manuscript for publishing.

There is special writing software available, such as Scrivener, that will do this for you, but I chose to write in Word for three reasons:

  • I was already familiar with it.
  • I did not want to invest writing time in learning a new system.
  • I saw no need to spend money I didn’t have to.

If you are comfortable with Word, stick with it.


Contrary to what the many bogeymen out there will tell you, that a Word manuscript is not suitable for submission to Amazon, I have found otherwise. As long as your book reads like most fiction books (no images, illustrations, special tables etc), you will have no problem uploading your digital or print manuscript if you follow some basic guidelines while writing your book. There is no need for you to incur the cost or time it takes to produce an HTML manuscript.

Rachel has a few excellent blog posts on Word writing tips, and here is another link as well, with screen shots that are easy to follow.

Go through these and apply them to your writing as early as possible in your manuscript.


You are going to produce a number of drafts of your manuscript before it is published. At each stage you will need help from Beta readers. Beta readers do not replace the editor – they help you prepare the way for him/her. You will need three different sets of readers:

  • BETA-READERSAfter the 1st draft, to give you feedback on the story and plot.
  • After the second draft, to pick up the the typo, grammar and layout errors you have missed.
  • After the final, edited draft, to provide you with a review.

You will need readers with different levels of expertise at each stage, and you cannot expect the same readers to go through all three drafts! So choose them carefully. Get their clear agreement in advance.


Your biggest headache after publishing will be in trying to get reviews. Reviews are the mother’s milk of any new-born book. Your problem, of course, is that the people who buy your book are going to take weeks, even months, before they leave a review (if they even do).

This is where your carefully selected review Beta readers come in. They will be able to place a review on Amazon the day it is published – heaven for the new writer! Your review readers (as many as possible, but at least five), must tick the following boxes:

  • Not your direct family – Amazon will not accept reviews from them.
  • Have, or be prepared to have, an Amazon account.
  • Be computer literate enough not to be terrified by the process of posting a review on Amazon. (I lost seven potential reviews from Beta readers this way!)
  • Be capable of putting together a few well thought out, well written, sentences. Nothing fancy – just literate.
  • Be your most reliable Beta readers.


Join Goodreads at least six months before your book is published, and become an active part of just one, carefully selected, reading group that suits your genre. The group must be prepared to accept author’s own books for review in the group (many don’t, because of pushy authors).

Get genuinly involved in the group, and don’t push your author status or your upcoming book. That will happen naturally over time, and will be a great help to you in the early days of post-publication. You will also enjoy the interaction, as long as you do not try to get involved in too many things. Focus on your group’s activities, and you will naturally begin to find your feet on Goodreads. It has much to offer an author, if handled right.


The best way to market your book, I have found, is to put a print copy of it into the hands of as many people as possible who can either:

  • Leave a well written review on Amazon.
  • Influence and stimulate public opinion.

So rather than buying (useless?) marketing packages or advertising, invest your marketing budget into print copies of your book. Assuming you have a well-written, well-edited book, it will be your most effective marketing tool. It is word of mouth, and visibility on Amazon, that will generate sales more than anything else: readers and reviews.


I have one rule for you to follow with social media:


Social media is about building relationships, and enjoying the process. If you are one of the small number of writers to whom this comes naturally, then do it properly. It will slow down your writing, but it will assist you over time in marketing your book.

Most writers, however, resent the time they spend on social media, because it robs them of writing time and forces them to be false and manipulative. Do not waste your time dabbling if your sole objective is to market your book. It doesn’t work.


Here, I am going to be blunt (sorry, Rachel!):

Blogging for writers to find readers does not work. Do not waste your time unless, as in point 8, you are part of that special breed of social media-loving authors. But be aware that this will seriously diminish your writing time if you do it properly (as you should).

Readers seldom read writers blogs. Other writers read writers blogs. Why? To learn about self publishing. I have closely observed writers blogs, including Rachel’s: when the blog is a DIY one about publishing or marketing, the comments pour in; when it is about something more general or esoteric, the comments dry up. People go to blogs to learn how to do something, not to ‘hang out’ and chat.

Rather set up a website. Keep it basic but professional, and make sure that it is a well laid out, uncluttered guide to yourself, as the author, and to your book/s. It is simply your address on the web, so don’t expect to be hosting many reader’s parties there!


If you have observed what I have advised here, and done the preparation for the publishing of your book properly, you will be able to get writing on your second book within two months of publishing the first. Don’t take longer – it isn’t necessary.

Always remember:

  • Writing is what makes you happy.
  • Writing is what produces books.
  • Books are your products as a writer.
  • Second books sell first books better than anything else.
  • Third books sell second and first …

COVER-SMALL-WEBYou get the picture.