15 Tips on How to Write a Book
by Randy Kuckuck
So, you are thinking about writing a book, but don’t know where to start. This paper will help you get organized, get writing, and finish your book in no time! There’s no magic formula, just some good advice and lots of reference material to guide you along the way. We’ve assembled 15 tips to help you get your book finished sooner than later.
What is your book?
Everyone has a book in them. Almost everyone has said at some point in your life, “I should write a book about that!” So, what’s holding you back? You have the idea; our goal is to get you to write it.
Section 1 - PREPARATION
1. What Is Your Motivation?
You need to identify your motivation for writing your book. This will help you set the right expectations for your writing – and the eventual publication of your book.
Are you writing:
- For you? Some people just want to say they wrote a book, but have no intent on publishing or sharing it. It’s all about the journey.
- For your family? Do you want to record your family history, share recipes, pass down family traditions?
- For your business? A book can be a very effective marketing piece and give you a lot of credibility in your chosen profession. You are assumed to be an expert if you have written a book on the subject.
- For broad publication and readership? Do you have the next great American novel in your head? Ready to share that romance novel? Whatever it is, make sure your expectations are realistic.
There’s no wrong motivation, you just need to remember why you are starting the process to help keep your goals and plans in line with your motivation.
2. Know Your Genre
Write what you know. This is especially true when writing nonfiction. Don’t try to become an expert to write your book, you should already know your subject matter. You can do research to deepen your knowledge, but stick with what you know.
Be specific about your genre so that you know how other writer’s approach the subject, what readers expect, and what else is available in the genre. Research your genre on Amazon by drilling down on the categories (genres) or by researching the official genre listings at BISAC. Remember that categories or genres are applied to books by the publisher, so your idea of the right genre for your book might be different from what you find in the market.
Find the best sellers in that category/genre. Knowing what is currently selling will help you shape your story.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King
“Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.” — P.D. James
Once you have found the best-selling books in your genre, read them. This will help you understand the style of writing that is appropriate to the genre. But beware of bad books that sell well. If you find a book that you don’t like, make notes about why it turns you off.
4. Set Goals
You need to know how long your book will be or should be. There are unofficial expectations in the publishing industry as to what the length of a book in a specific genre should be and if your book is way outside the norm, I will turn-off readers, reviewers, and publishers.
In a typical book there are about 300 words per page. This can change based on the typesetting and design of the book, but it’s a good point of reference. The following table shows the relative book lengths for various genres.
Once you know the expected length of your book, you can set your preliminary writing goals. If you want to write a 150-page nonfiction book for a marketing tool for your business, then it will be about 50,000 words. If you plan on writing 5,000 words a week, then your goal to finish the first draft will be 10 weeks.
5. Location, Location, Location
Where do you do your best writing? You need to find a place that encourages you, motivates you, and keeps you focused. It will be different for everyone.
- Quiet nook at home
- Coffee shop
- Whatever works for you!
Wherever it is, make it your “Writing place”. It’s not your Facebook place or your email place. It is the place that when you sit down there you know that you are going to WRITE!
6. Remove Distractions
One of the biggest distractions is getting thirsty or hungry. Eat first! Get distractions out of the way by taking care of potential pitfalls before you start writing.
Some people get distracted when the are using Microsoft Word with all of the spell checking, grammar suggestions, etc. that pop up. There are alternatives that remove these distractions and help you focus on writing. OmmWriter, Byword (Mac), Scrivener, WriteRoom (Mac), or Q10 (Windows)
Turn off email, internet, etc. If you have a problem depriving yourself of these things, there are some apps that will turn them off for you, such as SelfControl (Mac) and Cold Turkey (Windows).
Section 2 - WRITE
Start with your Big Idea. Is it book worthy? You need to have an overall concept for your book that is worth writing about. Write down what your concept is in a paragraph. This will ultimately be your book synopsis.
Break you Big Idea down into key elements. For nonfiction, these are the key points that you will need to cover or explain in your book. For fiction, it is the plot development.
Just like you did back in high school composition class, keep breaking down your key elements until you have an outline of your book.
Plot spreadsheet J.K. Rowling used to write the fifth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Don’t try to write the entire book. Work on a section or chapter at a time. You will get there, don’t rush it.
8. First Draft
Your initial goal is to get a first draft of your book down on paper. If your goal is 60,000 words and the first draft is only 40,000, don’t panic. There will be plenty of ways to expand it.
Remember: No version of your book will be as bad as the first draft. Don’t worry how bad it is.
Don’t edit; just write. Editing comes later. Trying to edit while you write the first draft will distract you and slow down the process.
Know your audience. Know your genre. You are writing for your reader.
9. Accept Procrastination
Keep to your goals – look at weeks, not days or hours.
If it’s not working – take a break. Not every day is a writing day. Tomorrow will be better.
Plan for breaks ahead of time so you stay fresh. Don’t expect to write 5,000 words a day. Write whatever is in your head.
10. Write It, Then Put It Aside
Everything looks different when you step away for a little while. If you reach a point that just isn’t working, put it aside for a little while. A few days or even a few weeks.
Refresh your thinking. Come back with a fresh perspective.
Keep writing. No matter what, keep going back to your writing place and hammer away.
Look back at your goals. Are they realistic? Once you write for a couple of weeks, you’ll have a better sense of how fast you can actually complete it. Re-establish your goals, but don’t abandon them completely.
Reward yourself. When you finish the first chapter, or the 10th chapter, or word 50,000, reward yourself. Yes, rewards work.
Section 3 - REFINE
12. Edit Your Draft
Write without judgment first, then go back and edit later. The first edit of your book should always be a self-edit. You may end up with 4 or 5 revisions before you are ready to share it with someone else.
“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable.” —Mark Twain
Look at every word in a sentence and decide if they are really needed. If not, kill them. Be ruthless.
13. Getting Feedback
Eventually you will be ready to have someone else look at your writing. We suggest you do this before you get too far with the revisions. Get some feedback from someone you trust.
Beta Readers are the family, friends, or writer’s group members who you first share your writing with for critique. Don’t accept “It’s wonderful” or “It’s terrible.” Get real input on your style and story.
Demand critique; accept the comments. Get it from more than one person.
This isn’t editing. This is to help you with the writing and to see if you have something worth saying.
14. Improving Your Writing Ability
OK, you’ve started your own edits and got feedback from your Beta Readers. You realize you need help with your writing. Where can you go?
- Writer’s groups (check out your local libraries or look on MeetUp). Not all writer’s groups are created equal. Find out if they concentrate on one kind of writing (poetry, romance, memoirs, etc.) and get a feel for the kind of feedback you might receive.
- Find a good book on writing to help you improve. We’ve assembled a list of some good ones for your reference.
- Attend a writer’s conference. These range from a day or two to week-long retreats. On our list of conferences and book festivals, look for the ones that are categorized as “Writers”.
- Take classes at your local community college.
15. Hire an Editor
Every book needs editing. When you reach the point where you think the book is just about completed, look for a good editor to work with you to put the final touches on it. The kind of editing will vary by your writing ability and your motivation for writing.
Even if you are just writing for friends and family, have someone do a copy edit for you.
To learn about the different kinds of editing and to help you find a good editor, check out our editing resources page.