Writing a book takes time, patience, and story telling abilities. Other than that, as long as you have established an audience (say… blog followers for example), found a great team of editors, know a cover artist you trust, and are able to set up pre-publication and post publication marketing efforts (including a blog tour, YouTube vlog interview tour, Periscope appearances, live book signings, etc.), you’re ready to go.
Don’t let me overwhelm you, this post is just about the writing… I’ll get to those other things in a different post. Lets talk about the 4 easy (insert laugh track here) steps to writing your book.
STEP 1. Decide to write a book and make a commitment to yourself to finish.
This is probably the hardest part of writing a book… well, this and editing… and marketing, but this post is only talking about the actual writing processes – spilling your blood, tears, and sweat into that first draft.
‘According to writer Joseph Epstein, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” That’s approximately 200 million people who aspire to authorship.’ Goldberg, Justine. T. (2011, May 26). 200 Million Americans Want to Publish Books, But Can They? https://publishingperspectives.com/2011/05/200-million-americans-want-to-publish-books/
In my experience, the problem isn’t wanting to write a book, it’s not knowing where to start and often times not believing you can. I’ve talked to so many “want-to-be authors” who have amazing story ideas, but they fail to put a single word on paper. Why? Because more often than not, the messages they are receiving from the people around them are; ‘it will never go anywhere,’ ‘you can’t make a living as an author,’ ‘who are you kidding, you’re not a writer.’ It is comments like these that keep people, who could potentially be the next Amanda Hocking, E. L. James, or even the next J.K. Rowling, from even trying. So, ignore the negativity, make a commitment to yourself to finish it – because you’re the only one you need to please – and move to keep going.
STEP 2. Pick a genre. Your genre will determine your page count.
- Flash Fiction: 300–1500 words
- Short Story: 1500–30,000 words
- Novellas: 30,000–50,000 words
- Novels: 50,000–110,000 words
- Adult Novels (Commercial and Literary): 80,000-90,000 words
- Mainstream Romance: 80,000–90,000 words
- Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000 words
- Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000 words
- Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
- Young Adult: 55,000–80,000 words
- Epics: 120,000-200,000 words
- Westerns: 50,000-80,000 words
- CHILDREN’S BOOKS:
- Picture Books: 300–600 words
Early Readers: 200–3500 words
Chapter Books: 4000–10,000 words
Middle Grade: 25,000–50,000 words
- Picture Books: 300–600 words
- Standard Nonfiction (Business, Political Science, Psychology, History, etc.): 70,000–80,000 words
- Memoir: 80,000–100,000 words
- Biography: 80,000–200,000 words
- How-to / Self-Help: 40,000–50,000 words
Keep in mind that the word counts listed above are just a general guideline. There are always going to be books that break the rules and that is OK, as long as your story has the following key ingredients:
- A strong opening – Right from the start of your setting should set the mood and tone of the story for your readers.
- Balance – You need to have a balance between SHOWING through strong, but not overwhelming, descriptions and TELLING through script-worthy dialogue
- Diverse, well-developed characters – Keep in mind that not everyone is beautiful, people have scars (emotional and physical). Your characters should all be uniquely themselves, with their own back-stories, personalities, etc.
- Conflict and Resolution – Every good story needs conflict, it’s what allows the characters to develop, adapt, and change, throughout the story.
- A satisfying conclusion – This doesn’t mean a Hollywood “happy” ending, it just means that all the plot holes have been filled in and questions have been answered… that is unless you’re leaving your readers with a cliffhanger! I have to admit, I love a good cliffhanger. 😉
STEP 3. Outline your book with extensive detail.
OK, you’ve made a commitment, you’ve picked your genre and have a general idea of what your word count is going to look like. What’s next? OUTLINING!!! When I tell you that you want to outline with EXTENSIVE DETAIL, I really do mean EXTENSIVE DETAIL.
Have you ever gotten lost, driving down a back road in the South? I have… You stop at the run-down gas station, hesitantly get out of your car to ask the station attendant for directions to the nearest interstate. She responds with something like, “Just turn right out of the drive. You’ll go three-quarters of a mile, just past the old Miller farm, and turn left when you see the burnt down barn. You’ll want to pass the Piggly Wiggly and the Walmart and turn right onto Orchard Lane, but if you reach the Dairy Queen you’ve gone to far. The interstate is about four miles from there and the entrance is on the left just under the overpass. You’ll see what’s left of the Jimmy loves Mary painted on the old water tower about a half mile before you get to there.” To much detail? NOT AT ALL!
Think of your outline as a sweet southern woman giving you detailed directions on how to go from the first page of chapter one to the final page of the story.
Trust me, the outline is the hard part, but you can get through it. You see, the more detail you put into your outline the easier the actual writing process will be and the fewer bumps and bruises you’ll experience along the way. In other words, every detail added to your outline saves you from hours of writer’s block later on. So, don’t skimp – outline every thing.
Start with a skeleton outline by breaking down your story into three acts (Act 1 – Act 2 – Act 3). Within each act you need to know the background, setting, the obstacle/conflict, reactions to the conflict, and the resolution.
After you’ve created your skeleton outline – start plotting out individual scenes in the same way, but with more details.
Remember, this takes time. Don’t expect to finish your detailed outline in one day, but don’t give up until its done either.
STEP 4. Write daily.
Remember, you’ve made a commitment to yourself to finish this book, so there can be no excuses. Writing daily is essential to developing your writing skills – your writing muscles if you will. Don’t worry if what you’re writing is crap… trust me, every author has days where all they write are pages worthy of the cylindrical file, otherwise known as the trash!
Now lets say you’re writing a young adult story, which puts your total desired word count around 55,000 – 79,999. For this example, we will say you’re aiming for 70,000. You’re goal (I’m making this up) is to finish your book in 100 days – YES IT CAN BE DONE – that means you have to write 700 words per day. EVERY DAY!!! I don’t care if you get home from work and you’re tired. I don’t care if your mom wants to take you out to dinner for your birthday. I don’t even care if you’re sitting in bed with the flu and your achy. MAN UP and start typing. 700 words a day is not that hard – and once you start, you’ll quickly see that your daily 700 words will start to multiply as you get further and further into your story. The more you write, and follow your outline, the more the details of your story will start to unfold for you.