A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.
Have you been thinking about writing a book?
Is it a perennial entry on your New Year’s Resolution list? Is it that idea that keeps popping up? Is it that promise that you make to yourself, “Someday I’m going to sit down and write my masterpiece!”
Writing a book is an extremely gratifying experience, and also an incredibly daunting one. It’s challenging to sit in front of a blank screen or blank piece of paper and start knocking out the words.
Here is a step by step process that can kickstart your journey to becoming an author.
1. Clarify why you want to write a book.
There are a lot of reasons to write a book, and it’s crucial to know why you want to write yours. You have to know what your intentions are, because it will influence a lot of the decisions that you’ll make along the way.
I’m not talking about sales goals. I’m talking about reasons for putting yourself through the process. Finding fame and fortune by writing a book is possible, but unlikely.
So connect with the reasons that you are going to put in the effort. Are you trying to build your professional credibility, scratch an itch you’ve always had, or collect your accumulated wisdom in one place? What are you working towards?
2. Ask yourself (and others) why people would want to read it.
In a world of information overwhelm, investing time and attention to read a book is a commitment. Think through why someone would want to commit to reading yours.
It’s easy for us to be blinded by our own passion for the topic. Get away from your perspective and look at your book idea from a reader’s point of view. By focusing on your reader, you’ll consider what appeals to them, and not just your own ego.
Knowing this from the outset makes for a much better book and a much smoother writing process.
3. Set your expectations correctly
According to Bowker, the organization that distributes ISBN numbers for books, there were over one million books published…in 2015. The average book sells only 250 copies a year and 2,000 over the course of its lifetime.
And with Amazon and e-books, the shelf life of existing books has greatly increased. That means that you’re not just competing against the books being published this year, but also all of the other ones that still have some legs.
Just because you’re unlikely to be the next J.K. Rowling or Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t mean your book won’t be a success, but be clear about what that success is going to look like. Remember, if you sell more than 250 books in the first year, you’re above average!
4. Write an article a week for three months
There is one difference between book authors and would-be book authors: authors write. I know it sounds obvious, but you have to put in the work. Just like getting in shape requires time at the gym or on the jogging trail, writing a book requires writing. A lot of it.
If you don’t have the habit now, develop it. Write a 1,000-word article once a week. If you don’t have anywhere to publish it, create a simple blog, or put it on Medium or LinkedIn’s Publisher.
You’re not just going to sit down at the keyboard and knock out a book in a weekend, no matter what the “write a book in 5 hours” courses tell you. Get in the habit of sitting down on a regular basis and you’ll get good at the craft and the work of writing.
5. Develop a community around you…now!
Getting people to pay attention to your book is hard. It’s even harder if the first time they hear about it is when it pops up on Amazon. Instead, build up your community and network before your book comes out.
Every book marketing expert/guru/ninja says that your community is critical. And they’re right. Use those articles that you’re writing from Step 4 to engage with possible book readers. Share them with friends, family, and colleagues. Post them on social media.
Talk to other authors and people in your field. You want to plant seeds and build relationships well before your book arrives. This is how you’ll eventually get book blurbs, advanced readers, and a buzz when your book does arrive.
6. Now write a draft
If you get in the habit of writing an article a week, you can write a draft. By writing 1,000 words a week you’ll have a 40,000-word draft in 10 months. You could even use the articles you’re writing as the skeleton of your rough draft.
Want it faster? Write 2,000 words a week. That’s only 400 words a day, five days a week. Very doable.
Want to write it faster? If you have a great idea and a lot of writing experience and a great editor and time, you could pump it out in a few months. But that’s if you know what you are doing and if you are prepared to put the work in.
7. Work on getting it published
Now go and do all of the other stuff. Seek a publisher or find out how to self-publish. Get a cover. Hire an editor. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the fun stuff. Yes, it takes work, but it’s a lot easier than actually writing a good draft.
In the end, the hardest (and most important) step is to sit down in front of a computer screen or a pad of paper and write the first sentence. But after you’ve done that, you are on the path to holding your first book in your hands.
I know from experience that it’s a great feeling. So go get it for yourself!