GUEST POST: SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK? | HERE'S SOME ADVICE BEFORE YOU START | BY BLOGGER & AUTHOR; MARTIN BAKER
Friday 17 March 2023
I’mgrateful to Aimee forinviting me to contribute an article about writing a book. In doing so, I’ll draw primarily on my experience as co-author with Fran Houston of High Tide Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder (2016, Nordland Publishing). An extended edition was published by Kingston Park Publishing in 2021.I’ll cover some practical steps to think about in preparing to write your book. Your platform as an author, marketing and promotion, and the various routes to publication are also important, but are out of scope of this article. My suggestions are most relevant to non-fiction but many of the topics apply no matter what kind of book you want to write...
Time and Resources
One of the first things to consider is how much time and effort it takes to write a book. Ours took four years from first idea to publication, including querying literary agents and publishers. Your book may not take that long, but there’s no way to know in advance. It will depend on the length, nature, and complexity of your book, as well as your skills and experience, and the amount of time you can devote to it. Bear in mind that things may crop up in your life unexpectedly. In our case, this included periods of unavailability due to traveling and ill health. Think about how much time you have available. How many hours per day or per week will you be at your computer writing? Can you maintain that for however long it takes? Before we started work on our book, I examined my daily and weekly schedules to assure myself I could devote the requisite time, energy, and focus to the project for as long as it took.
Genre, Audience, and Competition
I’ll assume you already have an idea for your book, but have you considered in detail what type of book it’s going to be, its target audience, and its likely competition? Our starting point was Fran’s idea of a book for people who want to support friends living with mental illness. It was a great idea, but as I discussedin previous blog post it took a considerable amount of time to figure out how best to approach it.
Think about what kind of book yours will be. Are you planning to write a memoire or an autobiography? A short overview, a how to guide, a general introduction, or a self-help manual? The type ofbook you choose affects its content, style, and presentation. Different genres also have different average word/page counts. It’s worth having an idea of this from the start.The more pages your book has the more words you need to write! Consider your audience, too. Who are you writing for? Be as specific as you can. Would your book appeal more to men or to women? Are you writing for children, teenagers, young adults, adults, or seniors? Are there any national, cultural or other factors that would make your book more relevant or interesting to certain groups of people? Fran and I wrote our book for adults who have friends living with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues.
Once you have an idea of the book you want to write and who you are writing for, check out other books catering to that market. Buy three or fourand read them. How do they differ from the book you’re planning to write? What will your book offer that isn’t covered elsewhere? You don’t have to be unique but consider why someone would choose your book over others that are already on the market. Fran and I identified that there were titles for people living with bipolar disorder and their partners, but none aimed specifically at friends who want to help but not know where to start.
What’s in a Name?
You don’t need to pick a title for your book before you start writing, but having a working title can help keepyou focused. If you secure a publishing deal this is something you’ll discuss with your publisher, but if you self-publish the choice of title is up to you. Fran and I had a working title for our book from the beginning but put in a great deal of work and listened to advice before arriving at the final title. You can read about our experience choosing a title here.
It might seem premature to think about your book’s acknowledgement page before you’ve started writing the book itself, but this is something that took far more time and effort than we ever imagined. We’ve blogged about this previously in How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book.Although you won’t compose your acknowledgement page until much later, I strongly recommend that from the very start you keep track of everyone involved in your writing journey. We kept a log of anyone and everyone we contacted or who contributed help or advice in any way. We recorded the date we were in touch, the person’s name and contact details, who they were (their specialism, organisation, role etc.), and what they’d contributed or offered in the way of help or support. This proved enormously helpful when we came to write our acknowledgement page. It also served as a useful reference when we wanted to pick up with people later.
Division of Labour
If you have a co-author or writing partner, discuss how you’ll share the workload. This will vary depending on your book’s subject matter and your respective knowledge and expertise, but think about which of you will be responsible for planning the book overall, researching, writing, editing, etc. If you’re writing on your own, consider outsourcing tasks to others with specialist skills and experience. The two areas I’d recommend outsourcing are editing and cover design. We ended up doing the bulk of the editing ourselves, but it requires a great deal of time, effort, and research in order to do it successfully. We engaged professional editors in the early stages to give us the confidence we were on the right track.
Technology and Tools
Whether you’re writing on your own or collaborating, give some thought to what technology — hardware and software — you’ll use. This needn’t be overly complicated but it helps to think it through early on. As Fran and I live 3,000 miles apart we needed a platform that would enable us to collaborate easily. We opted to use Google Drive. This had the advantage that our documents were saved in the cloud (we took regular backups to other media) and we could write and edit in real time, either individually or simultaneously while we were on video calls.
Consistency and Style
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to actually writing your book. You may prefer to “blast it all out” in rough drafts and leave editing for later. I tend to edit as I go along, which means it can take a longer time for me to write a chapter, but there is less editing to do afterwards. Whateveryourapproach, you’ll make things a lot easier for yourself if you give some thought early on to consistency and style. I researched several industry standard style guides. These vary depending on the kind of book you’re writing and the likely market for it. The main ones include the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the AMA Manual of Style. It doesn’t matter too much which style guide you decide on, but choosing one and sticking to it will help you write with consistency, and make it much easier for whoever edits your work.We settled on the Chicago Manual of Style. I took out a year’s subscription to their website and found it an invaluable resource. I created a simple document based on the key Chicago rules, which I kept close to hand. It helped us maintain consistency between chapters and throughout the book as a whole.
Over to You
Whatever your previous writing experience or the stage you’re at with your book, I hope these ideas have been of interest and given you something to think about. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but planning a few things out in advance helps you set out on your journey with confidence and excitement. No matter what your book is about, who you’re writing it for, or how long it takes, I wish you well on your journey! Keep on writing!