There's a lot of advice out there for writing a book, and I'm starting this post for the benefit of the folks on these boards who come to the WotC Novels Group looking for said advice. I'm hoping there will be several posts like this (by myself and others), which will provide links, insight, advice, etc., for all you aspiring writers out there!
And I should make it clear that I consider *myself* an aspiring writer. I may have published three novels and half a dozen short stories, but yeah, I'm still a fledgling. I'm not an expert on the subject (if I were, do you think I'd only have published three novels?) so my advice here is going to be honesty from my experience, and suggestions on where to go from here.
First, I posted an entire guide to writing/publishing a novel on my blog:
(Some of that info is dated--particularly about WotC's policy on taking novel submissions, which fluctuates--so take it with a grain of salt.)
Second, read Susan's previous post about how writing is real work, which takes real training and real ability. You can teach yourself (I know I did), but you should also take advantage of any teacher you can find, whether it's in school, in a master class, or in a book (I highly recommend Stephen King's On Writing).
Third, here's my basic advice: Read, practice, craft, then try to publish.
1) Read a lot. If you like a particular genre, read that genre. Read other genres as well. Don't just read for escape and pleasure--study what you're reading. Think about what works and what doesn't. Think about how you would have ended an ending you didn't like, or analyze why you really liked a particular ending.
2) Practice your writing. Write short stories. Write novels. Write on messageboards. Write fan fiction, if you believe in that stuff. Constantly press yourself to make things tighter, more vivid, clearer, slicker.
3) Craft your submission carefully. Write the first draft, edit the first draft, have other people look at it, edit it again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Make sure that submission is so lean and sharp the jagged bones can cut paper. Also, format it appropriately. There is *nothing* worse than spending 6-12 months of your life/blood/sweat/tears on a manuscript, only to have it rejected because your margins were too big or your font was the wrong size, or because you stapled where you should not have.
4) Try to publish. Built a list of agents and editors--preferably, folks you met at conventions or have a personal connection to--that isn't necessary, but it gives you a step up. Maybe they work for/with a friend, an author you admire, someone recommended them, etc. You will get rejected--don't take it personally. Some agents/editors will be polite and helpful about it, offering constructive feedback/suggestions about where to go next--listen to them carefully. Some agents/editors will call you cliche, boring, or tell you your writing just isn't up to the standards of the industry--ignore them and keep trying. Keep refining, sharpening, and making yourself better and better.
So there we go--that's the de Bie method.
Other authors/editors/readers who've got other suggestions?