Understanding The Three-Act Structure

Writing a book using the three-act structureToday I’m pleased to present a guest blog from Erick Mertz, author and ghostwriter, who is an expert when it comes to structuring a book. I asked him to write this article to give my readers a good foundation in the three-act structure.

Writing a good book, one that connects with readers, requires the mastery of story fundamentals. You must understand characters, the “who” of your book, as well as the setting, the time and locations where your story takes place. No element, however, is more richly rewarding than the plot.

The plot describes the series of events that take place throughout the course of your story. It is the action, those challenges your character faces on his or her path toward achieving their end goal.

A lot gets written about how to properly formulate a plot. Structuring the events in a story the right way leads to a higher degree of readability, meaning your readers will simply enjoy the book more. Getting the right events in place is important, but the right events in the wrong order will leave your readers confused, or unsatisfied, which ultimately leads them to put your book aside in frustration.

Don’t let that happen. Once your readers get into your book, you must do everything that you possibly can to keep them engaged. Getting the right events in the right order is critical to achieving this. One of the ways you give yourself the best chance of achieving this is to follow a classic story structure that has been around and engaging readers for nearly two thousand years.

What Is The Three-Act Structure?

The three-act structure is used in books as well as playsThe first thing you may have thought of when “three-act structure” was mentioned was the theater. Stage plays breaks into acts, usually two or three, with an intermission between them. This is the time when the stage changes form and you can go out into the lobby for a quick breath of fresh air.

Using a three-act structure in a book or a screenplay is not indicated by a roadblock break in the action. There is no end of Act I break written on the page. In a book, structural shifts are seamless. While some changes may come in the form of a chapter break, there isn’t a callout anywhere that says, commencing Act II, as there would be in a stage play script.

Rather than roadblocks, a writer signals changes in the act by way of subtle shifts in the focus of events. Instead of being told the act change has happened, the reader senses it through the events that unfold. Events in a three-act structure build off of one another, behaving like emotional building blocks. Early scenes set the tone for future events, always narrowing in focus and increasing in intensity until the very end when the main character — your protagonist — reaches their goal.

Three-Act Structure & Character

Before diving into the elements of the three-act structure, it is important to establish a fundamental understanding of core character archetypes. In the most rudimentary terms, characters break down into three main types: protagonist, antagonist, and ancillary characters.

The main character, or the protagonist, is the central focus of the story’s central journey. They are the person (or creature, force of nature, or animal) whose path of change we are following. Change comes to all characters, but the protagonist’s change is the one we really care about the most.

Opposing the protagonist is the antagonist. This is the story’s villain, the force putting up the resistance to the main character’s change. Their actions are focused on holding back, slowing down, or stopping the protagonist on his or her way toward their goal.

By and large, ancillary characters are along for the ride. They attach themselves to either protagonist or antagonist (although sometimes they act alone) and are the ones helping achieve those ends. Think of them as the cast of fun, interesting, helpful, or hindering partners that move the story along.

When we refer to events within the three-act structure, they come in reference to what the protagonist is doing and where they are. In rare instances, those events connect to what is being done to them. You will see that the other character roles are usually there to affect what the protagonist is doing.

Act One

During the first act, setting and character are established. This is what writers call the ordinary world, where the main character has their roots planted before the real story starts. We see this is how they were living before the “inciting incident” an event that happens during this section.

Act One is important for a couple of reasons. First, it provides the necessary context. We need to see who our hero or heroine is before the adventure. At some point in this story they are going to change — hopefully drastically, in the direction toward a better self — so this is our chance to see their life before.

The other reason Act One is important is because it is where the “inciting incident” occurs. Every hero receives a call and it usually comes in the ordinary world when they least expect it.

Act Two

Gears in motion as you write your bookThe demarcation between Acts One and Two is the moment when the story’s hero chooses to accept their call to action, something they may have denied before. They’ve debated about the ordeal long enough. They’re no longer thinking about doing something extraordinary — they’re on the path to doing it.

Act Two is the book’s longest section. It comprises roughly 50-60% of the length. This act comprises most of the action, from the early part of the adventure to the introduction of antagonist forces to the set-up for the final conflict.

Every hero is faced with a unique challenge all their own. In Act Two, they are meeting that obstacle, learning about the mountain they must climb, and actually climbing it. This is where they stumble and fall down, before getting strong enough to make the push to the end

Any storyline can be thought of this way, from fiction to memoir to business book. All of our lives and journeys, real or imagined, are filled with conflicts that require acceptance, practice, and trials before the climactic moment on the path to ultimate success.

Act Three

Act Three commences moments before the final challenge is breached. It is arguably the shortest section of a story, centered around the climactic confrontation and falling action.

What is the climactic confrontation? Think of the moment in the story when the hero meets the villain, opposite forces facing off against one another. The protagonist has been moving steadily toward meeting their goal and the antagonist has been pushing back. This is when push comes to shove, the moment when someone has to triumph.

What constitutes the falling action is everything that happens after the climax has been resolved. Maybe the antagonist is vanquished, and the protagonist receives the proper laurels. In one way or another, the journey of transformation has been completed and the hero can return home.

The Three-Act Structure In Action

DumboPerhaps the simplest visualization of a three-act structure is through the Disney classic, “Dumbo”.

In Act One, our protagonist, a baby elephant with ears too big, is born into an unforgiving world. He is an outcast in the circus and struggles to find his worth in a world cruel to misfits.

Act Two begins when Dumbo works to find his place in the circus. His journey is to find his means of fitting in despite an outcast status he is helpless to do anything about. At first, he fails in his big change, but with some grit and determination (and the help of his guide Timothy Q Mouse) he works to find a place for himself. Through this process, he learns that he may have the ability to fly.

At the beginning of Act Three, Dumbo on the edge of trying out his new trick of flying in front of a packed entire circus tent. After much trepidation, he is successful, which ultimately solidifies his place in the circus as an equal to his peers. The antagonist of prejudice has been vanquished.

The Three-Act Structure — In Conclusion

Understanding how to employ the three-act structure is an invaluable tool for reaching your readers. While the idea of a structure might seem rigid, it actually works quite the opposite way. Knowing where certain events should fall makes structure intuitive and leads to happy readers.

Biography:

Erick Mertz, Author and ghostwriter

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter/editor/manuscript consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can read more of his thoughts about the business and craft of writing at his website here.

How to Write a Business Book

how to write a business bookIf you want to write a business book, you’re certainly not alone. So many professionals get a strong urge to publish a book that highlights their niche market expertise. If you talk to PR experts, they will confirm that having a book with your name on it is a key element to any strategic branding campaign. It’s smart business to write a business book!

However, for most busy professionals the dream stops there. Why? Because writing a book isn’t an easy task. As you can imagine, it will take a few hundred hours to complete the project.

Most business owners don’t have that kind of time readily available. They are already overloaded with the day-to-day activities of operating their companies, working well beyond the normal hours of 9-5, usually an average of sixty hours a week. With little time to spare to write a business book, it gets put on the back burner. I get it.

Let’s see if we can make the process a little easier for you to tackle. And, of course, if you need help from your friendly ghostwriter, please don’t hesitate to write me.

How to begin to write a business book

Well, as Lewis Carroll said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

While that might sound a little simplistic, there’s a measure of truth to it, because implied in that advice is a drive to complete the project. So, I’d say the first step is to make that commitment: to write a business book, no matter what.

Once you’re sure you want to embark on this adventure, here is my advice on the next steps to follow.

State your purpose

It's time to start writing your business bookYou must know why you want to write a business book if you’re going to succeed. As a ghostwriter, I always ask my clients to reveal their main drive and passion behind the project. I’ll tell you, I’m most eager to help the CEO who wants to share his or her successful actions with budding entrepreneurs. Business owners who are willing to share their advice, to open up and to confide their errors, with the ultimate goal of paving the way for other business owners to succeed, are heroes in my book.

Some people write me with the sole goal of making a million bucks. It’s hard to get behind that purpose. Readers will sense that goal and will not be inspired to read your book. After all, their goal in picking up your book will never be to make you rich. Rather, they are looking for advice and actions that will help them achieve their own goals.

The authors who truly care about their readers will succeed.

The top business books have a deeper purpose than financial gain for the author. When you can reach out to the individuals reading your words on a one-on-one basis, they will respond. Your readers will be grateful for your insight and guidance. They will recommend your book to others, and more will purchase it. Soon you may even have a best seller on your hands.

Know your readership

If you know who your readers are, you can accurately write to them. Consider writing your book as if you were preparing a speech for a group. Wouldn’t you craft your message differently for a gaggle of middle school students than you would for a pride of CEOs or a pod of athletes?

Never write your book for “everyone” on this planet. It will fail. Remember, you are writing to one individual at a time. You’re writing to your reader, so that individual learns and benefits from your wisdom and advice.

Determine your format

Here’s where your homework starts. You need to settle on a style for your book, and the best way to do that is to read a few other business books. It’s OK to skim them. For now, you’re just trying to find a format that appeals to you.

The good news is that you have choices! Here are a few options for you to consider:

  • a memoir format with lots of sage business advice sprinkled throughout
  • a leadership book with many personal anecdotes
  • a step-by-step approach to accomplishing the goals of the reader
  • a workbook format with lots of practical exercises for the reader to do

There is no hard and fast rule here. You can pick the format that most appeals to you and will resonate with your readership. Again, get some ideas from other bestselling books out there and feel free to use that format for your business book.

Now it’s time to write a business book

Once you have the purpose, readership and format decided, it’s time to begin writing. However, there are a few more steps to take before you can begin putting words on pages.

Determine your focus

Determine the focus of your business bookThe first thing to determine is the focus of your book. Identify precisely the problem that you are trying to solve. Pick one. If you try to solve too many, your book will ramble and lose the interest of your reader.

For instance, let’s say you discovered an effective means of retaining customers in your online business. That’s the focus of your book. Or maybe you want to impart how to start and run a small restaurant in a big city. Whatever you decide, really explore the problem in depth, then present a concrete solution.

Create your idea folder

You might find it easiest to just pour out your ideas into a word processing document or a notebook. Don’t worry about order, grammar or anything but the ideas. This part should be fun.

It’s important not to stop yourself from putting a thought into your idea folder. All ideas should go into the file. You can edit them down later.

When do you stop this phase? The answer is a little like the instructions for making popcorn. There is a phase where the pan is heating up and nothing happens. Then the kernels begin to pop. They pop and pop and pop at a tremendous, almost deafening, rate. Then the popping starts to die out until you hear one pop every three seconds. That’s when you take it off the heat, right?

The same concept applies to recording your ideas. Once you allow yourself to put down ideas, they should flood onto the paper. Allow them to. Don’t stop the natural flow at all. When the new ideas dwindle to a trickle, that’s when you know to switch your attention to the next phase.

Tip: you might invest in speech recognition software or simply use your phone to translate your voice into the written word. That way, if you think of a brilliant segment for your book while you’re out, you can just email it back to yourself easily. A lot of my clients love this feature.

Organize your outline

Now that you have most of your ideas down in one document, it’s time to organize the thoughts into an outline.

There are writers who hate to outline. They prefer to write by the seat of their pants (some call them pantsers). If you’re a pantser, that might work well for fiction, but for nonfiction, it’s going to be a mess. You need an outline.

The format of your outline will depend on the format of your business book.

If you’re writing a memoir, you need to put all the incidents of your story in chronological order. That way you can start to see the flow of your story. Check out my article on Tips for Outlining a Memoir.

For most other formats you’ll create a Table of Contents with a lot of subsections. I’d advise you not to make any one segment too long. It’s best to break up each key element into easy to read sections. Once you have these down, simply put the contents of your idea folder into your Table of Contents. Everything should have a spot. If it doesn’t, create a new subhead.

Words on pages

Get the words out of your head and onto the page of your business bookNow that you have your completed outline, the book is practically written…in your head. That’s how it is for me! I know exactly what I’m going to say; now I just have to take the time to write it down. I need words on pages.

Don’t get overwhelmed.

It’s a good idea to set a schedule for yourself. After all, that’s probably how you got to be a successful CEO or entrepreneur. You set yourself targets and goals, then met them no matter what tried to get in your way.

If you’d like some specific tips for completing your book, check out my article: Completing a Book: The Time, the Space, and the Goal.

Treat this project as you would any other. If you really don’t have the time, hire a ghostwriter to help you. Keep in mind that she will probably need to revisit your outline and help you flesh out the details a little more. She might also have suggestions for the format.

Whatever you do, hold yourself accountable for completing your project. Never lose your drive and passion to write a business book.

Why write a business book

I’ve written many business books over the last twenty years and love the genre. It’s exciting for me to help my clients achieve the many benefits that come from such an accomplishment. While you will certainly sell copies of your book, there are other tangible benefits in store for you when you write a business book.

Increased credibility

If you’re a successful CEO, consider the response from your client base when they learn that you are a published author. Having a book with your name blazoned on the cover is one of the best ways to show credibility.

Think about it. Don’t people respond to published authors a little differently? Not only do new and old clients respect you, but your peers look up to you as well.

Write a business book and become an authority figure

When you have a well-written book with many book reviews and copies sold, various people will want to interview you. You will be asked to guest blog, speak at conferences, be featured on podcasts and quoted in other books and articles.

Your visibility will be catapulted into a new realm.

It’s wonderful when, year after year, new people discover your work and write fresh reviews for your book or quote you in their articles. You become a recognized expert in your niche market. This increased visibility will certainly organically increase your client base.

A feeling of peace and well-being

There is no better feeling than helping another. When you write a business book in which you share your successful actions, you might be aiding others who are just starting out and struggling through the problems you have overcome. Or you might be assisting your clients or future clients, complementing the services that you already provide.

Sharing your knowledge in a book will allow you to give advice to a large number of people that you might not be able to help on a one-on-one basis. Instead of helping dozens of people in a week, you can help hundreds or thousands. Take a moment and imagine creating that effect.

Financial gain

Financial gain from a business bookNot only will you make money each time you sell a copy of your book, but your customer base will rise exponentially as your book sales increase. As you market your book, you’ll come up with ways to collect new names and email addresses. Your readers could become new clients and be your best word-of-mouth referral sources.

For some, the money earned from increased sales far exceeds the cash received from selling the book. If you sell a high-ticket product or service, just one new client can make a huge difference.

There are many ways you can make money indirectly through your book. How you channel this resource is only limited by your creativity.

Mike Schultz, president of the Wellesley Hills Group and a well-known marketing consultant, surveyed 200 authors of business books and discovered that 96% experienced a positive impact on their business from writing a book. That doesn’t surprise me. It just makes sense!

Now is the best time to write a business book

Now that you know the value of a business book and have an inkling of how to proceed, it’s time to take the plunge. The best thing to do is to set aside a dedicated time every day when you write a business book. It may take a year to get it done, depending on the amount of time you spend on it. But like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, it’s the steady progress that will get you to your goal.

But if you find the project overwhelming or just don’t have the time (or desire) to write a business book yourself, it may be time to consider hiring a professional ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter will interview you and assist you in all aspects of creating your book. She will collect your notes from your idea folder. She will help you find your focus, determine your readership, outline your book, and then write it for you.

Keep in mind that you’ll still be a part of the project and will need to dedicate a few hours a week to it. You’ve basically hired a silent writing partner who will do all the legwork for you. Still, you’ll need to review pages, give feedback, and answer questions from time to time.

I’m passionate about helping people create an engaging book with useful information that readers can’t put down. I have a special spot in my heart for entrepreneurs as I feel they are artists.

Would you like me to help you write a business book? If so, please contact me and share your idea. I’m here to help!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Write Your Family History in 2020

Help! Help! I Need Help Writing a Book

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?

“I need help writing my book! How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?”

This is a very popular question. I’d imagine shopping for a writer is a bit like walking into a gallery with the hope of acquiring a special piece of art. You peruse the beautiful paintings on the walls and wonder about their cost. However, it can be intimidating to ask the artist, because the price could be well outside your budget.

When you buy a car or a house, you have a rough idea of the expense involved, but what does a ghostwriter charge?

Here’s a little skit to help answer that question:

I’ve noticed that some ghostwriters don’t like to tackle this subject on their websites. Maybe they’re worried you’ll just click away or fall into a dead faint. Well, allow me to address the question upfront. I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite. I mean, why bury the pricing in some dusty corner of my website? There really is no need to dance around the subject.

As you’ll discover, writers have different fees and some price in different ways. For instance, some writers may charge by the hour or the page. I run a dollar per word to ghostwrite. While manuscripts vary in length, a short memoir or novella will be 25,000 words and a full-length book will be 50,000 – 75,000 words. Some authors prefer to publish mini-eBooks, which can be 5,000 – 10,000 words in length. These can be a good option to get one’s feet wet and learn the art of marketing books on Amazon.

Occasionally I’ll run into a client who actually needs a cross between an editor and a ghost, because he has already written most of the book and the first draft is in decent shape. If that’s the case with you, I’d charge much less. But first I’d need to see what you have before I could give you a proper bid.

Inside Secret: How to reduce a ghostwriter’s price

There are a few factors that can help reduce a ghostwriter’s cost (at least with me). Firstly, I’m always impressed when a prospective client has taken the time to really research me and find out the steps he should take to work with a ghostwriter. I know this is a client who understands me and how I work, which is a great place to start the relationship.

Here are some key ways you may persuade me to reduce the amount I charge:

Pitch me an inspiring book

Idea for a bookWhile some ghostwriters will write about any subject matter, I’m rather picky. I prefer to write about uplifting subjects that help people in some way. Of course, the book doesn’t need to be happy-go-lucky throughout, but if you’re looking to get back at an ex or wish to delve into the horrors of your abusive past, I’m not the writer for you.

I’ve written a couple dozen books over the last two decades. Here are a few examples of projects I’ve completed from different genres:

  • The story of a man who immigrated to the United States with only a few dollars in his pocket and became a multi-millionaire
  • A nonfiction book about a how to run a specialized niche market business
  • The fictional story of a deadly family feud that spans generations and worlds, highlighting the importance of family loyalty and the overcoming of seemingly impossible obstacles
  • The heroic journey of a man who escaped communist Hungary on foot to become an affluent businessman in Canada

There are times when someone approaches me with a story that truly appeals to me. I find that I can’t stop thinking about the project. I really want to help the author, even though he or she can’t pay my full price. If you’re on a tight budget and need help, let me know what you can afford. I can almost always make suggestions to help reduce your cost. Or I might be able to work with a student writer and supervise her work. When I do that, I can charge less.

Be flexible with your deadline

Normally, I need eight months to a year (or more) to complete a book project. If you need a fast turnaround time, I will need to increase my price. However, if you are flexible on deadlines, I can sometimes give you a price break, as I can take on other projects.

I routinely try to come in ahead of my deadlines, but it’s nice to have some leeway if it’s needed. Flexibility is worth its weight in gold.

In addition, there are times when my clients need to take a few months off, too. I always juggle projects to accommodate authors.

Reduce your word count

Since a ghostwriter usually charges on a per word basis, you can reduce the price tag by lowering your proposed word count. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the average length of a book is 50,000 – 75,000 words (or 200 – 300 pages), but some stories can be told in 25,000 words (or 100 pages). This is an acceptable length for a memoir. So, if a shorter book is more realistic for you, know that I can make it any length, within reason. Just be aware that we might not be able to include all the incidents that occurred.

Quality is always better than quantity in writing.

Show you communicate well

man communicating on laptop with ghostwriterI need my authors to be available to review pages I send or answer questions that come up as I write. Understand that you’ll need to put in a couple hours a week on your project with me.

I seek out clients who communicate well and respect my time. From experience, I know that working with these clients will be easier, because they will respond to my queries and be a true partner on the project. Of course, I will always do the heavy lifting for any book project I take on, but the client’s contributions are vital to the success of the project.

On the flip side, if a client needs me to send five emails before answering a question or doesn’t make a scheduled appointment, it takes me longer to complete a project.

I will sometimes give discounts (or add words for free) to a client who communicates well and respects my time.

Three Categories of Writer

If you’re willing to pay the cost to hire a ghostwriter, it’s good to know that there are three main categories of writers:

  • Cheap writers
  • Mid-range professional writers
  • High-end celebrity writers

Cheap writers

ghostwriter's costPrice range: $2,000 to $15,000

How to locate: Fiverr, Upwork, Guru or other freelance websites

Pros:

  • Easy to find
  • Many writers in this category
  • Very low cost

Cons:

  • You need to watch for plagiarism. It’s rampant in this category.
  • The writer will often have little to no prior experience. You’ll need to be patient.
  • Because of this writer’s lack of experience, she may miss deadlines or run into unexpected difficulties.
  • The writer will probably have a full-time job, which may cause delays.
  • Be prepared to rewrite her work.

Advice:

  • Ask for references and contact each one.
  • Get writing samples. Be sure to check each using plagiarism software.
  • Make sure they include outside editing within their fee.
  • Never pay the entire fee upfront; give an industry-standard deposit of 25% down.

Summary:

If you have a very small budget (and you can’t write your book on your own), a cheap writer really is your only option. Your biggest risk is that you’ll wind up with an unusable manuscript that will need to be rewritten. Also, you really need to watch for plagiarism with this class of writer.

Mid-range professional writers

Hire a Limo-class ghostwriter

Price range: $15,000 to $100,000

How to locate: Internet searches, blogs, and word-of-mouth

Pros:

  • You will get personalized attention from a professional writer.
  • The process will be an enjoyable experience.
  • Through the interview process, you’ll probably remember new details of past incidents and might put together some interesting pieces to your life puzzle.
  • Your ghostwriter will have years of writing experience, with at least a few books under her belt.
  • You will learn a lot about how to write along the way.

Cons:

  • The price tag is higher than a cheap writer.
  • Since there aren’t many ghostwriters in this category, it can be hard to get on her calendar. We book up fast.

Advice:

  • Review the ghostwriter’s website. Look for a testimonial page and a blog, as these will tell you a lot about the writer’s experience and viewpoint.
  • Compile a good list of questions before you interview her.
  • Make sure you sign a professional contract. Have it reviewed by your lawyer before signing it.
  • Plan to pay 25% – 40% when you begin the project.
  • Don’t restrict your search to local ghostwriters.

Summary:

This level of ghostwriter will make the project an enjoyable and educational experience for you. It’s a bit like hiring a limousine instead of calling an Uber. If you can afford a professional ghostwriter, you’ll wind up with a quality manuscript that you can either market and sell or pitch to an agent or publisher.

High-end celebrity writers

These ghostwriters are usually hired by actors, politicians, musicians and other famous personalities who will sell books just by virtue of their names. The writers for these celebrities are well-established ghostwriters and authors, who have a lot of experience in this area.

The cost to hire a ghostwriter for a celebrity usually runs $250,000 or more and often works through New York agencies.

Which category is right for you?

questions relating to ghostwritingMost people recognize that they would like a mid-ranged professional writer. And, honestly, the cost to hire a ghostwriter is actually reasonable when you consider that a lot of time, energy and hard work goes into writing a book. An excellent professional writer will often spend up to a year or two researching, writing, and editing a book for you.

As you can see, the cost to hire a ghostwriter fluctuates greatly from writer to writer.

Bottom line: you get what you pay for!

Tip: Give your ghostwriter a trial run

If you’re uncertain about the cost to hire a ghostwriter and are nervous about plunking down a large deposit, propose a trial run. Of course, you’ll need to pay for the service. If you don’t pay her, she will have to fit it in around her paid work and won’t be able to grant it the proper importance. Also, if you pay for the piece, you’ll own the rights to it and can use it anytime.

This trial run will allow you to find out how well the writer meets the agreed-upon deadline and you can really determine the quality of her work. At the end, you will have a good idea of what to expect if you hire her.

Now, some people get the “bright idea” that they can piece together a manuscript by asking many different ghostwriters to provide samples for free. This won’t work. Trust me, it will look more like a patchwork quilt than a book. This is not a good way to get around the cost to hire a ghostwriter.

When I do a trial phase, I allow my client to pick the word count, then I charge my standard dollar-per-word fee. If someone is writing his memoir, I select a story from his past to write. If I’m trying out for a nonfiction piece, I usually write an essay or a blog article. These few pages give the new client a good idea of what to expect from our budding relationship.

A Little Warning

Man is upset about hiring the wrong ghostwriterHave you received a lowball offer to write your book?

While it might sound attractive, it rarely works out for you in the end. I have received calls from a number of prospective clients who made “excellent” deals hoping to save money, only to find they had to shell out a lot more cash to have everything re-written. It’s frustrating for the author, as well as for the ghostwriter who must now take over the project.

If you’re paying a fraction of the usual price, you often get a fraction of the quality.

If you have questions and need help,  don’t hesitate to contact me! Check out my testimonial page to see what my clients have to say about me and my work.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

What You Need In a Ghostwriting Contract?

Write Your Family History in 2020

Four Different Ghostwriting Methods

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

Understanding Characters

What Is It Like to Be a Ghostwriter?

Write and Publish a Book in 2020

“When my partner and I decided to write a book, we interviewed many ghost writers. Some were very inexpensive, while others were too pricey for our budget. Laura wasn’t the least expensive writer, but we chose her because she was so passionate about writing. Laura went above and beyond our expectations. I am very pleased with all her work and will continue to use her for my future writing needs.” Edwin Carrion

Write And Publish A Book in 2020

Imagine that you write and publish a bookAs we embark upon the roaring twenties, you’ll find that it is easier to write and publish a book through Amazon. You can pick any length, set your price and start selling copies relatively quickly.

Having said that, you do need to actually sit down and write the book. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There’s the rub.”

By writing this article, my intention is not to minimize the challenges of your book project in any way. It will take time and you’ll encounter a few barriers along the way. However, since I’ve lived over a half a century now and have written a few dozen books, I thought I could possibly help lessen your frustrations a bit by offering a few tips.

Start by jotting down notes

It rarely works to start writing the first page without knowing where you’re heading. After all, if you’re planning a trip from San Diego to Topeka, I’d imagine that you’d probably pull out a map or GPS to help guide you. It would be tough to just start driving northeast and hope you arrive at Aunt May’s house.

So, begin by simply jotting down general notes and ideas about your whole book. This will give you a direction to head in as you develop the finer points of your story.

Personally, I open a Word document and organize my thoughts into short paragraphs. A former mentor once gave me a wonderful system that I still use today when I outline a book. I create a Who, What, When, and Where sort of format for each incident when I’m writing a novel. Then I always make sure to include the purpose of the incident.

This system works well for a memoir or a fictional piece.

It’s important to keep it simple. Remember, these are just brief notes so that you can create a road map for your book without getting lost on a side path to nowhere.

Example of an incidentIncident of a book: couple drinking coffee

  • Who: Marge and Stephen
  • When: Sept 6, 2002, their six-month anniversary
  • Where: Starbucks on Main St. (Where they first met)
  • What happened: Stephen proposes and Marge declines
  • Purpose: Show how Stephen’s heart was broken early in his life

If you have more to say, you can add another line and call it “Notes.” Here you can download your thoughts on this incident if you find it hard to continue without doing so. For instance, you might add to the above:

  • Notes: Marge and Stephen broke up soon after this. Over the next few years, Stephen dated a few women, but broke up with each of them after six months.

Adding notes at the end of the incident description isn’t required, but the other elements are important. The most important component is the purpose. If you discover that you can’t come up with a legitimate reason to include an incident, it needs to be removed. This can be difficult, I know.

Once you have your list of incidents, you can put them in the right order because each has a time stamp (the When). Typically, you’ll put them in chronological order, but once in a while you’ll create a flashback to illustrate a point.

This is simply one way to create and organize an outline. You can also simply write incident titles on index cards, with very little description (e.g.: Stephen proposes to Marge and is rejected). Later you can fill in the details. Some authors prefer index cards, as they can shuffle them around easily then pin them to a board. I prefer using Word’s old cut and paste function.

While this may seem a bit tedious, I promise you, it’s an important step if you wish to write and publish a book. And, as an added bonus, your themes for a memoir or fictional book will pop out when you create a good working outline.

Set a target and make it

Once you have your outline worked out, you should be eager to start writing. I know I always am! The book is pretty well written in my head; now, it’s time to get it down on paper.

I find it helpful to set myself a daily word-count target, but it might work better for you to have a weekly target. It really depends upon how much time you have to devote to your book project. Only you know what’s realistic for you.

Some incidents will roll off your fingertips onto your computer screen, while others will require a little more time. Keep in mind that you’ll need to do some research, which will take time away from actually writing. Give yourself enough time to be thorough.

As you settle into the routine of writing, you should become engrossed in the story. When this happens, you may find you can increase the amount of words you write.

It’s also a good idea to give yourself deadlines for completing sections of your book. Truthfully, making your deadlines is the only way to write and publish a book. As a professional ghostwriter, I break up my projects into four milestones for my clients in my contract:

  1. The outline and research
  2. The first half of the first draft
  3. The second half of the first draft
  4. All revisions

Each milestone takes about two to three months for me to produce. This approach works well for me, but your process might be different. You may decide to break this down even further, perhaps setting yourself a goal of completing a chapter a week.

Schedule time to write into your day

Schedule a time to writeIf you have a full-time job but have a strong desire to write and publish a book in your spare time, I suggest scheduling a certain time each day for writing. Most people prefer the early morning hours, as they often have the whole house to themselves. However, the night owls among you might prefer a late-night hour.

Whatever time you select, make sure you’ve had enough to eat and that you’re not too tired. It’s also good to secure a little peace and quiet. When you’re starved and have three young children clamoring to sit on your lap, it isn’t the best time to write. Trust me, I know.

If it’s possible, find a dedicated space to write. This should be a quiet place, preferably with a door. If you don’t have room for a writing alcove, then at least pick a place that is comfortable and free of distraction. Some people like to turn off their Wi-Fi, so they won’t be tempted to check the sports scores or their Facebook feed. It’s hard, I know, but remember your goal: To write and publish a book.

Seek out helpful feedback

If this is your first book, it would be a good idea to get a little feedback along the way. Ask friends to read chapters and find out if they are interested to read more. Be open to their thoughts and suggestions, but don’t lose yourself in their viewpoints. There’s definitely a balance to maintain between your own vision for the book and what appeals to your readers.

If you find you can’t do anything with the suggestions you get, keep plugging away. For instance, if you’re writing an historical romance, but your best friend prefers space opera, there really isn’t much you can do. Don’t change your direction to please one person.

However, if you show your book to five people and they all comment that they had trouble getting to the end, you might want to ask them what they didn’t like and if they can identify what made them put the book down. Maybe it’s a simple matter of putting more action into the story. Or perhaps you need to create a little more depth to your characters.

Once you complete the final draft of your book, you will need to get feedback. Find people who are willing to read the entire manuscript. Some people aren’t into reading, while others just don’t have the time. These aren’t good candidates. Find friends who love literature and ask them to critique your book.

Find outside help

If you don’t have personal acquaintances who can help, you might want to join a writer’s group and swap critiques with other writers. Or you can hire manuscript doctors or editors to give you pointers. This feedback can be instrumental to your growth as a writer.

It’s important to find readers who will praise you for what you’ve done as well as point out the flaws. Some editors feel the only valuable feedback is negative. That can be demoralizing and confusing. Good constructive criticism makes you aware of areas you can improve, while praise validates and reinforces the good work you have already done. Both are important.

The last thing you want to happen is to publish a book and find that there’s a gaping hole in your plot or a character that doesn’t come off as realistic. Or perhaps you’re writing your autobiography and have left an unanswered question in the reader’s mind. Good feedback allows you to look at the book through the reader’s eyes. It gives you the opportunity to craft the best possible story.

Get reviews for you book

Girls review a bookOnce you publish your book, find people who are willing to write reviews for you. Amazon has new rules about who can write book reviews, so it’s good to study those. Close family members and friends aren’t allowed (because they probably won’t be unbiased), but you are still allowed to trade a free review copy of your book to those you don’t know well.

Amazon and Goodreads are both great sites for drawing attention to your book, because both attract avid readers.

In addition, Amazon has an Early Reviewer Program to help you find your first five reviewers. Your product must be sold for $15 or more and the program comes with a hefty fee of $60. However, for some this can be a good way to start out.

For all my readers who have the goal to write and publish a book in 2020, I commend you. It isn’t an easy task, but I can promise you it is a very fulfilling one. One for one, my clients have been thrilled when they hold their first books in their hands. While the journey can have a few potholes along the way, it also has amazing vistas and truly spectacular triumphs.

Enjoy the experience!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter

Write Great Dialogue

How to Write a Business Book

Learn to Become a Ghostwriter

What to Expect In an Interview with a Ghostwriter

A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?

Interview Questions For A Ghostwriter

Interview questions for a ghostwrite

Hiring and working with a ghostwriter is a major undertaking. You are about to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who will step into your shoes and learn to write with your voice. I find this connection is very special; I often become close friends with my clients.

Because writing a book together with a ghostwriter is such a personal journey, it’s important that you really talk to the writer before you hire them. After you determine the ghostwriter’s fee, compile a good list of interview questions for a ghostwriter to help you find the best match for you. It’s a good idea to come up with your own questions.

I recommend writing down the questions ahead of time; however, as with any great interview, you’ll need to ask follow-up questions on the fly. For instance, if you ask about the ghostwriter’s background and he tells you about working as a school teacher, it would be logical to ask about the grade level. His perspective will be quite different if the taught third grade or high school.

Make sure to take notes, so that after you’ve spoken to a few writers, you can remember who said what. Notes will also help you formulate follow-up questions.

Here are a few topics that should yield some good interview questions for a ghostwriter:

The number of books she has written

Writing a book is not an easy task. There are many steps involved in producing a high-quality product. If your prospective ghostwriter has never written a book, you can expect that she will likely have trouble completing your project.

Having said that, if you’re on a tight budget, a ghostwriter with no prior experience should give you a great price on your book because she will be eager to fill in her resume. It’s a bit of a gamble for you, but if you check out her writing samples and talk to her extensively, you might find a hidden gem. Make sure to pay her enough so that she can invest the time to deliver a quality manuscript to you.

A professional ghostwriter will have a few dozen books under her belt. All the same, if a writer has written at least three books, she is experienced enough to help you with your project.

Testimonials from past clients

Ghostwriting client testimonialsSomeone once told me that what other people say about you counts far more than what you say about yourself. I like that tidbit of advice because it is so very true.

Any professional freelance writer should have collected quite a few testimonials from prior clients. Now, the only problem is that these will need to be semi-anonymous because all ghostwriters are sworn to secrecy. Even so, an established ghostwriter won’t have any trouble getting a few clients to write a few lines of praise.

Check out my testimonial page. You’ll see some clients proudly share their name and company name, while others prefer to share only initials. Still, you can see that I have worked with many people over the last twenty years. Make sure your ghostwriter has similar credentials.

Her writing forte

Some of the interview questions for a ghostwriter should revolve around what she likes to write. Also ask about her experience. This will help you determine if the ghostwriter is a good match for you.

A few writers only write fiction. Others love to pen memoirs, while some prefer to stick to small business books.

Personally, I enjoy writing uplifting stories, helping record a family’s history or educational non-fiction material. I wouldn’t be comfortable writing a memoir centered around abuse; it would be too painful.

However, I can write a fictional novel, a non-fiction how-to book (sometimes called prescriptive non-fiction), or a memoir. I love all classifications and genres, as long as the overall message is positive.

The ghostwriter’s current schedule

Schedule with a ghostwriterWhen you interview a ghostwriter, ask about his schedule. You need to have some prediction about when he can deliver a finished manuscript to you.

If the writer you select has a full-time job and is going to try to write your book in his spare time, I’ll tell you right now, that’s a recipe for disaster. You can predict that scheduling conflicts will prevent him from completing your story in a timely manner. Plus, he will be tired after his day job and will have trouble giving you his best effort.

Find a writer who has the time to work with you. You might also ask him how many projects he has on his plate at the moment. As for me, I’m comfortable working on many projects at the same time and always strive to come in ahead of schedule. However, I’m upfront about the time it takes to write a book. Eight months is a minimum requirement, but some can take up to 18 months. It really depends upon the amount of research required.

Avoid scammers

It’s unfortunate, but true; there are those who will try to scam you in this industry. Over the years I’ve had many people report being ripped off through Craigslist. That’s why I don’t recommend finding your writer through that source.

When vetting a writer, try putting her name into a search engine and see what comes up. If she is a successful writer, her books, interviews and articles should pop up. If the proverbial crickets chirp (dead silence), you know she isn’t very well established (or she has chosen to keep off the internet). Most professional writers have their own websites.

If a ghostwriter asks for the entire fee upfront, she is probably trying to con you. Typically, professional writers will ask for a deposit of 25% to 50%. The rest of the payments should be made as the pages are produced. I ask for 25% at the signing of the contract, then another 25% after the detailed outline is approved. The third installment is due after I complete the first half of the first draft, and the final payment is made when I’ve given the client the completed first draft. After that, I make all the edits (hiring an outside editor) and deliver the final manuscript.

Test your writer before hiring him

test your writer when you hire a ghostwriterIt is a good idea to test your top ghostwriting candidates by requesting a sample of their writing. This will allow you to see how you work with them.

You’ll need to pay for the sample you request. Please never ask a candidate to write for free. No professional ghostwriter should agree to that (if he does, he’s far too desperate, which should be a red flag). However, I highly recommend that you ask him to write a few pages for you—for a fee. Most writers have a per word fee. For instance, I charge a dollar per word. If asked to write a sample, I can produce any length desired.

Keep in mind that there are about 250 words per page. So, four- to eight- pages is a good-sized sample. This will help you determine the skill of the ghostwriter.

Yet you are not only checking out the ghostwriter’s ability to write, but evaluating his process as well. How much time does he take to write the piece? Make sure he gives you a deadline. Then observe if he meets it. If he is late (for any reason), know that he will probably be frequently tardy if you hire him.

How does the writer respond to your feedback? If he bristles at your suggestions, that doesn’t bode well for the future. On the other hand, if he accepts all your suggestions without any discussion, this could be equally problematic.

A good ghostwriter/client relationship involves a healthy amount of give and take. That’s what will produce the best-possible book. I will always give my clients my honest opinion and thoughts, but in the end, remind them that “they are the boss.”

Communication is key

Communication is key for a good ghostwriting relationship

After you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter, observe how she handles subsequent communication with you. How quickly does she answer your emails? Does she respond to your texts in a timely manner?

My policy is to handle all communications within 24 hours. In actuality, I’m much faster. I’ve had a few clients comment on how fast I am. “It’s like you’re sitting there waiting for my email!” Well, no, I’m not. But I do check my email frequently. When I see a client query pop up, I like to handle it quickly.

Most ghostwriters offer a free consultation. Take them up on that. It’s a great opportunity to get their take on your project. See if you can get them to give you some insight into how they’d tackle the project. How would they approach the opening chapter? For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, you wouldn’t start with the day you were born. It’s much better to find an exciting incident to begin your book and drop the reader headfirst into that scene!

The process of hiring a ghostwriter should be quite enjoyable. If you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter and bond with her, it bodes well for a successful working relationship. After all, writing a book with a professional can be a fun and fulfilling adventure. Take the time to pick the right writer for you!

Additional articles you might find helpful:

Understanding Characters

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter

Write and Publish a Book in 2020

A ghostwriter’s fee: how do they charge?

Learn to Become a Ghostwriter

What to Expect In an Interview with a Ghostwriter

Tips To Market Your Book

Marketing strategy for your book

Whether you are a self-publishing author or you have a full-scale publisher working with you, there is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on a book to make it sell well. The fact is, there just is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and working hard to market your book.

Having said that, these days internet marketing makes it is a lot easier to sell a book. There are excellent tools available on a variety of platforms. So, harness the internet and increase book sales from the comfort of your living room—or wherever you are working.

Here are a few tips to get you started!

Read More

How to Start Writing a Book

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.

Dear Art M.,

When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say. Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. In my opinion, these articles paint a false picture; writing a book is far from easy and you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area! So, I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list; instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.

Make a list

A movie is made up of hundreds of scenes. These flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).

Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word doc and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:

Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.

Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.

It just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.

Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!

Give each incident a time stamp

Photo by Mohammed Fkriy on Unsplash

You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some timestamps might be simply a month and year. For example:

Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.

Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983

Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:

Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.

Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.

Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.

Put the incidents in order

Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:

Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.

Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.

Flesh out your incidents

Now that you have all your incidents in order, it’s time to drill down and examine each one. I find it helpful to use a kind of journalistic approach with each incident.

Here are some questions you can answer:

  • Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
  • Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
  • When does it happen?
  • Describe what occurs (very briefly)
  • What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)

You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!

Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.

If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.

The next step

After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.

You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.

The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!

As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!

Need a Ghostwriter?

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Do you have a great idea for a book and want to make that dream a reality? Maybe you need a ghostwriter!

I know quite a few people who spend a lot of time tossing around book ideas. They plan to write it themselves, but for one reason or another they have trouble getting started. Does this sound familiar?

When to hire a ghostwriter

Maybe you don’t have the time or the discipline. Perhaps you’re not a huge fan of research. Or maybe you just plain don’t enjoy writing. Whatever the stumbling block, it doesn’t have to keep you from finishing your book. A ghostwriter can help you take your idea from conception to fruition.

Here is a handy checklist to help guide you through the steps of hiring a ghostwriter:

Decide on your budget

Before you begin searching for a writer, it’s a good idea to determine your budget. What can you comfortably afford? Don’t go into debt when hiring a ghostwriter.

Pricing for ghostwriting can span a broad range. You should know that you will get what you pay for. Some ghostwriters advertise extremely low rates, but if you’re interested in producing a high-quality book, written by an experienced author, you’ll need to pay them what they are worth.

Be ready to answer basic questions

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

In order to get a bid from a ghostwriter, you need to be able to answer various questions. A ghostwriter will need to know:

  • How many words your book will be
  • If you’re self-publishing
  • Your deadline
  • The general subject matter or genre of the book.

It’s also wise to ask your prospective ghostwriter about their fee before you get too far in the conversation. There is no sense in pouring out your heart and story, only to learn that the writer is way out of your price range. It’s worth noting that most ghostwriters share their price on their website.

Find a good fit

It’s a good idea to do a little homework on a ghostwriter before you interview them. Start with their testimonial page. After all, it’s more important to read what others say about them than what they say about themselves. Also, review their writing samples to see if you like their style.

Once you’ve determined that they have the experience and writing expertise, It’s important to find someone who you will mesh well with throughout the ghostwriting process. Writing a book is a financial investment, but also an endeavor of the heart; there is a balance.

Pay your first installment and get started

Once you have made your momentous decision, plan to make the first payment and sign the ghostwriting contract so you begin working on the project. These will be required by any professional writer. Don’t wait too long to make your decision. If you love a writer and know you want to hire them, don’t dawdle, because the more popular ghostwriters will get booked quickly.

Plan the time to work with your ghostwriter

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

As your project unfolds, it’s important to answer your writer’s emails and phone messages promptly. After all, you and your ghostwriters are partners in this project. Your ghost needs you, assisting them to achieve your goals. For that reason, don’t allow too much time to go by without communication.

When I work with a client I love to shoot emails back and forth throughout the week. I also find myself picking up the phone to talk to him or her at least once a month.

Create a marketing plan

Writing the book is certainly the foundation of your project, but make sure you have strategies in place for marketing your book once it’s published. It’s a good idea to create an author’s website and start blogging before the book is released. Also, be active on social media and connect with your readers. It’s never too early to think about marketing.

With a great book idea, a little bit of help, and a lot of preparation, your book can become a reality! If you realize that you need a ghostwriter, please email me and let me know how I can help!

How to Write a Novel, Memoir or How-to Book

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

After talking to countless people over the years, I truly believe that every person has at least one story to share. Do you? Perhaps you have an account of a memorable trip trudging through the Amazon rainforest with only a backpack. Or maybe your family immigrated to America a decade ago and found success through hard work. Or perhaps you wish to chronicle your meteoric rise in eCommerce in a how-to book. Then again, you might just want to let yourself escape into a rollicking adventure yarn set in a far-off galaxy. Whether fact or fiction, it is begging to be told.

In writing.

Within the pages of a book.

Now, how do you get the ideas out of your head and onto the page?

Create detailed notes

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Record your initial ideas for your book in a notebook or on your computer. Don’t worry about formatting, grammar or spelling at this phase. Simply put your thoughts down.

Personally, I always have multiple Word documents open when I’m starting a book: character biographies (useful for memoirs and novels), incidents for an outline, research topics, etc.

Memoir

Now, if you’re writing a memoir, I’d suggest jotting down everything you can remember about the places you’ve been, the people you interacted with, and the key events of your life. Close your eyes and see what images you can find, listen for the speech patterns of the people around you, smell the odors, taste the foods, and feel the textures. Write them all down. These details will help bring your memories to life.

Novel

If you’re creating a fictional world, let your imagination run free. The more vividly you conceptualize the characters and settings, the clearer your readers will be able so see them. It still helps to create notes, so you don’t lose your ideas.

Collect sources for research

Whether you’re writing a how-to book, a memoir, or a novel, you need to do research. Even if you’re an expert on the subject, you’ll need to delve into details. Every writer becomes a researcher! There has never been a book that I could write without doing extensive study.

Today, research is easy through search engines, but sometimes you might need the help of a library. In those cases, you’ll need to take good notes and jot down the names of the books you use, along with the page numbers, so you can find the information again or reference it later.

How-to book

When I’m writing a how-to book, and I’m forming my outline (or Table of Contents), I find it helpful to copy links into the document under the subsection when I find a particularly helpful resource. Trust me, weeks later, it will be hard to find that source again. Good notes save a lot of time.

Fiction

Research is a fundamental element for fiction writing as well. Your writing must always be authentic. So, if you’re writing about the Amazon rainforest, and you’ve never been, you’ll need to read dozens of references to be able to describe the environment accurately. If you have visited the spot, you’ll still need to collect information about the history, vegetation, and the wildlife of the area. Your experiences will form the story, but research is invaluable to fill in the gaps.

Determine your reader and messages

Before you can begin writing, you must figure out who your reader will be. As I have mentioned a few times in previous blog articles, your readers can’t be “everyone.” It’s too general and vague. Be specific. Your reader might be teenage boys who are interested in soccer or retired women interested in a ornithology. You can see how the communication would be much different for these two categories of readers!

Next you’ll need to hone in on the messages you wish to communicate. Do you want people to learn that hard work and personal integrity can overcome obstacles and lead to success? Or maybe you want to share how patience and loyalty are the basis for long-lasting relationships? Being clear about your message will help you align the action of your story.

Be true to yourself

Most of us speak differently than we write. I’ve noticed that some people can wax formal when they have a pen in their hand! They take out contractions completely and dust off their finest vocabulary in an attempt to impress. The reader doesn’t care about any of that. They are looking for your voice in your writing, not that of your eleventh grade English teacher. Be yourself.

Take the next step

Now that you have thorough notes and research sources, you are ready to begin carving out your outline. Then you can write your book. Carve out the time and avoid distractions! For more information on the next steps to take, you will find many articles about writing on my blog. I hope they help!

If you would like the help of a ghostwriter to put your book together, please reach out to me (whether it be for a novel, memoir or how-to book). The research and notes you’ve created will not go to waste. After all, ghostwriters will need good notes to help create your vision. Please contact me if you are interested in going this route.

How to Include Descriptions in a Book

Woman contemplates how to write her book

Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I am your average Joe. And I won’t call myself a writer by any means. Though I wrote a book because the idea was stuck in my head. I had ten people read and edit it. Then I self-published it through Author House. I know it has potential, but I was told I need more descriptions in a book. I wrote for a fast read and people say it’s too fast. So, now I’m lost and know I need help. I can’t afford those big bucks ghostwriters. What do I do?

D.T.

Dear D.T.,

Congratulations on writing your first book!

You are absolutely a writer. Don’t sell yourself short.

As I’ve stated in a few places on my blog, I truly believe that everyone has at least one book within them. It takes a lot of courage to take that idea that you have stuck in your head and put it down on paper. By sharing our stories, it brings us all closer, making the world a little brighter.

Your question is wonderful. Let’s get into the subject of the art of storytelling through using descriptions in a book.

The importance of descriptions in a book

As an author, you want to help people feel they are smack in the middle of the adventure you’re sharing. For instance, when you’re sharing a memoir experience, proper descriptions will allow your reader to feel what you felt, see what you saw, etc. If you don’t help set the stage, people will be lost.

If you’re spinning a yarn (telling a fictional story) good description helps the reader visualize what you create. After all, as a novelist, you are often creating new worlds to explore or transporting people to a different era or culture. It’s fun!

Don’t overdo it

be brief when writing in a fast-paced worldIn this fast-paced world we like to keep things moving along. This especially applies to books. Readers really need you to get to the point. If the author spends two pages describing the food at a buffet, readers will often skip over those pages. If that happens too often, they’ll put the book down. Very few people have the time or interest to read through pages or even paragraphs of flowery explanations of the way things look.

Find a way to give just enough descriptions of the people, places and things in your story to help your reader truly understand what you are sharing. Too little and they’ll be confused, too much, and they’ll get bored. I know, it’s not easy. Writing takes experience. You’ll get the hang of it!

Identify the mood

I like to break my stories into incidents. In each scene there are characters that perform specific actions to accomplish a goal. So, read over your story and isolate all the individual incidents.

Now, select one. What is the mood of that event? Is a married couple arguing over money? Is a corrupt businessman afraid of the intern who is threatening to expose him? Name the mood, then look for places where you can amplify it with some descriptive words to complement your intention.

For instance, angry scenes can be punctuated with shorter sentences and violent gestures. People tend to cross their arms, their faces become flushed or red involuntarily, and they sometimes clench their jaw. There are a ton of mannerisms you can describe. These help the reader understand the emotions involved.

Use your senses

use your senses when writing a bookWriting instructors often recommend that you make a chart of sensory words you could use to describe something. So, let’s say you want to describe that corrupt businessman. List out some of your senses and find words that describe your character or environment. For example, smells associated with the corrupt man might be stale cigarette smoke, musky cologne, or old sweat. Sounds could include a raspy cough, or the clink of the coins he rubs together when he’s nervous. You get the idea.

It’s a good idea to hone your senses so you can write more vivid passages. Go out to a variety of places (eg: the mall, a forest, a busy street intersection, a supermarket, etc.) and just observe. How do they make you feel? When you close your eyes, what to you hear? What do you smell? Use all your sense and keep notes in a log.

Show, don’t tell

I know I’ve mentioned this axiom (show, don’t tell) a zillion times in my blog (not exaggerating), but honestly this is a cardinal rule in writing. Your readers want to see the story unfold. When I write, I imagine my story as a movie. This helps me avoid explaining things or being too vague. After all, when I write a screenplay, I can’t “explain” anything with descriptive passages. It all needs to be told through action and dialogue.

To illustrate, I’ll continue with the corrupt businessman example. Let’s say you want to show that he’s scared. You could just write, “He was scared.” However, that really doesn’t help the reader slip into the moment with you. Here’s another approach: “His throat was so dry, he could barely swallow. Small beads of sweat dripped down his back as he clutched his hands in his lap to stop them from trembling.”

Which do you find more effective in putting you smack dab in the middle of his fear?

Which one shows the emotion properly?

Descriptions in a book should show rather than tell the reader what you wish to share.

You have already done the hard work, D.T. Bravo! It sounds to me like you have the action down. Now you can round it out by adding a few descriptive details. Have fun with it!

Additional articles that you might find helpful:

Write Your Family History in 2020

Write and Publish a Book in 2020