Whether you’ve got stories you want to tell or you’re a successful entrepreneur looking for new ways to share your knowledge, everyone can write a book.
The boom in self-publishing and print-on-demand has made it so easy for anyone to publish their books. No longer does your hobby novel or family memoir need to gather digital dust on your PC hard drive.
For creators who want to write books that their fans will buy, you need to establish a process around book writing. Just like any other project or task, you need a plan to get you started and keep you on task.
6 Steps To Write A Book
There are six steps to writing a book:
- Outline Your Book
- Set A Writing Schedule
- Choose Your Writing Software
- Finish The First Draft
- Edit, Revise, Edit Again
- Write The Final Draft
Successfully Writing A Book
Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.– E. L. Doctorow
If you’re a content creator, author, or anyone with a lot of written content you want to use to earn a profit and build your audience, just finishing a first draft is not ‘writing a book.’ The book-writing process will look different for all of us, but a truly finished book is one that you’ve written, edited, and reworked until it’s (nearly) perfect.
For creatives and entrepreneurs, you know you need professional products to win and keep customers. If you want your fans to read your book, you need to write it like a pro.
1. Create A Plot And Outline For Your Book
Not all authors write with a detailed outline, but you almost always will benefit from some structure. If you write fiction and you’ve got an idea bouncing around in your head, a simple outline will guide you in writing and further content planning. And for nonfiction writers, an outline is almost a necessity as it will guide your research and keep your writing on topic.
Plotting For Fiction Writers
A lack of narrative structure, as you know, will cause anxiety.– John Dufresne
As you outline your story, think about common plot models like Freytag’s Pyramid and how your content can fit into existing structures. As you further develop your outline, you’ll see the basic plot of your story (who the characters are, what they’re doing, what they want, who opposes them, etc.).
As you write, you might change things. Maybe a secondary character doesn’t have enough to do so you cut them. Maybe the climactic fight scene happens at a fast-food restaurant instead of a church. That’s fine, the outline you start from is a guide. It’s meant to get your ideas organized so you can better reference them while you’re writing.
Outlining For Nonfiction Writers
The best nonfiction authors write like fiction authors. A recounting of a historic event that just deals in facts and figures is boring. A detailed history of someone who lived through that event is a story.
So there’s no reason nonfiction authors can’t outline much like a fiction author does. Identify the characters in your story (this may be you if you’re speaking to your own experiences), the events your book will cover, and the timeline you’ll span.
Outlining Quickstart Guide
Here’s the basic template I use to outline a new story:
- Protagonist = Guy Everybody
- Problem/Conflict = Apocalypse, zombies, and stuff everywhere
- Place/Time = Tuesday in May, near future
- Five Points of Action:
- Guy has to flee his hiding place
- Guy makes new friends, and feels safe
- Guy gets betrayed, and isn’t sure who to trust
- Guy confronts conflict – climatic event
- Guy and the aftermath of his choices
Okay, that’s not sophisticated at all and there is a lot more detail that can (and should) go into a basic outline. But when I have an idea, I’ll start with the above. I can turn that idea into those few bullet points in under 10 minutes and tuck the note away in my notetaking app.
When you’re ready to develop your story ideas further, I suggest a much more robust outline (though if you’re a classic pantser, you might just start writing!). Here’s a Google Doc template with the outline I use to plan short fiction (feel free to make a copy!):
2. Set A Writing Schedule
Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.– Ray Bradbury
With your detailed outline, you can set yourself a writing schedule. One commonality between successful people is consistency. Doing something big (like writing an entire book) is hard. But doing a bunch of small things (like writing scenes or blog posts) is more manageable.
Your writing schedule will help you carve out time to write daily. Establishing a writing habit is a must. In fact, if you’re not already writing daily (blog posts, social media content, journaling, or the like), you should start there.
You need to put in a lot of time to write a book. Making daily writing a habit turns that huge word count into achievable daily goals.
Start with a moderate daily word count. 200 to 500 words are reasonable, you can do it in less than an hour, and your total word count will still add up quickly.
Here’s a fun table with a few word counts and book-length estimates to illustrate just how long it takes to write a complete book.
Daily Word Goal Guide
|Words Per Day||Book Length||Days To First Draft|
|Novel (mystery, romance)||500||60,000||100 Days|
|Long Novel (fantasy, sci-fi)||1,000||120,000||120 Days|
If you write 500 words a day and aim for a 50,000-word novel, you’ll have it written in under four months. With enough plots and ideas, you could write three novels a year at 500 words per day!
Along with daily writing, you should plan some time to research and outline. For a nonfiction book, even if you did hours of diligent reading and planning to know your subject inside and out, you’ll find areas that require additional information. Perhaps you just need to find a perfect quote or reference to emphasize that insightful section you just wrote.
And for fiction works, you’ll definitely need to outline secondary characters who end up more important than you thought or develop new locations as the story evolves.
Don’t lock yourself into hitting your writing goal with your book every day either. It’s okay to spend some time writing blog posts, essays, short stories, or whatever. So long as you create a habit of writing, you’ll be taking steps toward finishing your book.
3. Choose Your Writing Software To Draft Your Book
Not enough writing and publishing experts talk about this: you need to find writing tools that work for you. We’ve come a long way from pen and paper (though that method still works fine too). Modern writing software often builds word processing, grammar and spelling correction, and planning or notetaking into a single application.
You’ll need layout and design software too (unless you intend to hire a pro to lay out your book). And for many writers, you’ll need a notetaking option, be it pen and notebook or software (or both). There are a lot of author software options for all these tasks.
4. How To Finish Writing The First Draft
I can speak from a LOT of experience here: the hardest part of any writing endeavor is finishing that first draft. No matter how awesome your idea might be or how good a writer you are, you won’t be successful if you can’t finish the first draft.
When you first start writing a book, there’s going to be an eagerness to churn out ideas and form them into something coherent. That fire will cool as you pack in writing session after writing session.
Needing a goal to strive for is the best reason to set daily or weekly word count goals. The other end of a book can feel a long way off when you’re down in the writing process.
This is even true for nonfiction writing. Having twenty blog posts on a topic that you want to compile into a book might seem like you’ve already got that content written. But you can’t just string blog posts together to form a book.
You need to mash all those posts together, usually adding new content to tie the pieces together, rewriting sections to fit an overall writing style, and molding all the posts into cohesive sections or chapters of your book.
Tips For Consistent Writing
Finishing the first draft is all about consistently showing up and writing. Here are my top strategies for writing and finishing your book:
- Create a Writing Space – Find a place that helps you focus on writing. That might be a personal home office or a very public coffee shop on the corner. Physical location is only part of it too—you need to find the right time to write too.
- Goals, Goals, Goals – Deadlines can be anxiety-inducing, but if you want to finish your writing project, you absolutely need trackable, achievable goals. This is where your writing schedule becomes critical.
- Write Something Else – If you sit down to work on your words for the day and just can’t work on your book, that’s okay. Put those words into a short story, essay, or blog post. You can’t get away with cheat days every day, but give yourself the space to write something else on those days you can’t get into writing your book.
5. Edit, Revise, And Find Beta Reader Opinions
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.– Shannon Hale
If you’re ready for this step, you’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations!
Take a minute. Go outside. Have a cup of tea.
Once you’ve had a bit of time to disconnect from what you’ve written, you’re ready to start the editing process.
In the traditional publishing structure, you’d hand off your manuscript and let the company’s professional editors and proofreaders take over. As a content entrepreneur and self-publisher, you’ll want to start by self-editing.
Editing Your Book
The first round of editing should be done by you. I really like to create a printed version to edit, but you can of course do your editing on your preferred word processor. This is the time to get your story straight—clean up inconsistencies in your characters, setting, or tone.
You should also use at least one AI grammar tool. Grammarly and ProWritingAid are among the most popular, but you’ve got lots of options. I like to use a couple of grammar and spelling tools to achieve a thoroughly ‘cleaned’ version of my manuscript.
Hire A Professional Book Editor
Once you’ve done a thorough review and revised some of the obvious errors, it’s time to get your work looked at by someone else. Today, with the ease of hiring and working with editors of all sorts online, it’s advisable to find a pro to edit your book.
Having your book looked at by a professional editor is very nearly a requirement for success. Readers can forgive a typo or two. But if you’ve got numerous spelling errors or inconsistencies in the story structure, you’ll lose fans.
Get Feedback From Readers
Once you’ve done a round or two with your editor, it’s smart to get some peer feedback too. Getting some beta readers will tell you what’s working about your story and what’s not.
Now, it’s fine if you want to give your grandmother a copy, but her feedback isn’t exactly what you’re looking for here. I suggest joining some online writer communities like Scribophile to connect with other authors looking for and providing feedback. For nonfiction content creators, LinkedIn is the hottest spot to build a community right now.
Get honest feedback and use it to tighten up your narrative, clarify characters, and put the finishing touches on your book.
6. Write And Edit The Final Draft
At this point, you should have a couple of drafts that you worked through with your editor and a bunch of notes from your beta readers. Now it’s time to bring all of that together and draft your final copy.
Take your time to thoughtfully reread the entire book as you work through the remaining suggestions and edits. Once you’ve resolved all your edits, read the book one more time and use your AI grammar tools again. This is key—you don’t want to introduce any new typos or errors while working on the edits and revisions.
And that’s it! You’ve got a thoroughly written and curated manuscript ready for publishing!
Publish Your Book
There are a few steps to publishing your book, like formatting your interior files and designing a cover that sells your work. This is the time to do some market research and figure out the standard best practices for publishing in your genre.
With a design and cover in mind, you can do your own page layout or hire a designer to take care of that too. Putting together your interior file might be doable, but if you’re not inclined to graphic design, hiring a cover designer is as important as hiring an editor.
Luckily, when you use Lulu to publish your book, you can reupload new files free of charge. No title fees or anything like that; so if you catch a typo in your proof copy or find the layout is a little off, you can always change it before you start marketing and selling your newly published book!
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.