Getting from Idea to Manuscript

There is not a “right” or “wrong” way to write a book, but there are easier ways and harder ways to do so. When asked how to write a book, the strategy most people identify – just sitting down and writing – is actually the hardest one. Few people can successfully write a book that way.

Book Coach Lisa TenerI’m Lisa Tener, a book-writing coach with close to two decades of experience working with new and experienced authors. When I talk with aspiring writers about how to write a book, I advise them to do several things before they even think of starting writing chapter 1. My advice to them, which I’ll share here in an abbreviated form, is intended to speed up their writing process and to help them find a publisher.

The following advice applies specifically for nonfiction books–how-to, self-help, business, memoir and other nonfiction. If you are writing fiction, check out the author interviews of fiction authors, which you will find on this site.

Before You Begin Writing a Book

1. Determine your vision and goals.

What’s your big picture vision for what your book will accomplish? What do you want to achieve? Do you want to share information so that people will take action? Do you hope it will lead to speaking engagements or consulting work in your field of work? Or will your book kick-start a new career for you?

2. Know your audience.

Describe the types of people who you believe will be interested in your book. Be as descriptive as possible. What are they looking for? What do they know – or think they know – already? What do they need to know? Keep these people in mind as you are writing.

3. Based on the goals you’ve identified, determine how best to reach your intended audience.

Award winning author Lisa Tener

I decided to self-publish my most recent book in order to have artistic control and to get it out into the world in a timely manner, given the need for the subject.

Can you successfully reach your audience and your goals through self-publishing an e-book or in print? Or do you want and need the wider audience that traditional publishers offer. (If you are self publishing, you can skip steps 5 through 9.)

4. Write an outline and sample chapters.

The outline will help you organize the information in your book. An outline saves you time and provides structure, even if the structure changes over time. Writing a few sample chapters will help you clarify your voice and tone. You will also need chapter outlines or summaries if you want to attract a literary agent or publisher.

How Do You Find a Publisher? [Skip steps 5 -9 if self publishing]

5. Write a book proposal.

Getting a book published by a traditional publisher will require that you know how to write a book proposal. The book proposal is, in essence, a case for why your book should exist, why this agent should represent you and why THIS publisher should publish a book of yours. There are a number of elements that every successful book proposal will have. Failing to include each component can result in your proposal being rejected outright. (Take a look at the book How to Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen, 4th edition, for an excellent example of how to format your book proposal.)

How Do You Find and Work with Literary Agents?

6. Research literary agents.

You can meet agents at conferences and read about them online. Be sure you understand the types of books the agent handles. Agents specialize so you will want to find a literary agent who is interested in topics like yours. If you meet an agent at a conference or event and they ask you to send a book proposal, go to step 8, otherwise go to step 7.

7. Send a query letter.

A query letter gives a literary agent a glimpse of the book you are offering them. DO NOT send a book or a book proposal; send a query letter. If the literary agent is interested, you will be invited to send them your book proposal. If you’ve identified 3 to 5 agents who work with your type of book, go ahead and send them all an e-mail or letter (check their website for preferences). Do not send your query to a very large number of agents. You may get feedback that means changing your proposal and trying again, so you don’t want to use all your top choices on the first try.

8. Send your book proposal to interested agents. Agents receive many proposals, not all of them invited.

Make sure they know yours was invited. Write “Requested book proposal for __________” in the subject line of the email or in the bottom left corner of the envelope to ensure it doesn’t get doesn’t get thrown into a slush pile. Let the agent know if you have also sent to x number of other agents. Again, this should not be a big number—no more than 5.

9. Review the feedback.

The feedback you will receive from a literary agent can be vital to the success of your book. You may hear that there are things you need to change. Before you send out another proposal, ask any agents who rejected your proposal for feedback. Consider whether you want to make changes and make them.

NOW, Write Your Book

10. Set aside the time. Sit down and write.

Organizing is your first big task. Develop a table of contents and write an outline for your book. Consider what information your readers need to know and when. Consider formatting and features that will bring your readers along and help them understand your message.

You’ll face challenges during the process of writing your book. Get support, stay inspired. Steps 11, 12 and 13 can provide additional support to help you set aside time, get accountability, write from an inspired state of flow and make sure your writing happens.

Need support to get the writing done? Check out my Get Your Writing Done program with weekly workshops to support you to write in a state of flow; resources for book writing, creativity and publishing; and community to support you.

The Author Interviews on the “How to Write a Book” blog can help you get ideas. And check out the video library for tips on how to write and publish a book. You CAN bring your book to life!

11. Sign up for the free Inspired Author Course

The completely free Inspired Author Course will help you get started by showing you exactly how to get started and what you need to know before you start writing; helping you answer questions about your vision, readership and book; and providing the resources for an easy and successful foundation:

  • A template to create your heart-centered book vision, intent and manifesto—so you stay inspired every day.
  • Book Writing Starter Course: 7+ valuable lessons to help you get started with the right book.
  • A Message From Your Muse: Your Sacred Permission Slip to Write Your Book, Shine Your Light and Transform Lives.
  • Writing in the Zone (meditation audio)
  • Meet Your Muse (guided visualization audio)
  • Regular book writing & publishing news, tips, and events — straight to your inbox!

In addition, you’ll receive tips, news and links to relevant articles every week that will help you write a compelling nonfiction book (such as how-to, self-help, business or health), get published and reach your readers with a book that resonates and makes an impact.

Get your free Inspired Author Course here.

12. Get Support

If you need guidance and structure to develop your book concept and structure (steps 1 – 4 above), check out my Quick Start to Kick Start Your Book program (just $97).

If you need accountability, support and community to actually get the writing done, check out Get Your Writing Done.

If you’re looking for more one-on-one guidance, coaching, editing or all three, contact me and let me know what you’re looking for.



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Includes: 7-day book writing e-course + Crucial advice on how to start + Powerful book writing exercises + Weekly book writing & publishing news, tips and articles!

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