Writing Your First Book? Here’s What You Need to Know.
By Phil Giangrade
If you’ve already started writing your debut book, you’ve probably discovered just how challenging it is. Oh you think it’s easy? Then you’re doing it wrong. I can’t tell you how many first time authors come to me and complain, “This is so much harder than I thought it would be.” So, if you haven’t started your book yet, my best advice is to first mentally prepare yourself for what’s coming. Now, it’s not just writing the book that’s difficult, it’s also marketing the book that makes authors want to tear their hair out. I always coach new authors to begin their marketing at least 3 months before the book launch, but we’ll get to that later.
Starting the Process
So you have your brilliant idea for your book and you’re excited to get started. Great! That’s the perfect place to be, but before you hop on the computer there are a few key things to do first.
- Set a schedule – Staying focused is not easy and you can’t wait for inspiration to write. Set a schedule of at least 2 hours a day, 5 days a week and you’ll make progress. I sometimes hear people advise authors to write whenever they can even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I understand the sentiment, but at least for me, it’s not very practical. It takes a little time to block everything out and get in the zone, so give yourself the time you need. Also, set a deadline. People tend to be more on task when there’s an impending deadline.
- Find A Distraction Free Workplace – You know what I mean here, right? I’m talking about a place free of your cute dogs or cats, significant others, children etc. Now, I also suggest that you should be nowhere near the refrigerator. You heard me, it’s too easy to get up, stroll over to the frig for a snack and take yourself right out of your zone. For that matter, turn off the internet unless you’re specifically researching for the day. These are not rules, just suggestions, so if you’re stuck, it’s ok to get up and pace or take a stroll. I just want you to give yourself the best chance for success.
- Research – Become an expert on the subject of your book. If it’s a period piece, research the time period. If it’s a political thriller, research how the departments of government make their decisions. What drives them and therefore your protagonist and antagonist? How does it technically work? Ask all the questions you can think of and then find the answers. Don’t be afraid to interview experts.
- Ask who, what and why? – Understand who will read your book and why it will be important to them. Grab a piece of paper and spend some time answering these questions:
- Who is this book for?
- What’s the big idea behind my book?
- What am I trying to say?
- How is my book different to everything else that’s out there?
- Why should people spend their money (or time) reading my book?
- What can I offer that no one else can?
To Outline or Not to Outline
I highly recommend that first time authors outline. Sure there are authors out there like Stephen King who just sit down to write masterpieces without an outline, but they are few and far between. More likely what will happen is that you write yourself into a corner by page 145 (arbitrary page number) and spend a ton of time trying to figure out how it happened and how to get out. Then you go back to fix mistakes on earlier pages and it sends a ripple through your book that changes many things you hadn’t anticipated. Do you get it yet? Outlines save you time and heartache. That’s the bottom line. As you become more experienced, maybe you can drop the outline, but in the beginning it can really help you solve problems before they happen.
There are a few popular types of outline that can be effective. The first is probably the kind of outline you used in school when you were writing reports. You get a sheet of paper write your title, then the potential chapter titles and then bullet point what might happen in each chapter. In some cases it’s helpful to know how the book is going to end and then work your way back. Either way, when you use this type of outline, be prepared to move things around if need be. Now, this is why I recommend using index cards. Create a board where you can post your index cards, then use individual cards for chapters and bullet points. This way, you can easily try moving things around and testing their validity in different parts of your story.
Write Your Vomit Draft
You’ve done your research and finished your outline now reward yourself with the fun part. The vomit draft is exactly what it sounds like. You get to go blah all over the page. It’s fun. You write, write and write without caring at all about grammar, sentence structure, phrasing or even if it makes sense. Be as creative as you want because you already have your story structure in place. Don’t worry you’ll fix it all later.
Take Some Time Off
Yes you heard me right. Give yourself a bit of time away from your book. It sounds counterintuitive, but it can be the best thing you can do. Very often when I come back to my writing after some time off the problems with my first manuscript will pop out at me. Plus, you get the added benefit of being well rested and having fresh eyes when you return to your computer.
The Next Few Drafts
There will be multiple drafts… I’m sorry. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to make life a little easier, or harder depending on the answers.
- Does my introduction invoke curiosity in the reader?
- Have I told stories in my work?
- How can I strengthen my arguments?
- Do I invoke the five senses in my work?
- What’s the weakest part of this chapter? Now can I cut it?
- Have I eliminated as many unnecessary adverbs and adjectives form my work as possible?
- Have I removed every cliché?
Hire an Editor
This is a no brainer, you CAN NOT self-edit! Find an editor that understands your work and knows how to communicate with you. Editors are trained professionals who turn manuscripts into something that readers enjoy. A good editor will help you write a far better book and improve your craft as a writer. They’ll also help you speed up the process of rewriting your book. Now, there are story editors, proofreaders and people who do both. Don’t be afraid to ask for samples and recommendations from authors with whom they’ve worked.
Marketing and Publishing
As I said in the beginning, leave yourself at least 3 months to market your book before the launch. Why? Well, you want to create as much buzz and momentum as possible before the book is released. Collect reviews, do interviews, guest blog, whatever it takes to get the word out. You’ll be rewarded when people rush onto amazon and pre-order the book. Between pre-orders and orders on the release date you will earn a much higher ranking than you would have otherwise had. In other words, Amazon decides it’s in their interest to promote your book. Hooray!
If you’re looking for guidance or someone to work on your behalf to help you become the best-selling author you know you can be, contact our team.