Many people dream of writing a book, particularly those who are of an age where they have collected wonderful memories and a good perspective of life. How would you advise such a first-time writer to proceed practically? Set up a workstation in a corner of the quietest space in your home. If domestic time constraints limit free time it might be preferable to write when everyone else is still asleep (an hour or more before the rest of the household starts their day) or when they are away. If you do write when family members are about, make it clear that you do not want to be disturbed while you are at your computer. It might help to play soothing music on a headset to block out noise. An alternative to a home office is to rent a small office or studio. Carry a notebook and pencil with you to jot down notes and ideas. Spend time browsing magazines and newspapers. Browse the Internet to keep abreast of emerging trends. Become an avid reader; expand your general knowledge on diverse topics. Talk to people and ask what they are interested in. Writing a compelling story or non-fiction is hard work and it helps to have a reliable PC or laptop with an ADSL connection at your disposal. The sheer range of information and opportunities on the Internet to help writers is staggering. Once you are clear about what your proposed book is about, create a framework by making up a list of the various areas you will explore; this will help keep you focused when gathering information. Try to maintain a set routine for working on your manuscript, for instance, from 5 – 6 in the morning and from 8 – 9 in the evening. You will achieve a sense of personal accomplishment as the manuscript develops.
Are there trends and tips on getting publishers to read your manuscript? Publishers are generally very busy people and receive piles of manuscripts on a daily basis. However, instead of submitting the entire manuscript for review rather forward a concise synopsis/proposal, which is much quicker to read; make sure the content has the power to ignite an editor’s imagination and get them involved in what you are trying to convey. Editors commonly define a book proposal as “an outline and at least two random sample chapters” but what they really want is anything on paper that will give them some sense of how you write and some reason to believe that your subject, when developed, will interest a large group of readers. Since salability is a vital consideration, direct an editor’s attention to several possible markets and suggest ways of reaching them. Talk realistically about similar books in the marketplace and how your book is different. Indicate the breakdown by chapters and sketch your primary sources of information (with whom you will talk, what statistics you will gather). Explain your credentials. Cite publishing credits as evidence of your ability to write, and any experience or training that qualifies you especially well for the chosen subject. Enclose a sample of your text (twenty pages are about the norm) that reflect your book’s content and style. Express any passion you may feel about the project.
What about self-publishing: what are its advantages and disadvantages? More and more writers are opting to self-publish their books mainly because they are unable to find a commercial publisher interested in contracting their work. This is often because the topic is aimed at a small niche market; a commercial publisher looks at a large group of readers. Yet, some writers also choose self-publishing because it allows them more control of the product (design, layout, promotion, marketing and distribution). Of course, the author is responsible for footing the bill from inception to distribution unless they are sponsored. The self-published author also stands to earn substantial revenues from the sale of the publication whereas if they had signed with a commercial publisher, would be paid only a percentage of revenue earned from books sold. Another benefit of self-publishing is that the author retains all rights to the book. However, while self-publishing and print-on-demand has become immensely popular, authors should ensure that the product, from the cover design and content layout to choice of paper and binding is of a standard equal to commercially published books. A poorly bound book printed on sub-standard paper will not find its rightful place in a good bookstore or retail outlet.
What are good topics in the reading market right now? Just as diverse as consumers who buy books so are the topics they aspire to. Topics that are very popular include health and fitness, weight reduction, self-development, making more money, sport, and religion. While cookery books by celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver are also popular buys income-generating arts and crafts are equally in demand. I’m passionate about business and marketing; one would imagine that nothing new in this arena can possibly be sufficiently innovative to cover 500 printed pages, but knowledge leaders like Charles Handy and Alvin Toffler bring out new editions on a regular basis to feed my interest. I also enjoy reading about voluntary simplicity and self-sufficiency.
How does a would-be author juggle reality with their dreams? We all need positive experiences and emotions to remain inspired. Yet, some days, no matter how hard you try, life rains on your parade, deadlines are missed, computers crash, and tempers fly. Sit quietly in a comfortable couch, relax, breathe deeply, and do absolutely nothing for at least 30 minutes; take a notebook and jot down ideas you have for your writing. Imagine a day in your life, as you would like to live it. Does it leave you feeling good about what you are doing with your life? Create spontaneous time. Walk the dog. Fly a kite. Sit on a park bench and feed the birds.
What are the steps to writing a manuscript?
- Identify an idea or topic, e.g. “The Family Throughout the Ages”, which is a broad concept, will most likely follow a sequential timeline comprised of numerous sub-topics (chapters). Give each chapter an appropriate title. A mind-mapping exercise might help to identify these sub-topics.
- Describe your target market. Plan on writing about 50,000 – 60,000 words.
- Create an outline or framework of your story. Divide each chapter into a “conversation” covering important points and stories you would like to tell. What emotional needs of your target market can be addressed? Transcribe your “conversation” into typed words.
- Once you have a detailed outline start filling in the gaps. Gather additional data and insert into the right chapters. work on each chapter before moving to the next; you may find that it is necessary to move some text to other chapters later on. Read the first draft to see if you need to add, change, remove, or move copy.
- Read through the entire manuscript, again. Does it flow? Are your points clear? Is it interesting to read? Critique it from your target readers’ perspective. Edit to complete the second draft.
- Submit the second draft to a professional editor to read the copy for consistency, flow, and for general editing.
- Finally, to be 100% sure, read through the final manuscript (again). Go get your book printed and bound (perfect binding).
How should a self-published book be marketed? Promoting your book can get expensive. It can also be a bit overwhelming. A good place to start is to have a review professionally written to use as a marketing tool to generate publicity and announce possible book signings. Other PR activities include a putting together a press kit (synopsis, author biography, photo of author holding the book, concise Q&A/interview with author, list of outlets where the book will be on sale, author’s contact details, and invitation to the launch) to media representatives and select guests; set up magazine and radio interviews; print and distribute leaflets or chapbooks (to publish a trailer of the book); display posters in retail stores that agree to stock copies of your book; run a mail-order advertorial in a community newspaper; distribute bookmarks at libraries; showcase the book on a dedicated web site; list your book online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kalahari, Bid-or-Buy and Loot. You could also, depending on the topic, run seminars or workshops on the subject and sell copies to delegates. Use social media to attract users to your web site.