Last month, I sent an email to my Email Insiders (sign up here!) with the subject line, “So, you want to write a book?” I encouraged people to ask questions about writing and publishing, and I got a lot of responses! I’ll answer many of them in this post, and I’ll also share some other information I think may help you.
This is a monster post! You may want to use these links to jump to sections that are most important to you.
Navigate This Post
- Getting Ideas
- Starting and Organizing Your Book
- Finishing Your Book
- After You’ve Written Your Book
- Choosing a Publishing Method
- Miscellaneous Questions
I have no idea how to cement an idea.-David
I would love to write a book, or more, but have no idea where to start.-Tiffiny
I’m sure David and Tiffiny (two of my newsletter readers) aren’t the only ones who don’t know what to write about!
First, here are some suggestions on coming up with ideas:
- Good, old-fashioned brainstorming
- On April 22, 2017, I started drafting a document with the ultra-creative title, “Brainstorm 4-22-17.” The first thing I wrote was this: “Magical system ideas: Based on something about a baby’s birth…” Out of that idea came three novels and a novella.
- In my case, I combined a genre I love (fantasy) with something I’m passionate about (childbirth).
- Think about what genre you love and something you know a lot about or are passionate about, and start brainstorming!
- Every day, I write a very short story (or occasionally a poem), usually around 50 words long. These tiny stories are considered microfiction.
- Microfiction is a great way to generate ideas! The prequel for my upcoming series started as a very short story.
- One of the best places to get ideas for very short stories–and to share those stories with others–is on Twitter. Join Twitter if you haven’t, and run a search for “#vss365 #prompt”. VSS stands for very short story, and every day, someone puts up a one-word prompt that you can use in writing your own microfiction. And be sure to find me on Twitter! I’m @CBethAnderson.
- Nonfiction ideas
- I haven’t written any nonfiction books, but I know the old adage, Write what you know, is especially important in nonfiction.
- Here’s a good blog post I found about generating ideas for nonfiction books: How to Come up with Good Nonfiction Ideas.
Sometimes the issue isn’t generating ideas. It’s, as David put it, “cementing” an idea, or choosing which idea to go with.
My best advice on cementing an idea is this:
- Find something you’re passionate about.
- Start writing.
- Don’t stop until you’re done!
It’s natural for emotions to wax and wane throughout the writing process. You learn a lot by actually finishing a book, so give yourself the gift of persevering, even if your idea loses some of its initial luster.
Remember, your first book doesn’t need to be perfect. Neither does your tenth or twentieth! Write the first, and go from there.
We’ll talk more about finishing soon, but first, let’s talk about starting.
Starting and Organizing Your Book
I have no idea how to organize my information to even start to write.-Vannetta
I’m excited to write about organizing your book, because I didn’t know anything about this when I started writing! Learning about it has helped me immensely.
If you have a scene in your head and you need to get it on paper, go for it. It’s always good to just start writing.
However, I suggest that very early in the process, you take time to outline your book. (Yes, some people write without outlining. Some even do it well! However, I’m an outliner, and I think outlining is worth trying.)
Let’s talk about both fiction and nonfiction structure.
Structuring Your FICTION Book
Learning about story structure has made my books so much better! Most readers don’t know anything about story structure, but subconsciously, they expect certain things to happen at certain times. Story structure can help you meet and exceed reader expectations. It helps you write page turners!
Story structure is a huge topic, too much to cover in this one post. Instead of going in-depth, I’ll share some resources with you.
- K.M. Weiland writes fantastic, easy-to-read blog posts and books on story structure. Check these out:
- Blog series, The Secrets of Story Structure (incredible, free resource)
- Chart on structuring a novel
- Creating Character Arcs: I love this affordable, easy-to-read book! It will help you properly structure the plot of your book and also your characters’ journeys.
- K.M. Weiland has plenty of other books to help you structure your novels, including this free book, Five Secrets of Story Structure.
- Sterling and Stone, a fantastic company who produces fiction and provides tons of help for indie authors, has an amazing, free,40-chapter novel template. Download it here. If you want an easy way to structure your story and don’t want to learn all the ins and outs of story structure…this is it!
- 30-Minute Crash Course in Story Structure: I made a video and handout of how to structure a story, using information I’ve gotten from the above sources and another book I read. Hope it helps!
Structuring Your NON-FICTION Book
Because there are various types of non-fiction books, there’s not a one-size-fits-all structure for them. However, there are some great guidelines for various types of non-fiction.
As I’m not an expert on non-fiction books, I found a blog post detailing four structures that can be used for non-fiction. Check it out here: Four ways to structure your non-fiction book.
Finishing Your Book
I’d love to one day write a full novel. Unfortunately I never make it past 3 or so chapters. I seem to run out of time and when I pick it up again it’s like starting all over…so I do. Hence slews of unfleshed ideas, partially started books, some progress here and there, but no real substance. Time seems to be the killer. I have a full time job, run a farm when I’m not at my “real job”, and have 5 kids and a beautiful wife (my most important and favorite role).-Tom
Tom’s question is excellent. Writing a book takes a lot of hours, and many of us don’t have a lot of hours! Starting is hard enough. For many people, finishing is even harder.
Some time ago, I read a book called Finish by Jon Acuff. If you struggle to finish anything, I highly recommend it! (I listened to the audiobook, which was fantastic.) It’s not just a feel-good, inspirational book. It’s based on real research.
One of the pieces of advice that I found most helpful in Finish is this:
Cut your goal in half.
For time-based goals, this means cutting your writing pace in half. In other words, figure out how long you think it’ll take, and double it. If you think you can finish your first draft in a year, give yourself two years instead. People often don’t finish things because they get behind and feel like they failed. By giving yourself more time, it’s possible to actually meet your goal, even when life inevitably happens.
One more piece of advice from Finish:
If you get distracted by new ideas, tell yourself you can pursue that next project as a reward for finishing your current project.
Many writers have “shiny new idea syndrome.” Write a bit in one project, move to a more exciting idea, repeat. Nothing gets finished! By making Project 2 a reward for finishing Project 1, you can actually get stuff done.
Jenny asked some fantastic questions about software.
What software do you use: for writing? for formatting? for storing your work? other software, shortcuts or recommendations?-Jenny
- Microsoft Word: I use Word, because I’m so comfortable with it. Before you start, watch this video I made about using MS Word Styles to format your manuscript. It can save you time and headaches!
- Scrivener is a super-popular, inexpensive piece of software for writing and organizing books. It also gives you a place to keep notes on characters, settings, etc. I’ve heard it’s fantastic, but I haven’t tried it. Check out Scrivener here.
If you work with a publisher, they will likely do all your formatting for you. If you’re like me and you choose indie publishing, you’ll need to format your own books or pay someone to do it.
Indies, I suggest you learn to do your own formatting. When you format your own books, you can easily make changes. If a reader finds a tiny typo, you can change it without going back to a third party who formatted for you. Formatting your own books also makes it easier to distribute digital copies for your early readers. (More on that below.)
These days, there are plenty of good options for formatting e-books and paperbacks. I’ll highlight five.
- Vellum: Vellum is a Mac-only program that lets you easily format truly gorgeous, professional e-books and paperbacks. I use Vellum and absolutely love it. It’s a bit pricey ($250), but you only pay it once; they have excellent customer service; and all updates are free. (If you don’t have a Mac, you can get a Macincloud subscription to use this Mac program on your PC.) Check out Vellum.
- Draft2Digital: Don’t want to spent $250? Draft2Digital provides e-book distribution to various retailers (Apple, Kobo, etc.). They also offer free, online, e-book and paperback formatting software. You don’t have to use their distribution services to format on their site. If this service had been available when I purchased Vellum, I would’ve tried it first. I don’t know if they have as many formatting options as Vellum, but hey…free is free! Check it out here.
- Microsoft Word: You can use Microsoft Word Styles to format both e-books and paperbacks. I’ve never done this, and I know there’s quite a learning curve…but if you do learn it, you have far more flexibility than with Vellum and Draft2Digital. You’ll have to Google this to learn more!
- InDesign: You can use this Adobe software to make gorgeous paperbacks. Many professional formatters use InDesign. Again, I don’t know much about this; you’ll have to Google it.
- Calibre: This is a free program that allows you to do various types of formatting. From what I hear, it’s flexible but has quite a learning curve. Once again, Google it.
I have three things to say about backups:
- Backup your work.
- Backup your work.
- Please, please, please backup your work!
I’ve heard too many horror stories about people losing large portions of work, even huge chunks of novels.
I use Dropbox for all my backups. It’s easily accessible from various devices, and it backs up in the background. If my computer suddenly blows up, I’ll lose very little work, since I save my work frequently, and Dropbox backs it up within seconds or minutes. There’s a free Dropbox plan that provides plenty of storage for text-based files like books. I pay for the Pro plan that allows me to backup all my photos, videos, etc.
There are plenty of other backup options. I advise choosing something cloud-based that automatically backs up. External hard drives are great…until your computer goes kaput, and you realize it’s been a month since you backed up! (Feel free to use an external hard drive as a secondary backup method. Some people also email their book file to themselves on a daily basis as a secondary backup.)
Here are a few other services I use:
- BookFunnel: I use BookFunnel to distribute digital copies of my books to early readers. (More on early readers below). I also use it to grow my newsletter by distributing a free novella to readers who sign up for my email list. BookFunnel has free and paid plans; I pay $10 a month.
- MailerLite: I’ve chosen MailerLite as my email newsletter provider, since they have a great combination of affordability and features.
- WordPress: I use WordPress.org. (not WordPress.com) for my website. It includes a ton of free website building features (far more than WordPress.com).
- BlueHost: I host my website through BlueHost (and also register my domain through them).
- E-Commerce: To sell my books on my website, I use the WordPress WooCommerce plug-in (free). I process credit cards through Stripe.
- Free Website Options: Wix, Weebly, and WordPress.com. I chose not to go with a free site, as I wanted my own domain name (carolbethanderson.com).
After You’ve Written Your Book
Writing a first draft is amazing. You should celebrate!
Then you should buckle up, because this is the first step toward publishing, and there are plenty more steps to come.
My Publishing Process
Please understand this is my process. Yours will probably be different.
- Story Structure/Outlining (see above)
- First draft
- Alpha Readers while drafting (see below)
- Revisions based on alpha feedback
- Add another round of alpha reading/revisions if necessary
- Beta Readers (see below)
- Revisions based on beta feedback
- Add another round of beta reading/revisions if necessary
- Copy editing (if I’m hiring an editor, see below)
- Revisions based on copy editing (if applicable)
- Record audiobook and make a few more minor revisions
- ARC readers (see below)
- Proofreading (Professional would be great, but due to my budget, I use an eagle-eyed friend.)
- Pre-Publishing Tasks & Marketing
- Continual Marketing
(To see details on how I accomplish numbers 11, 12, and 13, check out this blog post.)
A Note on Editing:
There are different types of editing. For my first series, I only used a copy editor who also gave some limited developmental feedback. For my next series, I’m using a large group of betas instead of hiring an editor, but I wouldn’t suggest such a plan unless you know you have a very good eye for grammar and also have some super-sharp-eyed betas! Know your strengths, and be willing to get help in the areas where you have weaknesses.
Also, note that if you work with a publisher, they may provide editing. (Large publishers will probably provide multiple rounds of editing. Small publishers vary in the editing services they offer.)
A few types of editing you can consider:
- Content/Developmental Editing: A content or developmental editor gives you big-picture feedback on plot, characters, etc. If you don’t have a great handle on story structure and characterization, developmental editing can be an excellent investment. This type of editing is usually done pretty early in the writing process, perhaps after you’ve written an early draft.
- Copy/Line Editing: A copy editor will provide detailed feedback on grammar, sentence structure, etc. A line editor goes even further, making more suggestions on wording. You can hire this type of editor when you have a polished manuscript. (I suggest hiring them after using beta readers, but some people do it differently).
- Proofreading: A proofreader reads your book shortly before publication to catch the leftover errors.
Alpha, Beta, and ARC Readers…Huh?
Alpha and beta readers read early versions of a manuscript and provide feedback. ARC readers read Advance Review Copies before publication so they can review the book. I have an entire blog series on my systems for working with these early readers. Check it out here: Working With Early Readers.
Finding Your Editor and Cover Designer
How do you approach the editing process? How did you go about finding an professional editor? Also do you create you own covers and if not how do you find the professionals who do?-Jenny
I suggest joining a fantastic Facebook group called Ask a Book Editor. There, you can get free advice on grammar and other writing issues. It’s also a great place to get to know some editors. Find a few that you like, look them up, and ask them for sample edits. Most editors will do a short sample edit for free so you can find someone who fits you.
I generally don’t do my own covers. It’s usually worthwhile to hire a cover designer if you can at all afford it. Effective covers are hard to make. And effective covers are a major factor in selling books!
Again, Facebook is an excellent place to find cover designers. Join groups like The Cover Clinic and Indie Cover Project. Read others’ posts to start learning about what makes an effective cover. Scope out other authors’ covers to find potential designers for your work.
Many cover designers make premade covers that are more affordable than custom covers. A lot of these designers have Facebook groups where they sell their premades. Find a designer you like, and see if they have a Facebook group.
Copyrighting Your Work
How do one go about to make the work copyright?-Pete
Copyright laws vary from country to country. Please look up the laws for your nation.
In the U.S., your work is automatically copyrighted. You don’t have to register your copyright for it to be valid. However, it’s easier to defend your work against plagiarists if your copyright is registered.
Here’s a blog post on how to register your copyright: How to Copyright a Book Quickly Step-by-Step [With Examples].
Only you can decide if registering your copyright is worth the time and expense. (At the time the above blog post was written, it cost $85.)
Choosing a Publishing Method
When your book is done and polished, you have a big decision to make.
I’ve written my first novel… I was wondering if I should query some indie publishers or publish it myself when it’s finished. Have you been in this position? If so, what do you feel are the pros and cons of each?-Terri
Will you take the indie/self publishing route, as I’ve done? Will you query agents in the hopes that one will love your book and try to sell it to a publishing company? Will you work directly with a smaller publisher?
This topic is huge, and rather than trying to cover it myself, I’ll defer to an expert. Check out this post by Jane Friedman: The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2019-2020. It discusses all the major forms of publishing, and it’s an incredible resource.
Why I’m Indie:
Quite simply, I chose the indie/self publishing path because it fits me. I like doing things myself. Marketing my books comes naturally to me. I wanted to retain control over every step of the process. I also wanted to cut out the agent and publisher middlemen and keep a higher percentage of my earnings.
I haven’t tried any other form of publishing. I’m open to other avenues, but at this point, I enjoy being an indie.
That being said, indie publishing is a lot of work! Everything is up to me. I either do it or outsource it. Indie/self publishing is not for everyone. Choose the route that’s right for you.
Note there are also very small publishers who call themselves “indie publishers.” These are usually publishers that work with a small group of authors. They vary widely in terms of the quality of their books and the types of services they give their authors.
A good indie publisher can be a great partner to have if you don’t want to do everything yourself. However, they’ll keep a portion of your proceeds. A bad indie publisher will also keep a portion of your proceeds, while providing very little in return. Do your research!
I’ll answer a couple of reader questions about the costs of publishing.
I’m working on my first book, but would like to know if now days you have to pay to get it published with the ebooks.What it the cheapest way to get it published?-Yvonne
If you self publish, it doesn’t cost anything to put your e-book up on Amazon and other retailers. You may, however, choose to hire a cover designer, editors, etc.
Traditional publishers will not charge you a cent to publish your book. Vanity presses and hybrid publishers charge authors for publishing services. Some of these companies are valid, offering services to authors. Others promise the world and in reality provide very little.
If you’re considering paying a publisher, please do your research! Many, but not all, of these companies are predatory. If a publisher contacts you, out of the blue, they probably want your money. Please be very wary before giving it to them.
As an indie, I decide where I want to spend money. If I want to pay for covers or editing or ads, I choose my service providers. I prefer this over going with a vanity press or hybrid publisher and risking that they could, for instance, provide a non-quality cover or subpar editing. Also, I can generally publish my book for less by choosing “a la carte” services. I like retaining control and saving money, so I choose to be an indie!
Is there ever a good time to hire a hybrid publisher? Yes. If you’re short on time, have some extra money, and find a hybrid publisher that will give you high-quality services for a reasonable price, it may be the best option for you. A hybrid publisher can save you the hassle of finding service providers and learning to format and upload manuscripts. Please, please, please research the heck out of them first and make sure the books they’re helping authors produce are high quality.
I’m also trying to decide if I can afford paperback printing.-Kristiia
You can publish print-on-demand paperbacks for free through KDP Print (Amazon). You will need a cover, or you can use their Cover Creator. (Cover Creator doesn’t tend to have the best results, so if you can provide a quality, PDF cover, you’ll be in better shape.)
I use both KDP and IngramSpark for my paperbacks. IngramSpark makes it easier to sell paperbacks places besides Amazon, such as the Barnes & Noble website. They charge $49 per book plus $25 if you make any changes to your files. I get these charges waived by maintaining a membership with ALLi, an organization for indie authors.
One of my readers, Jenny, gave me an excellent list of questions. I’ll answer many of them here.
Do you still homeschool and if so how do you (or did you) fit writing into your day?-Jenny
I met Jenny when I homeschooled my kids for two years. They’ve been in public school for several years now, and I mostly write while they’re in school.
When I started writing, I was working part time, mostly while the kids were in school. I wrote in the afternoons/evenings and on weekends. Sometimes I even wrote at lunchtime. I was very busy. It was not sustainable, and these days, I’ve made a conscious choice to be less busy so I can prioritize my family.
Right now, I have a lot of time to write. You may not have that luxury! I suggest setting very manageable goals. Then follow Jon Acuff’s advice and cut those goals in half.
Think you can write 500 words a day? Set a goal of 250 a day instead. That’s about half a page of single-spaced writing. By writing 1,250 words a week (250 for five days a week), you can hammer out a 70,000-word rough draft in 56 weeks…just over a year! When you’re done, set a goal for revisions, maybe two chapters a week. And remember, it’s okay to adjust your goals when life happens.
What are your favorite online resources for information or writing groups for encouragement?-Jenny
The absolute best source of publishing information for indie authors is the 20Booksto50K group on Facebook. I can’t say enough about how much that group has helped me.
The best community of writers I’ve found is on Twitter. Recently, a bunch of us came together to write a super-helpful blog post on how to connect on Twitter as a writer. Check it out: So, You’re New to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter…
If you felt comfortable, I’d so appreciate hearing about any areas you struggled with either personally (i.e. pushing past doubt) or with writing structure, and how you’ve worked past it. Also your best advice for dealing with rejection.-Jenny
Doubt and rejection are part of writing! Even as an indie, I’ve dealt with the rejection of bad reviews or harsh critiques.
I’m a big fan of counseling, so I’ve worked on my self-doubt with a counselor. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to find people I can truly trust and tell them how I actually feel when I’m dealing with doubt and rejection. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but it really does help take away the power of those negative feelings. By dealing with them head-on and sharing them with others, I’m able to move on and keep writing.
What are you’re thoughts or experiences with short stories in general? Any advice in that area is much appreciated as well!-Jenny
Short stories are great for developing ideas and for writing practice. They’re also useful if you’re trying to publish traditionally with a major publisher. If you get short stories published in journals or anthologies, it can make you look more attractive to agents.
That being said, I don’t write a lot of short stories! However, I think anything that keeps you writing consistently is a good thing!
Wrapping it Up
Thank you so much to those of you who submitted questions! I have an entire section of my blog focused only on Author Resources. Check it out for more, in-depth tips and tutorials: Author Resources.
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Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the “Tip Me” button at the bottom of the page!