This is a compilation of ‘tips’ I’ve put together over the last little while. I hope some are useful to you.
The first thing you need, of course, is an idea for a plot. It doesn’t have to be a complete plot but just some sort of premise to begin with e.g., for a western it could be a girl falling off her horse at the foot of the male lead. Her dignity is hurt and she vows to hate him but fate keeps throwing them together. I know that’s pretty simple so adding some mystery and suspense would be great but it gives you the idea of what I’m talking about.
Then, depending on your writing style, you can either jump in with both feet and start to write or jot the story in point form and then start to flesh out the details as you describe each scene. When describing, try to involve all 5 senses and ask yourself what the character might see, feel, hear, smell or even taste. That will allow your reader to 'experience the scene' so much more vividly.
My friend and editor, Jan Gordon, has posted some great “writer’s workshop” pieces on my facebook page. You can find them in the notes section.
Once your story is written, it’s on to editing**. It is the most important step because a poorly edited book can really turn people off even if you have a great plot. Professional editing is DREADFULLY expensive - around 5 cents per word. I can't afford those fees and I'm sure you can't either. There are semi-professional editors out there who charge less. They are people who have a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, spelling, plot etc and can look your book over and offer some advice. (**Sometimes it helps to have someone read your story when you have the first few chapters done so that they can give you some idea as to whether or not you are headed in the right direction or need to do extensive revisions before you invest any more time it it. I did that with Betrayed. I sent it to Jan about ¼ finished and the feedback she gave me made me realize I really needed to rewrite the first bit if the story was ever going to work!)
If hiring an editor is beyond your means then you could post a chapter or two of your story at a place called fictionpress.com This site features non-pro writers and is where I started out. It's free and you can get some feedback from other aspiring authors. They even have people who offer to 'beta' your story. This means they sort of act like an editor, offering advice etc. You don't have to post the whole the story (especially if you are hoping to sell it) but it will give you some idea as to how others like it.
Alternatively, if you are feeling very, very sure of yourself, you can just publish and cross your fingers you've done a good job. It’s not a route I’d advise but some do try it.
Now, as to self-publishing; it is SO easy. Just go to Smashwords. Here's the link: http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords
Read over the info there and then download the Style Guide. It will walk you through formatting your book so it can be read on a variety of ereaders. If you aren't computer-minded, the instructions might seem daunting at first, but once you get into it, you'll find it is quite easy. And as for creating cover art, you could hire someone but if you know a bit about graphics or photo editing you can create your own. Do a search for "public domain royalty free images' (you don't want to be sued for breaking copyright) and find a picture that suits your book. Add a title and your name and you are ready to go! If you need a program to create your cover art try Paint.NET. It is a free program you can download.
Be prepared that not everyone will love your stories. You need to have a very thick skin with a non-stick surface. Some will love your stuff and some will be mediocre but it’s the bad ones that always seem to be 'bigger' in your mind than they really are. You can't let those ones get to you. I don't ignore the bad reviews completely. They have their use and if you get mostly bad reviews then you know you’re in trouble. But most likely you'll get a mixture as I do. I skim over the bad reviews (especially when I feel the need to be humbled a bit - it keeps you very grounded when someone rips your 'baby' to shreds) but focus more on the 3, 4 and 5 star reviews. You can learn to become a better writer by reading the 3 star reviews. Those are the ones that will often offer a real critique of what is good and what needs to be improved in a story. And no matter how great of an author you are, there is usually something that you can work on: character development, plot holes, word choice, editing....
I hope this is helpful! Best of luck with your books!