How to write a book: six things to think about before putting fingers to keyboard
There are two ways to approach writing a book: the myth and the reality. The mythical version assumes that when you’re writing a book, everything falls into place magically, under the writer’s lavender-scented fingers, as they type up a furore on their keyboard, usually, in a tobacco and caffeine-fused fog.
The truth about writing a book is that it is midway between the mythical version (the ones we’re sold in movies and books, and in the public’s imagination), and the deranged reality.
If you are thinking about writing a book, here are six things you absolutely must do, before you type one word of said book.
- What’s your motive?
Writing is great. Writing a book is amazing. You get to share your experience/expertise (if you’re writing non-fiction), tell your stories to people (that’s if you’re writing fiction), and even better, they pay you (buy your book, that is), for the privilege of doing this.
What’s not to love about that?
However, you must also be realistic about your reasons for writing.
It’s fair that you should expect to be paid for your work, but if your only motive for writing a book is that ‘it’s an easy way of making money’, then perhaps you should hold off on that writing dream.
Not everyone author is a millionaire. Those stories of people who self-publish on Amazon and threw in the day job? Such people are not the norm, much like the stories of traditionally published authors making millions from their writing.
In sum: your desire to write a book is great. Fabulous, even. Just be honest about your reasons for wanting to do so.
- Be clear on your readership
In writing, much like in life, nothing happens in a vacuum. If you want to write a book, you need to think about who is going to read it.
It is no good saying that your book is for anyone who loves reading, because, theoretically, that means everyone in the world who likes reading. That doesn’t mean that everyone who loves reading will like your book.
Let me explain.
I like reading, but I prefer reading cozy mysteries, suspense and contemporary books, especially ones with a strong, female character. So, it stands to reason that I will be interested in books with those elements, only.
The more targeted your readership, the more likelihood your book has of gaining traction with your intended readers, when it’s published. So, double down; try and nail down your target readers as much as you can BEFORE starting your book. It will help keep you focussed when writing the book itself and when planning the marketing as well (more on this, later).
- Outline your book
If you’re reading this, odds are that this is your first book, which is why it is so important to keep things on track. Outlining your book can help you do this.
There are many ways of outlining your book. Some people do plot, character and chapter outlines (if it’s a novel), while others do chapter outlines only.
If it is a non-fiction book, you would still need plot and chapter outlines (the basic structure of a book).
As this is your first book, it is advisable to outline the structure in as much detail as possible.
You do not have to follow the outline to the letter, however, it will help to keep you on track when you eventually start writing the book.
Many newbie writers fear the editing process, because they think it means that their literary masterpiece will be whittled down to a ghost of its former self.
To date, I’ve written eight books, and I can tell you that the editorial process is nothing to be fearful of.
Editing is nothing more than a pruning, if you will, of your book, so that it reads and communicates better to your intended audience. And that’s the job of a good editor — to polish a rough diamond (your original manuscript), and turn it into a precious jewel (a book that people will want to buy and read).
Publishing isn’t the end goal of every one who completes a manuscript. But if it’s something that you would like to pursue, i.e., get your book out to the buying public, then, you’ll need to know the two basic ways of getting published:
- Self-publishing: in which you project-manage the whole publishing process yourself, from writing to publishing to marketing. However, you get to keep 100% of the sales from your book. Self-published authors do suffer from credibility issues in the publishing industry, due in part to the glut in low-quality books that have flooded the market. So, if you decide to take this path to publication, make your book the best it can possibly be by:
- getting a good editor
- investing in a good designer, to help you with the book cover (this is important, because your book cover is the first thing that your target readers will see. A bad book cover will not reflect well on you, the author, so invest in an experienced designer — it’s worth the investment)
- Traditional publishing: in which you get a literary agent, and the agent (who has the publishing contacts and who also takes a percentage of your earnings) shops your manuscript around to publishing houses.
If your manuscript is accepted, the publishing house takes on the costs of publishing the book (you pay nothing, nada, to the publishing for this), you get an advance (think of it as a down payment on your future earnings), and a percentage of future sales from your book.
Yes, there is some snobbery in the publishing world and being a traditionally-published author is the dream (for many writers). It’s like getting a golden pass into a privileged club of A-list writers, chiefly because while getting a literary agent is a feat in itself, the traditional publishing contract is the sign that you have made the grade as a writer.
If the traditional publishing model sounds like a lot of twaddle and you would go rather go it alone, via the self-publishing route, then by all means, do that.
Whatever your preferred path to publication, think about it before you actually start writing your book.
- How are you going to market it?
The easiest part of writing a book is writing it. The hard bit is the selling. You can write the most exquisite book in the world, but if it doesn’t sell, nobody is going to know that it’s the most exquisite book in the world.
I get that writing a book is an all-engrossing task. But, equally important is the marketing. If possible, try and develop a marketing plan while writing your book. That way, by the time it’s finished, you have a fully developed plan, all ready to go and to be deployed, at least, two weeks before publication day.
Many authors shy away from marketing, because they think that their book should speak for itself. That’s true, but the book won’t speak for itself until it’s put into the hands of readers, and that won’t happen unless it’s marketed.
If you haven’t got a website, you should get one, now. Like, immediately. It’s the first thing that people will search for when they hear about you/your book. Your website should also be the destination point of all your marketing materials. And start building your mailing list, as your subscribers will be your first point of contact for all things YOU.
You can find out more about the best blogging websites for writers, here.
Writing a book can seem like a daunting task, but with these six steps, your writing journey should be easier.
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