Researchers have estimated that 200 million people have an idea for a book, and yet most aspiring authors never get published. Why is that? I believe it’s because having an idea for a book is easy. Starting to write a book is easy. Finishing the book is a much more difficult task. Not to mention marketing the book once it’s finished.
So what does it take to turn a writer into an author? From my personal and professional experience, plus conversations with thousands of aspiring and accomplished authors, I have identified seven key things writers need if they will reach their publishing goals.
#1 An idea
Having an idea may seem obvious, but there is a big difference between an idea and a well-thought-out idea. The idea is the foundation for the book, yet many writers don’t take the time to think about their ideas.
If you are writing a fiction book, there are four key elements of a great story you need to make sure are part of your book.
- Character – Not just any character, but one your reader wants to follow. Whether this character is a protagonist or antagonist, they must grip your reader’s attention and hold it throughout the story.
- Plot – It might seem obvious, but the sequencing of events in your story is an important consideration from start to finish.
- Setting – Where the plot and the characters meet; the setting provides texture and atmosphere to the story.
- Tension – Also called ‘conflict’ by some, this is the element that will introduce a sense of urgency, of danger, or of fear. The tension drives the story and propels the characters into action.
Both traditional publishers and Hollywood executives look for these elements in a story, which is why you will see them in most successful books and movies. However, what I have found is most first-time authors are missing one or more of these key elements in their stories so the book fails to satisfy. I encourage you to take a hard look at your book and ask yourself if you have these elements clearly defined. If not, make sure you add them to your story. It seems like a short list, but it is critical if you are writing a fiction book.
What about a nonfiction book?
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you still need to have a framework, but it is different from a fiction book. One big question you want to ask yourself is how will readers be impacted by reading the book?
- What outcome can I expect after I read your book?—Will I quit smoking? Be a better parent? Will I invest my money more wisely? Or will I lose weight? There is many outcomes that can come from reading a nonfiction book, but you need to be clear what your book offers.
- Are you going to give me a process that is repeatable?—Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean I will find it interesting if there is nothing I can apply from your experience. So you need to consider how others can use what you have learned. Give readers a process they can implement.
- Are you going to inspire me?—If you’re writing a memoir, yours might be a story that inspires and motivates a reader. That can be the power of a true story, but if that is your goal, consider how you tell the story. A series of facts is not nearly as interesting as a book that includes the five elements of a great story—even if it is a memoir. Just because it happened chronologically doesn’t mean you have to tell the story in that order or even include every detail.
- Serve them PIE—As you develop your chapters, think about structuring them around the acronym PIE, which stands for Principal, Illustration, and Example. As you write, try to include the principal you want to convey, but then couple that with an illustration of how it might work. Finally, offer an example of someone who has applied the principal in a real-world setting. This simple, proven structure can help readers more easily grasp the key points you are trying to make.
With an idea established for your book, you can start doing the real work of creating your book; the writing, editing, and developing.
#2 A deadline
The second thing that every writer needs to become an author is a deadline.
You must pick a date when you want to hold a copy of your book. With no deadline, you will probably never have a book.
If you work with a traditional publisher, they will set a date for you because your publisher or your editor will give you a deadline for when you need to turn in your manuscript. If you are self-publishing, you need to set that date for yourself because, without it, you most likely will never get to your goal. So make sure you set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book.
And writing that
If you want to increase the odds of becoming an author, set a deadline for finishing your book and write it down.
#3 A plan
You’ve got an idea and you’ve set yourself a deadline to complete that idea. How do you take steps to meet that deadline? A plan of course.
A plan is like GPS. Once you set your destination, you need a path with the steps to get to your goal. It’s also helpful to have milestones along the way to mark your progress. Think of the milestones a mini-deadlines.
If you are a writer and you want to become an author, these are some key milestones you want to mark on your journey.
Becoming an Author Milestones
- manuscript complete
- editing complete
- submission for production
- final revisions
With the proper support and information, you can achieve these interim goals, and celebrate success along the way. The key to remember is no date, no book; no plan, no book. Without a date and a plan, it is very unlikely you will get your goal.
#4 Advice along the way
The fourth thing you will need as you work toward your goal of publishing is advice. As I suggested, a plan is like GPS, and if you think about it, GPS gives you instructions along the way to make sure you reach your goal.
Take this exit.
The right information at the right time ensures you will reach your destination. The same thing is true on your publishing journey. You will come to points where expert advice and encouragement will keep you on the right track and help you keep moving forward.
We learn writing and publishing and marketing skills, so finding people and resources that can serve as the voice in your GPS is vital. Identify people and sources you can trust and listen to them. Seek a small, trusted few rather than the opinion of the masses.
There are websites where you can seek out the opinion of the crowd, but I question how valuable that type of feedback can be. You could put your manuscript out there and have a hundred people comment. Fifty of them may think it’s great and fifty may think it’s terrible, but that doesn’t really help you. So find a small, trusted group rather than the unvetted crowd.
Now, you can accomplish this in several different ways. Depending on what community you’re in, there might be local writing groups you can join. The Author Learning Center also gives you that opportunity to get feedback through your Author Circle if you have a book project. No matter how you do it, just don’t take this journey alone.
The fifth thing you need to become an author is persistence. As the saying goes, it takes years to become an overnight success so persistence is really, really important. You will meet challenges and even face discouragement and rejection along the way, but you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe that you have something important to share with others. In fact, throughout history, there are many examples of well-known and successful authors being rejected multiple times before they were published.
Take L. M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables for example. Her series of books has been a must read for young people for decades. It’s inspired by her own story growing up on Prince Edward Island. Several years ago, I visited the place where Anne of Green Gables was set.
In fact, Canada has turned the site into a national park. I was extremely impressed with how they created an experience for visitors, but one thing that really struck me was in her biography. She said she would have never been published had the post office not been in her uncle’s home where she lived.
The reason why is that back then you would send a manuscript to a publisher, and if the publisher declined, they would send it back wrapped up in brown paper and tied in string. So Montgomery said that if she would have had to go into town and walk down the street holding that package, she would have been very embarrassed. However, because the package came back to her uncle’s house, it gave her the courage to continue to send it out. Eventually, a publisher picked up her books, and since then, they have sold millions of copies around the world.
She was persistent, and it paid off
More recent examples include Lisa Genova, Louise Hay, and James Patterson. Lisa wrote a book called Still Alice but could not find a publisher who was interested so she self-published with iUniverse. It was subsequently discovered by Simon and Schuster, who picked it up and it became a best seller and eventually a movie for which Julianne Moore won an Oscar. Lisa’s persistence was demonstrated in that she self-published even when no publisher wanted it.
Louise Hay is another example. Louise founded the publisher Hay House when she was sixty years old. Sadly, Louise passed away in late 2017, but she has left a significant legacy in the life of people. She decided she had something to share that could really help people and largely helped create the category of Self Help. No publisher at the time would produce her books, so she first self-published and then started the company that continues on to this day.
He shared the details in an interview. “I worked my way through college. I had lots of night shifts, so I started reading like crazy. Then I started writing, and I found that I loved it. When I was twenty-six I wrote my first mystery, The Thomas Berryman Number, and it was turned down by, I don’t know, thirty-one publishers. Then it won the Edgar for the best first novel. Go figure.”
In each of these
A sixth thing every writer needs to become an author is accountability. This is important because without accountability most things don’t get done. John Di Lemme suggests, “Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions.”
In fact, the likelihood that you will transform your desires into reality increases tremendously if you share your written goals with a friend who believes in your ability to succeed. One author calls it having “a partner in believing.” I think that is such a great phrase because that’s what you need—someone who believes in your idea as much as you do.
Someone who believes you have something to say or share that is worth preserving and telling.
That’s why, along with persistence, you need to be accountable and you need someone to keep you accountable. That way when you get discouraged or stuck, there is someone to help you stay focused on your milestones and goals.
Writing a book takes time and can also include periods of self-doubt or discouragement. That’s why you need someone to help you stay motivated when you may be ready to give up.
Even prolific authors like Stan Lee needed encouragement. Stan started Marvel Comics and has helped create some of the most well-known superheroes. At one point before he had made a name for himself, he was ready to give up. Like most salaried employees, he had bills and a mortgage, but at age forty writing action scenes became unfulfilling, and he wanted to quit. His wife told him to create a script that he found meaningful, and the rest is history.
So never underestimate a well-timed word of encouragement. We all need them.
Information alone is not enough
This truly is the best time to be an author because there is more opportunity to get published and more information for authors than ever before. But information alone is not enough to help you get to your goal. You need these seven things to transition from just writing to publishing:
- an idea
- a deadline
- a plan,
- timely, expert advice