The Secret Behind Every Bestseller
The #1 Problem Facing Most Writers Today
What is the biggest problem facing writers today?
It’s not figuring out how to finish your book. It’s writing something worth reading — and buying — in the first place.
Write a Bestseller is a simple but proven framework that will help you identify a winning idea for a nonfiction book, get it written, and launch it into the world.
The Secret Behind Every Bestseller
When you said to yourself, “I’d like to write a book some day,” did you also say, “but I hope it doesn’t sell any copies”?
Of course not! That would be ridiculous.
Many people want to write a book at some point in their lives, and quite a few of them end up doing so. However, very few of those authors end up selling more than 100 copies of their book.
These days, there is no shortage of people dishing out advice for authors. Especially regarding what it takes to sell your book.
- Hack the media
- Build a platform
- Join this social network
- Chase that fad
You’ve probably heard it all and more.
But what if I told you that before you could launch a bestseller, you first had to write one?
What if you all you needed to do was write a great book? I mean, really?
How to Write a Bestselling Book Like the Pros Do
See if this sounds familiar:
You come up with an idea that you think other people need to hear. Maybe you’ve experienced a groundbreaking change or tragedy in your life and you want to share your story.
You tell your friends, maybe even your family, and they all say you should write a book.
So you do. Or at least, you try. You write a little here and there and spend months, if not years, chipping away at this book.
Maybe you actually end up publishing this new book and sharing it with the world. But at this point, you’re too exhausted to talk about it. Plus, you wouldn’t know where to start.
You struggle to know how to talk about it and worry that you don’t have what it takes to be an author. You conclude that successful, bestselling authors must have gotten lucky, and resign yourself to the idea that this will never happen to you.
But what if I told you there was a way to write books just like they do?
The Write a Bestseller Framework
The world’s most successful authors don’t just write what they want and hope people pay attention. They write a relevant and compelling book for a specific audience. And as a result, their messages spread.
Why? Because they had a clever marketing plan? No way. Because they shared a message worth spreading.
You can do the same.
As the bestselling author of five books, I’ve learned that to be a successful author, you can’t just write any old book. You have to write a book worth selling. And that requires a very specific writing process.
Which is why I created the Write a Bestseller Program.
In this online video course, I walk you through my writing process, which has led to national bestselling books that continue to sell copies every day. This was a process that I borrowed from countless bestselling authors.
And in this course, I’ll teach you exactly how it works so that you, too, can write a bestseller.
Here’s what you’ll learn in the course:
- How to nail your big idea before you start writing so you know the book will sell
- What it takes to identify your core audience and use those early fans to help your message spread
- The secret process to getting the words down fast without running into writer’s block
- The system I use to edit a draft to excellence and make the book as shareable as possible
- How to actually launch the book once it’s written
How the Program Works
Here’s how the program works. Write a Bestseller is a 90-day journey that will take you from rough idea to a final draft that’s ready to publish. The course is broken up into three parts:
- Month 1: Prepare to write your book by coming up with a killer idea.
- Month 2: Write the first draft of the book in 30 days or less. This is an ugly first draft, not your final work. The goal is to get words down on paper.
- Month 3: Edit your work and get it ready to publish.
Beat the Odds and Become a Success Story
Over 80% of people want to write a book someday, but without a plan, most never will.
This course is a way to beat those odds. Not only will you learn the steps it takes to write a great book. You can then take it and publish it with confidence, knowing it will sell well. And you’ll have me as your guide to walk you through the process.
How to Write a Book: The Seriously Ultimate Guide for New Writers
So you want to learn how to write a book in 2018?
I think you’ll agree with me when I say learning to write a book for the first time is a challenge.
Let’s tackle that.
Over the past few years, I’ve written a 60,000+ word book about productivity, a novella and several short stories. I’ve also recently completed a 60,000+ word book about creativity.
I’ve faced a lot of painful mistakes while writing books, and I’ve also learned a little bit about how to write a book.
In this post, I want to explain exactly how to write a book based on what I’ve learned.
I also want to reveal some of my mistakes and some proven book writing tips, so you can get started writing a book today.
Although I write fiction and non-fiction, my specialism is non-fiction writing.
In this guide, I focus on how to write a non-fiction book in 2018.
That said, you can still use some of the lessons from this post if you want to learn how to write a fiction book.
Commit to Writing Your Book
Can anyone write a book?
Writing your first book is a time-consuming creative project that demands months (or even years) of your time.
Before you decide to write one ask yourself if you have the mental resources, the creative energy and the time to do it.
You’re going to have to write almost every day and sacrifice other things in your life or rearrange your day so you can put writing first, if only for a little while.
When I wrote my first book, I gave up playing Call of Duty and Halo because I didn’t have the time to write and to play games.
In other words, like anything worth doing, you must stick to your commitment when times get tough, when you feel like you’re not progressing as fast as you’d like or when the writing is more like work and less like something you’re passionate about.
You must adopt the mindset of a professional writer who doesn’t call in sick or give up because he or she doesn’t feel like doing the work, you must become a professional writer who goes in and gets the job done.
Determine Why You Should Write a Book
Most people leave out how lonely the writing process feels when you’re starting off.
You have to spend hours researching your book, writing and rewriting it, and sitting alone in a room with only your words and ideas for company.
If you’ve never written a book the isolation is difficult to get used to but don’t worry, it’ll pass as you get into the process of writing a book.
Now the people close to you may understand what you’re doing, but don’t count on it!
Listen to this: one new writer struggling with his book emailed me to say:
“One of the reasons I have not gone farther with writing is because family sees me working at a computer, or like today with a cell phone and thinks I’m goofing off.”
You’ll be able to handle isolation, other people’s judgments and keep motivated if you know why you should write a book in the first place.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is my book a passion project?
- Am I writing this book to improve my craft?
- Will this book help me advance my career or become an expert in my field?
- How will I serve existing or new readers with my book?
- Is a book the best medium for me to express my ideas?
- Do I want to generate a side-income from my book and if so, how much?
- Do I have a plan for the marketing, promotion and distribution of my book?
- Will this book help me advance my dream for writing full-time?
Have at least four to seven reasons for why you’re writing a book in the first place because they will help you keep motivated when you feel isolated or when others question what you’re doing.
Why do I write books?
- To practice writing and improve my craft
- To help other writers and readers
- To deepen my knowledge of various topics
- To earn a side-income from book sales
Research Your Audience
As a savvy, writer it’s your job to find out what your audience wants, likes and dislikes.
Spend an hour or two browsing Amazon and finding Kindle books about your topic. Look for books in your niche with a sales ranking below 30,000.
Typically, these books sell at least five copies a day, meaning they’re popular with readers and earn a return for the author.
Read at least five of the books in your niche, taking note of the titles, categories and ideas behind each book.
So, how do you get new ideas for your book? Study the good and bad reviews for these books, so you can see what readers liked and disliked and how you can do better.
One great way to do this is to combine several different ideas from different books and then remix them with your writing.
Figure out what you’re going to say that’s different because if you want to add value for readers, you must offer something other writers (your competition) don’t.
Establish What Your Book is About
Although you may have a vague idea of what you want to write about, you’ll save a lot of time if you clarify your idea before you start writing.
So how do you get ideas to write a book?
Get a blank piece of paper and spend an hour asking and answering questions like:
- Who is this book for?
- What’s the big idea behind my book?
- What am I trying to say?
- How is my book different to everything else that’s out there?
- Why should people spend their money (or time) reading my book?
- What can I offer that no one else can?
Nobody has to see your answers, so be as honest as you can.
You might know what your book is about, but does your reader ?
Unless you’re writing fiction or literary non-fiction, craft a positioning statement for your book, so you know what it’s about in one sentence.
Here are three templates:
My book helps ________________ who ________________ get ________________.
My book teaches ________________ how to ________________.
My book helps ________________ who ________________ achieve ________________.
And here’s my positioning statement for my book about creativity. “My book helps people who don’t think they’ve any ideas become more creative.”
Doing this extra work upfront will help you avoid spending hours writing a book, only to find you hate your idea. And if you’re self-publishing your book, your answers will also help you market your book so readers care.
Decide What Type of Writer You Are
There’s two types of writers: pantsters and plotters.
Pantsters are writers who sit down in front of the blank page with only a vague idea of where they are going or what the story is about. They write from the seat of their pants inventing things as they go along and are happy to see to see where their characters take them. They write with a connection to God, their muse or their sub-consciousness. Stephen King is a pantster.
Plotters are writers who spend weeks or months organising their ideas, deciding what they want to write about in advance. When plotters sit down to write, they have a strong idea of what they’re going to say and they’ve the research to back it up. Robert Greene , the author of Mastery and the 48 Laws of Power , is a plotter.
I’ve tried both approaches, and there’s nothing wrong with either.
You’ll discover what type of writer you are (and your voice will emerge) if you turn up and do the work.
Remember, as Seth Godin says, everybody’s writing process is different .
After years of painful rewrites, unfinished manuscripts and pulling my hair out, I found out that I’m a plotter. I like to know what I’m writing about in advance. I NEED to know what I’m writing about in advance. Today, I’m convinced being a plotter lends itself well to most types of non-fiction writing.
Budget for Self-Publishing Your Book
I’ve written before about how much it costs to self-publish a book. Writing a book is free (unless you count your time) but publishing a book is not. So please, budget for hiring an editor, proofreader and a cover designer. Recently, I spent:
- USD2000 on an editor for a 60,0000-word book about creativity
- USD500 on a proofreader
- USD250 on a cover designer
And what else did I budget for?
Well because I’m self-publishing this book I set aside several hundred dollars for Facebook ads and for various book promotional services on Fiverr. You can get all of the above for cheaper (which I’ll explain), but please understand that having an editor, proofreader and cover designer is non-negotiable.
Here’s the truth: If you want to write a book readers enjoy, you must invest more than just time in your book.
Research Your Book
Robert Greene says he reads 300–400 books over the course of 12–24 months before he starts writing a book. He uses an analogue system of flashcards to record lessons and stories from each of these books and highlights what he reads. He says “I read a book, very carefully, writing on the margins with all kinds of notes.
A few weeks later I return to the book, and transfer my scribbles onto note cards, each card representing an important theme in the book.”
You may not be writing a book as dense as Robert’s but research is an important part of learning how to write a book. Have a system for recording and organising your research.
You could use Evernote like I do, create a mind map or use index cards like Robert. I use my Kindle to highlight key sections in books I read. Once a week I review these highlights and record notes about them in Evernote. This way, I have a digital filing system of everything I’ve come across.
Interview Experts for Your Book
In another life I was a journalist, and part of my job involved interviewing politicians, business people and even authors.
Can I be honest with you?
The interviews that caused me the most problems were over 60 minutes long because they took hours to listen to and transcribe.
Don’t make my mistake. I recommend keeping your interviews between 30–60 minutes and working out what you want to ask interviewees about in advance.
You can also save a lot of time by getting your interviews transcribed for a dollar a minute using Rev .
Know When to Stop Researching and Start Writing
So, how much research is too much?
Well, Robert Greene’s books are dense 500+ page non-fiction books filled with historical stories and psychological insights. I n other words, research forms the backbone of what Robert writes.
Your book might not depend on so much research up-front. There comes a point where research stops being helpful and transforms into a type of procrastination.
Besides, you can always continue to research you book as you write… once you have a system for capturing your ideas as you go.
Organise Your Ideas and Outline Your Book
Outlining my book
I outlined my book about creativity in advance. I started by reading dozens of books about creativity over the course of a year before deciding to tackle this topic.
Then, I free wrote about creativity for an hour or so.
Then, I extracted the ideas I wanted to write about. I turned them into provisional chapter titles and recorded on them on twenty index cards, one for each chapter.
On each card, I created a rough list of ideas in the form of five to ten bullet points. I also noted other books and stories to reference.
Then, I pinned these index cards to a wall near where I write so I could live with this outline for a few weeks. I spent several weeks working on this outline before transferring it to my computer and expanding upon each of the bullet points.
Why did I do this?
I wanted to spend as much mental energy during the planning stage as I could so that when the time came to put words on the page, I wouldn’t have to worry as much about what I was saying.
Outlining my book with pen and paper, and then later with Evernote, helped me figure out what I wanted to write about in each chapter, identify gaps in my research and problems in my work UPFRONT.
Obviously, my outline and table of contents evolved while I was writing the book, but when I was starting from ‘Total word count: 0’, my outline served as a map. It saved me time and helped me beat procrastination .
Set a Deadline
Professional writers work to deadlines.
A typical non-fiction book is between 60,000 and 80,000 words, and a typical novel can be anywhere between 60,000 and 120,000 words. (That said, there’s a case for writing shorter non-fiction books if you’re self-publishing)
So, if you want to write a non-fiction book, and you commit to writing 1000 words a day, it will take you 60 days to write a first draft if you write every day.
Do you need to write every day? If this is your first book, it’s unrealistic to expect you can write every day for several months. Instead, aim to write five or six days a week. If you haven’t written much before, set a more achievable target daily word count along the lines of 300 or 400 words.
Then, with some basic maths and a calendar (I use Google’s), you can work out how long writing the first draft of your book will take and set yourself a deadline.
Write That Messy First Draft
Writing the first draft of a book is intimidating. You look at the blank page in front of you and you wonder how you’re going to fill this page and hundreds of other pages to come. Don’t overthink it.
Instead, find somewhere you can write quietly for an hour and do all you can to get the words out of your head and onto the blank page.
The first draft is sometimes called the vomit draft because you just need to get it out! Don’t stop to edit yourself, review what you’ve written or to see if what you’re saying makes sense.
I find it helpful to set a target word count for my writing sessions. I usually aim to write 1500 words in an hour, set a timer and open Scrivener. Then, I keep my fingers moving until I reach the target word count or until the buzzer sounds.
While you’re writing your first draft, keep your outline and notes nearby, to guide you through each section in your chapter.
My writing isn’t good enough, I feel like I’ll never finish my first draft!
A writer asked me this question a few weeks ago.
First of all, the job of your first draft is simply to exist, so please don’t worry about the writing… that comes later. If you feel like you’ll never finish it, start writing in the middle of the chapter that’s causing your problems.
Here’s why: Introductions explain what you’re about to say next, but how can you write an introduction if you don’t know what comes next?
Similarly, conclusions wrap up what you just said, but how can you write one if you don’t know what you just said! Jumping straight into the middle of a chapter will help you gain momentum faster. Then, take your first draft chapter by chapter.
Tip: Speech to text software will help you write faster.
Manage Your Writing Time Like a Pro
I wrote my first book when I was working in a job I disliked, just after my wife had our daughter. I didn’t have enough free time to write eight hours a day. Even if I did, I lacked the mental discipline to do it.
When I was starting out, I wrote every night after 9 PM when the kids were in bed. However, I quickly found that when I put writing last in the day, it was least likely to happen.
Now, I block-book time in my calendar for writing every morning at 6 AM, and I do all I can stick to this. It helps that my daughter is now five. I
If you’re a new writer or you’ve never written a book before, you’re probably balancing writing your book with a job and family commitments. So, pick a time that you’re going to write every day, block-book it in your calendar and do all you can to stick to it.
Managing your writing time also means saying no to other activities and ideas… if they take you away from the blank page.
Did I ever tell you about the podcast I almost launched? Well, I had a great idea for a podcast, and I even bought all the audio equipment, but then I realised spending time on a podcast would have taken away from writing my creativity book.
Track Your Progress
One of the biggest tips I can give you for writing your first book is to track your daily word count and how long you spend writing each day.
Ernest Hemingway recorded his daily word count on a board next to where he wrote, so as not to kid himself.
Tracking your daily word count will help measure your word count and see how far you need to go to reach your target for writing your first book.
Your daily word count becomes less important when you’re writing the second and third draft or editing your book.
During these rewrites, you should be more concerned about shaping your ideas and working on the flow and structure of your book than an arbitrary word count.
When you’re at this point, it’s more helpful to know long you spend rewriting or editing your book.
No matter the stage of your book, you should be able to :
- Review your word count and how long you write for
- Identify if you reached any milestones like finishing a chapter or section
- See what’s holding you back
- Figure out what you need to write or research next
Track your wordcount in 2018
Remember, what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed, gets done.
Let Your Work Sit
When you’re finished your first draft, let it sit in your computer for a week or two and do something that has nothing to do with writing.
Celebrate your success!
After spending weeks or months working on an idea, I find that the work becomes too hot to touch, let alone edit. When you let your writing sit for a while, the ideas cool down and your memory of it fades.
Once you’re ready, print out a draft of your book, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, and read your draft in one or two sessions.
When you read the draft, you’ll look at it and think ‘Oh yeah, I remember this’. Best of all? You’ll be able to see problems you missed previously.
Highlight and underline sections with a red pen that you need to change.
Look for words and sentences to changes, ideas to remove and expand upon. Don’t change them now! Mark your manuscript with a pen and continue reading.
Please don’t feel disheartened if your prose disappoints. Ernest Hemingway said, “First drafts are shit” while the American novelist and editor Sol Stein likens the process of reviewing a first draft to performing triage on a patient.
Write Your Second and Third Drafts
Great writing is rewriting. Before you get into small changes during a rewrite, like tweaking a chapter title or editing a sentence, fix the big problems in your book.
What does this look like?
While I was rewriting my creativity book, I dumped two unnecessary chapters and wrote a new one one. I also found additional research to back up holes in my arguments. Only then did I get into performing line-edits.
While rewriting ask yourself:
- Does my introduction invoke curiosity in the reader?
- Have I told stories in my work?
- How can I strengthen my arguments?
- How can I bring an original insight to my work?
- Do I invoke at least one of the five senses in each page of my work?
- What’s the weakest part of this chapter? Now can I cut it?
- Have I eliminated as many unnecessary adverbs and adjectives form my work as possible?
- Have I removed every cliché?
You may perform the process of writing, reviewing, editing and rewriting several times before you’re happy with your book. Take it sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter.
As you work, your book will teach you how to write it.
But what if you still need help?
Well, Stephen King advises:
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
While working on your second or third draft, enlist the help of a family member, friend and later an editor and ask them to provide frank feedback about your work.
Hire an Editor
You may be able to write the first or second or even third draft alone, but at some point you need outside help.
When you’re immersed in a writing project it’s difficult to see gaps in your research, stories that don’t work, chapters that are too long. And so on. If you’re encountering roadblocks, you can waste a lot of time trying to get around them yourself.
Editors are trained professionals whose job it is to turn manuscripts into something that readers enjoy. A good editor will help you write a far better book and improve your craft as a writer. They’ll also help you speed up the process of rewriting your book.
Like any professional, editors are not free. You’ll have to hire one in advance and give them several weeks to review your book. Depending on the length of your book, you can spend anywhere between 500 and several thousand dollars on an editor.
Getting frank editorial feedback about your work is difficult to take. There are times when you should ignore criticism , but in this case, your editor’s feedback is about your work and not about you.
After a book cover, budgeting for an editor is one of the most important things that you must do if you’re going to publish the book that you’ve just written.
Hire a Proofreader
You could try proofing your book yourself, but I don’t recommend it. It’s time-consuming, and because you’re so close to the material, you will inevitably overlook some typos and mistakes.
I wasted a lot of time trying to proof my first book myself, only to have readers email me about the typos. I don’t know about you, but typos keep me up at night!
In the end, I hired a proofreader, asked them to fix my book and re-uploaded the proofed version to Amazon.
I nstead, I recommend hiring a proofreader or giving chapters of your book to beta readers, family and friends to check. Hiring a proofreader will cost several hundred dollars depending on the length of your book.
Giving chapters of your book to trusted friends and family shouldn’t cost you much (beyond returning the favour!), but you’ll need to be sure they’re eagle-eyed.
Formatting and Publishing Your Book
Covering how to self-publish a book is a post in itself. The best software to write a book is Scrivener and the best software for self-publishing is Vellum.
There’s a modest learning curve to both tools, but it’s time well-spent.
Gwen Hernandez book Scrivener for Dummies explains all you need to know.
The other thing you’ll need to do is hire a cover designer, and I recommend 99 Designs .
It’s relatively easy to upload your ebook and cover to Amazon and the other sites. However, if you want to learn more about self-publishing, I recommend reading Joanna Penn’s Successful Self-Publishing .
Know When You’re at The End
It takes a tremendous amount of hard-work and mental discipline to write a book and most people spend more time talking about writing their book instead of turning up and doing the work.
It also takes guts to know when you’re done. Book writing tips aside, please, don’t fall victim to perfectionism.
When you’re done, you’re done.
There will always be a gap between what you want to write and what you end up writing… but you can narrow this gap with each book that you finish.
Whatever happens once you finish writing your book in 2018, congratulations!
Celebrate your success then act on your plan for publishing your book or start writing the next one. Because the best way to sell the last book is to write a better one.
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Why I Will Never Use Microsoft Word Again
I wasted years of my life doing all my writing on Microsoft Word. But that’s all over now. I have finally seen the light.
After hearing so many writers I respect (people like Michael Hyatt and Andy Traub) talk about the magic of Scrivener, a word processor designed for serious writing projects, I decided to give it a go.
I had no idea what I was missing.
What’s so bad about Microsoft Word?
First things first. Here’s my beef with MS Word:
- It’s complicated. I find the auto-indents and instant formatting cumbersome and frustrating. And yes, you can turn this stuff off, but navigating a plethora of menus is anything but easy.
- It crashes. Like, all the time. I thought this was just me until I heard from other writers who struggle with this, too. Word will just randomly crash on you and unless you’re saving every seven seconds, you’re likely to lose some of your work. I have lost more than a few chapters of my books thanks to this feature.
- It’s irrelevant. Those who swear by Word tell me they love the robust features like being able to add footnotes and chapter links and the like. Yes, that’s cool, but the problem with these features is that they’re pointless for authors. Any fancy formatting that Word lets you do doesn’t register with most typesetting software (subheads, bulleted lists, and endnotes/footnotes all have to be marked up manually and then designed by a book designer). So who cares?
- It’s ugly. This may not be a big deal to you, but I like using beautiful, simple tools. They inspire me. And every time I open up Word, I feel like I’m making my life as a writer way more complicated than it needs to be.
What I really want when I write
As a writer, I basically just want to write. I don’t want to have to worry too much about making sure the tools work right or having to fix some funky formatting because of an invisible rule that Word set up because it “intelligently” thought I was doing something that I wasn’t.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
By no means am I an accomplished technologist, but I know my way around a computer and can figure a lot of things out. And I know for a fact, I have wasted days of my life trying to fix something that Microsoft Word messed up, just trying to get the text back to normal. But what’s a writer to do?
For the longest time, I thought the answer was just “grin and bear it.” Well, not anymore.
As soon as I opened up Scrivener, I was amazed at how much easier it was than Word. Yes, it’s a robust program, full of features I know I haven’t taken full advantage of (more on that in a minute), but immediately I made a vow to myself.
“I will never use Microsoft Word again,” I said after writing my first piece on Scrivener.
I just finished my last book, The Art of Work, and wrote the entire thing on this wonderful word processor. Guess what didn’t happen while writing that book? I never lost a chapter due to the program crashing. I never screamed at the computer for forcing an indent I didn’t actually want. It just worked.
Why I love Scrivener
Here are a few reasons why I love this program and recommend Scrivener to any writer:
- It’s affordable. At most, it’ll cost you $45 ($40 for PC). Compare that to Word’s $139 price point, and it’s a no-brainer (consider Scrivener is way better and much more writer-friendly). Find out more here.
- It’s simple. Unlike MS Word, there’s a distraction-free mode that allows you to just write and not worry about anything else. If you’re a Mac user, it’s similar to what Pages allows you to do (but better).
- It’s easy to use. One of my favorite features of Scrivener is how you can create small mini-documents (called “texts”) and drag and drop them in whatever order you want. This is essential for me when writing a book, as I am writing it piece-by-piece and often moving chunks around. In Word, you have to copy, scroll, and paste. It’s not very efficient or easy. This is my favorite feature of Scrivener.
- It’s ideal for authors. You can export your work to any digital book version, which allows you to publish directly to Amazon, B&N, or wherever without having to hire a designer (which can easily cost you $500 just to format the book). That feature alone is worth the cost of the software.
- It’s multifaceted. Scrivener comes with templates that allow you to write for whatever form or style you prefer (screenwriting, novel, nonfiction book, etc.). I have even heard of people like Michael Hyatt using it for blogging. The possibilities are endless, but honestly I am just beginning to learn all the potential uses for this tool.
So what does this mean for you?
I think if you’re happy with MS Word, by all means keep using it. As for me, I’m done with it. It just doesn’t compete with Scrivener. And finally, after years of feeling frustrated, I’m able to write without worrying about anything else.
If, however, you’re looking for something to make your writing life easier, something that will help you be more creative and product, I recommend you do the following:
- Go grab a copy of Scrivener. It really is a steal for the value you get. There’s even a free trial version of it. Check it out here. Use the coupon code “selfpublishing” during checkout to receive $9 off.
- Sign up for my upcoming Scrivener webinar. This Wednesday, my friend Joseph Michael will be sharing how to use Scrivener to its fullest potential (there are some advanced features that I admittedly don’t know much about and am excited to learn from the Scrivener Coach himself).
Whatever you do, I hope you don’t spend as much time as I did feeling frustrated, just trying to get your words out into the world. You deserve a tool that helps you get the job done. I’d love to hear more from you in the comments about what tools you use to get your writing done.
Do you like using MS Word? Why or why not? Have you ever used Scrivener? Share in the comments.
10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.
The hard part of writing a book isn’t getting published. It’s the actual writing. In this article, I offer 10 steps for writing a book along with 10 bonus steps. To download them all, click here.
As the bestselling author of five books, I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work.
For years, I dreamed of being a professional writer. I believed I had important things to say that the world needed to hear. But as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from my expectations.
To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.
The way you get the work done is not complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on the books I’ve written, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.
How to really write a book
In this post, I’ll teach you the fundamental steps you need to write a book. I’ve worked hard to make this easy to digest and super practical, so you can start making progress.
And just a heads up: if you dream of authoring a bestselling book like I have and you’re looking for a structured plan to guide you through the writing process, I have a special opportunity for you at the end of this post where I break the process down.
But first, let’s look at the big picture. What does it take to write a book? It happens in three phases:
- Beginning: You have to start writing. This sounds obvious, but it may be the most overlooked step in the process. You write a book by deciding first what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it.
- Staying motivated: Once you start writing, you will face self-doubt and overwhelm and a hundred other adversaries. Planning ahead for those obstacles ensures you won’t quit when they come.
- Finishing: Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote. We want to read the one you actually finished, which means no matter what, the thing that makes you a writer is your ability not to start a project, but to complete one.
Below are 10 ridiculously simple tips that fall under each of these three major phases plus an additional 10 bonus tips. I hope they help you tackle and finish the book you dream of writing.
To download a quick reference guide for all 20 writing tips click here to get them all for free.
Phase 1: Getting started
We all have to start somewhere. With writing a book, the first phase is made up of four parts:
1. Decide what the book is about
Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.
2. Set a daily word count goal
John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad — in other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.
3. Set a time to work on your book every day
Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.
4. Write in the same place every time
It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.
Phase 2: Doing the work
Now, it’s time to get down to business. Here, we are going to focus on the next three tips to help you get the book done:
5. Set a total word count
Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:
- 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Read time = 30-60 minutes.
- 20,000 words = short eBook or manifesto. The Communist Manifesto is an example of this, at about 18,000 words. Read time = 1-2 hours.
- 40,000–60,000 words = standard nonfiction book / novella. The Great Gatsby is an example of this. Read time = three to four hours.
- 60,000–80,000 words = long nonfiction book / standard-length novel. Most Malcolm Gladwell books fit in this range. Read time = four to six hours.
- 80,000 words–100,000 words = very long nonfiction book / long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls in this range.
- 100,000+ words = epic-length novel / academic book / biography. Read time = six to eight hours. The Steve Jobs biography would fit this category.
6. Give yourself weekly deadlines
You need a weekly goal. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.
7. Get early feedback
Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Phase 3: Finishing
How do you know when you’re done? Short answer: you don’t. Not really. So here’s what you do to end this book-writing process well:
8. Commit to shipping
No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.
9. Embrace failure
As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.
10. Write another book
Most authors are embarrassed by their first book. I certainly was. But without that first book, you will never learn the lessons you might otherwise miss out on. So, put your work out there, fail early, and try again. This is the only way you get better. You have to practice, which means you have to keep writing.
Every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. That’s how I began, and it may be where you begin, as well. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do the same.
The reason most people never finish their books
Every year, millions of books go unfinished. Books that could have helped people, brought beauty or wisdom into the world. But they never came to be. And in one way or another, the reason is always the same: the author quit.
Maybe you’ve dealt with this. You started writing a book but never completed it. You got stuck and didn’t know how to finish. Or you completed your manuscript but didn’t know what to do after. Worse yet, you wrote a book, but nobody cared about it. Nobody bought or read it.
I’ve been there before.
In fact, the first couple books I wrote didn’t do that well at all — even with a traditional publisher. It took me years to learn this, but here’s what nobody ever told me:
Before you can launch a bestseller, first you have to write one.
What I mean by that is so many writers sit down to write their masterpiece, assuming that’s all there is to it. Just sit down and write. But as I’ve studied the world’s most gifted and successful authors, I’ve noticed this is not what the masters do. They are far more intentional than simply sitting and letting the words flow.
Every great writer needs a system they can trust. You and I are no different. But an author’s system for how they produce bestselling book after bestselling book is not always the easiest thing to access. So, as a matter of survival, I’ve had to figure it out for myself and create a clear book-writing framework that works. This is what I call the “Write a Bestseller Method” which helps me get a book written and ready to launch.
This is the part that I never learned in any English class. Producing work that sells is not just about writing what you think is good. It’s about finding an idea that will both excite you and excite an audience. It’s about being intentional and thinking through the whole process, while having proper accountability to keep you going.
In other words, the writing process matters. It matters a lot. You have to not only finish your book but write one worthy of being sold. And if you want to maximize your chances of finishing your book, you need a proven plan.
Writing books has changed my life. It helped me clarify my thinking, find my calling as an author, and has provided endless opportunities to make an impact on the world and a living for my family.
Bonus: 10 more writing tips!
If you need some help staying motivated, here are another 10 tips to help you keep going in the process:
11. Only write one chapter at a time
Write and publish a novel, one chapter at a time, using Amazon Kindle Singles, Wattpad, or sharing with your email list subscribers.
12. Write a shorter book
The idea of writing a 500-page masterpiece can be paralyzing. Instead, write a short book of poems or stories. Long projects are daunting. Start small.
13. Start a blog to get feedback early
Getting feedback early and often helps break up the overwhelm. Start a website on WordPress or Tumblr and use it to write your book a chapter or scene at a time. Then eventually publish all the posts in a hardcopy book. This is a little different than tradition blogging, but the same concepts apply. We created a free tool to help you know when your blog posts are ready to publish. Check out Don’t Hit Publish .
14. Keep an inspiration list
You need it in order to keep fresh ideas flowing. Read constantly, and use a system to capture, organize and find the content you’ve curated. I use Evernote, but use a system that works for you.
15. Keep a journal
Then, rewrite the entries in a much more polished book format, but use some photocopies or scans of the journal pages as illustrations in the book. You could even sell “deluxe” editions that come with photocopied versions of the journal.
16. Deliver consistently
Some days, it’s easy to write. Some days, it’s incredibly hard. The truth is: inspiration is merely a byproduct of your hard work. You can’t wait for inspiration. The Muse is really an out-of-work bum who won’t move until you do. Show her who’s boss and that you mean business.
17. Take frequent breaks
Niel Fiore, the author of The Now Habit, says, “There is one main reason why we procrastinate: It rewards us with temporary relief from stress.” If you’re constantly stressed about your unfinished book, you’ll end up breaking your schedule. Instead, plan for breaks ahead of time so you stay fresh: minute breaks, hour breaks, or even multiple day breaks.
18. Remove distractions
Try tools like Bear or Scrivener to let you write in a totally distraction free environment. That way, email, Facebook, and Twitter won’t interrupt your flow.
19. Write where others are writing (or working)
If you’re having trouble writing consistently by yourself, write where other people are also working. A coffee shop or library where people are actually working and not just socializing can help. If you’re in a place where other people are getting things done, then you’ll have no choice but to join them.
20. Don’t edit as you go
Instead, write without judgment first, then go back and edit later. You’ll keep a better flow and won’t be interrupted by constant criticism of your own work. And you’ll have a lot more writing to edit when it’s time to do so.
It’s not just about the writing
Most books go unfinished. That’s the reality. And those that do get finished quickly fade into anonymity amongst the hundreds of thousands of new books that are published every year.
If you want to be different, you’re going to need a plan. I’ve tried to share that with you in this post. But maybe you want to not only get your book done, but you want to make sure it’s something worth selling. You want a proven plan, something you can trust — checklist that ensures you will get the work done.
Remember: Before you can launch a bestseller, you have to write one. Fortunately, I’ve broken down my process piece by piece — this is what I’ve learned from publishing five books and from talking to many of the world’s bestselling authors.
In this program, I share with you exactly what it takes to write a bestselling book and why this is something you need to be thinking about from Day 1. This quick but thorough online course will help you:
- Figure out how to come up with a compelling idea for a book and turn it into something people will want to read
- Finally finish that book manuscript you’ve been playing with for years
- Follow a proven plan to write not only a good book but one that will continue to sell
To learn more about that and have me walk you through each step of writing a best-selling book, click here.
You can also download a quick reference guide for all of these writing tips here.
What do you want to write a book about? What is your best writing advice? Share in the comments.