How to write a book – the short honest truth
It’s a simple question, but it causes problems. On the one hand, it’s nice to have people interested in something I do. If I told people I fixed toasters for a living, I doubt I’d get many inquires. People are curious about writing and that’s cool and flattering. Rock on.
But on the other hand, the hand involving people who ask because they have an inkling to do it themselves, is that writing books is a topic so old and so well trod by so many famous people that anyone who asks hoping to discover secret advice is hard to take seriously.
Here’s the short honest truth: 20% of the people who ask me are hoping to hear this – Anyone can write a book. They want permission. The truth is you don’t need any. There is no license required. No test to take. Your book idea is worth writing if you think it is. Writing, as opposed to publishing, requires almost no financial or physical resources. A pen, paper and effort are all that has been required for hundreds of years. If Voltaire, Marquis de Sade and Marina Nemat could write in prison, then you can do it in suburbia, at lunch, at work, or after your kids go to sleep. You will always find excuses if you want them and most people do. Why? Writing is work. No matter how smart you are or how great your idea is, you will have to put in the time and no one else can do it for you.
It helps to kill the magic: a book is just a bunch of writing. Anyone can write a book. It might be bad or be incomprehensible, but so what: it’s still a book and many published authors haven’t done any better.
Nothing is stopping you right now from collecting all of your elementary school book reports, a years worth of emails you wrote, or drunken napkin scribbles, binding them together at Kinkos for $20, slapping a title on the cover, and qualifying as an author. Want to write a good book? Ok, but get in line since most pro authors are still trying to figure that out too.
Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing. More work. No one wants to hear this, but if you take two books off any shelf, I’ll bet my pants the author of the better book worked harder than the author of the other one. Call it effort, study, practice, or whatever you like. Sure there are tricks here and there, but really writing is a kind of work. I like this though: it means anyone who puts in enough time can actually write well. Some of our best writing comes from ordinary people from all walks of life.
Getting published. 30% of the time the real thing people are asking is how do you find a publisher. As if there wasn’t a phone book or, say, an Internet-thingy where you can look this stuff up (start with Jane Friedman’s website). Writers-market is literally begging to help writers find publishers. Many publishers, being positive on the whole idea of communication, put information on how to submit material on their website. And so do agents. The grand comedy of this is how few writers follow the instructions. That’s what pisses off all the editors: few writers do their homework.
The sticking point for most people who want to be authors is, again, the work. They want to hear a secret that skips over the work part. Publishers are rightfully picky and they get pitched a zillion books a day. It takes effort to learn the ropes, send out smart queries, and do the research required to both craft the idea for a book, and then to propose it effectively. So while writing is a rejection prone occupation, even for the rock-stars, finding a publisher is not a mystery. In fact the whole game is self-selective: people who aren’t willing to do the work of getting published are unlikely to be capable of the work required to finish a decent manuscript.
But that said – it’s easier today to self-publish than ever. People look down on self-publishing, but I don’t see why. When people buy books it’s not like they care who published them (“Oh, I don’t read Random House books, sorry”): they only care who recommended or reviewed the book. But again, our tragically unpopular companion, work, is required to self-publish so many prefer to keep asking writers how they got published instead of just doing it themselves. You can read what I learned from self-publishing the first time here (although the technology and options have improved since then).
Being famous and wealthy: Now this is the kicker. About 50% of the time the real thing people want to know is how to become a famous millionaire rock-star author person. As if a) I qualified, b) I could explain how it happened, or c) I’d be willing to tell.
First, this assumes writing is a good way to get rich. I’m not sure how this lie started but writing, like most creative pursuits, has always been a less than lucrative lifestyle. Even if a book sells well, the $$ to hour ratio will be well below your average corporate job, without the health benefits, sick days, nor the months where you can coast by without your boss noticing. These days people write books after they’re famous, not before. A book can help you gain professional credibility, but then it’s more of a marketing project than a writing project, isn’t it?
Can anyone be a writer?
A book has a beginning, a middle, and an end that keep the reader for the five, six, ten hours it can take to read the book, because if they get tired of it halfway through, most people stop reading.
When people say “you should write a book,” they are not thinking of something physical with a cover that the person has modified, modified, designed, sold, sold, sent, and placed on the shelf.
No matter what you choose, you will become a better writer, and your next book will be easier to write and edit than the first book. Just focus on your book and your writing will get better and better over time.
If you can handle these three things, you can do it; it’s just a matter of hard work-then you can write well enough to write a novel. Because the only thing I learned from talking to people for this story is that all you have to do to become a real writer is…writing.
So, Can Just Anyone Write a Book?
Why, yes – in fact, I have worked with countless new authors through our incredible Book Bound Workshops. And I’ve met many more on a one-on-one basis through our partner publishing company and book coaching services. These new authors – at first – never considered themselves a “writer.”
But as it turns out, one of the hardest parts of the writing process is just having the story to share. And for these new authors, they found their story and voice, sometimes all in just one weekend!
Furthermore, are you new to the writing process and aren’t sure if you have the ability to write a book? As it turns out, it is possible with just a little encouragement and guidance!
Even so, there are a few tips for new writers to help navigate you through the writing and publishing process. These will help you get started and to stay motivated until you finish your book and beyond.
First: seek guidance
Celebrities, politicians, movie stars, and notable figures from all over have published books. As it turns out, not many of them are born writers. Often, they employ the services of a ghostwriter.
A professional ghostwriter can help transform your story into a polished book by doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for you. Ghostwriters are readily available for writers of all abilities, and offer all sorts of services.
Perhaps you just need a round or two of proofreading to ensure that your story flows perfectly. Or maybe you want to relay your story and have your ghostwriter put your ideas and concepts on the page.
Regardless of whether you need a little help or a lot, a ghostwriter is a great way for new writers to find their voice. As a result, they will be able to establish themselves in the publishing world, while still sharing a story that is strictly their own.
Second: keep trying
J.K. Rowling was famously turned down dozens of times before her Harry Potter series was finally published. And this has happened to many other bestselling authors in the world. (Even William Shakespeare had trouble finding an audience when he first started as a playwright!)
So don’t be worried if traditional publishing houses do not show immediate interest in your story idea. And this is especially true if you are in the very beginning stages of writing a book. Don’t forget that these days, there are countless options for publishing a book, ranging from big publishing houses to self-publishing options.
There is even an option for hiring a partner publishing company. They can provide a wealth of invaluable services – from copyediting to cover design – while ensuring that you retain all rights and royalties from your book sales.
Next: stay motivated
Countless would-be authors have started to write their book and then somehow get stuck along the way, and never reach the final page. Perhaps you have toyed with the idea of writing a book in the past, and then got some of your thoughts on paper. But then you ended up letting the project linger until it simply disappeared behind the havoc of everyday life.
Start by having a set schedule of when you can write, and then sticking to it! During this time you will set, it’s best to avoid distractions of the day, to make sure that writing remains a priority. You can achieve this by setting aside specific days and times to write. Or you could even set a daily or weekly word count that you have to reach.
Finally: seek help, and find a community
New writers will be delighted to discover that when it comes to assistance in the writing process, there are plenty of options! Consider hiring a writing coach or a book coach if this is your first foray into writing a book. Or you could even find a local writing group or other community where you can share your struggles and garner feedback.
You need help not only to begin writing but keeping motivation, and a little positive reinforcement will go a long way! So find your community and your inspiration, (whether it’s a professional writing coach or just a supportive team of family and friends). And then lean on them when the going gets tough so that you can keep going.
Now, keep in mind that the idea that “Anyone can write a book” is reliant on one condition – that the author has a story to share. As we said, finding a story can be the most difficult part of the entire writing process. It happens also to be the most important requirement on the path to becoming an author.
You already know you have a story, so feel proud that you have already taken a huge step forward to your new position as a published author. With a little help and a bit of hard work, you CAN write and publish a book, and leave your mark on the world.