Christopher Hitchens is reported to have said, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases, that’s where it should stay.” While surely the world does not need another boring or unhelpful book, a strong counter argument can be made that many more books deserve to see the light of day. Your book might change an industry, document important history, make us laugh until we puke or even save a life.
Books can also be great marketing vehicles for your business, enhance your credibility and build your brand. But writing a book can be an overwhelming prospect. Who has the time? How do you do it?
I’ve written 11 books for other people as a ghostwriter and edited or managed even more book projects, so I thought I’d demystify the process of getting a book out your head and into print. Check out this infographic for a handy summary of the process.
The first step is to define why you want to write a book. Is it for one of the reasons mentioned above? Have you neglected for too long a dream of becoming an author and yearn to write? Great; go for it.
Once you have figured out your why, the next step is to decide what.
Having a compelling idea or topic is essential. Verify that it has genuine potential by bouncing it off fellow writers, agents, friends and people knowledgeable in the relevant field. Check to see if your book will fill an untapped niche. If a book on your idea already exists, either keep brainstorming or refine your idea so that it is better than what is out there already.
What method will you chose?
After finalizing your topic, you have a big decision. Will you write it yourself or do you want help?
Help comes in two forms. The first is hiring a ghost writer who will do all the writing for you usually under your name. A ghost writer might work from speeches or seminars you’ve given or rough notes. He or she might interview you and do independent research.
The pros and cons are:
Writing yourself – offers the most creative fulfillment but it’s time consuming. And it can be hard if you don’t know what you are doing.
Getting help from a writing group, coach or partner costs money, but it offers a balance between DIY-ing it and commissioning a writer for a turnkey project. You will save yourself from mistakes and potentially get a better product than if you did it solo.
Using a ghost writer will ensure you a professional result. If you are pressed for time, a slow/clunky writer or primarily motivated by a desire for the end product not the process, this is a good choice. It’s the most expensive option of the three.
Outline – Don’t wing it
When you’ve made your decision, no matter which route you choose, come up with an outline. This should be a paragraph or two summarizing the big idea for your book followed by the working titles and main ideas for each chapter. Trying to dive straight in and hope the book will take shape organically is a recipe for a bad, disorganized book! Do not go there.
Based on your outline, get a sense of how long your book will be, and see if it seems about right. A book of about 100 pages (or page turns in an e-book) is about 20,000 to 25,000 words excluding photos or graphics. That’s enough to be considered substantial and in most cases, I would not recommend going shorter if your goal is marketing or making an impact for your business.
If your subject is technical or fiction, the length could wind up being much longer. To test your idea without writing the whole book, you could do a short version (essay, short story, white paper) of about 5,000 to 10,000 words and offer it as a free download to generate feedback.
Getting feedback and editing
Once your book is written, I strongly encourage you to bring in an editor. This could be a professional like me or an informal process in which you use friends, teachers, fellow writers or workshop participants.
The editing process will identify parts of your book that don’t make sense and are too short or too long. It will also catch grammar/spelling/typing mistakes and factual or plot inconsistencies. A good editor brings a fresh eye, which is important because you will lose perspective from being close to the project.
Next, make sure you give consideration to graphic and design elements, which will make your book visually interesting. Think about your cover art, photos, charts and graphics. A designer can help with this.
How to publish
One of the biggest decisions you have to make is how you are going to publish your work.
You can use:
Traditional publisher which will probably require to have an agent and/or write pitches. This process is highly competitive. It will be harder and slower to get your book published but the financial risks are low.
Small independent presses – Lots have sprung up and they can be easier to work with, especially if you are writing in a narrow niche. This is a midway option in terms of risk and reward.
Self-publish – The most common route is e-book or on demand printing through Amazon KDP, Createspace and other similar houses. You can hire a formatter (contact me if you need a referral) to handle the niggly parts. These options let you set your pricing, and there are various strategy considerations there.
Once your book is published, you’ll need to publicize it. Book marketing is a specialized art. If you have questions about that or any aspect of getting a book written, feel free to get in touch.