1. Don’t base characters on real people, or attempt to exact revenge for any heartbreaks, personal slights, or family feuds. At best, the writing will be too painful for anyone else to read; at worst, it will be published, and you’ll have to deal with it.
2. Read as much as you can, in as many genres as you can. Even bad books can teach you something (why was the pace wrong? Why didn’t the love story feel true? Why did you get bored?)
3. Pace yourself for the long haul. Lots of people start writing novels, then lose interest and energy. You should be aiming for 90,000 words minimum for a mainstream novel; slightly less for a Mills & Boon or Little Black Dress romance. Try to set yourself a deadline and work backwards from that – what’s an achievable weekly word count?
4. Write the novel you want to read; if you’re not excited about it, and anxious to know what happens next for your characters, your reader won’t be either. If you’re not excited, ask yourself why – is it predictable? Turn it around – think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to your heroine, then do it.
5. Think twice to avoid clichés. It’s easy to write on autopilot, or mirror Characters You Have Loved Before. Be honest: is your heroine’s mother a control freak who’s desperate for grandchildren? Does she max out her credit cards? Is she, in fact, Becky Bloomwood/Bridget Jones/Bella Swann?
A very funny (and genuinely instructive) book to read is How Not to Write a Novel If You Ever Want to Get Published, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. They’re agents. They’ve seen it all.