Mark O'Neill

90% of what I do is daydreaming. The rest is typing.

spy writing fiction

Get started writing fiction novels

If you want to break into writing fiction, then how do you start? How do you figure out your genre and write what readers want?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Fiction is arguably the easiest genre to start writing in. After all, who doesn’t love a good page-turner? I don’t mean to sound simplistic or stereotypical but women generally love their romance novels (just ask my wife who devours them) and men gravitate towards their adventure and thriller novels. Of course, there are exceptions (a lot of my readers are women) and I personally know a few men who like their Jane Austen fix. It takes all kinds.

the chronicles of narnia book
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Writing fiction though is harder than non-fiction in my opinion. With non-fiction, you’re laying out facts based on experience and/or credentials. Writing fiction on the other hand is an entirely different beast. You’re creating new worlds and characters, you have to plot a whole story complete with twists and turns, and you have to get the dialogue and grammar right. Get the dialogue and grammar wrong, and the reader won’t go past chapter one. They will also leave a scathing review for you online and tank your book sales. Fiction readers can be a pretty unforgiving lot if you mess things up.

[bctt tweet=”Writing fiction is harder than non-fiction. With non-fiction, you’re relying on experience and credentials. Writing fiction involves creating new worlds and characters, plotting a story with twists and turns and dialogue.”]

First, you need to think about what type of fiction story you enjoy reading yourself. If you hate reading romances for instance, how can you hope to write your own? If you enjoy reading a particular genre then you will likely enjoy writing it too. Plus, you need to know all the tropes. You need to know what is included in a story of that genre – what boxes to tick and what expectations the reader has when they open a book in your genre. If you want to write about steampunk (for example), you automatically need to know all the different elements that make up a steampunk story. Otherwise it isn’t steampunk. And the readers will soon tell you.

So which one do you enjoy the most? For me, it’s spy thrillers. I devour spy thriller novels in my spare time, and I love watching movies with spies, assassins, government conspiracies, and so on. It’s pure escapism. People want some temporary excitement from their usual routine lives, and I think thrillers deliver that, if done properly. The adrenalin rush of Mission Impossible, the shaken-not-stirred Martini’s of James Bond, the gritty action of Jason Bourne.

kindle store

So what fiction genre can you write in? For ideas, go to Amazon and look in the Kindle books section. Look at the various categories and sub-categories. The sub-categories can get really granular and detailed. Find a genre that you think you can establish yourself in.


How long does it take to write a fiction novel?

This is impossible to answer as there are so many variables involved. How many pages will it have? What is the genre? Have you written a book before? The first book is always the hardest to do. After the first one, you will find it a slightly faster process doing the next one. Including rewriting and editing, it usually takes up to six months for a book to come out. Anything less than six months, and the quality starts to suffer.

How many words does a fiction novel usually have?

There’s no hard and fast rule here. It’s your book, so you decide. However, you should aim for at least 50,000 words.

What is the difference between a novel and a novella?

A novella is essentially a mini-novel of up to 25,000 words. A novel has more words.

Can anybody write a novel?

Of course. If you have the determination to sit down and do it, then you can. With the rise of self-publishing and eBook platforms, you can self-publish and not have to worry about agents and publishers.

Why is it better to self-publish a book?

Many reasons, but there are two big reasons. The first one is that you can keep up to 70% of the royalties, compared to a maximum of 10% with a traditional publisher. Second, you always keep all the legal rights to your work.

Did JK Rowling self-publish?

No she didn’t. She received lots of rejections for her manuscript, until one day she was accepted by a publisher.

Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill is a bestselling award-winning self-published author of the Department 89 spy thriller series. He has also written two other series - The Scorpion and The Undertaker. His books have been translated into German and partly into Spanish. Mark lives in Germany with his wife and dog.

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