Today's post is inspired by a question from an aspiring author. Someone heard this person's story and said that she should write a book. This is a very common motivator for people to start thinking about writing a book. She connected with me and said, "Jevon, I have no idea where to begin." This post is how I answered her.
The truth is, achieving a goal such as becoming a published author is like the trick to eating an elephant: take one bite at a time. There is so much information about publishing this and book marketing that. But the first thing you need to do is having a writing plan. The plan I outlined for her only involves the content of the book at this stage.
When you are just deciding to write a book, you don't need to think about the book cover or who is going to review your book or what shows you are going to get on. That will cause divided thinking and what you need at this stage is focus so that you are able to make the right decisions to build a solid foundation that future publishing opportunities will stand on.
Without being very sure of the following eight things, your book project will not go very far. Straight up. So here's my "first things first" plan I offered to help her get started. I hope it helps you too.
1. Why are you writing a book?
There are other place for your story to appear—magazine articles, newspaper, local news story, blogs, testimony shared at church or another kind of meeting or gathering... You have to know for yourself why it should be a book. Also, consider the length for most books in the market is between 40,000 and 60,000 words. Will it take that many words to tell your story effectively and efficiently?
2. Who are you writing for--specifically?
Everyone will not—cannot—benefit from your book. Think of this: who will want to read your book? Not, who needs to read your book? Some people, even if they need something, just will not be in the frame of mind to receive what they need. But there are those who really want something and they are willing to read a book to get it. Who is that person for the topic you want to write about? Identify them, then write to them.
3. What do you want to write about?
What is your main topic and goal for the book?
4. What will the reader gain from reading your book?
By the time they finish your book what will their lives be like, what will they be motivated to do, what will they have learned? What's in it for them? It is hugely important that you know this like the back of your hand or you won't be able to articulate the felt need—the reason why someone would want to read your book along with (or instead of) all the other millions that are written and published every year. This will be your so-called sales pitch and how you are able to draw a strong connection with your readers to see their lives impacted in some way by your message.
*Write out a combination of 3 and 4 in a succinct paragraph of about 300 to 500 words. Have people read it who don't know your story—and maybe a just few who do? Get their feedback. You want objective feedback. This is your book summary or synopsis.
5. Develop a chapter-by-chapter outline...
...with the above things in mind. The chapters should be based on the lessons, ideas, or concepts you want to support your main topic. Is it how to overcome depression? Then each chapter will need to highlight each step in the process or journey to overcoming depression.
6. Think of how you will illustrate each step, lesson, or concept.
Will you use an anecdote, a personal story, a graph, a chart, statistics, scientific research, a biblical illustration, a story in a famous or historical person's life?
7. Will you be using secondary sources...
...such as other books, magazine articles, websites, journal, encyclopedias, notes from a conference you attended? Make sure to cite them as endnotes or footnotes.
8. Make sure you have a compelling introduction and conclusion.
The introduction sets the tone for the whole book. In it you will outline why you are writing the book, the promise you are making to the reader of where they will end up after they have read the book, the steps they will go through to get there, and a motivating charge to them to keep reading. The conclusion wraps everything that was said in the book with a nice, little bow. It restates everything the reader read in a neat package. These are the takeaways. I recommend that it also includes a motivational charge for the reader to not just leave everything they learned in the book and close but to take what they have read and apply it to their lives to see some kind of lasting change or transformation.
There are other things you can include in a nonfiction book such as chapter quotes at the beginning of each chapter the supports the topic for that chapter (gives the reader a little nugget too. I like little nuggets :), thoughts or questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, also small group and interactive questions if your book would be good for a book club or Bible study group.
But even more than all of this is the amount of work you have to be willing to put in to writing your book. That is the hardest part. It is much easier, though, when you have a plan. Hopefully what I have given you here will get you off to a great start.
Here are links to other posts on my blog where I discuss book content in greater depth: