Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
version 2, draft 2

Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Write a Book

author signing books

So you want to be an author, eh? Here are ten things you need to know before you write a book. I should know, I’ve written 11 books for major publishers in the last eight years. It’s a process that can be difficult and downright heart-breaking, but it can also be rewarding, both financially and esoterically. If you do want to be an author, here’s what you need to know first:

1. Make sure people want your book

Many writers mistake something that’s interesting to them as being something that’s interesting to a wide variety of people. While you might think your cat is the best kitty in the whole wide world, chances are that other people are more interested in their own cats, and down want to spend their money reading about yours. A good rule to follow before you attempt to write a book is to ask yourself if you would want to read it if somebody else wrote it.

2. Make sure what you’re writing about really is a book

Many book proposals are rejected simply because — while they might be interesting topics — there’s just not enough information to spread out over 80,000 to 100,000 words. In those cases, the writing might be better off submitted to a magazine or website, or included with other authors as part of anthology. If you have to add padding, it’s not worthwhile.

3. Make sure you know what you’re talking about

You can’t just write a book because you want to. You have to have the knowledge and ability to add to the overall knowledge or richness or culture for humankind. While that might sound daunting, keep in mind that many people read not just for enlightenment, but also for enjoyment. If you can make a compelling book from what you already know, or what you can find out, then you should.  

4. Pick the right publisher

It’s more complicated than just not sending fiction proposals to publishers that don’t print fiction. Most publishing houses have a very clear idea of what types of books they publish, and if yours does not match their ideals, you’re wasting everybody’s time. Get to know any publisher before you submit anything to them, and be able to explain how your idea fits with their general philosophy.

5. Write a proper proposal

Perhaps the most important part of the process, the proposal is also usually the most poorly done. Although I will write a more detail description of the process in the future, here’s a basic rundown. Keep it brief and concise, publishers have increasingly mounting time constraints. If you don’t catch them quickly, you won’t. And keep in mind that the proposal is there to sell the book. Have a compelling introduction that explains the book, a description of why you’re the best person to write the book and a reasonable projection as to who will buy the book and why.

6. Don’t worry about an agent ... for now

My own agent once told me that a good agent doesn’t find you a job, but sorts through your offers for you. While it’s true that agents have connections with publishers and can make you look more serious, they are not essential and usually keep 15 percent of your earnings. And, if you aren’t able to sell your book on your own, it’s unlikely an agent can do much better. Save getting an agent until after you have sold at least your first book.

7. Be careful with the contract

Congratulations, you’ve sold your book idea. Now read the contract. You’ll want the biggest advance possible because unlike advances in some other media industries (especially music), your book advance does not need to be repaid if the book doesn’t sell well. Also keep an eye on how your publisher plans to handle movie and TV rights, and (if appropriate) merchandising — they can sometimes earn more than the book itself.

8. Get Writing

Now you really have to produce. The quicker you finish, the quicker you get paid and the quicker you get to market. There will be delays as your book is edited, proofread and as it undergoes a legal check for libel or plagiarism, so the sooner you finish your manuscript, the better.

9. Promote your book

Depending on the size and scope of your publisher, you might be sent on a tour or have media appearances set up. But, even if you do, it still makes sense to promote your book yourself. Use your connections on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and don’t be afraid to comment on blogs, news stories and forums.

10. Start again

Now that you’ve survived writing your first book, it’s time to start the process all over again.


 Have you any experience in publishing your own book? Share your experiences below!

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