10 Tips for Writing a Book

tips for writing a book

Tips for writing a book

Writing a book is a big deal. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you want to do it right, which means creating something that people will find entertaining or useful and then polishing, marketing, and promoting it.

It all begins with an idea. A concept. It might start with a few characters or an intriguing plot you’ve dreamed up. It might start with an audience you want to write for or a topic you want to explore.

Many writers start writing as soon as an idea strikes. This approach works for some people, but for most of us, it’s a road to nowhere. If we attempt to write a book every time we get a good idea, we constantly leave previous ideas half finished. If we don’t stop to think about whether the idea is viable, we may get in over our heads or write a book that’s unpublishable or unsalable due to market saturation or lack of interest.


Tips for Writing a Book

There is no right or wrong way to write a book. Ultimately, each author has to figure out how to tackle the project, and what works for one writer might not work for another. But there are some simple techniques and strategies that many authors have found useful and there are certainly steps involved that are essential if you intend to bring your book to a reading audience.

These tips for writing a book are designed to help you think about your project before you commit and to outline some key tasks that have to be tackled in the process of writing a book from concept to publication.

1. Start with a Concept
You might have ten great ideas every day or just one brilliant idea in a decade. The trick is knowing which writing ideas to develop. Before fully committing to a book-length project, make sure it’s the right one for you, something you’re passionate about and can spend months or years cultivating.
2. Identify Your Audience
There’s a difference between knowing your audience and writing for a market. If you love Star Trek, maybe you should write science fiction novels. Then it would be logical to assume that your audience will consist of Star Trek fans. You should also know your genre. But don’t look at the best-seller list, determine that paranormal romance is all the rage, and set out to write a book in the genre just because you think it’s hot right now. There’s a strong likelihood that by the time you finish your book, the fad will have passed and everyone will be reading historical war stories. Write what you love. 
3. Test Your Ideas with an Outline
An outline can be as simple as a few key bullet points or so elaborate that it spans dozens of pages. And many writers don’t use outlines at all. Outlines are like road maps; they provide you with a sense of direction, a route you can use as you draft your book. You have to decide if you work better with outlining or discovery writing. Try both and find what fits.
4. Decide How to Publish
You might wait until after you finish your book before deciding how to publish (self-publishing or traditional publishing), but there are benefits to giving it consideration beforehand. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you may be able to get a book deal (and an advance) before you start writing if you go with traditional publishing. If you’re writing a novel and plan to self-publish, you might want to learn about the self-publishing process while you’re writing your book.
5. Draft Your Book
While it’s true that you’re ultimately writing for an audience, most writers agree that as you write your first draft, you should actually write it for yourself. Look at this way: you too are a reader. If you write a book that you’d love to read, others will love to read it too.
6. Think About Marketing
If you write a book, people will read it, but only if you tell them about it first. Marketing is all about making sure people are aware of your book. This is when you find your audience. All authors have to engage in marketing. If you have the resources, your involvement may mean hiring a PR agency to handle the bulk of the marketing for you. But most of today’s authors find that they have to spend more time marketing than writing.
Bonus marketing tip: you can start building a marketing platform long before you finish your book (maybe even before you start writing it).
7. Revisions: Edit and Proofread
Don’t send your first draft to anyone. That includes beta readers, agents, and editors. Don’t even show it to your mom. You might have to rewrite entire chapters. You might have to rearrange relationships in a novel or lop off some of your favorite scenes. Your job is to produce the best book possible. So take the time to make changes that improve your work. 
8. Engage Beta Readers and Apply Feedback
Once you’ve got a book that you think is ready for readers, send it out to some trusted friends. The best beta readers are well read. Try to find someone who is familiar with your genre. Get a reader with exquisite grammar skills. Invite their feedback. Ask them how you can make your book even better. Then, weigh their suggestions and implement the ones that will improve your book even further. 
9. Polish Your Final Draft
Once you have your manuscript in good order, go through and give it a final polish. Nobody likes to read a book peppered with typos. There is an audience that won’t even notice your typos, but you’re not doing them any favors by delivering a faulty product. If you self-publish, then you’ll want to bring in a professional editor during the polishing stages.
10. Publish and Sell
Writing a book is only the first half of your first mission as an author. Once you get it written, you have to get it published. And then you have to sell it. Do some research on traditional and self-publishing. Look into marketing strategies for authors. Prepare for the ride, because it will be a wild one.

Think of these tips for writing a book as general guidelines. Take what you need or what you think will be useful for your particular project.

Got any additional tips for writing a book? Share your insights and experiences with writing a book-length manuscript by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

22 Responses to “10 Tips for Writing a Book”

  1. RICH SATTANNI/AUTHOR says:

    writing tip if you are writing nonfiction on a particular subject make sure to research thoroughly to help make your story a better quality piece.

  2. Yvonne Root says:

    Another excellent article Melissa.

    One of your points, Think About Marketing, is perhaps the most difficult part. Writing a book these days puts one in the same game as owning a small business. While one may prefer to simply run the business (write good books) there is no way around the marketing hurdle. It must be done.

    • That’s true, Yvonne. I wanted the focus of this post to be on the writing process, and I think during the course of writing a book, it’s smart for writers to think about marketing and do a little research so they understand what lies ahead: a lot of business work!

  3. Julia says:

    A wealth of information in one blog post! Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Van says:

    Great tips! I just finished my first draft and I’m going through the editing process now. So tough.

    • I know that editing is tough for a lot of writers. I enjoy editing because I feel like I’m polishing my writing and making it presentable to readers. I also appreciate editing as an opportunity to make changes that improve my work. Still, it can be a bit of a drag. I think it gets easier with time and practice. Best of luck to you, Van.

  5. Rachel says:

    It’s getting increasingly difficult to write something that hasn’t already been written these days.

    • Yes, I would say it’s pretty much impossible. There is some element in every story or poem that has been done before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something fresh and unique. Tell the story that’s in your heart, and you’ll be fine.

  6. Scott says:

    Started my first book yesterday, my friends are all excited about reading it :-0 concept sorted as are the characters, I’m not fussed about getting it published, apparently everyone has at least one book in them so I thought I’d give it a shot :-)

  7. Juwairiyah says:

    Thanks for these tips, holidays are starting soon and i really want to write a book. I can’t wait!:)

  8. Ashley says:

    I started my first book about a week ago. It’s going great but I’m having trouble coming up with details to put in it. I’m worried it may be to short to even make book status. Is there anything I can do?

    • If you’re only a week into your book, then you have plenty of time to come up with ideas. I know a lot of writers get stuck early on because they forget to keep throwing conflicts at the main characters. Make sure your characters want something, pursue it, and face plenty of challenges in attaining it. I would add that it’s imperative that you read a lot. Good luck to you!

  9. Hemu says:

    I think the marketing part is the hardest. Because there are good books and bad books. And there are good books and bad books. :) I think you have got what I mean.

    • I definitely think there are good books and bad books in the objective sense–the writing is shoddy, the plot has holes, characterization is inconsistent. In other words there are clear signs of poor writing and storytelling. But there are also good books and bad books in the subjective sense, which is to say that everyone has an opinion; some people will like it and some won’t.

  10. Frank says:

    I am considering myself writing a book and these steps you have suggested seem to make the whole process more simple. I have a question, though, regarding the publishing part – you can try to publish your book or you can choose self-publishing and launching it as an e-book. What would you recommend? What are the differences between the two options and what kind of writer does each of one suit better?

    • I wrote a post to answer this question, and you can find it here: http://www.writingforward.com/getting-published/how-to-get-published/self-publishing-or-traditional-publishing.

      Having said that, I am a huge advocate for self-publishing (and/or hybrid publishing). There are some authors who will do much better with traditional publishing, mostly because they lack the skills, motivation, or resources to self-publish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the benefits of self-publishing are massive, from not being held to non-compete clauses (which limit how often you can publish), tying up your rights for the life of the copyright, retaining creative control, and earning bigger royalties (traditional publishers offer something like 12% while self-published authors can earn 70%). I also think that self-publishing is a good route for first-time authors who eventually want to go the traditional route because it’s a way to build your writing credentials and experience, and then you can approach agents and editors with an audience, and that could help you win a book deal.

      But you really need to look at your situation and decide what’s best for you. Even though I prefer self-publishing, it may very well be the case that traditional would be a better fit for you. Only you can make that decision.

  11. Kassandra says:

    I’ve been toying around with the idea of writing a book, but I find it very easy to be discouraged. A lot of my short stories, that have been results from college class assignments, have been accused of having too much detail, or too vague of detail. I’ve written a story or two before where I felt the storyline was wonderful; whereas, my classmates (fellow class editors) would find so many ways to change it to make it “better” or if I write a sentence a certain way of which makes me feel like I am getting a point across, they’ll say I need to change that, too. My Creative Writing classes haven’t been very encouraging. In fact, they’ve pointed out that I suck at being a writer. I’ve read books all my life, as an escape from reality- so I know how books should read. I do my best to apply my knowledge to my own words, but it never seems to be good enough for everyone else. The classes and classmates have just sucked the feelings of creativity out of me. Do you have any words of advice on how I could work up to writing my own book with a growing sense of motivation? I know I’ll need to have an outline, otherwise my ideas jump around too much.

    • Kassandra, I think the first thing you need to do is accept that there is almost always room for improvement and that you, like almost every other writer out there, are not perfect. Your classmates’ feedback is not designed to make you feel dejected or to insult your writing. Its purpose is to show you how you can make your writing better. If you react to the feedback emotionally or by railing against it (insisting they’re wrong), you will not be able to grow and your work will stagnate.

      You should know that the most experienced and professional authors often work with developmental editors, who help them find the weaknesses in their work so they can eliminate those weaknesses, and every professional author works with an editor who weeds out flaws in the copy. Many authors also engage beta readers, a group of people who review the first draft and offer feedback on it. You cannot expect yourself to produce a pristine draft and you will feel much better about your work if you approach it with the understanding that you will need help and input from others to make it the best it can be, and that this is standard practice for successful, professional authors.

      It’s very difficult to tell someone else how to get motivated because different people are motivated by different things. There are a few things that have helped me stay motivated. I watch a lot of interviews with authors and that is immensely helpful for keeping me inspired. I’ve also joined writing groups, which adds a layer of accountability. Reading a lot also helps. You have to find what motivates you, and then make it a regular part of your life so you stay motivated.

      I wish you the best of luck in your writing journey.