Let’s get serious for a moment: writing a book is a long-term project and it’s not going to magically happen for you until you stop browsing useless listicles that focus on everything except the actual writing part. You know the ones – they focus on motivation or lifestyle organization and give pithy highlights like “write the first draft” as if that wasn’t a monumental challenge for new authors.
According to John Steinbeck,
“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.”
Well, I’ve spent the last decade trying to make just such a recipe… and do everything in my power to also pass the magic wand of creative inspiration, so that you don’t just finish a book. Because, while that may feel satisfying at first, it quickly dries up in the face of negative reviews or the endless void of commercial competition.
Because there is no formula, no template, no cheatsheet to writing great books, people sometimes hesitate to label the necessary part of the writing process in ordinary terms, and end up with a list that skips all the nuts-and-bolts of actually, you know, doing the work.
- Want to write a book
- Write the book
- Make millions
I’ve written over 25 books, millions of words, and have cleared six figures in books sales. I’ve also rented a castle for Nanowrimo and have an #amwriting tattoo.
But enough about me. YOU want to know if it’s really possible to write a book in a month. Whether you can do it, and whether it’s worth the time and effort.
I can’t answer all of those question, but I can definitely give you what NOBODY ELSE on the entire interwebz can… a crystal-clear chapter planning guide, ruthless self-editing tips from a PhD in Literature, common amateur mistakes to avoid and advanced strategies for pounding out letters into your word processor until your story ideas start to take on a life of their own.
Only YOU can decide if you want this, and it’s going to take some time, attention and motivation. You can start by actually reading this blog post to the end… if you can’t take 5 minutes to scroll through these resources, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you (though I wish you the best, of course!)
We’re going to get started with the basics:
It starts like this: an annoyingly simple, 5-step plan. It’s pretty much what you’d find anywhere else. The difference is, I’ll be breaking these steps down into their core components. This is the recipe, but I’m going to give you the ingredients and instructions, and even the best tools for the job.
- IDEA generating a powerful premise
- OUTLINE creating a story structure outline
- DRAFT sprints and word count goals
- EDIT best writing apps and software
- PROOFREAD the writing and editing process
But I promise, my *basics* are comprehensive and will leave your head spinning. These tools and resources have taken me a decade to produce, and thousands of authors have found them not only helpful, but life-changing.
And because procrastination is my super power – (honestly, I’m amazing at doing nothing and refuse to do the work that must be done) – I’ll share some strategies to help you finish your book with single-minded focus, regardless of time constraints.
And at the end, I’ll even share a printable book template you can use to stay organized. Are you ready for this? Then keep reading… or bookmark this page to come back with a fresh mind and a dark cup of coffee.
Generating a powerful premise or topic
IDEA generating a powerful premise
1 what is it about (inherent conflict, impossible quest, man in tree)
For novels, compelling fiction is about drama, which means unresolved tension and conflict. It’s the unknown of what will happen next that keeps us turning pages. There’s an old adage about putting your character in a tree and then throwing rocks at them… or lighting the tree on fire.
You increase the tension and unforeseen consequences until they are both personally involved and willing to be destroyed by this impossible quest.
For nonfiction, you still need a unique and powerful premise and hook. Why this book, who is it for, what will they learn, how is it different.
2 new combination of ideas people want
Creativity is rarely something completely new: in fact all modern definitions of creativity define is at a mixing or blending of things that are already popular or successful, in order to make something new *of value* (that’s the key thing here: you can make something new of no value, which might be “creative” but isn’t useful – for most books, they will be judged on their usefulness in terms of reader enjoyment and satisfaction, or on a more base level, whether people could even suffer through the first few chapters.
You can write a book in a month easily, but it might be all crap. This is also fine, if it’s a rough draft and you’re just discovering the story – the first draft is usually crap. Accept that now, but be aware it’s going to need a lot of work and polishing (that’s OK too, you make it good, and then make it better, in the editing stages – not the writing stages).
3 a story worth telling/impossible quest
I mentioned this briefly but let’s break it down: an “Impossible Quest” means the story offers a challenge that the current protagonist is unable to handle. A story worth telling, implies this level of drama. It matters, it’s remarkable, because it left a mark on your protagonist by forcing them to change or become.
The story is the entire set of circumstances leading to that change or choice: and to be effective you have to start off with hard resistance, like something they believe in, would never do, or refuse to give up. You define them with these limits and then force them to question things.
If you have a nonfiction book or memoir, this part will probably be your “hero’s origin” story or the vulnerable story you begin with that confirms this is information gained at a cost.*
* every new discovery or reveal should have a cost, information should never be common or easy to attain. You increase the value and the intrigue by making each piece of information something unique, unknown, that must be fought for.
As an easy example, at the beginning of 2022’s Star Trek New Worlds, several people ask the broken protagonist “what happened out there” and why he isn’t ready to go back to his command, but he rebuffs them with “it’s classified.” You develop intrigue by referring to a character’s tragic past but not revealing it until much later.
4 focus on your audience
There’s two big reasons to start with this:
one, it’s more likely people will actually like your book (which you may think you don’t care about right now, but you definitely will later).
two, it’s much easier to write a book on purpose if you know what kind of thing you’re writing.
This doesn’t necessarily mean “write to market” – though I have no problems with that term. It means not assuming your ill-informed, un-researched book is going to be a smash hit for no reason. It means respecting your readers enough to get to know who they are and what they like.
5 research your genre
You also need to read other competitors in the space; and write something better than what already exists (which you cannot do if you don’t know what’s out there.)
In my MA program, I hated this idea: my ideas were all unique, why would I need to do a “literature review” first? It’s because your book needs to be about something, and for someone. Choosing not to put it in any box is still a willful choice, it just means your book will be uncategorized and discovered by nobody.
No matter what your book actually contains, nobody will read it if you can’t give them a reason to: knowing how to describe your book in a sentence or two – in a way that’s both attractive and novel – is a whole other challenge (blurb writing).
You aren’t researching your genre just to copy+paste a story: you’re learning how to describe the story you want to write, in a way that readers engage with. But also, you don’t want to spend months or years writing a book that nobody likes or buys (which is actually why – for many reasons – I recommend writing a quick draft in a month over trying to write a masterpiece in a decade… you’ll level up faster by writing more in a short period of time).
creating a story structure outline
OUTLINE creating a story structure outline
6 chapter outlines for plotters & pantsers
If you’re new to writing, there are basically two kinds of book production:
- plotters plot and organize first
- pantsers write by the seat of their pants.
These two correlate to a Time article about creativity that distinguished between the analytical and the intuitive. No judgments, but pantsing is more satisfying because it feels like magic (intuitive); whereas plotting my feel boring.
In my experience, neither side has “better writers” and their are great writers on both types. But I strongly believe that for starting out learning a new skill, it absolutely helps to have a roadmap so you can finish books faster and learn more without getting lost in the weeds.
I had tons of trouble writing books because it’s very difficult to fix a broken plot, and much easy to start with an outline: after reading tons and tons of books on writing, I found that no single “chapter outline” or “plotting template” worked because they were mostly based on the hero’s journey which doesn’t entirely work for fiction: so I made my own modified version called the Plot Dot that’s more effective.
It doesn’t tell you what to write; it only guides you to be mindful of the major turning points a compelling book will have. Focusing on hitting these major points gives your novel structure and momentum.
But I wanted to do even more, so I made a detailed 24-chapter plot outline that I think is pretty great (and a lot of writers agree). You can even download templates so check that out…
And if you write nonfiction or memoir, I have chapter outlines for you too!
- The Plot Dot (basic dramatic fiction turning points)
- 24-chapter novel plotting templates
- Nonfiction chapter outlines (memoir and more)
I prefer to just write in Microsoft Word – but if you’re having trouble keeping track of a complex timeline, you might like a plotting/timeline tool like Plottr.
7 creative story prompts & mind-maps for subconscious inspiration
The plot outline templates are just touchpoints – you’re trying to jump quickly between the major turning points and filling in spaces as you go. The more touchpoints you have linking them, the tighter and faster your progress will be.
However you’ll always get stuck in the middle. You can’t see everything when you start off and writing a book is a process of continuously arriving at and getting stuck at the next scene. Just because you know what happens, doesn’t mean you’ve seen it yet.*
*for me personally, I can know what happens, but I can’t write it until I see it in my mind’s eye playing out; where everybody is, what it looks like, what the characters say to each other… I’m still discovering or pantsing that stuff in real-time, even if I start with a detailed story outline.
Nevertheless, it’s absolutely normal to get stuck. If you have no idea what comes next, that’s usually not something you can solve by staring at the blank page. Let your mind be stuck for awhile, do something else and the solution will usually appear (you can’t solve everything at the beginning, so some of the best insights will serve to fill in the blanks much later).
If you don’t know what to write about, try some random story prompt generators. One thing I’m playing with right now is the AI writing tool Jarvis, which might spit out some fun ideas, and I’d like to build a writing prompt tool that makes up fun prompts. I also watch a ton of Netflix looking for common tropes or themes that might work (nothing specific, but they do a good job of cramming in multiple points of subconflict through sideplots).
Add a Dinosaur – I haven’t finished writing this article yet, but I like the idea of adding a dinosaur whenever things get slow or feel tedious; with those chapters that feel meaningless or boring. There probably isn’t anything actively threatening your characters. No matter the genre – this doesn’t have to be a big action thriller – your characters need to have something they are trying to prevent. Something they want to happen or don’t want to happen. Something that must not happen.
The trick is to establish their resistance to it first, and then of course, let the thing happen (if the thing just happened without the build up, it wouldn’t be an impossible story: your hero could just magically resolve the issue without being forced to change. It only works if you show that this thing is impossible for this character.
So just for fun, as a writing prompt, start with “what’s the worst thing that could happen right now” or just add a dinosaur and let your characters react. Later you can turn the “dinosaur” into whatever kind of dramatic interruption is better suited for your story.
8 bridging scenes
I don’t think I’ve found a good way to talk about this but I’ll try to be brief, because I do think it’s an important insight. The big scenes when something happens are usually easier and more fun to write. It may even feel like “that’s the real story” and hitting those turning points is important… but you might end up with a short book.
The harder parts are those in-between bits.
Those scenes that feel lame or tired, where nothing is really happening.
These scenes usually come together last, but are often the best parts.
These in-between scenes are a chance for your characters to relax and get to know each other. You balance them between the big shocking twists; and sometimes you create them by forcing your characters to pause by preventing them from taking action.
(What’s the next thing they need to do? Maybe they can’t make a move until the bank opens in the morning; hence an opportunity for a slower scene).
These might be the vulnerable shares – late in the book – when the characters are finally opening up and sharing backstory. Or they might be the silly fun stuff that happens… and are important because at the end of the book you’ll have a slide-show of touching moments as the hero reflects back on the journey; so those trivial earlier scenes actually become the critical catalyst that gives him the strength to choose differently.
I talk more about this in the “world-worth saving” – but the key takeaway here is that there will be messy parts in the middle that feel unfinished as you write the first draft, and that’s OK – we’ll circle back to them in the editing phases.
sprints and word count goals
DRAFT sprints and word count goals
9 writing sprints and deadlines
Here’s the basic idea: it’s very hard to *write a book.*
So don’t try to do that. Instead, you write a small crappy scene at a time, in bursts of panic and madness. You do what you can, when you can. You’re looking with a flashlight and you only see one little scene at a time. Write it down. The first draft is about loosely figuring out what happens.
But it’s very easy to get demotivated because writing a book seems like such a big project, and holding a whole book in your head is exhausting. But you don’t need to do that. And you’re not even responsible for the quality (you’ll always do the best you can; which will always improve as you gain experience). Plus it’s helpful to accept and know that your first draft will suck and that’s the goal, because you can’t edit a blank page.
It can be hard to make progress because for most people, writing a book is a life goal with no deadline, and it’s just too easy to do nothing. So, we need to create deadlines. The easiest way is with a writing sprint – most people suggest 20 or 30 minutes at a time, with a timer. I also recommend writing with a bluetooth keyboard and a smart phone app (I like “IAwriter”).
The smaller screen will get you out of your head; there are even some cool apps or games, like writeordie or 4thewords that add pressure or prizes. One cool one I’ve seen is squibler’s “most dangerous writing app” that comes with a hardcore mode, but I don’t think it’s totally finished yet.
Some people like to team up and do shared sprints – as social interaction can be motivating as well; whether in an online group, virtual meetup or real-life writing retreat.
10 momentum and the two brains
You have an analytic, editing brain and an intuitive, drafting brain.
You want to stick to your creative side, to visualize innovative scenes and ideas – which means you need to be careful not to edit yourself (some hardcore writing apps even prevent you from backspacing or even seeing the words you type, like Ilys).
The key here is speed. You need to outrun your rational brain.
As a side-note, I bought a tattoo machine from ebay and gave myself some ankle tattoos when I was working in an outdoor school outside of Boston: one for jupiter, and one for saturn – my two ruling planets. Jupiter is reckless and effusive, all enthusiasm. Saturn is cautious and careful.
Like me, you’re probably ruled by both; but each is better used for certain types of creative production, and in the drafting phases you need to maintain the creative energy – passion, inspiration, but most importantly, momentum.
You are running over icy waters and you can’t stop; if there’s a hole or debris you leap over it and keep going… if there’s a typo or you use the wrong word – come back to it later. Stay with the scene and write as much as you can see until it runs out of steam.
You can’t see everything all at once, so during the first pass you’re leapfrogging over opaque water, landing on the visible parts of the story that you can see. I call this scaffolding, and it’s the same principle: this stuff might not even make it into the final story! It’s just the rough, cheap wooden structure that allows you to move those big, heavy stones into places. Eventually you can lose the scaffolding or replace it with better content, but it was necessary to even reach the right places.
11 measurable progress
The previous section was about forcing urgency into short, timed-bursts, but a book is a long-term project, so it’s also useful to keep track of your progress with a notepad or calendar. Many writers just mark down the times of their 30 minute sprints and their word-counts.
150 words in a 20 minute sprint is pretty average, so 500 words an hour isn’t bad. See if you can shoot for that at the beginning. You might find, if you’re really in a scene, you can write for an hour or two and end up with many thousands of words (I tend to average 2000 words a day when I’m writing; sometimes 5000 words a day if I’m panicking, and mostly zero words a day when I’m procrastinating).
You can set daily goals or weekly goals, and mark off your calendar with your daily wordcounts, your arbitrary deadline, and other things. Sometimes just a big red X when you do *any* writing is enough – once you start, you’ll want to keep the chain going.
Some tools keep a daily record, like www.writeeveryday.app
Many of these pieces come together during National Novel Writing Month: there’s a fixed deadline of 30 days and a fixed word count goal of 50,000 words (the length of an average, shortish rough draft – full novels tend to be between 65K to 95K.)
I like Nanowrimo because it’s a shared excuse to ignore your life for a month and focus on the goal of writing a book. If friends and family don’t understand, you can point out it’s like a totally real thing that millions of people are doing. I like it enough that I got an #amwriting tattoo and rented some castles, but I don’t do it every year.
It’s a great source of great mental anguish and it forces you to do the work. If nothing else, if you finish your 50K of drivel, you’ll know that you have what it takes – that it is possible – to write a book in a month.
It takes roughly 20 days to form a writing habit, so Nanowrimo is mostly about establishing a writing practice; go into it knowing that all your words might be crap and that it doesn’t matter, because you’re building a muscle and training your abilities. You can get better. You can write better. But not if you haven’t established a daily writing habit, and in the beginning, you need to carve out space for that in your life.
best writing apps, tool and software
EDIT best writing apps and software. (I probably should have called this the “production” stage as opposed to the “planning” stage but whatever… I’m messy.)
12 ok but like, HOW do I even start the actual writing?
One word at a time.
Start with what your character’s need or want or lack. Show them in the “ordinary” world or status quo which is their regular-existence. Build in some sympathy by showing they are kind, they are oppressed, they are unfulfilled. I have some good tips on making a likable character in this video:
Ps. I have over 3 million views on YouTube, I’m not a great speaker but I have excellent content (sometimes) if you want to subscribe to my channel.
After that, you have the inciting incident where something new, novel or interesting happens. Something out of place and uncomfortable, something slightly challenging that your protagonist ignores at first until… it forces them onto a new path, not always of their choosing.
The first half of the novel, they’re still just trying to go back to their comfortable, safe, status quo life. At the midpoint, they realize they are now invested enough in this new world that they want to fight for it; the second half the novel is an escalating series of big failures until the final, core-destroying shift that allows them to become who they need to be to resolve things.
If this sounds dramatic, one example I like is from the novel Emma by Jane Austen. She keeps meddling in people’s affairs until she messes up so big she finally realizes, maybe she’s been wrong about everything – and this clarity allows her to make a different personal choice for her own life as well.
I’m just saying, it doesn’t have to be a dinosaur, it can be an epiphany – but even that is a destructive flash of lightning that tears down everything they thought they knew.
For fiction, try to get from the status quo to the point of no return, which is roughly 15,000 words and 1/4th of your story (the inciting incident or weirdness might happen pretty quickly, but explanations or answers won’t start to arrive until later: I actually have a chart somewhere of which answers you need to give at what point in your story, but I’ll save that for later).
For nonfiction, I’d start with the preface, introduction and first chapter, which are essential to define what your book is about, who it’s for, and why it matters – you need to get buy-in by presenting benefits and connecting with your reader. Here are 13 smart things you can do, based on Napoleon Hill’s think and grow rich.
Alternatively, you can skip around to the big, exciting scenes. I often figuring out my climactic ending first and work out how to get there.
13 best book writing software/tools
Lots of people prefer to use a handwritten writing notepad – and that’s great for idea generation. I recommend having one (even though writers are known for collecting fancy notepads they never use). At summer camp we used to call these “pocket brains” for jotting down quick ideas, but I do that on my phone now. Sometimes I’ll even jot down full scenes on my phone, in bed or running an errand – I may even have to pull over the car to stop and capture the insight.
But to write a real book you’re probably going to want a word processing software. I prefer microsoft word, even though it’s kind of buggy. You can actually make all your headings and subheadings by using styles so they show up in the left-hand “navigation pane” and then drag and drop sections around later.
As I mentioned, I prefer to do sprints on my phone and transfer that content into my Word document to clean up, organize and edit – you could do the same with any of the writing apps I mentioned earlier. Some people prefer Google Docs for this (an online option updates and saves your work across all devices); I usually use dropbox or similar to move content around.
And then, there’s Scrivener – a tool built for writers that a lot of authors love. I’m personally not a huge fan, but I get the appeal. Like similar writing apps, it allows you to keep notes and character descriptions and a bunch of random stuff including notecards and scene summaries altogether. Very useful for pantsers who need to contain their madness but don’t want anything as rigid as a plot outline. For me, I like Word’s simplicity and I keep all the lose junk inside the manuscript in designated sections to copy+paste from.
14 Best laptops & keyboards for writers
You don’t need any fancy devices or software to write your book, so don’t overcomplicate things. That said, you’re probably going to want a pretty decent portable device (even just a bluetooth keyboard to pair with your phone or tablet); and a pretty powerful laptop or desktop – something capable of running your software of choice. A simple, cheap Chromebook might be a good option if you write in Google docs – I also like something with a timer though at home I have both a fancy hour-glass and a timer-light that I turn on as a “do not disturb” sign to keep people out of my process and to keep me focused.
That said, there’s no harm in buying yourself something nice that feels good. Because as we’ll discuss later, writing is hard, and any little trick that improves your mood and focus a tiny bit can help. So get something you enjoy using that makes you feel cool. Maybe even something expensive, as an investment and sign that you’re committed to doing this (alternatively, as a reward for getting it done – but it’ll be more useful to get it first and then let the guilt of its presence stir you towards using it).
What do I mean? Years ago I bought myself a gorgeous Penna keyboard that I still love, though at home I haven’t found anything I like more than a Logi MX keys. I have an old foldable belkin that’s my favorite thing ever but they stopped making them (I bought 3 extra but they were all DOA). The Logitech K380 is great too; I keep a list of my favorite writing keyboards here.
For laptops, I adore the 13″ Asus Zenbook though it’s a little outdated. I’m considering getting a new M1 macbook mostly so I can occasionally use Vellum which is the best book formatting software around. I previously bought myself a RazerBlade because it’s black and looks cool but it’s not quite powerful enough for a full-on desktop.
There’s also fun stuff like the Alphasmart or Freewrite Traveler.
But the idea here is, go a little beyond the function and consider the form and aesthetics: create a writing environment that makes you feel good, confident, professional. But also make sure you can pound on the keys without being self-conscious or obnoxious – some of the vintage keyboards I like are classy, but loud.
So that’s basically it! Pound those keys until you’ve got 50K of content. The more you plan and plot, the less editing it may need; but even so, it’s important to keep in mind that writing a book is a step-by-step process and that editing and revising are a huge portion of it. This means that some of the best work, your best words, won’t even bother showing up until you’ve got the basics stuff in the right places, and you can start fine tuning it.
the writing and editing process
PROOFREAD the writing and editing process.
I typically go through a novel 7 or 8 times before it’s done, but I’ve simplified it into a reliable four-step process of revising, editing and proofreading.
It’s worth mentioning that you can write a book quickly in 30 days or less, using the tips above, but editing may take significantly longer, especially when you’re not used to it: and in my experience the best stuff comes very late in this process so “writing a good book” – something most authors fail to do – requires you to master the following section as well.
(Lots of new authors will just send off a rough draft to a developmental editor and let them try and sort it out, but there’s only so much they can do and they won’t write the story for you. This is part of the work… it’s important, and most authors never get into this deep craft or revision stuff.)
15 first draft (what happens)
After you have a rough draft, you want to fill in the blanks; but you’re focused on what actually happens: the action, the stuff you can see and feel. Don’t worry about the details of it all yet, just move things around and make sure you have all the right scenes in the right places.
There’s also quite a bit you can do to improve your rough draft, by focusing on some basic writing tips like adding conflict (story thrives on conflict, so in this first stage, that’s usually the only thing I focus on – weak scenes have little or no conflict, so you should add some in so every scene has a little tension).
For a deeper review of your writing, check out my scene checklist, which includes the 3 types of conflict you should include.
I’m sure I have this all written down somewhere, in my book probably, but here’s a video tutorial walking you through it…
16 second draft (why it matters)
Once everything is in the right place, the next big thing is figuring out the emotional depth – or the character motivation. Why are these people doing these things? Why does it matter to them? The thing needs to be very difficult for them, but they must persist anyway. Without proper motivation, the story will feel forced or melodramatic.
This includes having reasonable emotional reactions to things, that are fair and balanced and believable. And it will most likely be based on their tragic backstory. The key here – with infodumps and backstory – is to resist telling it, the more important it is.
You keep what’s important private and hidden until it is forced out of you. I made a clever little graphic for when you should be revealing what type of information, depending on what type of questions your protagonist is asking.
In the beginning, they’ll be asking
“What is going on?”
“Who is doing this” or “Who am I?”
“Why is all this happening” or “why am I willing to sacrifice everything for this…” – you don’t get to the big reveals or why’s or critical, full backstory flashback until very late in the book, often in the middle of the final battle scene (that’s a whole thing on its own but I have a video about that too).
The point is, you need a plausible reason for your characters to be doing things but you don’t have to reveal everything at once. Smart characters don’t get into trouble on purpose, so they need to plan ahead and take any precautions that they need, but also be surprised by something they didn’t expect.
17 final revisions (how it looks)
Once I have all that in place, I’ll build up the scene description.
What does this look like?
You might have heard, “Show don’t tell!” but been confused about what it means. Very simply, if you keep asking “What does this look like?” it’ll help you avoiding telling.
Telling is you standing behind a screen making fingershadows while you tell a story; showing is you playing a movie and sitting in the back with your lips shut.
If you picture the scene in your head and describe it, you’re showing.
She drank greedily from the water, spilling it over her blouse and using the cool liquid to rub the sweat off her neck…
She was thirsty…
How do we know she was thirsty? Who do the other characters know – what did they see that gave them that impression? What does it look like?
With scene description, you want to avoid cliches by focusing on what’s different. Don’t say it looked like a typical high school science classroom; that’s not description. You’re not showing them your scene, you’re asking them to refer to their shared knowledge of their own memories. It’s a symbol, not a scene.
You create unique scenes by focusing on what’s unexpected or different. It was a typical science classroom, except for the scorched blackboard and pile of moth-eaten bones from a sample skeleton stuff rudely into an open closet…
You don’t need to show every detail, just a few details that are unexpected or out of place.
This is also where I’d focus on what they’re wearing – when did they last change clothes or shower? What objects or gear do they have with them; keeping track of object permanence is important at the later stages… if they need something important, you need to plant it innocuously much earlier without calling too much attention to it, and giving them a plausible reason to grab it or pick it up so it doesn’t feel like they were just magically prepared with the perfect solution later.
18 proofreading (now)
Finally, when most things are OK, I’ll do a round of copy-editing and/or line-editing.
What’s the difference? Line editing is about the style (word choice, sentence structure), copyediting is about the form and function (punctuation, typesetting, spelling/grammar). If you’re hiring an editor, make sure you know what they’re most qualified for. A developmental editor would help with more of the crucial story stuff I listed earlier, and they might be super helpful, but you can also learn to identify and resolve common writing mistakes on your own.
For a final proofreading, I prefer Grammarly, which finds more actual mistakes and typos under the “correctness” tab (you need to ignore a ton of stuff too, as it will criticize all your commas…)
The point of “NOW” is to focus on cleaning it up and getting it ready for someone to actually read.
19 Forget about finding the perfect first sentences
In terms of writing style or writing quality, it matters much less than you think it does, so don’t over think or overpolish. In my experience, most of the time, fancy, flowery writing may be beautiful but is also distracting – it’s often something amateur writers use to cover up the fact they have no story.
Beautiful writing calls attention to itself; it marks the passage as important. You can’t have every sentence be important or the story will become meaningless. So a good book will have a lot of good enough sentences with a strong story, and a handful of stunning sentences that stand out and hit hard – use them where appropriate, to ornament your most important, emotional scenes.
That said… the sentences at the start and end of every scene or chapter, should be pretty great. Recently I’ve been experimenting with AI writing software, and I feel like it’s not the worst idea to “spin” your opening and closing sentences around to see what the robots come up with – it might be something much stronger than what you had already. I also think it works great with blurbs.
PS. I broke this rule when writing my book about writing and allowed myself to fall in love with my fancy vocabularly and sentences and flowery images; thinking that authors would appreciate it more. They did not.
Common writing mistakes (25 self-editing tips)
There’s a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t covered yet, but I highly recommend reading through my list of COMMON WRITING MISTAKES (advanced stuff). These are things that nearly all first-time authors get wrong – and they’re easy to fix once you’re aware of them. They will, more than anything, drastically improve your story by avoiding a few stylistic choices. You want to tell the best version of your story, but these are the things that will make your book feel unprofessional.
Every page of your book needs to confirm that you know what you’re doing; so that readers trust you’ll lead them to a satisfying resolution. Give them too many reasons to doubt your craft, and they’ll give up. There’s also these posts:
- 25 Self-Editing Tips for Indie Authors (and 8 amateur writing mistakes)
- The 6 signs of weak writing (how to tell if your book sucks)
UPDATE! I’m rewriting this article so I haven’t finished everything yet… come back soon to read the rest!
Motivation, procrastination (maximize your writing productivity)
So that’s the stuff about writing. It’s not that hard. You know what is hard? Actually doing the work, even when you don’t feel like it – which for most writers, is all the time. Seriously there are memes about it – but I prefer the quote from one of Thomas Mann’s novels:
“A writer is one who finds writing more difficult than other people.”
Writers are people for whom writing is harder than others
So a huge, huge part of being a successful writer and actually writing a book in a month is the mindset game.
21 manage expectations
22 practice in public
23 quotes from books on creativity
24 Fear, doubt, anxiety.
25 Fix your BRAIN (some sketchy stuff if you’re into that)
I was anti-drugs when I was younger until agonizing migraines and undiagnosed ADHD forced me to look for help. I’m still amazing at procrastination, but I accept that I need a little help regulating my neurotransmitters and I’ve made peace with that.
26 consistency, time and place. totems schedule writing routine
27 OR, fuckit… caffeine fueled last minute deadline binge.
28 You don’t write a good book by… perfectionism is fear in high heels. #amwriting story
29 consider your GOALS, picture the relief and joy, find your why
30 writer’s mindset. do the work don’t judge the work. watch your negative thinking and excuses.
31 everything is a placeholder.
32 announce your book, deadlines/MONTH
33 make a book cover
34 Give yourself a new identity
35 get SOCIAL…
How to write a novel in a month – Your first 10,000 readers
Tell us about the hardest part about writing a novel? That’s right, otherwise everyone wrote it. If we can overcome our own fears we can find a routine that works for us, which could make a difference and the results can change our lives. You can find lots of advice on how to write & tell stories in online resources. Some are good. But we don’t learn how authors implement this advice. Then give someone a list of tips for a good book or if they want something to do with the book then you need to get them back on the couch to have some fun and enjoy the experience. But life can’t be avoided.
How to write a novel in a month?
These articles may contain links from affiliates. We may make money through the click and purchase of your purchases without your payment. We have disclosed the information you require. There is something wonderful and thrilling when someone slaps up paper on a table and says, “I’ve got a whole story written within an hour!”. You have a grin comparable to Cheshire Cats at the moment and you are happy and smug. You created this story for the first time in your life, and this is your story for thirty days now. How does one start writing novel in a month?
Summarize ideas for each scene’s purpose
Do what it takes to make it feel real.
Fill the sandbox, then make castles (quote/link?)
How To Make Time To Write?
End a writing session only when you know what’s next
Don’t wear paint smock
Tap into a network
Embrace a new mindset
Write a general synopsis: Know where your novel is headed
Is it possible to write a novel in a month?
Do preparatory journal-writing tasks
- Can you write a book in 1 month?
- How much does a book writer make a month?
- How do you write a novel in 30 days or less?
- What is the average time to write a book?
- Can you write a book in a month?
- Can you write and publish a book in a month?
- How many months does it take to write a book?
- Can you write a novel in a month?
- How do you write a novel in 30 days?
- How many months does it take to write a novel?
- Is it possible to write a book in 2 months?
- Is it possible to write a novel in a month?
- How quickly can a novel be written?
- Is a book a month good?
- How do you fill out a book in a month?
- How much book should I read in a month?
- Can I write a book in one month?
- Is 1 book a month good?
- How many books should I read a month?
- Is 1 book a week good?
- How do you read a book every month?
- How much is Book of the Month monthly?
- What is a Book of the Month credit?
- Is Book of the Month Free?
- What does good read mean?
- Is good read grammatically correct?
- How do you praise a good read?
- What’s a really good book to read?
How much money do you need to write a book?
Publishers publish books in the average amount between $5,000 and $5,000. Some of them spend fewer, and some are as low as $2000. How much self-publishing costs can be divided: Professional editing: It takes many different types of editing.
Almost always, if an author isn’t selling, it’s because their page isn’t converting. You need 3 things to succeed, a great blurb, cover, and enough reviews to offset skepticism. I can help you fix those things; I can also help craft your pitch or hook – which is critical for your amazon page. I can also do keyword and category research to optimize your Amazon page and make sure your book shows up in search results.
After that, it’ll help to
A) build your email list and build relationships with fans and
B) paid advertising.
Unfortunately I can’t do ALL of this for you, because it’s time consuming and I would have to charge a lot, and it probably wouldn’t be profitable for you (it would have to be profitable enough to cover adspend and pay me for my time and expertise). But I can help make your book as marketable as possible to boost conversions and online visibility, and also give you some great ad graphics and social media graphics, and a handful of hook and pitch variations you can test until you know which converts the best.
These are the things that will VASTLY reduce the amount of spinning wheels, wasted time and money, and overwhelm and feeling like you’re Prometheus, pushing the stone back up hill every day without ever getting to the top. With my help and strategies, it will be much easier to build up momentum and get the book selling by itself, so you can go back to writing
(You should only have to spend a few hours a week on marketing). That said, you WILL have to learn this stuff. Nobody else can do it as well as you can, and the alternative is almost always paying too much for “author marketing services” or publicity which might make you famous for a day but won’t actually sell any books. So if you’d like to be a full-time writer, and you’re willing to learn enough about the publishing industry to make smart choices, you can grab my guide to Guerrilla Publishing – I’m going to open enrollment soon so you’ll get first dibs if you sign up for the free book (even if you’ve signed up before; I just added a new video series that will help you level up fast.
Creativity myths I want to challenge
In my own work and experience, after having been a creative professional for over a decade (including as a fine artist, author and entrepreneur) I’m struggling with HOW to create more great work that matters, which includes things like finding my audience, communicating benefits, increasing productivity and output, defeating procrastination and upping quality.
Here are some myths that are counterproductive.
#1 Quality vs. Time
There’s a myth that things made slowly are of better quality. Sometimes this is the case: a factory makes tables. A craftsmen makes one beautiful table a year and sells it for 100X the profit. But books especially are not a luxury market, and art has long since parted ways with technical proficiency. Van Gogh and the Impressionists painted beautiful art quickly – in an hour or two – that are now worth just as much as the beautifully wrought, perfectly conceived masters of fine art.
One of my favorite painters, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, with one of my least favorite, Picasso.
If there’s one thing I pointed out in this article, it’s that the commercial appeal – and thus ultimate success – of a book is not the book: it’s the hook or pitch. It’s the comparative titles and target audience. Because other wise, you won’t be able to get the book read.
Which means, you can dramatically increase the value of a book by proper planning, research and analysis. You can also use Pam Slim’s 5 step model for creative work, “what, who, why, how and when” to make sure you have a clearly designed product, for a specific audience, and also know why they’ll care or want it (value/benefits that resonate with intended audience). Then you can focus on the HOW by reading bestsellers in the genre and borrow tried and true, universal story telling motifs or structure that have worked for previous projects. Then you can add a deadline (when).
Most authors only ever do the FIRST of these 5 steps (writing what they want).
Then they don’t know what they’re making, how to make it, who will read it or why anyone should care… and with all that lack, they go out and try to sell it anyway! A much faster way of writing good books would be to do the planning and research first.
Yeah but in a MONTH?
#1, every creative skill should get faster and better with time and practice. Not only will you have the skills to do a better job the first time with less revision, but you’ll also be able to immediately “see” how it should all fit and work. Your epiphanies will be quicker to arrive and with deeper insight. Your word choice and fluency should both improve at the same time. Writing isn’t easy, but you should at least INTEND to write faster, because that means you’ll be getting better.
#2, books take a certain amount of time to write. If you can write 500 words a day, that’s 3 novels a year. Most people write a first draft, then revise or play or fix or tweak for 5 years, until they have 10 drafts and extra chapters and it’s such a mess they avoid it for 9 months, but still say they’re “writing a book.”
Writing faster is not JUST about improving your word count. It’s about setting a daily writing habit, and also about learning to lay down a cleaner rough draft. It’s possible to write a book, send it off to the editor, and get it published. You don’t have to go through the painful revision process (I draft well, then do a heavy edit and improve features and details).
I can write a book in a month (though most months I don’t, I’ve done it before) then I can edit in a few weeks and it’s ready to go up. Some of my friends have editors and cover designers on their payroll, so they can just finish the writing and get it cleaned up before publishing.
Yeah but is it any GOOD?
I let my readers decide. And here’s where things get weird. People like my books. I get great reviews. But some authors will argue that popular books, or books that don’t earn money, are not good. And that art is “better” when it is written by a slow writer enjoying the process, even if it has less market value.
I’ve had this argument dozens of times on Facebook, here are a few of my comments.
“You’re either trying to please the much smaller market that appreciates “art”, or the much larger market that appreciates story (to drastically simplify). Choosing a smaller market does not make you a better writer; choosing a large market that will love your books does not make you a panderer. If you think the majority of the populace is the lowest common denominator, you’re going to have trouble writing fiction that sells. Which is fine, if you choose to prioritize art over income. When you argue that writing art is necessarily better (of intrinsic aesthetic and qualitative value) than writing for money (books that more people love to pay for) keep in mind that’s not a universal ideology of creative production…. and often something authors grow out of before finding success.”
“You’re assuming that quickly produced books written to market are of inferior quality, or that readers enjoy them less – neither of which is true. It’s one reason writers continue to avoid writing to market, and spend years writing books, because they think they’re writing “quality” books. I’m now earning a living with my fiction and have over 500 reviews, and I think it’s a mistake to assume it’s all because of marketing, or that my books aren’t objectively, quantifiable ‘good’ just because my production method goes against the grain of romantic ideologies.”
“Quality is subjective – I define quality as “people enjoy reading it.” If people don’t enjoy your story, the quality of the writing doesn’t matter; and if you want to make a living as a writer, so you can devote 100% of your time to improving your craft, you need books that sell. Writing books for an audience, writing more books faster, and earning revenue from them so you don’t need to worry about making a living, can all help improve the quality of your writing. Most writers, writing courses and programs, gurus and books focus on the craft – which is why millions of writers are writing books nobody will ever read. Is a good book still good if nobody enjoys it? Maybe, but that’s not the kind of writer I want to be.”
I sound like a pretentious grad student, so I’ll try to break it down below.
#1 Novelty vs. Sameness
Some authors think real art is the fresh and the new, but most academic definitions of creativity are about creating something new that also has value. Traditional publishers and Hollywood are not looking for NEW. They’re looking for things that are similar to established sellers, which have an easily identifiable market – they want something that ticks all the right boxes while also being new and fresh. It’s a blend. Allen Gannett calls this the creative curve.
According to Gannet,
There is a science and a method to achieving mainstream success, one that anyone can work to master.
“As far as trends are concerned, research identifies two seemingly contradictory urges in the human psyche: People crave the familiar, yet seek the novel… John Berger’s 2016 book Invisible Influence described how ideas that are “similar, but different” have the most social influence. Industrial designers observe this phenomenon in a principal called “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.
#2 Quality vs Popularity
Here’s the funny thing: the best “ART” is avant-garde stuff that surprises and delights viewers. But a lot of it, especially with modern art, has not other value besides the novelty factor. It can be fun to exhibit something really different and shocking, something totally new, but if it doesn’t “catch on” it will be quickly forgotten.
Recently we went to an exhibit of classic cars at the Portland Art Museum – all the examples were beautiful, but still massive failures: they were innovative design, but didn’t fulfill the basic comforts and features required by actual people. Their founders spent years showcasing their design and seeking funding – but they were never produced, because they were too expensive to make and too exotic for the market.
I think this argument is true: better quality does not increase value; popularity does. I’d also argue that real art gets seen, so if your work doesn’t resonate enough with actual read readers to get shared and enjoyed, you’ll need to try harder.
More popular books are not necessarily better than high quality books, but they do have larger social impact and more financial earnings, which may allow the creators to focus on improving their craft.
Also, firmly, quantity leads to quality. If you want to become a violinist, would you improve faster by practicing 4 hours a day, or 30 minutes on the weekends? The fastest way to improve is to actively do the thing. The most books you finish, the better you’ll become at writing books. You can gain a decade worth of skill in just one year, if you’re committed and serious about writing.
#3 Speed vs Ability
I’ve already made the argument that you’ll become a better writer by forcing yourself to write more.
But often people respond with, “I could never do that.”
I usually respond with “You can do anything you want to do.” It used to be hard for me to write 500 words a day. Now I can write 3000 in a couple hours. And they’re getting better, and I don’t get stuck in the middle as often. You don’t HAVE to write quickly. Yes everyone has their own speed and that’s just fine. But: writing shouldn’t JUST be fun and easy. Writing is hard. You shouldn’t quit the project whenever you feel stuck (if you do, you’ll never learn to overcome that specific hurdle).
I have friends who write a book a year and do great. But you do probably need several books, and you’ll have to keep putting out new content – and importantly, you probably won’t be a great writer until you’ve finished 5 or 10 books (and then, only if you’re actually TRYING to write books readers love; if you don’t have a goal or any way to measure quality/value, you’ll just keep writing books nobody wants to read without learning how to satisfy readers. I know authors with 20 books that don’t sell any, and authors with 3 books that make six figures.
All art is commercial
The work that stands the test of time.
Great books last: but ONLY if they become popular. SOME books do get rediscovered later. The Great Gatsby was a commercial failure in its time. But the thing that’s forgotten: books and painting rarely get rediscovered unless an influencer sees the commercial value in a piece of work, and promotes and markets it (often this is much cheaper after the death of an artist).
But things don’t work like that any more.
To make art that has value, you need to steal. You need to be intentional about what kind of thing you’re creating. Who will appreciate this? why will they like it? Who will support and champion your work, and why? What other creatives have been successful doing something similar? How can I make this project relevant for them?
This is my definition or art, quality, etc: people like it. If people love the work, then they won’t feel the negative connotations surrounding the idea of marketing. Selling is service – as long as readers love what they’ve been sold.
Your belief in the value or integrity of your artistic work does not necessarily correlate with the levels of satisfaction readers actually get from your writing.
Recently a boxset I was in lost 2000 preorders apparently we promised too many bonuses, so people were skeptical about the content. For me, as long as the actual readers love the content, it’s OK to invest in marketing. Spammy marketers try to sell you things you don’t want, often of poor quality, in an annoying way.
But if authors with integrity want to connect with readers directly, without relying on desperate and spammy tactics, how is that even done? Every book on creativity talks about building a tribe, an email list or connecting with peers and mentors: real relationships are the best marketing. I know tons of authors who just crank out great books readers love, and that’s all they need to do. The problem is, long term support, you need to get them to like and trust you, which usually happens slowly over time. You can do that on social media, but nothing works as well for building trust than emails.
The truth about the publishing industry
Most writing conferences are super awkward. The agents are listening to pitches, looking for a commercial project. The self-publishing companies are selling publishing and marketing packages. I’m just there to help, so I try to tell authors how easy it is to self-publish; first you have to learn about cover design, so you can recognize quality and choose a good designer. Then you can learn the formatting or hire someone to format for print and ebook. You should read some books on plot and craft and story architecture to fix your story, and hire a developmental editor. Then upload the files to Amazon. Easy!
If you have a great cover, a killer blurb… well then the book will sell. As long as you get at least 10 reviews first. How do you do that? By building an email list of readers who love your genre, with book giveaway and Facebook ads. Or you can give away thousands of copies for free. Then once you have an Amazon page that converts you can run direct ads, and as long as your ads are profitable, you can scale up.
Inevitably, at this point, authors are overwhelmed and heading for the door. They say, “That’s fascinating, but I just want to write books. I don’t want to do all this stuff.”
Even if I tell them to watch out for the self-publishing companies, because they’ll screw up the CRUCIAL things like the cover, and it’s cheaper and more effective to do it themselves, they don’t want to learn all the stuff. They WANT to just pay someone to do it for them. And there are plenty of companies out there to take their money. Almost all the successful self-publishing authors I know are the indie authors who have worked hard to learn everything about publishing and taken control over their own books and marketing.
This puts me in a bad position, because I don’t have a great solution. I tell authors, don’t over pay for all that stuff, do it yourself, do your research, learn and study, start building your platform. Don’t sign with one of those cheap publishing services, those package deals, because I’ve never seen an amazing cover come from one of them (and you need an amazing cover).
In fact, sometimes I wonder if it’s all a plan: they give you a good looking but ultimately unimpressive cover design, which means the book will need to work MUCH harder to sell; which means you’re MUCH more likely to come back, hand in hat, and cave in and buy their expensive marketing services. I don’t think they’re actually that devious however, I think these companies are started by non-designers, and they hire cheap designers, and the work is “good enough.” I tell them I have hundreds of youtube videos, hundreds of blog posts, that will work you through every single part of this stuff, and you can learn to do it all yourself, and that’s the BEST and the CHEAPEST way to be successful.
But it’s not what they want.
In business, you always want to be selling what people are looking for, instead of trying to educate them into wanting something else entirely… which is why I’m bad at business. I usually tell people not to hire me, because there are cheaper options and I don’t want them to be unhappy later if the book isn’t selling; those that hire me anyway do so because I can give them so much more than a cover. In order to SERVE, however, I would have to be offering the things authors think they want or need, and just provide as much help and service as I can.
However, I’m probably done with services because like I said, unless I can control the core product, all the polishing and decorating and marketing STILL won’t fix it. So at the moment, I’m more interested in helping authors write commercial fiction by getting in early.
Authors paying for publishing packages are rarely the successful ones. The authors earning real money don’t pay for publishing packages, but it took them several years of failure to build up their knowledge and writing abilities. But authors are adults: more education is necessary, they should understand the market, but ultimately if they’re happier and more comfortable just paying someone else to do everything, that’s their choice.
How to write books that matter
At one writing conference, I went to two talks with conflicting advice.
The first speaker told us to “write books for YOURSELF.” The author had a couple trad published books (that don’t look like they’re selling that well). This is the common advice, the one writers love to hear, the one creative people respond to. Just write what you’re PASSIONATE about. If you don’t love writing it, others won’t love reading it.
Here’s the problem: Too many people just crank out a book on raw passion and emotion and think it’s amazing because they made it, but it doesn’t resonate with anyone else. Or they spend 5 years polishing and perfecting it. They think it’s amazing because they know how hard they worked on it.
But 95% of the time, they may have a well-written book with zero commercial appeal.
THEY enjoyed writing it, but nobody else wants to read it.
Imagine a plumber who took 10X longer to fix your pipes. Would you pay them 10X more? Would you think he’s done a better job? Probably, he’s an amateur that doesn’t know what he’s doing. But authors argue their book is worth more because it took them longer to write.
The other speaker was all business. “I write books for readers.” He was self-publishing fiction. He knew to have a successful book, he had to make something readers loved, and package and position it in an attractive format. This is the method I support and agree with, because I think it’s easier to write books readers love if you do it on purpose. Learn the rules, study, practice, imitate – all great books on creativity teach us that real art borrows and blends from what came before.
Authors who create in a vacuum tend to make common, easily predictable writing mistakes. Writing without considering the market does not lead to a better book, nor a more successful one. Which means, frustratingly, that the majority of these authors were writing books nobody wanted.
VALUE comes from MARKET
At another conference, there was a woman complaining that an agent didn’t GET her work, or wasn’t supportive enough. Authors want to be artists, they want someone to appreciate their work, their vision. So they go to conferences, they pitch agents and publishers. This usually fails.
Agents aren’t there to encourage you; they want to make you lots of money, they want to help – but if the book isn’t marketable, they can’t sell it. If you can’t immediately communicate in 30 seconds or less why your book is awesome, if YOU don’t know the heart and value of your story, they won’t be able to find it for you. Most authors have been writing a few years, have a bunch of STUFF, are starting to think about publishing, but need help and feedback.
They PAY to talk to an agent for 5 minutes and get feedback. They also pay for things like blurb and critique and first chapter editing, etc. All stuff to help them clarify the benefits, the hook of your book (what happens, why anybody should care) and the marketing aspects (who’s going to buy this, and how will I reach them).
Agents and publishers are desperately looking for that next big thing; the problem is, they don’t know the market and aren’t TRYING to hit the market. They’re trying to predict the market. They want it to sell, but they also want to curate for quality – the entertainment industry, Hollywood, want “similar but different”. They want something comfortable, similar to what’s sold well in the past, something users are familiar with, but also a new and different twist.
According to The Creative Curve,
The standard academic definition of creativity is the ability to make something that is novel, and that also has value… as far as trends are concerned, research identifies two seemingly contradictory urges in the human psyche: People crave the familiar, yet seek the novel.
The problem is, predicting the future of reading trends is hard, and the internet is too fast. Things change quickly. Traditional publishers focus hard on print sales. Some books get huge! Most books fail and don’t earn out their advance. When that happens the author is usually dropped. Even very successful authors sometimes don’t make enough to live on (much more sales, but much fewer royalties).
The average advance for a first time author is about 10K. to earn out that advance, at 10% royalties, you need to sell 100K copies. But if you self publish, you only need to sell 10K copies to be successful. Traditional publishers take care of book design (and will do an awesome job), but not much marketing, usually. (They’ll do the traditional stuff, but most trad publishers have no idea how to sell books online; most trad published authors on Amazon aren’t ranking well and have few reviews – because that’s not their focus.)
Most first time authors don’t know how to publish a book or how to market it, and they want legitimacy and support, so they’d prefer to go traditional… but publishers will only take on commercial projects. It’s not their job to coddle you or believe in their vision. It’s their job to make money, that means they have to be able to sell your book. Most authors have written books that nobody wants to read.
After failing for years (I recently read about an author querying for a decade!) some authors are willing to consider self-publishing. But there are horror stories about self-publishing: usually the self-publishing indie authors work SO HARD and do everything themselves.
I watched a BookBaby presentation in San Francisco, which showed a huge chart of ALL the things, and concluded that successful authors just do MORE of those things. The problem is, they don’t really know why their book is selling so they do everything and are not sure what’s actually working. Most authors look at that and think, that sounds horrifying.
I don’t want to be on social media all day. I don’t want to build a big email list or Facebook group and interact with fans. I don’t want to learn cover design and formatting. They’re probably also thinking about getting an editor who can fix things for them, but aren’t sure how that works or what they need.
At these conferences, there are usually also a line of self-publishing services. They can be enticing, especially when they have done for you packages. And here is where things get a little sketchy. A self-publishing service will take your manuscript and prepare to publish it for you; they often have a la carte menu items as well. But they make money from you, not book sales. (In fact the WORSE your book performs, the more marketing packages they can sell you.)
Some people call all vanity presses and author services scams, because – with enough time and effort – you can figure out self-publishing on your own. But most first time authors don’t want to do that. Self-publishing is a billion dollar industry because authors are willing to pay someone to do all the things they don’t want to do. I’m skeptical of companies selling publishing packages because I know most books don’t make any money, and most authors won’t earn back their investment.
Self-publishing companies will often give authors the support, validation and encouragement they want. And they will help you design and sometimes distribute the book. You’re paying for hand-holding and support. They’ll help you get your book done. Yes, they’re overcharging, but any business that wants to grow must have enough profit margin to spend on ads, and sending out people to writing conferences to acquire new clients.
I don’t think these businesses are a scam: they exist because there’s an enormous market of rejected writers, who are tired of spending years on the conference circuit pitching their book and are finally ready to self-publish, but they don’t actually want to learn it all. Like any good business, they offer what authors actually want and are willing to pay for.
It’s not their job to focus on sales, so they probably don’t know that much about marketing. Also, most marketing offered by these packages doesn’t work for self-publishing (the really important stuff is cover design and blurb). So if these services are too positive – “your book sounds amazing, we’d love to work with you on it, I think it will do really well!” – they are falsely inflating author’s hopes.
And because these package services can be expensive, most authors won’t earn their money back. Let’s be clear: some ARE scams, if they take money and don’t deliver what they promise, or if they keep calling to upsell you with marketing packages. But they are providing what authors think they want and are willing to pay for, in other words, they fill an obvious need and demand.
I spent about 7 years in the publishing services industry, both as an editor, book designer and book marketer, and I found it frustrating and depressing. As an editor, I could fix and improve their story, and make it much better, but that wouldn’t increase the marketability of the project. Even with in-depth line edits and constructive criticism on the manuscript (character motivation and development, plot, conflict, organization) – there’s still only so much I could do to improve a book. So most of the time, even if I was amazing at my job and clients were happy to pay me, I knew they probably wouldn’t earn the money back.
As a cover designer, I was always overbooked, and I tried to do my best work, but was constrained by the author (a real publisher will use the cover that will sell the most copies; but if you’re self-publishing and hiring a cover designer, most of the time they’ll make what you tell them to make, which is probably a bad idea because you don’t know what sells). I was good at my job, and clients were happy – but most of my covers were invisible once they reached Amazon, because the authors had no platform and didn’t know how to start marketing.
So I started teaching about marketing. But even if I could get them a ton of visibility, and put their book (with a great cover) right in front of their target audience, if the audience wasn’t sold by the hook and premise, the book still wouldn’t sell – this is why I don’t charge for book marketing services. Some of my clients have surprised me, getting on Oprah, hitting the NYT bestseller lists, getting funding to turn their books into movies, but I have others whose books never took off.
It’s disheartening, and I feel like I’ve failed somehow, if my clients aren’t successful. So more recently I’ve been focused on teaching how to write books that sell, because that’s really the crucial part that so many authors mess up. If you start with a great premise and hook, if you start with a great cover, if you start by researching the best books in your genre and reading the reviews and understanding what readers want, then you can write a better quality book that’s easy to sell.
At the moment, I’m working on a course about writing books that sell, and I’ve also created some bonus services for students in my Guerrilla Publishing course. (If you join this month, I’ll personally critique and edit your manuscript outline, do keyword and competition research, and help you write the hook and pitch, so that when you finish your book you already know exactly how to sell it.
I think those services are really useful, but I’ll probably remove them at the end of the year and create a new course where feedback will be much more expensive. I’ve you just need some free resources to learn more about writing books that sell, grab my free books and video series.
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I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.