Writing And Publishing A Book: Ten Tips Before You Begin

Posted at 00:33am on 4th November 2008

Revised and updated August, 2010

BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK

I remember reading, many years ago, of someone famous – a well-known pop singer – who told a story of a woman who had written to him saying: God has told me I’m going to marry you. To which the singer replied: Well he hasn’t told me!

I’ve come across many people who believe they can do something similar when writing and publishing a book. They may be writing a self help book or a novel. They may believe that what they have written – or plan to write – is exactly what the world is waiting for. And they may know - or think they know - everything there is to know about creative writing. Like the woman above, they may even be convinced that: God has told me that this book is what people need.

If you find yourself thinking along similar lines, I want to ask you to stop right there. Before you go any further, consider the book you are about to write (or have already written) in terms of the following check-list.

1. IDENTIFY YOUR READERS

Writing a book and getting it published is about much more than technique or even the ability to string sentences together in a meaningful way. It’s about knowing what readers want to read; not what you think they ought to read!

2. DISTINGUISH THE DEMOGRAPHIC OF YOUR READERS

Who are you going to be writing for? Male? Female? Children? Adults? What age group do your readers come into? What socio-economic bracket? Are they office workers, manual workers or unemployed? Town dwellers? Or country folk? What newspapers do they read? What TV programmes do they watch? The more you know about who you’re writing for, the stronger the relationship will be between author and reader.

3. TRACK DOWN PUBLISHERS’ LISTS

It sounds elementary. But publishers – if they’re to stay in business – know what readers want. And for you, knowing what publishers want is crucial in knowing how to sell your book to them. A copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook will give you a pretty good idea of what each publisher is looking for. Use the contact details to ask for submission guidelines. Or to learn more online, via their websites.

4. CHECK OUT THE BESTSELLER BOOK CHARTS

Whether you’re writing a book for the first time or tenth time, you need to know what’s selling. Many of the better newspapers publish bestselling book lists in the supplements of their weekend publications. These usually include both fiction and non-fiction. Frequently, short reviews are attached. Discover how your book compares.

5. SEE WHAT GENRES & TRENDS ARE SELLING

The top twenty bestselling books show not only which genres are selling, but also trends in reading. Chick-lit, for instance, would not have existed in Jane Austen’s time, nor Sci-fi as we know it, in Dickens’ Day. And you’re unlikely to succeed in the twenty-first century with a ‘pigs’ trotters’ or ‘brawn’ type of recipe book, in Mrs Beeton’s style.

6. BROWSE YOUR BOOKSHOPS

Does your book fit any of the categories on the shelves? Whilst you don’t want to write something which is completely out of kilter with modern trends, neither do you want to duplicate what’s already there. If your aim in writing is to entertain, make sure that you can do so in a Voice that will engage with readers. If you’re out to inform, or to write a self help book, ensure that you have something new to say.

7. WHAT IS YOUR AIM?

If you think that writing a book and getting it published will catapult you into the same orbit as J. K. Rowling, think again. The statistics, when I began more than twenty years ago, were: 1% of writers make a killing; 4% make a living; 95% make pin-money. To the best of my knowledge, those statistics have barely altered.

8. WHAT DRIVES YOU?

Even if you ‘just love books’, you need to have a clear idea what drives you, as a person. I’ve written at length about this on my Welcome Page. By and large, people buy into people. That is to say, the integrity of you, as a person, is what will make your readers engage with you. This means that whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you need to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to thrill? To shock? To comfort? To enlighten? Do you want to sell books? Or do you want to establish a reading fan base i.e. people who will want to buy and read your books again, and again?

9. NARRATIVE STYLE

It’s no good writing in a style which is no longer fashionable. Producing long, convoluted, clause-ridden sentences, with complex punctuation (where parenthesis is often needed to explain a meaning) and – long before you get to the end – you’ve forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was all about because, having embarked on it early this morning, you find it’s now late afternoon, is something I have to guard against in my own style! Check and edit your own style.

10. DIALOGUE

Aim for a ‘clotted cream’ effect, where smooth sections of narrative are ‘leavened’ with pithy passages of dialogue. Modern readers like lots of white paper, not densely worded pages.

NEXT TIME

This post is one of a series. For Part 2 see Fiction: Main Characters And How To Choose Them. Alternatively, the entire 6 part series may be found - with many other similar articles - under: CREATIVE WRITING TECHNIQUES.

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  • PERSONAL GROWTH & RELATIONSHIPS (inc. Personality Test & Drama Triangle)
ALTHOUGH MANY OF THE ARTICLES ON THIS WEBSITE MAY BE USED FREELY WHERE EXPRESSLY STATED, THIS ONE FORMS PART OF A SERIES AND MAY NOT BE PRODUCED IN ANY FORMAT WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR, MEL MENZIES.

Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No. 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Book her here, for your event.

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