A lot of people put off starting their books because they’re worried writing a book will be hard.
Those people are right.
Yes, there are a lot of programs that promise to make a finished manuscript magically appear within some crazy-brief period of time. But I can tell you from experience (I write and edit books for a living), the book that results from it probably won’t be very good. Writing a book is, by nature, a hard thing.
But just because something is hard, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that it can’t be done by you. One thing that really helps, especially if you’re a beginner, is breaking the giant task of Writing a Book down into smaller steps you can tackle one at a time. Steps…such as the seven I’m about to share with you now.
Step 1 – Target Your Audience
Before you start writing a book, it’s a good idea to figure out who it’s for. Your clients? Potential clients? Fellow professionals in your field? The general public?
Who your audience is will determine what information you provide, including how detailed and specific you get. General audiences may not need and may get bored with a whole lot of detail, while your peers might not be interested in a beginners’ overview of your subject. Once you know who you’re writing for, deciding what to write (and how to write it) should be a lot easier.
Step 2 – Find Your Hook…and Your Book
A lot of the time, when someone comes to me for help writing a book, they start with a subject that’s really broad, like “relationships” or “nutrition.” There are probably 80 zillion books written on those subjects, and maybe that many on what you want to write about. So how is your book supposed to stand out from the pack? The key is giving your book some sort of hook.
Say, for example, you’re an employment lawyer. You could write a book that’s simply about Employment Law, which will pretty much cover everything there is to know about your field. But who would really want to read a book like that? At least, besides people who are studying to become employment lawyers?
It may establish you as an expert, but you’ll be a boring expert.
That’s why adding an attention-getting “hook” to your subject matter will substantially up the interest quotient of your book. For example, you can target employers by writing a book detailing How to Give Someone the Axe without Getting Sued. Or you can focus on employees with the tempting proposition of 10 (Almost) Foolproof Ways to Sue Your Boss and Never Need to Work Again. By engaging a specific audience, you’ll entice a lot more people to buy and read your masterpiece.
Step 3 – Choose Your Presentation
Whatever information you want to present or story you want to tell, it will make more sense to your readers (and to you while you write it) if you decide on some sort of framework to present that information in. The books I work on with my clients usually fall into one of these four general areas:
- The “list” format is great for quick, call-to-action type info books like 99 Ways to Feel Beautiful or The Top 10 Tax Secrets You Never Heard…and How to Use Them.
- The goal-directed format is a great way to take the reader through an educational process from start to finish over a set period of time, like, Jump Start your Small Business in 30 Days or 6 Weeks to a Better Body.
- The traditional chapter book format usually dedicates each chapter to an idea. Traditional titles might include Raising Confident Kids, or The Millionaire Dentist—How to Get More from Your Practice Than You Ever Thought Possible.
- Many business and thought leaders focus on sharing more personal stories in their books, to the point where they follow an autobiographical format, like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Using your own life as an example to inspire others or make a point about your area of focus can be an especially effective way to showcase who you are and why you do what you do.
Step 4 – Set the Tone
One of the really great things about writing a book is that, on the page, you can be anyone you want to be. A trusted friend. A professional expert. A salesperson with a killer offer. A leader with an inspiring story.
You can be funny, serious, touching, or even “in your face.” The possibilities are basically endless. Which is one big reason why it’s important to take a moment (or several) to think about who you want to be when it comes to your voice and tone.
As a starting point, look back to the first step in this process. Who you’re writing the book for will probably have some bearing on the voice you write in. You wouldn’t write a serious business book in a casual, slang-filled tone. Or maybe you would, but it would be a deliberate choice.
Because the other side of this particular coin is, when you’re writing a book, who you want to be is just as important as who you should be. If you like to communicate with people on a warm, human level, reach for that connection. If you’re writing a manifesto and you’re angry about something, go ahead and get mad. If humor is important to you, be funny (please—there are too many boring books out there!). There is always room for some aspect of the real you to help you connect with your readers.
It’s your book, so you have the power to decide exactly who you want to be in it. You can be yourself, or you can be someone else entirely. You can highlight some aspects of your personality while downplaying others. Or even invent some you always wished were there.
Step 5 – Create an Outline
Remember that format you decided on in Step 3? Now is the time to take that basic idea and flesh it out into a detailed outline.
Some people (like my husband) like to write without outlines, just to prove they can. But while experienced writers may feel comfortable winging it, non-crazy people, like me, prefer to drive across the country with a map. Or bake a cake with a recipe.
I promise I’m done with the metaphors.
Anyway, unless you’re a pro writer or a person who spends an inordinate amount of time playing around with words and language, flying by the seat of your pants is not something I recommend. A book outline is like a lifeline—when you get stuck, it’s there for you to grab on to and figure out where you are and where you need to go.
And you will probably get stuck at least once. So it’s best to be prepared.
Step 6 – Write That Book!
Once you’re done outlining your book, it’s time to follow the blueprint you’ve created and fill it in with stories, examples, information, statistics, random musings, and whatever else you want your reader to know. In other words, the only thing left to do is sit down and write the thing.
This is, obviously, the hardest step out of the seven. But it doesn’t have to be painful. Writing a book is a process, and that process is whatever you make it. You can leave your regular routine behind and go on a retreat where all you do is write. You can schedule a regular block of writing time daily, weekly or monthly. Or you can work on your book when you feel like it, or when you can. It all depends on you.
People always ask me how long it takes to write a book, and as you might expect, that also depends on you. When I work on other people’s books, I try to write a chapter (usually somewhere between 10 and 25 pages) a week. Which means I can finish a book in two months. But that’s my job, and if I couldn’t do it in a reasonable amount of time, I wouldn’t be very good at it!
My advice to you is to treat writing your book like any other job you need to do. Schedule time to write, take it seriously, and find a way to hold yourself accountable. If you have a strong outline to work from, then going chapter by chapter and concentrating only on those pages (and rewarding yourself when you’ve finished them), will help you maintain your sanity and make steady progress.
Or you can get some professional help to make sure your book gets done.
Step 7 – Polish Your Masterpiece
Congratulations! You’ve taken your original idea and fleshed it out into a cohesive manuscript that lets your readers know who you are and takes them where you want them to go.
At least, you hope it does. And that bit of uncertainty is why you’re not finished. Now your work needs to be edited.
Your book is comprised entirely out of stuff you know. This may be why, when you read it, it makes perfect sense to you. However, just because you know exactly what you mean doesn’t mean another human being will feel the same way. So it’s time…to ask another human being!
Find a friend or relative or trusted colleague who is willing to read through your manuscript to make sure everything is a-ok. Encourage them to be as brutal as they can be—this isn’t about telling you what a great job you’ve done, it’s about telling you where you’ve screwed up and making sure everything makes sense before you publish your book.
If there’s no one you trust to evaluate your manuscript, or if you know your book needs more work or you just want an expert opinion, you can hire a professional editor. Editors can do anything and everything from helping you restructure your book so that it makes more sense, to cleaning up your spelling and punctuation and getting it ready for publication. The first service costs a little more and takes a little longer. The second service is recommended before you publish your book to make sure the style is consistent and the spelling and grammar are correct.
Phew! I told you writing a book was a lot of work! But if you take the time and put in the effort, it may be a great investment to make in your business…and even yourself. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be the person who puts in all the effort. There are people you can hire (like me) who specialize in helping people get their book written in a variety of different ways. I’ll talk about those different options next time, but if you want to know more now, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask me anything!