If you love anime and manga, chances are you’ve actually thought about your own original story but never had the means to bring it to life in the way that you would love to see it play out. I should know because I was one of those people. Thanks to my friend Mike, I had fallen in love with anime and manga and have loved it now for over a decade. I drew inspiration from the shows I watched and always wondered “what if I could tell my own story but in the style of a manga?”
The gears began turning in my head and I actually thought of a story I would have loved to tell but there was one little problem: the artwork. To be honest, I can draw but not at the level that a mangaka can. My drawings are decent at best and if I wanted to tell my story, I wanted it to look like something that could easily compare to a professional’s work. I shopped around for artists, called some friends who knew people but I couldn’t really get my project off the ground.
Then it dawned on me. I was always pretty good at creative writing as it was one of the few things I highly excelled at in both high school and college. Why not try my hand at writing a light novel? So, I did and it opened up a world to me that I didn’t think was possible: self-publication.
Needless to say, this was a new experience for me and while I found my stride and worked out a system that worked, I figured there are those out there who have a story in mind but just don’t know where to begin. I felt maybe if I imparted some knowledge on the methods I used, it may inspire some to go through with their stories and bring them to life.
Of course, I have to toss out the disclaimer that this is the method that worked for me and is, by no means, THE method nor is it the golden solution to writing a light novel. I’m pretty sure there’s still much I can learn as life is a continuous stream of learning from beginning to end. Nobody can truly know everything, even if it’s about one little slice of the overall knowledge pie.
So, where do you begin? With a story, of course.
I can hear thousands of people clicking off this article for giving the biggest “well, duh” advice in the history of the internet. Still, I’m pretty sure it had to be said.
As for the story, I wrote one series and I’m currently writing another using two different ideologies. The first series I wrote, Final Hope, had a beginning and an ending already planned out before I had even placed the first words on the page. I had major events in mind and I simply connected the dots along the way until the beginning and the end was fully connected to one another and all points in between made that singular line flow as smoothly as possible.
Sure, that’s one way that you could write a light novel and it works if you intend it to be a short series. The thing with Final Hope was that I never really intended it to be a long series. In fact, I never really intended for it to be published. I’ve done a LOT of writing in my life and I never once thought about publishing any of it. It was just a creative outlet for me and Final Hope was just another one of those outlets. It wasn’t until some people read what I had written and encouraged me to turn it into a book. I guess if you never intended for it to be a book in the first place, it’s easier to plan an end to your story. Even if the goal is to publish, it’s not a bad idea to have an ending in mind. Some people prefer to start there and work backward. I’m just not one of those people.
My second series, A.R. Dragonfly, takes a different approach and it has become my preferred method. In this series, I came up with a concept and decided to write it out book by book without an ending in mind. The reason for this is that with Final Hope, I felt like with an end goal set, that I had to work towards that end goal and make the story flow in that direction. This left me a bit unsatisfied because there were some aspects I thought about later that I could have explored but never really gave myself the chance to because I was too busy working towards that final moment.
With A.R. Dragonfly, not having an ending keeps me constantly thinking of what comes next. What situations can I put my characters in, what story arcs can I explore, and what new things can I come up with to enhance the story? Without an end goal to work towards, I feel like I have a lot of freedom to explore things, try new things, and even come up with situations that feel natural. Right now, I have three volumes written, a fourth planned, and enough material to span a total of seven volumes and I find myself still having more story to tell. That actually gets me excited and motivates me to keep being creative with this series.
I believe that if you’re going to write a story, then you need to be flexible. You need to have that creative freedom. The fewer chains you put on yourself, the more you can shape your world to your liking and build upon it. Again, this is what worked for me and maybe you work better using another ideology.
So, once you have your concept/story, where do you begin?
Understanding Light Novels
The first thing to note about light novels is their length. They are, typically, 180-200 pages in length and around 35,000-50,000 words in total. The majority of them have art sprinkled throughout the book so hiring an artist is something you’ll have to keep in mind. It’s not required as there are some books that have been published without any art whatsoever but a few images here and there only help enhance the experience.
As for the page count, I want to stress that it’s 180-200 pages in A5 format (8.5” H x 5.5” W). Japan uses A4 which is a bit smaller but you’re going to be publishing your book in the good old US of A and the typical size over here is A5. Feel free to point fingers and laugh but I made a very big rookie mistake with volume one of Final Hope. When I had finished writing the book, it clocked in at 192 pages. I felt I did a great job hitting the target range until I realized it was 192 pages of 8.5 x 11 paper. Once it was formatted down to A5 size, it ended up being 320 pages!
There was nothing light about that novel! Still, that was my first lesson and I made sure to stick within the page limit for all other light novels I wrote. I did that by planning out the content for each book through bullet points. While Final Hope’s first volume contained 12 chapters, I dialed it back to 9 in volume two. With A.R. Dragonfly, I settled on 7 being the magic number of chapters for each volume. Of course, I chose a lower number just in case I needed to expand the story and create an extra chapter or two. I gave myself some breathing room but, so far, I’ve been hitting that 7 chapter goal without feeling like I’ve left anything out.
Creating a target number of chapters REALLY helps out with the planning. You can then create bullet points for each chapter and fill in the blanks along the way as you write. Just be sure to touch on major events in each chapter and never, ever, plan on sticking to just those bullet points. I say this because I cannot remember how many times I was just following a bullet point when an idea popped into my head and I just started adding that into the chapter. Creativity isn’t something that can be completely planned. You’re always going to have moments while writing where something you hadn’t thought of before surfaces and you’re going to want to write about it. That’s why it’s always best to be flexible when making your bullet points.
Another thing to understand about light novels is their format. Think of them as a screenplay without stage directions in book form. In other words, there’s a lot of character dialogue in light novels versus American novels where they are heavily driven by narrative. This means that you not only have to plan your story but also your characters, too. Each character should feel unique with their own personality and it is EXTREMELY important to convey that through your words. Text is just ink on a page. It has no physical emotion so your choice of words and dialogue needs to convey emotion through an emotionless medium. With light novels having a lot of dialogue, it’s important to get that right!
Once that’s all said and done, it’s time for the longest part: the actual writing.
Writing/Editing the Light Novel
Hey! We’re at the end! We can just write this thing, put her to bed and be done with all of this, right?
Writing out the book is just the first step in a long process after planning the book. Now comes the tedious part: the editing. Hiring an editor is quite expensive but thanks to the magic of the internet, some free options, and a bit of your time, you can take care of that part yourself for little to no money whatsoever. For me, I use a four-stage process when editing my books.
Stage I – First Draft
In this stage, the chapter/book has been written and is unedited. In this, there’s probably a lot of grammar errors and things of that nature as each chapter was mainly written to get all my thoughts out on paper in a way where it forms the story.
Stage II – Second Draft
This is when I go back chapter by chapter and edit them line by line. Here, scenes could be changed, deleted, or added as I see fit. Dialogue is re-written to fit the characters’ personalities more and, sometimes, character descriptions change. (A prime example of that is Lynn in Vol. 2. Her character design completely changed from the first draft. An explanation of that will be given in the Fun Facts bonus section of the book.) I also go through and fix any grammar errors by my eye only.
Stage III – Grammar Check
In between second and final, I run each chapter through both Grammarly and Microsoft Word’s spell check. You’d be amazed at what one program finds over the other.
Stage IV – Final Draft
Even though I just ran the chapters through two completely different spell checks, I re-read the entire book and make sure I (or the spell checks) didn’t miss anything. This is also my “do or die” moment where I must either commit everything I’ve written to publication or make final edits. Any edits I do make are read a minimum of three times to make sure everything is spelled correctly and good to go.
Once that’s done, you should be able to call your book done, right?
Wrong again! There’s more!
Assembling Your Book
If you’re planning on going purely digital, all you need is Microsoft Word and you can use that to publish on Kindle. If you want a physical book, my personal recommendation is Adobe InDesign. If you only plan on doing one or two books and nothing else after that, perhaps finding someone with InDesign will be your best option as Adobe only offers it through a subscription service which will set you back $20 per month per program that you want from them. It can add up quickly and there’s no need to pay a monthly service fee if you’re not going to use it.
I won’t really get into a tutorial on how to use InDesign but it’s not as hard as it looks. You simply make a new document in the size your book will be, set your margins, make sure your bleed is set to 0.25”, draw a text box and copy/paste your text into it. There a little more to it but that’s the simple gist of it. There are many free tutorials that will go in-depth on all the benefits InDesign has to offer. Once it’s loaded, you just export it as a PDF with printer crop marks and document bleeds and you’re set to hand that to a publisher!
But wait! Didn’t you mention art? All you’ve talked about is words, words, and more words!
Art is optional but if you want to go that route, DeviantArt has a ton of great artists that do commission work for very affordable prices. Hit up the forums and check them out. For me, I usually come up with character designs after my second draft. I give those to the artist and I write the next volume of my book while the artist is doing the art for it. Once the art is done, I do the Grammar Check and Final Draft edits and compile everything at once.
Publishing Your Book
Once it’s all together, it’s time to find a publisher. A lot of times, publishers will pay you for your book, take almost all of the rights for themselves, and market it out in the world. This will get you some quick cash up front but it doesn’t give you full control over your creation. Some people are satisfied with that. Others, like me, want more control over their intellectual property so this is where self-publishing comes into play.
I, personally, use CreateSpace. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and they will publish your book for free (as in, no fees or up-front costs). How they make their money is that every time you sell a book, they subtract printing costs and marketing fees out of your price. Sounds pretty hefty but it’s not. For example, A.R. Dragonfly is listed for $9.99 on Amazon. I get, roughly $3 per book, which means it’s around 30%. You can set your own prices and earn more money but you also have to keep in mind that you are a virtual unknown in a sea of famous artists. Someone like a J.K. Rowling can charge $30, $40 per book and actually sell millions of copies. She is a proven author whereas you and I… not so much. I know that I wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown author at that price. Sure, it would feel good to support them but at the same time, if their work isn’t compelling, it just sours your experience and makes you hesitant to invest that much into another independent author.
You have to be reasonable with your price and I feel $10 isn’t a lot to ask of someone. If you’re more concerned about getting your name out there and don’t care about profit, you can go lower. CreateSpace does; however, have a minimum price that you have to charge in order to cover costs on their end so keep that in mind as well. Kindle doesn’t really have that problem so you charge whatever you’d like and your profit will be determined by what you charge.
So now your book is published! You’re finally done! Rejoice! Praise the aberrant veggie in the sky! We can finally rela—
No, you can’t You’re not done!
We still have one important step. A step that never ends that you constantly have to be working on: Marketing.
Marketing Your Book
Sure, you can publish your book but if you think people are going to find it while you sit back and sip a beer, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re going to have to market your book. Talk about it on social media, offer free review copies (whether physical or digital is entirely up to you), reach out to websites who cover your material and see if they would be interested in running a story, look up communities and join them. Do whatever you have to do to get the word out about your book. A silent book is a book that doesn’t sell which means you just went through all of that effort for nothing.
So, that was a long post. I’m pretty sure you’d like a TL;DR on all of that so let’s review!
The Part Where You Skipped Everything I Just Wrote! TL;DR
1. Come up with a story
2. Plan the size of your book in terms of # of chapters
3. Create bullet points for each chapter
4. Write, write, and write some more!
5. Edit your book
6. Create your characters and hire/give them to your artist (optional)
7. Write the next volume of your series (if there is one)
8. Receive the artwork
9. Finish editing the book
10. Load it all into a publishing software (physical) or Word (KJindle)
11. Find a publisher and submit
12. Market your book
13. Do it all over again
This is how I’ve been doing since volume two of Final Hope and it’s worked out pretty well for me. My goal was to always have a book in the bank before releasing a volume. For example, Volume 2 of A.R. Dragonfly was written before Volume 1 published. I am currently waiting for the art for Volume 2 and, therefore, I have Volume 3 written and awaiting editing. I did this because it gives me so much more flexibility for the marketing portion of the book. It allows me to do extra steps such as announcing a release date, work on promotional art, and get the word out before the book actually goes live!
Like I said at the start. This isn’t a golden answer. Some (or a lot) of this is just common sense but there are those out there who have ideas and just don’t know where to start. My hope is that this helps you out and gets you started on your path to turning your ideas into something others can enjoy.
The world could always use more authors, after all!
Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask away and I’ll try and answer them as best as I can.
Also, I’ll take a little time here to offer up some shameless plugs! (Hey, remember that marketing step?).
If you want to check out Final Hope and/or A.R. Dragonfly, you can find them at the links below! If you run a website or a blog and review things such as light novels, free PDF review copies are available! Just ask and you shall receive (I will need a link to your review once you’re done, though!)