Colin Dunbar

Thinker. Writer. Learner.

How To Write A Book

This article offers you the fundamentals to writing a book.

Writing a book is actually a matter of each to his own, but I hope that if you're thinking of writing your book, the suggestions and ideas here will help.

Ready to write your book?

Let's go...

In this article I primarily focus on writing a non-fiction book, although there is also advice that can be used for fiction.

Stephen King was once asked in an interview how he writes. His answer?

"One word at a time."

That sounds so basic, even duh. But it's 100% right. No matter who you are, a book is written one word at a time. Wilbur Smith has written 42 novels. If we estimate each of his books are an average of 100,000 words per book.

Guess what?

Yep, each and every book was written one word at a time.

Words become sentences.

Sentences become paragraphs.

Paragraphs... pages.

And then you have a book.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, The Mighty is when Kevin Dillon says to Maxwell Kane: "Every word is part of a picture. Every sentence is a picture. All you do is let your imagination connect them together." Even though he was referring to fiction, it can apply to narrative non-fiction as well.

Before You Write

Before you put pen to paper (or hit the keyboard), you should have done research as to whether there is a market for your book. And also you should have done research as to who your audience is.

Spending months - or maybe a year, or more - writing your book, and then not being able to sell a single copy (except to your mother) can make you throw the towel in completely with your writing.

Your research should comprise these two elements:

  • Market research (reader identification), and
  • Research for your book's subject.

Always remember it's about your readers and what they want, it's not about you.

Research is a topic on its own, and not in the scope of this article. You'll find a few links at the end of this article for further reading.

Be careful not to get lost in your research, as Joanna Penn, of thecreativepenn.com, says she makes "sure I don't disappear down the rabbit-hole of research and forget to actually write!" [1]

"If you're writing fiction, it's important to read extensively in your genre in order to understand the reader expectations, but many authors also find it helpful to read a wide range of non-fiction books on the topics they're interested in."[1]

Don't Rush

As I said in my article, How To Start Writing A Book, an outline can save you a lot of time (and it's indispensable for a non-fiction book). And I also touched on writing your first draft fast. But now, it's not a time for speed.

If you followed the ideas offered in the article above on how to start writing a book, your rough draft will have placeholders in the text for research. As a time-saver and to help prevent your creative flow from being broken when writing, start by doing your research first.

An idea you can try is to go through your draft, find all your placeholders, and copy these into a Word document (or your preferred word processor, or even a text file). This way you have all your notes together, and this can help when you do your actual research. These are a few placeholder examples from a book I'm presently working on:

If you need a piece of information from an article on the Web, copy and paste it onto your research notes, below or after the placeholder, for example...

Remember not to use the word-for-word information as your own words, in your book. You can use it as a quote, and then you need to credit the original author correctly in your book. There are examples at the link below. [2]

"For example, if you read five books on the history of The Tudors and you've written notes on all of them, then you turn that into something new, that's considered research and is an entirely natural part of the writing process. It only slips into plagiarism if you copy lines from another work and pass them off as your own, and of course, that's something we would never want to do." [1]

I prefer to get the bulk of my research done, and then start writing my next draft. I've found that this saves me time. You may prefer to do research as you work through your draft.

Do whatever works for you.

Research Done: Now we start to add substance and weight to our book

Content Flow

As your first draft was written fast, it's almost certain that you need to expand your manuscript.

Questions

As you expand your first draft, the use of questions is an invaluable aid. Go through your draft, and ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this as complete as it can be?
  • Will my reader understand this completely?
  • Is there anything further I need to add?
  • Can a graphic image support this text?
  • Is this paragraph(s)/section bloated, and can it be cut?
  • Do I need data or stats to support what I'm saying here?

These are example questions to help get you started. Put your reader's hat on as you check your first draft.

You can ask a trusted friend to review your draft. Compile a quesionnaire to give to the person. That way you will be able to get specific feedback on the contents of your book. Someone saying, "It's good", or "It doesn't quite do it for me." has very little value.

Tidying Up

With all your content written, you now start to tidy up your manuscript.

Take a few paragraphs (or section) at a time and read through what you've written. Look for things like:

  • Content flow
  • Consistency
  • Paragraphs that can be shortened
  • Sentences that can be shortened
  • If you have research that you refer to, text will probably need changing to tie in with the researched information.
  • You may identify the need for graphic images to support the text. Remember, don't just add images to look pretty.

Amongst other things...

Word choice. Is there a word that's clearer, or words that better describe what you're saying? Your first draft was about speed. With this second draft, speed is not something you want to do. [3]

Take your time.

Fine Tuning. In a non-fiction book, there is no reason you cannot use you. Remember, your reader is one person, not a group, or faceless entity. Use you when it's applicable; it'll make your writing so much better.

Sentences. Unlike articles on the Web, you don't need every sentence in your book to be short. But, it is a good idea to check the length of your sentences - shorter sentences are easier to understand and easier to read.

Example (long sentence):

When I started writing this book, I decided I had to make an assumption, and that assumption is: you are not a full time author, and as such you have a 9-to-5 job, a family, and a load of commitments.

Rewritten (3 short sentences):

When I started writing this book, I had to make an assumption. That assumption was that you are not a full time author. You have a 9-to-5 job, a family, and a load of commitments.

Bold and italics. You can use bold for emphasizing something, but take care not to go overboard. It will affect the readability of your book.

Use italics for quotes and emphasizing something of lesser importance. Again, don't go overboard.

The word I. Remember, with a non-fiction book you're considered the expert. For this reason there's no need to ignore using I, me, or my.

If you conducted research, or performed a task, use I. It makes your writing more believable, and adds to your credibility as the expert.

Personal stories. Depending on your type of non-fiction book, adding personal stories can help build your authority.

This can also help form connections with your readers. Sharing personal stories can show your reader that you do know what you're talking about.

If you use other people's stories, maybe to illustrate something you're discussing, make sure you have their permission, and give the correct credit to the original author.

Clichés. Clichés are so old-fashioned. Rather avoid them. [4]

Buzzwords and acronyms. I'm going to presume you have done your pre-writing research and you know your reader intimately.

Generally, it's not a good idea to use buzzwords, but in certain niches, and if you know your reader very well, it's in order to use buzzwords.

The same rule applies to acronyms. It's always a good idea to spell out the words, and then include the acronym in parenthesis. An example would be: Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA).

Images

It's common to include images in a non-fiction book. But, don't add images just for the sake of looking pretty. Images should support or clarify the text. Humans are visual creatures, and it's really a case of a picture is worth a thousand words.

If you're going to use an online print-on-demand (POD) service like CreateSpace, bear in mind that the printing cost of a book with color images will be more expensive than black-and-white images. This can affect the sales of your book, as your retail price will be higher.

Read Your Manuscript Aloud

This is one of the oldest pieces of writing advice, and it still works.

Reading your text aloud will help with the flow. As you read aloud, you'll discover words or phrases that may be awkward.

Editing

Please, please, please have your book edited.

Don't let your book fall into the self-published books' slush pile (See This is Why Self Published Books Get Such a Bad Rap). If there is only one expense you budget for, let that be editing.

If you have used your blog's content and turned it into a book, make sure to check for things like "in this post" - self-publishers tend to rush and overlook small items like that.

Formatting

If you're going to self-publish your book, it doesn't stop with the writing of your manuscript. You also need to format (or design) your book file, for example, for Kindle. You can either outsource the book design service, or your can do it yourself.

How to Write a Book by Ryan Holiday

Here is a great video of how bestselling author Ryan Holiday writes a book.

Resources

[1] How To Research Your Novel ... And When To Stop http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/01/18/research-a-novel/

[2] https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/03/

[3] http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cliches.html

[4] http://www.writinghelp-central.com/redundant-words.html

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/06/10-ways-to-test-market-your-nonfiction-book-idea-before-you-publish/

http://authorunlimited.com/start-to-write/

Colin Dunbar

I'm just a regular guy who thinks, writes and learns a bucket load of things. I've always enjoyed sharing what I learn and experience with others, and I hope you find something of value here in my ramblings. Please do sign up for my newsletter and be advised whenever something new is published here (not on a regular basis, and I guarantee ZERO SPAM!)