It is impossible to write a book without being armed with a set of essential tools. These are experience, ability, and material. Experience means that no one can write a book if they lack previous experience in writing articles, short stories, and other material. A book is a big project of usually over 50,000 words, and takes a lot of work, sacrifice, and dedication. Ability comes through the experience of having written many words over a lengthy period, and includes the skills of expression, understanding the anatomy and structure of a book, and being able to use sophisticated and advanced reasoning. The material that one puts into a book depends on the topic, subject, and whether it is fiction or non-fiction. In all cases, however, it is impossible to proceed without well-researched and sourced material.
Fiction writing is revolved around a story or stories composed and invented by the writer, intended mainly for entertainment purposes. Although most of it is made up, it requires enough relevance to the human condition to require a vast amount of research. Non-fiction writing is necessarily based on a specific topic, and is usually less story-based. This sector of writing is enormous in its variety. The amalgamation of non-fiction and fiction is narrative non-fiction: the telling of true stories in a way that makes facts and real events seem entertaining.
Steps for Writing a Book
- Carefully examine the premise and background of the topic or subject that you desire to write about. Read a great number of manuals on how to write in your chosen genre—fiction can be divided into the genres of humor, thrillers, romance, urban myth, mystery, among others. Non-fiction categorized as biography, scientific and all other scholarly literature, health, cooking, crafts, travel, among many others.
- Seek and read solidly-written books within the selected genre to guide you, provide specific details and sound advice. It is impossible to write within a genre you have never read.
- Make notes and understand all the special words used in the publishing industry.
- Understand that the publishing industry is one in constant flux, especially since the introduction of eBooks. Taking on writing a book means taking on a constantly shifting perspective and objective.
- If you are writing fiction, study the aspects of character, plot, and settings. Each piece of action must be placed within a scene. Write a summary, a synopsis, and a story plan: you need not stick to them all the time, but they are a necessary guide.
- If you are writing non-fiction, gather an arsenal of facts and make detailed notes, construct a list of points, and expand on each gradually.
- For both fiction and non-fiction, interviewing relevant people to gain more facts and background can be a key process.
- Set aside a generous period of time to draft several different versions of the book: this is certainly not a project that one can undertake in a hurry.
- Try to talk to other authors: they are an invaluable source of knowledge and experience. Conversing with other authors is the ‘next best thing’ to undergoing your own publishing experience.
- Make a list of prospective publishers to approach with the finished manuscript.
- Remember that a book takes several months at least to write, and sometimes a number of years to complete.
Key Points to Consider
- Books are often written in isolation. Be prepared to spend a lot of time alone, writing and editing.
- Always use the accepted manuscript conventions of spacing, font, and size. In the US, Times New Roman in 12pt is generally the norm. Do not double-space digitally-submitted manuscripts.
- It is better to keep to tried and tested themes and formats rather than trying to be too innovative: readers tend to be conservative and often seek works of a similar nature.
- When writing in a collaborative mode with another writer, or ghostwriting for a person with a viable story, discuss your opinions and be flexible and market-driven.
Do and Don’t
- Absence of authenticity. Even though some fiction is based on fantasy or science fiction, it should contain a great deal of relationship to the human condition.
- Attempting to pack too much into a book of about 100,000 words is the sign of an amateur writer. It is better to include a bit more detail in a few less scenes than to over-complicate the plot.
- Hurried passages are risky. Shortened scenes that take space from crucial scenes sometimes work, but only in the hands of an experienced writer.
- Overlooking the importance of conversations between characters. Dialog breaks up blocks of dense writing, lightens the weight of the narrative, and injects reality while pushing the story along.
- It is a mistake to put too much description or narration into fiction or non-fiction. Protagonists must not make long descriptive monologues. They bore the reader.
- Repetitive or stereotypical work—do not imitate the old masters you studied in literature classes at school. Their styles are immediately recognized by avid readers.
- Lack of proficiency in language. Beginning authors do not have enough experience to write long works without showing incompetence. Make sure your language skills are practiced and sharp.
- Not understanding the anatomy of a classic novel or biography. It is essential to keep to the tried and tested formats of books that readers expect, which you can elaborate on with your own original dialog and action.