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.

I’m Lisa Tener, a book-writing coach with a decade 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, memoir and other nonfiction. If you are writing fiction, check out the author interviews of fiction authors, which we’ll be adding to the site soon.

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.

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?

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 he or she asks 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 material enclosed” 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, 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. 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. If you haven’t already signed up for your free author toolkit, do so now, below.

The week of e-mail lessons will help you with those initial steps. 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, memoir or self-help, get published and reach your readers with a book that resonates and makes an impact.

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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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