So, you want to write a book … great! But before launching in, all guns blazing, hold back a minute and have a think. Writing any book is a BIG job. It takes time and energy. Generally, the initial phase of enthusiasm is followed by a long, hard slog in which many projects end up on high, lonely shelves. So deciding, right from the start, exactly what you want to achieve, and how to achieve it, gives you a much better chance of actually getting to the finish line.
The first thing to think about is why you’re writing at all. Do you have a passion, or business project in mind? Of these, the business choice is easiest to advise on. Out in the publishing world are a whole series of specialised markets with generally accepted styles and practices, each offering lucrative contracts to writers who tailor work to the demands of their respective editors. A passion project is quite different – here you have an idea you’re determined to write about, perhaps a story, a collection of poems, a history or scientific theory and, no matter whether anyone else wants it or not, that’s what you work on.
Which approach is best? It’s impossible to say. If you want to make money then writing in a business-like way is by far the better option. But if you’re sitting on a story that needs telling then, obviously, you must tell it. Who knows? It may be the next great classic everyone’s waiting for. Either way, the routes to publication and distribution are pretty much the same.
What Kind of Book?
The next thing to consider is what kind of book you’ll be writing - fiction or non-fiction? Again, both are viable propositions, though if you’re in ‘business’ mode the chances of publication are higher with non-fiction. Totting up all the hill-walking and dog training guides, the text books, biographies, local histories and how-to manuals coming out day after day, there are far more non-fiction books published than any kind of novel, so demand is greater. Non-fiction is often shorter too (books can be as slim as 5,000 words) which can make the process of writing, editing and proofing surprisingly fast.
But if fiction is your thing, then that’s what to write. And here you must decide whether your work is literary or paraliterary. Literary fiction generally offers some kind of deliberate social comment, or seeks to explore aspects of the human condition, where the principal aim of paraliterary, or genre fiction is to spin a good yarn. Now, be aware, if you’re writing a literary novel as a passion project, you’re about as far from the business model of a writing career as you can get. This is no reason to change tack, great books are always born out of passion. But if you want any kind of commercial success this is the toughest way to get it. And if making a living is an issue, you may want to consider some kind of compromise project en-route.
Genre fiction is, for most writers, an easier nut to crack. Crime, thrillers, children’s stories, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, erotica, horror … all there areas are serviced by specialist publishers, agents, writers associations and fan groups. If your writing falls into any one of them there are established pathways to publication and, though competition can be fierce, as long as you’re ready to work hard there’s always space for a talented newcomer.
Who Are You Writing For?
Another thing to bear in mind is your audience. If you’re writing a family history, or the biography of a particular relative, you may only want to produce half a dozen copies of your book. Writing for a society, school or charity could see work going out to several hundred people in your local area. And if you think you may be the next Agatha Christie or Ian Fleming then you’ll be looking for contracts with publishers and retailers to bring out millions of copies. All of which can help you decide whether …
To Publish or Self-Publish
If your book is to be produced in small numbers, then self-publication is clearly the way forward. There are a number of companies who can help with editing, layouts and cover designs, or you can do it yourself using an online self-publishing website. These options are also worth considering for fiction. Even if your long-term aim is to work with a publisher, it does no harm to show the world what you’re capable of by bringing out a first book on your own (that’s how Philip Pullman did it).
Conversely, if you’ve got a non-fiction money-spinner in mind, it’s best to pitch an idea to a publisher - even better to devise a project that fits into an established series like the Dummies Guides or I-Spy books. Here, though your creative horizons may be limited, the chances of publication and financial reward are, statistically, highest of all (for more information on publishing a non-fiction book, click here).
Whatever you want to write though, as long as you’re clear about your objectives and how to achieve them, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make a go of it. Every great writer has to start somewhere. So if, after reading this, you still want to take on the challenge of a book, then good for you - good luck. And if you need any more advice along the way, you know where to come.
The Writers Bureau offers several courses that will help you write a book:
For novels check out our Novel and Short Story Writing Course
For non-fiction books our Non-Fiction Course would be most suitable.
For biographies, memoirs and family histories there is a dedicated course covering just these areas.
And, once your book is published, we have our How to Market Your Book Course.
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“I’m currently working on my fourth book, have been paid for my writing by at least 15 different magazines, and now earn half my income from writing – all thanks to The Writers Bureau’s course."
Sarah Plater - Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2017