A guest blog from Simone Greenwood, the founder and director of Burst, an independent children’s
There are lots of reasons to write a book, whether it’s to set yourself up as an industry expert with a ‘How to…’ guide, or just feel a sense of pride seeing your story in print. And it’s safe to say that most of us have thought about writing a book of one kind or another, or may have got as far as putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). So how do you go from a passing thought, or a neglected manuscript, to the reality of holding a book in your hand? Here’s my handy guide with ten simple steps. No promises they’ll be easy though!
Step 1: Pick a genre
Before you can write a book, you need to know what kind of book it will be. First off, will it be fiction or non-fiction? If it’s a fiction book, will it be children’s, young adult (YA) or adult? Will it be a crime novel or a romance? A dystopian fantasy or a historical thriller? The choice is yours, but it’s probably a good idea to write in a genre you already love, or on a topic you are familiar with.
If you still can’t decide, then maybe Forbes’ list of the top-earning authors of 2016 might help. Or Amazon’s current bestseller list. Bare in mind that many authors make less than £10,500 a year though, and often supplement their income with other paid work.
Step 2: Read & research
There are so many obstacles to becoming a successful author, that you’re doing yourself no favours if you’re not prepared to put the effort in when it comes to research. Read as much as you can in your chosen genre (and any genre) and be aware of current trends. Also read as much as you can on how to write, edit and get published. Subscribe to writing magazines. Buy Stephen King’s On Writing. Grab a copy of the latest Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook – this will be your writing bible!
If you want to write for children, you must gain an understanding of the different formats and age groups in children’s literature. It’s important to gauge your content, vocabulary and word count to your intended reader. Louise Jordan’s How to Write for Children is a great guide to start with.
Step 3: Write
If you want to be an author, you’re going to have to write, whether you feel like it or not. Treat it like any other job – plan, set goals, get on with it. Easier said than done, I know – but don’t get stuck in the writers’ block trap. It’s a myth (honest). When did you last hear a plumber complain they weren’t feeling inspired to fix your tap?
The good news is there’s thousands of other writers out there that you can use as your support network. Join a local writers’ group, or find a Facebook one. Take part in one of the many twitter hashtags and get involved in events like NaNoWriMo. Writing can be a lonely business, so take time to connect with others and you’ll keep inspired and motivated.
Step 4: Edit
There’s a saying, ‘Write without fear, edit without mercy,’ and it needs to be your mantra. Don’t ever get precious about your word count, or all those amazing descriptive passages and extensive dialogue – they will be slashed! The sooner you embrace editing as a necessary (and potentially magical) part of the journey, the happier everyone will be. Learn the art of good editing yourself – in terms of content editing (plot, characters, continuity, readability etc.) and proof-reading (spelling, grammar and punctuation). Be prepared to hand over your manuscript for peers and professionals to edit too. Remember that all successful published books have been redrafted multiple times before they go to print.
Step 5: Find a publisher (or self-publish)
It’s at this point that your determination really needs to kick in, because whatever publication route you decide on will require hard work and professionalism.
Most authors prefer to find a traditional publisher, whether a small independent one or a major player, who will buy the rights to their manuscript and bring it to market (and foot the bill for all production costs). Expect an advance on royalties from medium to large publishers, and then a small percentage on sales. If you’ve found an agent (often necessary to even get a foot in the door with established publishers), they will take a cut too. If you choose this route, get your highlighter out and get stuck into the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – and be prepared to follow submission guidelines to the letter!
The other option is to self-publish, which is a route more and more authors are taking, and a 100% guarantee of getting published. There’s a wealth of resources to help you, with Joanna Penn’s website a great start, but it’s not for the faint-hearted and can take up a considerable amount of your time and money.
Step 6: Build your brand
Whether you are lucky enough to secure a traditional publishing deal, or brave enough to take on the task of self-publishing, you will need to work on building your author brand. First off, you will need a social media presence. A website, blog or podcast are a good idea too, as are accounts with websites like Goodreads. If you are already established as an expert in your industry or business field, then you will be able to merge your author brand easily with your existing brand. Also bear in mind that most successful authors get involved with literary festivals, talks, book signings etc.
Step 7: Professionally produce your book
If you are traditionally published, you will have to relinquish a lot of control over your book’s production, but on the upside – you can basically put your feet up and let the professionals get on with the hard graft. If you are self-publishing, then you’ll retain control over every step during production, but will have to do the following yourself, or pay professionals:
• Get a great cover, you really will be judged on it (try 99designs)
• Commission a professional illustrator if necessary
• Professionally edit and typeset your text
• Professionally design the book’s layout
• Buy an ISBN number and register your book with Nielsen
• Format for epublishing and/or for print
• Set up a print-on-demand contract with a company like Ingram or pay for books to be printed by a book specialist
• Send a copy of any printed works to the British Library (required by law)
I’ve overused the word professionally – but it’s an important word to stress! With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, if you can’t produce something that looks like it would fit in on the shelf at Waterstone’s, then you have to question whether it’s really worth your time, effort and money.
Step 8: Distribute
Again, if you have a traditional publisher, you don’t even need to think about this step. If you are self-publishing, then you need to consider how you will get your book into the hands of readers. If you are epublishing only, then your first step will probably be to upload to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Smashwords is also a good way to distribute to a lot of platforms in one go.
If you are producing printed books, then things get more complicated. You need to do your research and be prepared for distributors to take big cuts from your sale price – up to 60%. Try Carla King’s Self Publishing Boot Camp for more information.
Step 9: Launch
This is where you get to crack open the champagne and celebrate all that you have achieved. Whether your launch is big budget or just a few gathered friends and family, enjoy every second, get that Sharpie out and get signing – you’ve probably been practising your author signature for months!
Step 10: Market
There’s no time to rest on your laurels – now the hard work really starts! If you want to get your book noticed, and make some real money, then you need to get clever with marketing. If you’re self-publishing, then your budget is probably small – but this is where Step 6 should pay dividends (but don’t make every Twitter post a ‘buy my book’ one or followers will vaporise). Get yourself out of your comfort zone and get known. Look for ways to get reviewed. Enter your book for awards. Approach local festivals, libraries, bookshops, newspapers etc. The possibilities are endless if you stay motivated and persistent. Try Alison Baverstock’s How to Market Books for more information.
So, there are my 10 steps for writing and publishing a book. Simple, but far from easy. If I had to sum it all up in one sentence – buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and don’t give up. Good luck!