Over the weekend the final book in the Harry Potter series was released. In the first 24 hours of release it sold a staggering 72.1 million copies worldwide, blasting out of the water the previous record book launch (held by the last Harry Potter book). "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" actually made more money than the latest Potter movie in the past two weeks of release. It's not often that a book bests a Hollywood blockbuster in sales. So the question is, how can you tap into some of that magic?

The tool kit below will help you write your novel from start to finish, publish it, and bring it to the masses without having to lay out a lot of cash and without having to download anything.

Development

The first thing any novel needs is a character, and the first thing any character needs is a good name. Behind the Name's Random Name Generator should do the trick. This handy little utility will let you create a random name from among a plethora of originating countries or sources. Our character will go by "Osvald Urban." But just who is Mr. Urban? If writer's block has you down, turn no further than Serendipity's Character Generator. We now know that Osvald is a "dark brown-haired, gray-eyed apothecary with a willowy build and square-jawed face. He is diffident and cold-blooded, and is interested mainly in insects."

Since we're writing a fantasy story (and with Harry Potter's success, who wouldn't these days?), we'll need to give Osvald a home. The folks at Serendipity have us covered again with their handy Place Name Generator. Osvald now calls the land of "Actia" home.

So we have Osvald Urban, the cold-blooded apothecary entymologist from Actia. Now all we need is a plot. PlotShot is a pretty nifty web 2.0 plot generation tool that matches a random plot with relevant photos from Flickr. Unfortunately, PlotShot is pretty contemporary, so we'll turn to our friends at Serendipity once again. According to the Fantasy Plotter, after Osvald threatens a proud nymph, disaster ensues.


PlotShot comes up with some pretty wacky plots.

Writing

I agree, the story is pretty bad so far. But these tools aren't really meant to do all the work for you, just nudge you along when you're stuck. So now that you have characters and a plot outlined, you have to sit down and write. If you're having trouble sticking to a writing schedule, I'd suggest signing up for National Novel Writing Month. Every November a group of mildly insane writers from all over the world gather online and in coffee shops across the land to each bang out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. My advice is to ignore your word count or the invariable advice on how to pad it -- that just encourages bad writing. Instead, use NaNoWriMo as kick in the pants to get started on your book. If you're really a glutton for pain, you might also consider the 3 Day Novel Contest.

Since you're actually writing now, there are some web 2.0 tools to help you get your words out of your head and onto the page. First and foremost, you need a word processor. Online word processors have come a long way in the past few years, and Google Docs, Zoho Writer, and ThinkFree Write are all great options for writing your novel.

While you're writing, use Stikket to jot down any notes you might have about your characters or plot. Often times I have ideas in the middle of the night or while I'm doing something else, but if I don't write them down write away, I'll forget. Stikkit sticky notes can help you keep track of all your stray ideas. Two other staple websites any writer should keep in his or her arsenal are Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com.

Publishing

Zoom ahead. You've completed your manuscript. Now you have two options: find an agent and try your luck at traditional publishers, or self publish. I'll focus on the second option, and my favorite print on demand company Lulu. Lulu is one of the easiest ways to self publish just about any type of book (they also do CDs and DVDs) and was a winner of an SEOMoz Web 2.0 Award earlier this year. One of the best reasons to go with Lulu is that they don't charge any set up fees, so you can get your book published in both print and downloadable (PDF) form with no cash up front. Lauren Parker, the PR manager at Lulu, says the company is attempting to create "a digital marketplace, like a mix of eBay and Amazon.com, a place for people to monetize their intellectual property instead of stuff."

In addition to distribution services that can get your book listed at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as on the shelves of your local bookstore, Lulu is trafficked by 3 million visitors each month, ensuring that publishing with Lulu is not only a cost effective way to get your book out, but will also get it out to a large and growing audience of readers. The company also owns Lulu TV, a community-owned video sharing site that shares ad revenue with content creators.

Your book won't sell without cover art to draw in potential buyers, though, and the best place to go for well designed art that won't break the bank is the SitePoint Design Contests board, where designers compete for your job. For under $500, you could easily get a professional quality book cover designed for your masterpiece. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer moderator at the SitePoint Forums.)

Conclusion

So there you have it. With 100% online services and very little cash outlay, you can go from idea to published book in no time. You may not be the next JK Rowling (actually, you probably won't be the next JK Rowling), but you could easily be holding a freshly printed paperback with your name on the cover. All you need to do is write.