Do you want to write a book, but not sure where to start?
Have you browsed around the Internet and found a slew of writing programs that assure you that you can write a book in thirty days and they’ll show you how to turn it into a bestseller?
First draft is just the beginning—it takes time to polish and revise a book to get it into publishable shape.
They aren’t telling you that no agent is going to even consider your book if you’ve just thrown it together, nor will any publisher.
They aren’t telling you that if you publish it yourself that it will either not sell at all—despite all the marketing hype they might preach—or if it does, it will receive a series of one and two star reviews on Amazon, all noting the book was poorly written, not edited, and confusing.
That’s because no matter how much money you pay to learn to write your book in thirty days or less, or speed-write your ideas and package them into something slick and eye-catching, what you’ll end up with is likely to be poorly written, unedited, and confusing. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge it by what’s on the pages.
You can be a marketing genius, but if your content isn’t clear and compelling, readers won’t be happy. And unhappy readers get online and write scathing reviews. Just read through some of the reviews of independently-published books on Amazon and you’ll see that readers can spot in an instant a book that was written too quickly and published before it was ready, no matter how intriguing its cover. The truth is, writing a book takes time. It takes experience. And it takes skill. It is hard work, but it is gratifying work.
Writing a book will have you tearing out your hair, experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions, and falling asleep each night proud of all the work you’ve accomplished and all the skills that you are gaining.
Because you can learn to write and write well. You can tell your story or turn your expertise into a published book, as long as you are committed and have some guidance. And if you don’t have the time or skill? You can still get your book out there, with the help of a skilled and experienced developmental editor or ghostwriter.
Not sure which is the right approach for you?
Here are some guidelines.
- A WRITING COACH will work with you on a regular basis, meeting with you in person, via Skype or by telephone to help you break down your project into manageable steps, teach you how to tackle the tricky terrain of finding your voice, crafting the narrative arc, staying focused and on theme, developing characters and writing dialogue. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, a writing coach will help you to clarify your message, develop the scope of the book, break it down into chapters, convey your material clearly and concisely, and infuse your writing with a voice and sense of enthusiasm that will capture the imagination of the reader. A writing coach will help you to see the areas that need more work or need to be taken out altogether (perhaps to use in another book). A writing coach will help you understand what revisions are necessary to tighten and polish the book so that it is not just a publishable book, but a good book. And a writing coach will help get through those times when the last thing you feel like doing is writing. If you have strong skills in grammar, have some experience expressing yourself in writing and are ready to make the commitment to writing the best book possible, even if it takes six months, a year, or even longer, then a writing coach will help you to become a more skilled and productive writer, a better story teller, and a more focused thinker.
- A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR or BOOK DOCTOR is someone who is skilled at writing and has written published books and knows how to assess a book draft, identify areas that need more work, and can turn a disorganized collection of scenes or chapters into a clear and compelling story. If you’ve already written a draft but it still doesn’t come together the way you’d like, it needs more focus, or the writing just isn’t conveying what you’d hope it would convey, a developmental editor or book doctor may be just what you need. They will cut and paste and chop and fix your writing until it is in publishable shape—or let you know if it needs a more experienced writer to rewrite it.
- A GHOSTWRITER is someone who does the writing for you. You may have a great story to tell or an expertise that you want to share with others, either to promote your business, gain professional stature, or just help others. But you might not have the time to put into it, the skills to write it as well as you’d like, or the desire to do the writing. If that’s the case, a ghostwriter can take any notes, journals, blogposts or drafts you have, interview you and others, and even do the research necessary to turn your story or ideas into a publishable book. You will be listed as the author of the book, and you will own the intellectual property rights. The ghostwriter is often credited on the cover as a cowriter or “with” the author, and may or may not have a small share of the royalties, but in most cases, the ghostwriter writes the book for a fixed fee over a course of time, usually ranging from six months to one year. In some cases, a shorter or longer time may be agreed upon, depending on the scope of the project. This is the most costly option, because the ghostwriter will have years of experience and education, will devote a good portion of the year or at least many months to working on your project, and will usually relinquish any rights to the work. But it will be your story, and your ideas, that are published. You will be credited as the author, and you will own the rights to your work.
Don’t let yourself fall for the hype that marketing the book is more important than writing the book. Marketing the book is indeed important, and there are many unique and innovative marketing ideas for authors, but if you put as much or more focus on the writing as the marketing, and if you take the time to produce a good book rather than a fast book, you will find that it is far easier to market and far easier to satisfy and engage your readers, than if you speed through the writing process and try to sell something that just isn’t ready for prime time.
Still doubtful? Are you still thinking that you can get your book out in thirty days because you’re so confident that you’ve got a good idea and you’re just the one to tell it—and to sell it—even if you’ve never tackled a book before? Then start reading what professional writers have to say about the writing process:
“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”
— Roald Dahl
“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”
— Vladimir Nabokov
“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence — no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I can change seven.”
— Dorothy Parker
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
— Ernest Hemingway
“I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.”
— Susan Sontag
“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.”
— Stephen King
In other words, good writers take their time, make multiple revisions, and learn as they do so. And you can, too. You can take your time to produce a good book, a book that readers will love, and a book that sells, and still have it in your hands a year from now.
Sound like too long? Just think how much time it’s going to take to market a book that reads like a first draft. Think about how long it’s going to take to rewrite the book once it’s published and doesn’t sell. Just think about how long it’s going to take to get over all those reader reviews that say, “This book needed to be edited,” “I was really excited about reading this book, but the writing was awful,” or “I had no idea what this book was about.” Because that’s what’s going to happen if you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re so excited about selling your book that you don’t put enough time into creating it.
So take the one-year challenge. Don’t shortchange yourself with a book you write in thirty days. If it’s a nonfiction book you want to get out to promote your business, then you can write a decent one in half that time, or even less, with the help of a writing coach. If it’s a memoir you want to write, or a novel or narrative nonfiction, give yourself a year. With a writing coach and good work habits, you can certainly write it sooner, but give yourself the time to revise, polish and perfect it once your draft is done.
And if you just don’t want to put the time into it or don’t think you can do your story or ideas justice, then hire a ghostwriter to do the work for you.
But commit to producing not just a book, but a good book, the best possible book you have inside you.
If you’ve been dreaming of writing not just a book, but a good book, then take the one year challenge. Contact Dr. Harper now for a free consultation on how she can help you achieve your writing dreams.
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Janice Harper has ghostwritten a number of memoirs and nonfiction books, including an award-winning young adult memoir. She is available for memoirs and non-fiction.
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