I’ve heard different stats over the years, but it’s staggering that as many as 90% of Americans want to write a book! Now, I’m not entirely sure that I believe the number is that big, but I do think it’s pretty darn high. And with the rise of self-publishing to level the playing field, it’s now easier than ever.
The problem? It’s still really hard to do. Most of us, myself included, may feel like we have a book or two in us, but a much smaller percentage actually gets it done. And then, an even smaller number reaches the publishing process.
It also seems like a complicated industry, doesn’t it? From actually sitting down to write, to the editing process, to finding a publisher (if you want one), to seeing your little labor of love on a shelf—there’s a LOT to do. In fact, you probably have a lot of questions.
So, what’s a girl or guy to do? You can ask my friend, Sara Shelton, who has a few books under her belt as a ghostwriter, editor, and coach. If the process seems intriguing but daunting, Sara will take you from paralysis to print by answering five of your most asked questions about writing and publishing a book.
So, you want to write a book? That’s amazing!
As an avid reader myself, let me just go ahead and thank you in advance for sharing another story that I can read and recommend to my friends.
And as a fellow writer, let me stop here and encourage that you no matter how difficult, frustrating, and completely unglamorous the writing process actually is, you can do it. You do, in fact, have a story to share!
The truth is a lot of people do! But standing at the beginning of the writing process, so many writers feel paralyzed by the thought of actually trying to get their stories out on paper and into print.
That’s usually where I come in!
I’ve been working as a freelance writer and editor for five years now, and in that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to come alongside and work with several authors during the writing, editing, and eventual publishing of their books. No matter which hat I’m wearing in the writing process, I love helping my clients cross the finish line to see their words of wisdom, stories, and advice finally on the page in print.
But like I said, the process of moving beyond fear-induced paralysis at the thought of writing a book to actually holding your final printed copy in your hand isn’t an easy one. So to help you move from paralysis to print, here are answers to five of my most frequently asked questions about writing a book.
1) Where do I start?
There’s no “right” answer to this question. My best advice? Just start! If you have an idea, a vision, a story you think is worth sharing in print, then decide right now that you’re going to share it.
Then, get organized. I can’t stress this enough! Spending time on the front end of the writing process thinking through and organizing your thoughts will save you a lot of time (and maybe even money!) on the back end.
Once you’ve got a clear idea for your book, sit down and create an outline. Think through each main point you hope to hit—the takeaways you want readers to leave with—and organize them into chapters.
Next, write down the details under each chapter that you’re going to use to support those main points or takeaways—the stories, research, anecdotes, history, and more that will reinforce your point. (Pro tip: Index cards spread out on the floor are a great way to see your outline come to life!)
You can dive as deep into the outline as you’d like, but at the very least, start with getting your thoughts into some kind of organized format. Trust me, you’ll be so thankful you did this when you finally sit down to write!
2) What DOES the writing process like?
Everyone’s writing process is going to look different, but I can almost assure you it won’t be seamless and smooth. Sometimes your writing is done in the back of a crowded coffee shop. Sometimes it’s done in the early morning hours in your bedroom before the sun rises. Sometimes it’s done in the car pickup line, or the benches of basketball practice, or the middle of the night hours when you just can’t sleep.
My best advice for diving into the writing process is to do your best to give it a good mix of structure and grace. Wake up early or stay up late for some uninterrupted hours of writing. You know how much time you have to offer, so offer that to your process.
Don’t look at your phone, don’t answer your email, don’t scroll through social media. Just write.
Maybe even give yourself a word count goal to hit each day. And then, aim for it. Some days you’ll go above and beyond. Other days, you’ll barely get there (which is where the grace comes in). Whatever the writing process looks like for you, go into it with as much structure and dedication to it as you can and give yourself a break on the days it just doesn’t work.
3) What do I do to get published?
For the most part, publishing still falls into one of two major groups: traditional publishing or self-publishing.
Traditional publishing means your book goes to a professional publishing house and it is printed and distributed under their umbrella. The pros? You’ve got an entire group of people whose time, energy, and resources are devoted to your book. They take care of editing, design, promotion, and more. And depending on your deal, you typically get paid up front for your manuscript as well as in royalties from sales.
The cons? It’s very difficult to get in the door of a traditional publishing house. It requires a lot of work—the research to find the right potential publishing houses or agents for your book, the writing of a query letter to get the editor’s interest, the compiling of a book proposal to pitch your book, and more. Agents and publishers will want to know things like how big your social media following or potential audience is. They want to see how they might be able to sell your book to that audience. And they often get the final say in how your book takes shape and is edited. In a lot of ways, you lose control.
But in self-publishing, the control stays in your hands. You get to decide how you want to edit, promote, and even sell your book. You get the freedom to write the book you want to write! And with programs like Create Space, IngramSpark, and Kindle Direct Publishing, the process is easy for even the most beginner of writers.
The bad news? The expense is all your own. You have to front the money for things like edits, design, promotion, and more. If you want your book to sell, it’s typically up to you. While it is most definitely a great option, writers who choose to self-publish need to know the hustle is real!
KP note: Even with most traditional publishers now, you will still be expected to do a little or a lot of the marketing and promotion. It depends on your existing audience, the publisher, and more. So, don’t just expect to get out of it with a traditional publisher! If you have a particular publishing house in mind, see if one of their existing authors will answer a few questions for you.
4) Where is it important to invest my money in the process?
A lot of this depends on the publishing route you end up taking with your book. If you’re in a traditional space, those publishing houses and agents will likely have agents, designers, marketing teams, and more already lined up to help you. But if you’re not (or if you just want to turn in the most well-rounded and polished copy of your manuscript), your first expense needs to be a good editor.
By the time you’ve finished your book, it’s become a real labor of love. And that makes seeing it through fresh and unattached eyes a difficult thing to do.
If you’re working with a rough draft and unsure of the direction of your book, a developmental editor is a great investment to help craft a better structure and clearer overall picture for your book. They may do everything from telling you to reorganize your chapters to suggesting you cut some of your content altogether—and that’s okay! They’re reading the book with eyes to make it better!
A copy editor is key for any writer because they’ll read your book with a fine-tooth comb, checking and correcting every single grammatical and mechanical error. Though both types of editors are going to be an investment to your project, it’s one you most definitely want to make so that you walk away with the best possible product ready to print.
Beyond editorial costs, many authors need to look specifically into designers to help them layout their book and even create a professional, eye-catching cover. Others choose to set aside funds to hire a team to help them market the book.
My advice to writers who will have to make any kind of financial investment to get their book published is to choose where you spend your money wisely. What matters most to you in the process? Start there and then see what funds you have left to go elsewhere.
5) How will people know I wrote a book?
How do people know anything about what’s going on in your life? Because you talk about it!
If you’re going to do the incredibly hard and amazing work of writing a book (something most people only ever dream about doing), then you have officially earned the right to shout this accomplishment from the rooftops! Or at the very least, from your social media, email, blog, website, and any other form of connection you have to your people. You, your family, your friends, the people in your office or on your team—those are the best ways to promote your book from the get go.
If you have the funds, you can of course hire a marketing team or booking agent to help get the word out. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t. Instead, be proud of the work you’ve done and find ways to share that work with the people in your networks through promotion on channels like social media, email, podcasts, and more.
Interested in writing a book? Have a few more questions about how to make the publishing process happen for yourself? Find me online at www.saralshelton.com and let’s get connected!
Sara Shelton is a full-time writer and editor working with clients to bring their stories and words to life. When she’s not working on manuscripts, curriculum, website content, magazine articles, and more, you can find Sara sharing a bit of her own work at www.sara-laurence.com.
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.