How To Write A Book
Writing a book is a huge undertaking. Even if the book is very short (as many e-books are) you will need focus in order to finish it. Many people start, few finish, and even fewer finish on time.
But first things first. Why should you listen to me?
Well my name is Lesley and I’ve written four published books, Ive also been an editor of a magazine, written a huge number of articles and done most of that while holding down a full time job as a consultant. Did I mention I was also a Mum?
No, I am not trying to claim I’m super woman in any way. I’ve had loads of help. The only reason I mention it is to point out that I wasn’t working on any of those things full time. I had to shoe horn them into a pretty busy life. So I quickly found out the most effective ways to work. My aim is to pass them on to you.
Book production consists of 6 phases. As the author you are involved in some way in them all.
Many authors jump straight in at the writing stage, but planning is important. As with any other goal, you need a deadline, otherwise writing (and most especially editing) can go on and on and on for years, without getting anywhere.
Before you start, you need a plan. Here are some things to consider.
Motivation. No, not as part of character creation. I’m talking about your motivation. Be honest with yourself about why you are writing, If its because you want to, that’s fine. If it’s because you want to make money, well that’s fine too, but you need to know how you intend to make money from your book before you start.
Time. How long will it take to write, and how will you keep yourself motivated. The best way is to divide the work into steps and give yourself a reward to reaching each one. Finding time in your day is another problem. Plan for it. If you can’t set aside a 2-3 hour slot on a regular basis, don’t bother. Be realistic. If you can set aside 3 hours a week you will be working on your project for a long time. Can you stay focused on the project for that length of time?
Space. Where will you write? Sitting in front of the TV with the kids? l I can tell you that doesn’t work well for me. Set aside a comfortable spot with a desk and comfortable chair. You will need a computer, but it doesn’t have to be powerful. I do a lot of my writing on a 10 inch netbook using the google docs. That way I know that even if my computer blows up, google have it nice and safe. Look carefully at the height of the table, you’ll spend a lot of time working there, be sure you are comfortable. If you aren’t that good at typing or spelling, try voice recognition software. You have to train it a little, but it works amazingly well.
Food. Most authors need some sort of supply while writing, whether it’s coffee, alchohol or food. Lay in supplies before you start, or if you can afford it, start your project with a stay in a very comfortable hotel. Get them to disconnect the TV, switch off your phone and be sure you have the budget to eat from room service. You can get a lot of writing done that way.
If you only have three hours writing time, you don’t want to spend any part of it making sandwiches. (From experience I’d say don’t even try to write if you’re on a diet, the two just don’t go together, except I suppose if you were writing about being on a diet).
Once you have a plan and know how you are going to achieve your goal you can start your research and as part of that you can create a mindmap and/or outline. If your major motivation is money then I’d suggest talking to some publishers about what they are looking for, well before you start. Can’t find a publisher to ask? Try tweeting your question.
If you plan on writing fiction here’s the basic information. Most books are read by women, and most of those books are romances. Right at the moment, supernatural romances are still ‘in’ (Thank you Twilight).
Questions to ask yourself.
Fiction or non fiction?
I’m guessing you’ve settled on fiction, but did you realize that there is a lot more non fiction published AND non fiction can often sell from a book proposal. Yes, Simon and Schuster agreed to publish my first book (non fiction) based on a detailed proposal, I didn’t actually have to write the book and wander from publisher to publisher. If you want to sell fiction, you will usually have to write the whole book before you can approach a publisher or agent. Why? Because publishers and agents know that books are really easy to start, and fiction especially is very difficult to finish. Why get excited over something that most likely they’ll never see?
Non fiction is easier. We all have a story to tell; our own. And non fiction can change your life by giving you more credibility. If you have a business of your own, or even a webstore, a book can be a great publicity tool. You may not earn much money from it directly, but the indirect effect of it can change your life.
Past, present, future or fantasy?
Anything set in the past, the present or a fantasy world is going to require extra work in terms of research. If you have always had an interest in a particular period in history, if you are a scientist with an interest in space, then by all means, but for most of us, writing a historical romance (and they are very popular) would require research, and probably not the sort of research you can do on the net. If you choose to do something like this, then be realistic about the time and effort involved.
Whatever type of book you write, there will be research involved. If you are writing fiction based i the present day then it is likely your research will be minimal, but most research is useful. Adding authentic details makes a manuscript seem real, the more you can write from personal experience the better it will be. If you don’t have personal experience, can you talk to someone who has?
Don’t start a project you can’t complete because you don’t have the time or facilities for detailed research. Be realistic.
The first thing you need to write is a plan of your book. Most people call this an outline. Many Fiction writers hate this. They say the characters evolve as they write them, they don’t like knowing the end when they start.
A plan is just that. A plan. It can be changed. But writing which starts our with no where to go can just turn into waffle. So make a plan and adjust the plan as you go along.
I always use a mind map so I can move stuff around until I like the structure, it’s the best way I know to see connections and build a logical structure. Then I turn the mindmap into an outline.
For non fiction writers an outline is ideal. Create the outline and just keep adding detail until you reach the paragraph level. It’s easy to do and it allows you to work out of sequence, an ideal antidote to boredom.
A lot of writers have a method. The details don’t matter. The bottom line is that you need to keep writing. As you write you will find out what works for you. What worked for Hemingway doesn’t really matter. Take a look on the web, writing is something there are lots of books on!
But there is one thing you need to avoid. Seriously
In the old days, when all writing was done with pen and ink, it was difficult to change text, yet many classics of literature (and non fiction) were written that way. Now we have word processors we can edit and edit and edit all day long. And produce nothing. Do not start your writing session by editing what you write before, Leave it, move on. At this stage think of editing as a sin. Write regularly, write the best you can. Get it done.
Publishers employ editors. They can and will correct your punctuation, your spelling, your use of English. They will also check for inconsistencies. So why should you edit your book, when you know they will do it for you?
Simply because you will not sell your book if it contains bad spelling grammar, punctuation and inconsistencies. They may be able to edit it,but they want to know you can write. Once you have an established relationship with a publishing house things are different. They may agree to publish a book based on an outline, they may edit a really rough first draft, but if this is your first book you will not get any interest from a publisher or agent unless it is already as perfect as you can make it.
Editing should be done in the same way as writing. Work steadily day by day, Have a timetable. Keep moving ahead. When you get to the end, you’re done. Stop.
Hopefully you identified a number of potential publishers in the planning stage. If not, there are plenty of places where you can get lists. A publisher who asks for money is not a publisher, they are a vanity publisher. Avoid them, but see the section of self-publishing below.
When you write to a publisher don’t just send your manuscript. Treat your book as a business. Tell the publisher who you wrote it for, how many you think might sell, what sort of comparable books are out there, which book yours is most like, how many has it sold and at what price. Publishers will be impressed that you are thinking of sales. Surprisingly few authors do.
A consistency check is an important part of the editing a publisher will do. It’s not just a question of making sure you don’t have a character going to sleep in New York and waking up in Berlin (withut an explanation) it’s also a question of looking at what the characters do and say. As a writing coach I was sent a manuscript about a women whose mother was dead but had a very rich father. The story said she had been in a series of foster homes, so he first question was, why? Did her father know she existed? If he did, why were they not together? Sometimes just thinking through the characters will tell you a lot about the details, where they should be, and what they should be doing. For example, if you plan to write a book with many exotic international locations, create a character with a reason for being there. Why do they travel? Who pays for it? Think these thigns through before you seat them in first class on the ‘plane.
When it comes to non fiction the publisher will often lack the knowledge to check your facts, especially if the book is technical or designed for an expert audience. But that won’t stop them!
Most of the two year delay between completing my first book and having it published was due to Simon and Schuster sending it to 4-5 others in my field for detailed comments. In some cases they disagreed with what I had said and I had to prove my point. It was a long, time consuming process, but it explains, why when something has been printed by a mainstream publisher, it can usually be regarded as factual. Information found online is sadly not so reliable.
These days self-publishing is also a viable option. You can self publish through Amazon or through other services like Lulu or Createspace. I know people who have used Lulu and been very happy with the result.
Self publishing is not the same as vanity publishing. Its a process where you create a digital version of your book (including cover and other art work) and your chosen publishing platform makes it available to the customer. The book is not printed until a customer buys. When a purchase is made, you get the difference between the price the customer paid and the publishers fee for printing the book. The book is printed, and sent straight to the customer.
Your First Book
I can still remember the day a box turned up on our doorstep filled with copies of my book. It is an amazing feeling, a little bit like having a baby. All thoughts about whether the effort was worth it tend to dissapear. But the truth is that the hard work is just starting.
How Much Can I Earn?
Bear in mind that the royalty on most print books is something pretty low. It will depend on your publisher and should be spelled out clearly in your contract, but 5 to 10 % is not at all unusual. So for all your hard work, if your book is printed as a 9.99 paperback, you might make $1.
The royalty on ebooks is usually a lot higher as there are few overheads for the publisher and can go to 25% or even more. If you self-publish then you have to pay all the cost of product, preparation of cover art etc, however when it comes to book sales, Lulu for example charges 4.75 to print a 150 page book, leaving a potential $5.24 for you.
So, why do people use publishers at all? Because books aren’t that easy to sell, though of course some of the publishing packages from amazon or lulu will make your book available on amazon.com. Then all you need to do is make sure that people know it’ there,
Of all aspects of book production, this is the most difficult. You should have an idea on how you intend to market the book way back at the planning stage, but obviously it is very difficult to get started until you know when the published item will be available.
A publisher can be very helpful in selling your book to bookstores across the country, but don;t expect them to send you off on a book tour, or book you spots on later night talk shows unless they think there is a serious danger of your book becoming a best seller. I was really surprised at how little marketing a publisher actually does, when it comes to non fiction then if you put your book details on your website, mention it when you speak at conferences (and if you write a book you will be asked to speak at conferences) you may be able to sell more copies than the publisher does.
If you self publish a book you have a much higher production cost than a publisher who prints thousands of books at a time. But if you do have a market for your book, perhaps a club your belong to, your own students, you can usually do the same, print your book in larger numbers to the print cost is lower, then you can sell them yourself for an appropriate amount.
Self-publishing websites like Lulu also provide optional marketing and promotion packages, at a price.
But don’t think this last hurdle is one you can’t overcome. If you’ve actually completed a book and had it published you’ve achieved something most people only dream of, so get the right information and get to work marketing.
There are some excellent books on how to self publish
and if your budget is very low, here’s a video showing how one author marketed his book on a budget