Today many writers find it easy to write and publish a book through Amazon. After all, 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 number of 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 incident
- 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 goal 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:
- The outline and research
- The first half of the first draft
- The second half of the first draft
- 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
If 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
Once 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.
For all my readers who have the goal to write and publish a book this year, 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!
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