From Here to There: 7 steps to getting your book done

Getting your book done

Photo: Tim Swaan

Writing your book is part art, but ultimately comes down to a lot of hard work. If you want the kind of quality writing that will stand out among the hundreds of thousands of titles released each year, you’ll need the skills of a professional collaborator/writer.

Here’s a process that will help you think about producing your book in smaller, manageable steps, rather than staring into the face of one big project that may seem overwhelming.

Here are my seven steps to writing your book:

  1. Define the central message
    What is the one central idea or theme you want to get across to your readers? Naturally lots of information and more granular detail will flesh out your book, but there should be one overarching objective.
    You’ll also want to look for books that are similar to what you have in mind so you can refine your objective and message into something that has its own niche and purpose.
    Example: For my first book, Bring Your Teen Back from the Brink, we wanted it to be “an easy-reference handbook for parents to quickly educate themselves on how to deal with a drug abusing teenage child.”
  2. Define your audience
    This one is pretty basic: Who is the audience you want to reach? It’s too time-consuming and costly to market a book too widely, so narrowing your target audience is important. With success in reaching that first target, you can branch out to others later.
  3. Build a book outline
    This step uncovers all the subtopics that will support the objective defined in step one. Dump them out of your brain and onto paper or a computer doc, then arrange them into a logical order. Your outline becomes a working table of contents and the roadmap for the work ahead. (I’m happy to make this an interactive session where we work together to get this done.)
  4. Research and interview
    In this part of the process your collaborator (me) interviews you based on your outline, then transcribes and rewrites it into narrative form. Preliminary research may inform the interview questions, but your writer will do much more extensive research post-interview, to find supporting facts and references for the material uncovered. This stage will require your biggest time investment.
  5. Review and re-write
    It’s taking shape now. You’ll get to read through draft chapters as they come together, providing feedback for revisions until the writing is done. Get others to read the drafts at this stage and you’ll get fresh perspectives that will give you an even better finished product.
  6. Final formatting and publishing
    This may sound simple, but there are many details to attend to here to get the manuscript into shape so it fits publishing requirements and is discoverable by those seeking the content you have to offer. Self-publishing makes it “easier” to get a book into circulation, but there’s a whole skill set needed to do it. Trust me, you don’t want to waste your valuable time figuring it out.
  7. Marketing your book
    Believe it or not, the previous seven steps are probably the easy part of this whole process. While digital self-publishing has opened producing a book to anyone, only a very small percentage ever sell more than a few hundred copies. Be exceptional! Carry out this final step to set your story free for those who can benefit from your expertise.

Are You My Client?

To decide if we’re a good fit to work together, please watch this video.

If you laugh, I’d love to work with you.

If you don’t get the joke, thanks for stopping by. You won’t get what you’re looking for here.

The Best Writers Break the Rules

The best writers break writing rules and stray from the common path.

Mark Duffel on Unsplash

The group around the conference table was considering taglines for our new corporate brand. One option in particular was heatedly discussed. I probably shouldn’t disclose the actual line, but it was similar in construction to Apple’s “Think different” tag created in 1997. One member of the group was particularly adamant that we could not use it because it was “grammatically incorrect.”

Ridiculous.

“Think different” also suffered from the same scrutiny, many claiming that different is not an adverb so it should be “Think differently” to be proper. Is “proper” what you want in your writing?

Lawyers are really good at proper writing – dotting every i and crossing every t. They also create mind-numbing text, heavy with clauses, commas, and clutter. I fought little editing battles with corporate lawyers for the last two decades of my corporate career. I wasn’t creating legal documents. I wanted to attract readers and build awareness among investors, employees, and customers.

The tagline example shows what happens when people who think they know a lot about writing get in the way of true writing pros.

Writing is not about rules. It’s about clarity and the sound of the writing. Yes sound. The best writing is lyrical like music, making it flow with a cadence that enhances readability. (Stop yourself now. Legible is not “more correct” than readable.)

The best writing has life. It’s surprising and memorable, not proper or written to please your eighth-grade English teacher.

In fact, I was mistakenly placed into a basic English class in eighth grade. I couldn’t wait to get out of the useless sentence diagramming and spelling exercises. In a few weeks, the class assignment was corrected and I moved back to advanced English. For the rest of middle and high school I was in either advanced or honors English classes. We practiced writing and studied great writers. We never diagrammed sentences.

I’ve made a career out of writing. What does that tell you?

Some writing rules to break

You’ve probably heard the following long-standing, often-repeated “writing rules.” All were either never rules in the first place or should be routinely ignored if it improves your writing.

  • Never end a sentence with a preposition. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style (preferred by publishers) has never prohibited a preposition at the end of a sentence in any of its versions and editions since 1906.
  • Never begin a sentence with a conjunction, like but or and. Don’t overdo it, but this is often a good tool to emphasize an opposing point.
  • Don’t use contractions. Maybe when you’re writing to an international audience. Otherwise, why sound like a robot rather than writing in a way that humans actually speak?
  • No one-sentence paragraphs. This is a great technique for pulling a key point out into the “open” where people are sure to see it, rather than burying it in a longer paragraph.
  • Write in complete sentences only. If it adds emphasis or cadence, please break this rule.

The fundamentals still have their place

This is not to say that you can throw out every writing rule. Musicians can improvise better riffs when they study music theory. Artists can create more moving pieces when they are grounded in the basics of line, form, light, and perspective. The best writers know structure and composition fundamentals so they know where to break away from the rules to make prose instead of text.

Writing a lot helps you get better, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become a great writer. Malcom Gladwell is credited with conceiving the “10,000 hour” rule in his book Outliers. Widely misunderstood is that it doesn’t mean automatic mastery with 10,000 hours of practice. It does not say geniuses are made, not born. Gladwell has clarified that the rule means that it generally takes that long for natural talent to fully manifest.

I was an ice hockey goalie. Though I probably spent 10,000 hours on the ice, it never made me into Martin Brodeur. The point is that the best at anything have more talent to start.

Writing is a rare skill and takes years to acquire. Unless you are sure you’ve got that level of skill, hire a professional to help elevate your messages above the rest.

Surprise your reader

As Chip and Dan Heath found in their studies of ideas and messages, “unexpected” is a key element to engaging your audience. Their bestselling book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, explains that the best way to get attention for your message is to break a pattern. That’s just what we’re talking about here. Break a rule and jar your reader from what they expect is coming next.

Arthur Plotnik, author of Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, said it very well:

“When too tightly leashed, writing chokes and loses its vitality.”