How To Write A Book

 

Officially, my book — Disrupting the Rabblement — launched today. You can grab it for $7.99 on Amazon, or sign up for my mailing list to read Part I for free.

*happy dance*

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but requesting people to read the book for several weeks now, so I’ll cut the self-promotion short and spend the rest of this post sharing a few lessons learned.

First though, I should note that this post is about how to actually write a book, not about getting a book published, or about becoming a bestselling author. Self-publishing is easy nowadays, and I doubt I’ll be achieving bestseller status any time soon, so not much point in me offering advice on either of those topics.

Besides, before you get to thinking about self-publishing and bestseller lists, you need to actually write a book. That’s something I now have experience with, so I’ll share what I hope will be a few helpful tips.

Joseph Epstein famously wrote back in 2002 that “81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them — and that they should write it.” I suspect that number hasn’t changed much in the last decade, and that the feeling isn’t unique to Americans. Of course, the percentage of people who actually go ahead and write a book is miniscule by comparison.

Think of your five closest friends. Assume four of them want to write a book. Now consider how many of them actually have.

For most of us, the answer to that mental exercise is a big fat zero.

So, how do you avoid seeing your writing dream ending up on the scrapheap like most everyone else’s? Here’s what worked for me…

1. Write

Writers write. Simple as. If you want to write a book but you’re not writing regularly — every day, ideally — you’re kidding yourself.

And when I say write, I’m not just talking about producing content for your book. I’m talking about practice (what up, Bubbachuck!). You should be working consistently on your writing skills long before you ever sit down to tackle a big book-writing project.

I never set out to be a writer, but I’ve been practicing my writing for the past fifteen years or so. As a teenager I kept a regular diary, then I spent most of my twenties writing about basketball, and over the previous three years I’ve written and published 340+ articles on this site. Without all that practice, writing my book would have been much tougher than it actually proved to be.

I realize of course that this advice is obvious. Most of us fail to heed it not because we’re idiots, but because we regularly succumb to that pesky internal resistance. Two highly recommended reads to help you slay that dragon:

2. Publish

Don’t just write, publish!

Putting your writing out there in front of people is terrifying initially, but it’s also the absolute best way to get feedback and thereby improve.

The easiest way to do this is to start a blog. You can set one up for free in five minutes, commit to publishing something once a week, spread the word via your social networks, and then experiment to see what resonates with people.

I first started writing online back in 2003. My writing sucked for a long time, but eventually I figured a few things out and now I don’t suck so much.

3. Build a small army of fans

Yet another reason to start a blog.

More than 800 people on my mailing list downloaded my book (to read, presumably) before the official launch today. This small army has provided excellent feedback, much of which I incorporated to improve the book, and a bunch of them were kind enough to go on Amazon and tell the world that my writing won’t make your eyes bleed.

Alternatively, I could have never started a blog and worked for three years to build a sizable audience. Instead, I could have tried to write a book with no idea if the content would resonate with anyone, and then tried to convince people overnight that some stranger’s ramblings were worth reading.

But I doubt that would have worked so well.

4. Don’t be a perfectionist

In the words of Sebastian Marshall

“Want to write a great book? Free yourself to write a bad book first.”

I had to overcome my perfectionist tendancies to get my book out there. I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but in the early going I wasn’t sure it would turn out well. I had to just say to hell with it and push on, accepting that it might suck.

5. Ship

Assuming you’ve been practicing your writing skills for a while now and have built up your small army of fans, go ahead and set a deadline for finishing your book, or at least the first draft. If public accountability works for you, utilize that.

Your deadline should be tight enough that you feel some constant pressure, but not too much. You don’t want to burn out or keep having to push back your deadline. Motivation killers, right there.

A good way to come up with a realistic deadline is to think about how much time you can commit to writing over a specific time period. Maybe you feel confident that you can crank out one solid chapter a week, and your outline calls for a dozen chapters. Great, now give yourself three months and get to work.

What say you?

Have you written a book? Any tips you’d add?

Or maybe you have some additional questions about the whole book-writing process. Let me know via the comments. I can’t pretend to be an expert, but I’ll do my best to share whatever might help.

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18 Comments

  1. Great stuff Niall.
    Any tip for someone who has written 2 books and can’t seem to find a way to put them out there ?
    I’m not a perfectionist by any mean but… wait. I take that back.
    I might be slightly perfectionist so the idea of publishing something that will not look good is bothering me. That’s why I’m still not self publishing.
    And finding an editor is not so easy either.
    Any legendary idea ?

    • Hey Sara. So the problem is that you can’t seem to make the final push and get the books published? I’d say try the self-publish route for at least one of them. It’s not hard to make it look good on Kindle. Just get a decent cover image and spend some time on the formatting.

      If you can self-publish one book and build up a bit of an online fan base (via blogging, etc.), then you’d have much more leverage with publishers. “Look how many people loved my first book!”

      At the very worst, self-publishing will let you test the waters and get valuable feedback about your writing.

      Good luck!

    • It’s free to publish on there, but they take a 30% cut of each sale, plus download fees (which are miniscule).

      I used OpenOffice, TextWrangler and Calibre for the formatting, so no cost there (all free software). I did use Photoshop for the cover image, but I could have done similar in Gimp methinks.

  2. This is great, Niall. It definitely gives me another push to publish my own writings. Everyone does have a story to tell.

    Does it feel different to have published on a publisher like Amazon than a e-book on your own site?

    • Thanks, Eugene!

      Yeah, it feels a bit more authentic to have it out there on Amazon, though that’s mostly on account of the reviews. Anyone can post a book up there and have no reviews at all!

  3. Niall,

    Good, realistic post.

    I just went back to count how many of 5 tips apply to me… I counted 5. I think # 4)Don’t be a perfectionist will be the most difficult for me.

    I’ll try freeing myself to write a bad book first, and polish it up with the feedback I’ll get.

    Thanks!

  4. Congrats on your published book! I was hoping to see more videos of you touring New Delhi. What did you do there? Did you go see anything interesting?
    Best of luck in Thailand. I was in Phuket once and loved it.

    • I worked a lot while in New Delhi, didn’t get to see may interesting sights, unfortunately. I did get to eat a lot of good food though, and hang out with that Wandering Earl chap, which is always a good time :-)

  5. I’m so happy for you being given the cruise! Did you ever get a photo of yourself running through the pigeons in that square in Nepal?

  6. I did indeed self-publish (on Amazon) my first book nearly a year ago (my how time flies…). I followed with a second, which I have since taken down because I didn’t like it much, and neither did my critics :-). The third one I wrote under a pen name, the fourth was a first-person account of an adventure, and number five (wow, have I written five?) just went up a couple of weeks ago.

    I will say one thing: the ones that write themselves (the ones I have had the most personal interest in and feel most comfortable about) turned out the best as well. The one that was a result of pure research and explanation was really not all that great (I am glad I used a pen name :-)

    To those who are trying to get started – take a page out of Niall’s book: suck it up and Just. Do. It. It’s hard at first to see the book out there with your name on it (what will people THINK????) but then you get used to it, and subsequent efforts get easier. Much easier!

    • Care to share the name of the book you wrote regarding a personal adventure Georgene? I’m thinking of doing something similar downthe line when i figure some more stuff about creating ebooks out.

      • Thanks, Carlo! Although the topics of my books probably don’t fit well with this readership, all my books can be seen at georgeneharkness.com/books. (Two of them, the mortgage-related ones are books that I only edited and published). I appreciate your asking!

        BTW, publishing an ebook is VERY easy – once you know how (isn’t everything?) It’s the writing that **can** be hard. Let me know if I can help.