There’s a strategy to completing your first book and that is to make things as easy on yourself as possible. Nine out of ten people who start writing a book don’t finish. Over the dozen or so years that I’ve been ghostwriting and coaching new authors, I’ve developed a number of strategies to help wannabe writers become published authors. Here are three to get you started.
Start by Taking the Pressure Off Yourself
The first place to start is with the book topic itself. A friend asked me what my advice would be for a first-time author. I said, as I always do, “Start with your third favorite idea.” Save your favorite idea for your third or fourth book. By then, you have dealt with most of the mechanics of writing and publishing a book, your writing has loosened up and actually developed into a writing style, and you have a much better idea of how you want to structure your book. You should also no longer struggle with the idea that 40,000+ words is an insurmountable goal.
I have a book I use in my talks on self-publishing that I call “A testament to the creativity of interior layout.” The book runs, if memory serves, about 200 pages. In the land of thin self-published books, this one stands out by its spine width alone. But here’s the thing: It can’t be more than 15,000 words long and it may be shorter. The interior layout designer was a genius in taking the material and spreading it out over 200 pages to make it look like standard book.
You want the information in your book to cover your topic fully, but don’t pad for the sake of padding. A good layout designer can make sure your book has enough pages to do you proud. Don’t feel as if you need to write War and Peace (587,287 words) or even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (76,944 words, the first and shortest of the Potter series). First of all, if you are looking for a traditional publisher, they are not going to take a chance on publishing a 600+ page tome from a new author. Fiction or nonfiction, paper and ink cost money. If you’re self-publishing, you want at least 100 pages (50 pages front and back) in your final layout so you can have a wide enough spine to put your title and name on. In a 6 x 9 layout, I’ve seen 25,000 words fill over 120 pages without resorting to multiple superfluous images or huge font.
Start with what I call a “little book” – a short read that provides concise, pertinent information that solves a particular problem (or even aspect of a problem). Readers today look for the fastest, easiest way to solve a problem. In the nonfiction realm, they don’t need or want a lot of fluff. Little books are great as lead generators and for positioning yourself as an expert. When you are ready to elevate your status and move up as an authority in your field, it’s time to write your signature book. After writing a few shorter books, you will be ready for that. (Promise.)
Use a Formula
You can find all sorts of fiction books—romance novel, action adventure, westerns—but if you go under the skin, you’ll find that most are based on a three act structure. (For the record, so are most movies.) Nonfiction books follow formulas, too (okay, I would have said formulae, but someone would have accused me of being pretentious) and once you become aware of them, you see them everywhere, even in the books that don’t put the formula right in front of your face. Profiles in Courage was a formula book (in fact, any book that profiles various people is following a formula to some extent). Think of all those early self-development parable books: Think and Grow Rich, Acres of Diamonds, The Richest Man in Babylon. They are based on a hero’s journey type of formula, typically seen in fiction. How to books follow the step-by-step formula/structure from beginning a project to successful completion.
Putting the formula right in front of your reader’s face is not a bad thing either. Think about the “For Dummies” or “Idiot’s Guide” series of books. Each book is somewhat different because the topics are so wide-ranging and plentiful. But one of the first sections of each book tells you how to use it – when you see this icon, it means this, and when you see this section, we’ll show you that. The books follow a formula and people know what to expect. The formula is something they come to rely on. So don’t think that a formula is bad; it’s reliable. For books that are guides, things like the top 10 (20, 50…) tips or mistakes or places to live, having a visible structure is a good thing. It helps people compare apples to apples (does Madison, Wisconsin have more microbreweries than Seattle?) or hits key points that people need to know in a clean, quick manner.
Complete Your First Book so You Can Move on to Your Next Book
Maybe your first book will never see the light of day. But it will be DONE. You will have proved to yourself that yes, you can write a book. Published or not, move on to your second book. This book will be easier to write and take less time. That’s because you are familiar with the mechanics of writing. By the time you are ready to write about something near and dear to your heart, you might not be an old pro, but you will certainly have the confidence you need to do justice to your topic. And, maybe after that’s done, you might dig up any book you didn’t have the nerve to publish, see if you can improve it, and finally move that one into the light, too.