How to write a book and get it published
Writing a book is a lifelong dream for so many of us. Whether it’s an idea for a novel you’ve been dreaming about for years, a non-fiction book on a particular interest, or maybe even your own autobiography – everyone has a book in them, or so the saying goes.
If you believe you have a book in you, then writing it is only the first step. Most people write books because they want them to be read. It seems a shame to write, edit, and print a book to only have it sit on your desk collecting dust.
There’s a unique joy in holding a copy of your own book and being able to share it with both strangers and your loved ones. And, as 62-year-old first-time writer John D. Anderson told us, writing a book can also be the best way to leave a meaningful legacy for your grandchildren.
Once you’ve written a book, getting it published isn’t always easy. And as a twice-published author, I say that from experience! Luckily, however, in today’s digital world, budding authors have lots of options.
Before you start writing
It’s helpful to try expanding on your ideas. Consider how an idea will develop: where’s the story going to go? What’s the purpose? Do you want your book to inspire or inform? Do you want to help people, or offer a new perspective? Who are the characters, and what’s the message?
Before you begin, you should also consider who your audience will be. This can help to narrow down your ideas; after all, all books need an audience and if your idea is too niche, it may restrict your chances of getting published later on.
Once you know exactly who your audience is, you’ll have a better understanding of the elements your book needs to possess. This will help you not just in idea-forming, but with staying focused while writing later on.
Research and planning
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is a famous example of the latter method, meticulously planning each and every stage of her seven-book series, and knowing exactly how the seventh book ended before she’d even finished the first (to the disbelief of many publishers!)
There’s no “right” or “wrong” way, but generally speaking, writing a book without a fully-formed idea isn’t ideal. For non-fiction writing, knowing how the book will be structured helps you stay organised and stick to the subject, and for fiction, knowing what happens to the characters and how you want the story to end keeps you focused.
With this in mind, novels are about imagination, and often it’s when our imaginations are left to wander that they provide the best material. The more you write about your characters, the more fleshed out they become, which can have a big influence on the direction of the story.
While writing my first book, there were dozens of times when the story took an unexpected turn because something I’d planned for my protagonist to do suddenly seemed entirely out-of-character.
Perhaps the best suggestion is to have a solid idea, to add depth and substance to major characters, and to map out all important plot points before you start writing – but to remember that novels are fluid and subject to change.
Giving yourself the freedom to see where your words and imagination take you is one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing process. Consider downloading a free plot worksheet to make constructing your plot that bit easier.
If you’re writing non-fiction, research usually forms a large part of the planning process, but many fiction books require huge amounts of research too – for example, if you’re writing a crime thriller, you may need to read up on how the police or legal systems operate.
Whatever you’re researching, it can be helpful to put together a research plan to help you stay organised and keep your research focused. However, it’s important not to get too carried away, as it can easily become a form of procrastination. Don’t allow it to get in the way of writing once you’ve begun; you can always add more information or detail later on. That’s what the editing process is for.
How can I learn more about writing a book?
If you want more guidance, then you could also look into taking a creative writing course. Faber, one of the UK’s leading publishers, offers a great course for those of you who are London-based. Luckily, wherever you live in the UK, there are dozens of writing courses you can benefit from. Why not check out the wide selection we have available on our site? Or, consider a self-publishing course.
If you’re writing non-fiction, you might also benefit from a class. Non-fiction books require a huge amount of organisation, and learning how to record ideas, sift through notes, and structure your book efficiently can help you stay focused and productive.
Have a look at the non-fiction courses available on our site to help you get that first draft done, or, if you live in London, you can also check out City Lit’s non-fiction courses; from history writing to personal essays, there’s probably a course here that’ll interest you. Alternatively, you can listen to a creative non-fiction course on Audible – it’s free for the first 30 days!
Should you only write about what you know?
Perhaps the most well-known piece of writing advice is to only “write what you know” – but this phrase is both misunderstood and misinterpreted, and to take it too literally can be extraordinarily restricting for an author. Writing about what you know doesn’t mean you should only write about events you yourself have experienced – if that were the case, the fantasy genre wouldn’t exist!
Writing what you know relates more to feelings and emotions. For example, if you’ve ever had your heart broken, write about that. If you’ve ever been consumed with longing, write about that.
Bad Reason #2: “I want to be a famous, bestselling author.”
Everyone wants to be famous, and some people think a book will make them famous. I’ve already explained why rich won’t happen (except indirectly), and the worse news is that a book is even less likely to make you famous than rich.
In fact, there are only about 15 or 20 (living) people who are famous ONLY for writing (and nothing else). Malcolm Gladwell is one. J.K. Rowling is another. You can probably name 5 more. But probably not 10 more, and definitely not 20 more. Start naming famous writers, and you’ll realize quickly that 80% or more of your list are dead (Hemingway, Twain, Lee, Tolkien, etc).
The fact is, writers are just not celebrities in America anymore. In fact, it goes the other way around in most cases; people get famous for something else first, THEN they write a book that becomes a bestseller. Being famous is usually why their book sells; they don’t get famous from their book.
Just like having the line “These pretzels are making me thirsty” in a small indie movie isn’t putting you on the cover of People, having a book that spends a week or two on the New York TimesBestseller list does not mean you’re famous. It barely gets you any attention at all.
Because being a bestseller has virtually no bearing on the fame or impact of a book! There are thousands of books that hit the bestseller list for a week and no one reads or hears about them again, and yet many of the most impactful books in the world have never been bestsellers (e.g. Man’s Search For Meaning has sold 10 million copies, and was never on a best seller list).
If it’s just for the status — just so you can brag to people at parties — then you need to re-examine your goal. You’re only doing this for ego reasons, and nothing else, and quite frankly, there are much easier, cheaper ways to get an ego boost than spending a year writing a book and then a ton of time and money promoting it.
But, if all you want is the recognition and validation that comes from making a contribution to the world, that is TOTALLY doable, and a book is a great way to both give to the world AND get recognized for that giving.
If you reframe your goal from, “I want to be a famous bestselling author,” to something that is closer to what you actually want, like, “I want my book to make an impact on lives and get some recognition for that,” then it does two things:
How does it make the book better? Because if your goal is just to help people and be recognized for that, you can almost always teach something to at least a few thousand people that greatly impacts their lives.
Bad Reason #3: “I want to live the writer’s life.”
“A successful book agent I know tells me that at least half the people he meets who are writing their first book, are doing so not because they have anything particularly interesting to say, but because the idea of “the writer’s life” appeals to them. Tweed jackets, smoking a pipe, sitting out in the gazebo and getting sloshed on Mint Juleps, pensively typing away at an old black Remington. Bantering wittily at all the right parties. Or whatever. Anybody who wants to write books for this reason deserves to suffer. And happily, many of them do.”
The point is, this statement is usually a lie authors tell themselves to protect against failure. Many people who say this, then go on to not only publish their writing that was “just for them” but also make huge efforts to promote it.
Edit the manuscript and get feedback
Don’t take feedback too personally; it’ll improve your book in the long run. (Image: Unsplash)
You can write all day, all night, to your heart’s content. but if no one else likes what you’ve written, you might end up heartbroken instead. That’s why it’s crucial to request feedback on your book, starting early and from as many sources as possible.
Begin by asking your friends and fellow writers to read just a few chapters at a time. However, apply their suggestions not only to those chapters, but wherever relevant. For example, if one of your friends says, “[Character A] is acting weird in this scene,” pay extra attention to that character to ensure you haven’t misrepresented them anywhere else.
Once your book is finished, you’re ready for some more intensive feedback. Consider getting a beta reader to review your entire book and provide their thoughts. You may want to hire an editor to give you professional feedback as well. (Find out about the different types of editing, and which type your book might need, in this post.)
Finally, it might sound obvious, but we’ll say it anyway for all you stubborn writers out there: feedback is useless if you don’t actually listen to it. Separate yourself from your ego and don’t take anything personally, because no one wants to offend you — they’re just trying to help.
Publish your book
You’ve persevered to the end at last: brainstormed, outlined, and written a first draft that you’ve edited extensively (based on feedback, of course). Your book has taken its final form, and you couldn’t be prouder. So what comes next?
Well, if you’ve taken our advice about catering to your target readers, you may as well give publishing a shot! We have a full guide to publishing right here — and if you’re thinking about traditional publishing, read this article to decide which is right for you.
Get help from publishing professionals
Publishing is another rigorous process, of course. But if you’ve come this far to find out how to write a book, you can pretty much do anything! Invest in stellar cover design, study up on marketing, or start writing an irresistible query letter that will get you an offer.
Whichever route you take, one thing will remain true: you’ve written a book, and that’s an incredible achievement. Welcome to the 0.1% — and may the next book you write be even greater than the first. 📖