How to write a book – the short honest truth

Every author I know gets asked the same question: How do you write a book?

It’s a simple question, but it causes unexpected problems. On the one hand, it’s nice to have people interested in something I do. If I told people I fixed toasters for a living, I doubt I’d get many inquires. People are curious about writing and that’s cool and flattering. Rock on.

But on the other hand, the hand involving people who ask because they have an inkling to do it themselves, is that writing books is a topic so old and so well trod by so many famous people that anyone who asks hoping to discover secret advice is hard to take seriously.

Here’s the short honest truth: 20% of the people who ask me are hoping to hear this – Anyone can write a book. They want permission. The truth is you don’t need any. There is no license required. No test to take. Writing, as opposed to publishing, requires almost no financial or physical resources. A pen, paper and effort are all that has been required for hundreds of years. If Voltaire and Marquis de Sade could write in prison, then you can do it in suburbia, at lunch, at work, or after your kids go to sleep. You will always find excuses if you want them and you probably do.

If you want to write, kill the magic: a book is just a bunch of writing. Anyone can write a book. It might suck or be incomprehensible, but so what: it’s still a book. Nothing is stopping you right now from collecting all of your elementary school book reports, or drunken napkin scribbles, binding them together at Kinkos for $20, slapping a title on the cover, and qualifying as an author. Want to write a good book? Ok, but get in line since most pro authors are still trying to figure that out too.

Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing. Work. No one wants to hear this, but if you take two books off any shelf, I’ll bet my pants the author of the better book worked harder than the author of the other one. Call it effort, study, practice, whatever. Sure there are tricks here and there, but really writing is a kind of work.

Getting published. 30% of the time the real thing people are asking is how do you find a publisher. As if there wasn’t a phone book or, say, an Internet-thingy where you can look this stuff up. Writers-market is literally begging to help writers find publishers. Many publishers, being positive on the whole idea of communication, put information on how to submit material on their website. And so do agents. The grand comedy of this is how few writers follow the instructions. That’s what pisses off all the editors: few writers do their homework.

The sticking point for most wanna-be published authors is, again, the work. They want to hear some secret that skips over the hard parts. Publishers are rightfully picky and they get pitched a zillion books a day. It takes effort to learn the ropes, send out smart queries, and do the research required to both craft the idea for a book, and then to propose it effectively. So while writing is a rejection prone occupation, even for the rock-stars, finding a publisher is not a mystery. In fact the whole game is self-selective: people who aren’t willing to do the work of getting published are unlikely to be capable of the work required to finish a decent manuscript.

But that said – it’s easier today to self-publish than ever. Really. But again, our tragically unpopular companion, work, is required so many prefer to keep asking writers how they got published instead of just doing it themselves. I self published my last book, and you can read what I learned from it here.

Being famous and wealthy: Now this is the kicker. About 50% of the time the real thing people want to know is how to become a famous millionaire rock-star author person. As if a) I qualified, b) I could explain how it happened, or c) I’d be willing to tell.

First, this assumes writing is a good way to get rich. I’m not sure how this lie started but writing, like most creative pursuits, has always been a less than lucrative lifestyle. Even if a book sells well, the $$$ to hour ratio will be well below your average corporate job, without the health benefits, sick days, nor the months where you can coast by without your boss noticing. These days people write books after they’re famous, not before. And if the only books you read are bestsellers, well, you have a myopic view of the publishing world. Over 100k books are published in the US annually, and few sell more than a few thousand copies. What causes books to sell may have little to do with how good a book is, as we’ve all been mystified by the abysmal bestsellers and surprised by amazing books few seem to know about. Either way, to justify the effort you’ll need reasons other than cash.

Discouraged yet? Good. Here is the upside: I love writing books. I love reading books. I love the entire notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. That’s awesome. If you like writing, if you enjoy the bittersweetness of chasing words into sentences, then you might love writing books too, despite, or even because of, everything I said above. If so, get to work – now :)

Here are some practical next steps:

 

1,288 Responses to “How to write a book – the short honest truth”

  1. friv

    Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing. Work. No one wants to hear this, but if you take two books off any shelf, I’ll bet my pants the author of the better book worked harder than the author of the other one. Call it effort, study, practice, whatever. Sure there are tricks here and there, but really writing is a kind of work. Good post. I need it

    Reply
  2. Kate Mitchell

    I have a question/problem that I have been struggling with. In lots of books I read there are I guess you would call it cut sceans. Example; Lets say the main male person in the book is in a alley in a fight and after a few pages of the fight scean he gets shot or stabbed and falls to the ground and the scean ends. Then on the next page it jumps over to the main female in the book to what is happening where she is at and after a few pagers or even a chapter it will go back to the alley where the sceen of the man left off. My issue is when writing that do most writers write the whole thing all at once and its later broke up when eddited or is it written as its put in the book? Or does it depend on the writer? Any advice on this would be a great help. Thanks, Kate

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Kate: First, check your spelling. It’s scene, not scean.

      To answer your question there is no single way and it depends heavily on the writer and how they like to work. Some writers make detailed outlines before they write their first draft. Others improvise their way through the first draft and revise their way into a structure. There is no right way to do it, just as there isn’t a right way to do most creative things.

      Reply
  3. livi

    okay so I have been wanting to write a book for a while now but I just cant think of what to write about.

    Reply
  4. Aayush

    Its quite easy to publish online- and if you publish a free online book on ePub or something, you can release your next book at a price, once people have heard of you and you’ve made a name for yourself- you’ll likely make more money that way

    Reply
  5. Judy S

    HI,
    My name is judy and i been wanting to write a book for several years, about my life the stuggle of abuse and then abuse of my children and with death of my father and other stuff. I just dont know how to start, were to begin and if i spell thing wrong and how the format suppose to be ect.
    I have so much to say, but i dont know if i should just go to microsoft and just start writing or just have someone to help???
    I would love the advise. my email is sierrahoboken@verizon.net

    Reply
    1. Rober

      Okay so let’s Start with Your Life and What parts you Want to Write about.
      Your First example was about your struggles of abuse and the abuse of what ever happened to your children.
      You write down what happened and who abused you and your children and what you felt when he or she did this to you and your children.
      Anger or sadness or fear.
      Then you mentioned about the death of your father.
      So write down how he died and how you felt when he passed away.
      And write down about these other stuff that you didn’t mention that you wanted to write about.
      You should go on microsoft because it has spell check.
      Writing a book is all about feelings.
      So whatever comes to mind it is your feelings.
      Express your feelings.

      Reply
  6. Keenan

    Judy, first off so sorry about the things you experienced. You should get great merits from that alone, but the fact you want to talk about it is a blessing in itself. It sounds like you can help a lot of people make wiser decisions with your story.
    In contrary, it also sounds like Microsoft Word will fit what you are looking for since you are concern about errors, spelling etc. Microsoft will automatically highlight words and grammar that are wrong. It is very beneficial. Like you I have been working on a book for several years and the best method I have noticed is just write, write, write. The practice you get from being persistence is so immaculate. You’ll be amazed at how much you flourish with consistency. Good luck to you on your future endeavors and get that story out and save some lives.

    Reply
    1. Sandy

      I totally agree with you about what Judy posted, Keenan thanks for your post. Indeed also going to try using Microsoft word for my story. Thanks for your post. Have a good day.

      Reply
  7. friv

    Judy, leading so sad about the things you encountered. You ought to get extraordinary benefits from that alone, yet the actuality you need to discuss it is a gift in itself. It seems like you can help quite a few people settle on smarter choices with your story.

    In opposite, it additionally seems like Microsoft Word will fit what you are searching for since you are worry about failures, spelling and so on. Microsoft will naturally highlight words and language structure that aren’t right. It is exceptionally gainful. Like you I have been dealing with a book for a few years and the best strategy I have recognized is quite recently compose, compose, compose. The practice you get from being constancy is so impeccable. You’ll be astonished at the extent to which you thrive with consistency. Good fortunes to you on your future attempts and get that story out and spare a few lives.

    Reply
  8. xomuka

    This is a great article. It gave me a lot of useful information. thank you very much.

    Reply
  9. Sandy

    I’m so glad I found this (your) page/ site. Thank you….

    Reply
  10. lawson wilfred

    hi my name is lawson wilfred
    am a chef cook 12 years of experience
    my growing up with the society make me know more about my self and what is my dreams and good in it
    I also fund out easily that I can solve a problems or explain with my own mind to a couples off people’s to believe and like thet fact and the idea of it some call me professor…cansler…romance boy and all that.
    my previous life start make me know the good and the bad special with friends and wuman how to dictate them… get them by clases and what to tell them…so much I have for the word to know and I come with the Idea of righting a book. the good part of it is that my wife also noticed it and ready give me a title of my book if only I can make it life. please help me I am the man of life storys .

    Reply
  11. Benita

    Hi I’m 13 and I am currently writing a book with my cousin. She is also 13 but I was wondering if you think it will work. We are both writing from the points of view of two different characters, it is going well at the minute but I’m not sure if it will stay together through out the book. My aunt is an author and so is one of my uncles.

    Reply
    1. Tara

      If you and your cousin have found a way to work together, that sounds great. If you have concerns whether or not this is going to ‘work’ until the end of the book, you might want to consider taking a step back and writing an outline of the entire book that you both agree is the right direction for the story.

      Many writers write together in writing teams, and how each team accomplishes their goal is unique to them.

      Keep on writing! It can really help to have a writing partner, because you support each other through the process too :)

      Reply
      1. Rober

        This is why I write my own books so their wouldn’t be any problems.
        If you two can’t settle this problem out then you two shouldn’t be writing a book together.
        Let me know how it goes I’m curious.

        Reply
  12. nayebare emmanuel

    thank you for what you are doing and I hope you will help me.

    Reply
  13. Brad

    I work for a one stop in book publishing.. send me a note on the website for more info.. stress free book production..

    Reply
  14. Sandra

    This website gave me so much valuable information. Basically told me get off my ass and write. I opened a blog like all the sites said and have been writing abut my life living with scleroderma a auto-immune disease. It has been a lot of hard work. One of the most difficult parts I find is writing about the past, I get too into the moment and it affects me. My blog is called Living la vida scleroderma on facebook. please visit it. My other problem is looking for a title. No clue. I have 160 pages so far. I hope 300 pages will be enough. I am going to send it to publishers. If I get turned down I am going to self publish. I will have someone edit it when I am done. Wish me luck. My question how do I go under another name when I publish my book?

    Reply
  15. Crystal

    I’m trying to write a book now and I’m feeling so anxious about it. I don’t want to write my book to be an Arthur or to get money from the book. I just want to help someone who has lived or is living the life that I have lived. I just want to help someone who feels like they are alone when really they are not.

    Reply
    1. Tara

      That is a *great* reason to write a book–to share information that could help someone else. Whenever you start to feel anxious about it, just remember the people you want to help to give you some strength. The book doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be finished. All the best to you :)

      Reply
  16. caty

    i have many ideas i think i’ll wright a book but i wont publish it! cause im only 18 i don’t think anyone will look at it >_< !

    Reply
  17. darkocean

    Yes its hard work, and more hard work, and even more hard work. You know what? Watching that crap first draft turn into a not bad 2nd draft into a better 3rd draft has been a fun, hard won process. My draft is on Wattpad.com and getting feedback to the book had been crucial, with the critics help on there I’ve been able to fix problems much fast and learn at a faster rate because the problems I couldn’t see before are spotted by them. Now mend you no critic on their is perfect, as most of the them (the don’t want to admit it of course) too are newbie authors, who simply have studied more.

    Try wattpad out one of the steps in the writing tip websites is to get beta readers, you can do that on wattpad (critics, they give feedback. Later on as your story gets better your fans will start doing that for you.) Any ways to get to the point I feel that an author has to write the story for the joy of it, it your doing it for money, fame, your not going to get far IMO. I do plan on taking a stab at getting published, but not before it’s ready. I’ve been on this draft two years not and the story has evolved. Try this, save a copy of your first draft to look at another time, now put ti way and ignore it. A few months later save your edited-revised story two, now compare them both. Can you spot all the mistakes in the first draft (cringe) I can it’s bad, no its awful! Now look at your second draft to you see any of your old mistakes in there? If so fix them.

    Anyways, writing is an art, so you need to do it for the joy of it nothing else. If other people end up likening it then great :)

    Reply
  18. carolinejohnsoon

    I’m 80 years of age. Could write and full a library full of books with my lifetime experiences ! However I wish too only condense and write certain issues that I feel would be of interest to future readers as well as myself ! In my college days I recall taking a course in book writing ! I am interested in getting help from someone somewhere in guiding me in connection with where too start a book (or introduction thereto) re: what has interested me most in my lifetime. Can you help me with this issue? Thanking you in advance- Sincerely -Caroline Johnosn

    Reply
  19. waqar

    Hi
    when i was 18 year old my grandfather told his story which is very interesting. The thing is that story was real he was in ww2. And fight against germani. Ally with British. Then there is so horror terrifying thing happens he told me evry thing every detailed. First i don’t believed that because i saw movies like this but this was some how different. Then i realised he was right those movies make now a days that time of there was no movies. Now i want to right it. But those horrible things that happened how can i described those.

    Reply
  20. waqar

    When I was 18 year old my grandfather told me his story that happened to in ww2. He was there fighting against germani and ally with British from Hindustan side. First i don’t believe it but then he told me those horrible thing that happened there. Running starving thirsty. Killing was not easy he say but when he saw those germans do to people he never mercy on them by killing. I have all those in my head like i am there. We saw mostly movies but that was different. Those cruelty i can’t describe it. I want to wright but when i start i saw like its me there. I dont think i can continue it or finish it

    Reply
  21. Amy L.

    I would like to write a book about what it is like to cope with being an adult “child” of a parent who is newly incarcerated for the first . There are tons of resources out there to help young children cope with their parents or loved ones being locked up. However, when my parent got locked up last year I couldn’t find anything for people my age or anywhere close to my situation to help. I was at a loss & had no clue what to do. I want to share my story & hopefully help other people. Do you think that this is something that is a good idea, or even possible? It would be very personal. Although every situation like this is somewhat different, if it could help just one person I would be willing to do it. When my parent got arrested I was and a newlywed (to a police officer mind you), and a mother of a 4 and a half year old son and a 1 and a half year old step daughter. Luckily my step daughter didn’t really know my incarcerated parent but explaining to my son what happened to his grandparent was totally uncharted territory & I had no idea what I was doing. I’m welcome to any ideas or feedback. Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Anastasia

    It can be difficult to start writing a book alone. I have created an app that will show you a new way to write a book by sharing your story with somebody else. It helps you to get creative by writing book together and bring it to the end. Maybe it helps you also to start and complete your own book in the future. Just start printing your thoughts and others will join to your story. Don’t know how to start? Just read others stories, choose a favorite one and keep company.
    Check out our android app: http://goo.gl/8j7YUo
    We will appreciate your feedback and comments.

    Reply
  23. Phuti

    I’m Phuti I want to write a book dat talking about true love I’m done with it if u accepts my comment contact at 0761766802

    Reply
  24. Evelyn Castanon

    I would like to write about my experience in th field I work in. I have seen it all. Good ,bad and ugly. How can I start? I have ideas in my head.

    Reply
  25. Grace

    I’m 14 and I love writing. I write poems, and short stories. I’m in the middle of writing a book now, and I’m happy with how it’s turning out. I’m wishing to write many books to show readers my world of creativity.

    Reply
  26. atiya

    Hey ur article was very useful thank u … But I’m unsure of one thing …. To get my book published , must I write it down or type it out on sumthing ? I’d appreciate ur assistance thx

    Reply
  27. Lenor

    I’m only 16 and i started working on a novel when i was 7 years old. Of course the fantasy novel was childish back then. After so long, i have made hundreds of characters, and their back stories. I have spent many years on making maps, cities and such things. Now i’m working on different ypes of languages, took me one year just to make a few words in a language.

    I really hope my novel will be famous one day :)

    Reply
  28. angayyazi

    My book its abt my lyf
    This is only a summary of it.
    Whn I ws young I lvd at de village and we used to sleep without food and my mom wil sleep with so called man so dt she could get money and buy food for us.I used to hear her when she is sceaming while hvng sex so whn I ws grewing up thought dt sex ws a good thing a hd sex with so many boys even my cousinS.whn I moved to freestate de were no boys dt I knew so I started hvng sex with my pillow and it is difficult for me to stop now.plz help me if anyone can plz help me.

    Reply
  29. Jordan

    I have not read all of the comments because there are quite a lot in here but it seems that a lot of people are asking about what step they should take first. I am no professional writer but after researching over and over again, I finally grasped how to start my book. Many of you may be interested in what is called “The Snowflake Method”. It is an easy way to break down your story from something general to something detailed. Another way is to just write. You can always go back and edit, don’t forget that! Just write anything that comes to mind. I have a usb stick with my story along with many MANY folders. I have a folder for characters, backgrounds, chapters. Everything. When I feel I’m stuck on my story, I go and create a character that I could use in the future to maybe open up an idea to further progress my book. The key thing was mentioned in the article: it takes lots of dedication and work to come up with a book that isn’t so “mickey mouse”. Just take your time with it and have fun!

    Reply
  30. David

    hi I want to write a book, I have an idea from my previous position as a police officer. I know the plot and what the story is about but I am not a writer. I am looking for advice on where to start and get the basics.
    Hope you can help.

    Reply
  31. Nathan

    I thought I was a little young to start writing at 16 but seeing all these 11 and 12 year Olds inspires me I’ve been through a lot of ideas in the past year in a half but finally hit a story that I’ve been piecing together quite nicely I’ve been working on it for 3 months now in horror genre who would of thought of all genres lol anyways main thing is if u get a idea don’t be afraid to abandon it but for practice take any idea or subject and expand it and add as much detail as possible it will give you a diffrent perspective when writing good luck to all

    Reply
  32. Deborah L

    I write fantasy, and ideas aren’t always a problem for me. It’s stringing those scenes together that’s a killer! A writer can only flash-forward so much, and sometimes a scene transition needs a smaller gap to jump without losing the reader completely. Any advice?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  33. Brian

    Great page I laughed out loud.

    I typed, “When not stoned I start writing novels in my head” into the address bar. Hoping for relief, as it is midnight.

    I just read a chapter of Milian kunis, and I tortured my self with Gulag Archapilago, last year. I want to write about how we are no better off then the communists: I feel I live in a society like that but just with more food.

    I do not have a question, but thanks for making me laugh. Any other losers out there, who want a writing partener who cannot spell: Write me at BrianJC@RocketMail.com.

    I will now write into the address bar: “Sleep remedies, besides Icecream with bananas”

    Love,
    Brian

    Reply
  34. Janette Warwick

    Hi Scott

    Thanks for the excellent tips about writing. You mentioned with self publishing that you may not go that way again. I’d be interested to hear why you would, and wouldn’t self publish again.

    Reply
  35. chelley

    Hi, ive been thinking about writing a book for a few years but never had the courage to actually put oen to paper, i trued a few times and lacked confidence in what i had written, and binned it!! I am leaning mire towards a story partly autobiographical, and adding some exagerated carachters and storylines, however its putting it into a beginning middle and end, where to start? I have so much to put on paper my brain often freezes. Thanks to all the wise information given here, i am more passionate than ever and hopefully can start to organise my thoughts. Thank you all :) !!

    Reply
  36. Michelle Lyon

    Hi, ive just seen this , and I currently have a wide range of idea’s floating around, i am leaning more towards a autobiographical true story but with the addition of further carachters but have yet to feel confident enough to give it a real try, ive put words on oaper gingerly, but they ended up in the bin!! My issues really, are where to start, putting a beginning middle and end and organising it. After reading all the words of wisdom above i am feeling more comoelked to actually take a risk, after all, ill never know if i can until i give it my very best shot. Thank you all for the great replies and advice to others on here, i shall take a lot of it and put it into oractice.

    Reply
  37. Adam

    Hi,
    i would like to know some info on writing a factual story about a persons life who is currently in prison for his crimes.
    What permission do i need as such? and if he gives permission what exactly do i need in writing?
    Is there any other problems, both legal and from other people i could face?
    Any help would be great,
    thanks
    Adam

    Reply
  38. Izealia Thompson

    Dear Scott,
    Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I was inspired to write a book yesterday from watching the “I Have A Dream Speech” during class. Everything you said has motivated me to pursue dreams of writing my first book and getting it published. I actually cried whole reading your words. I feel you believe in me and we haven’t ever met. May God continue to bless the work of your hands and your brilliant mind.

    Reply
  39. elisheba watson

    hey i was just wondering of how to write a proper book. like its about my life and i dont know the details on how to write them like a normal writer would. how do i start and stuffs, cause i wanna write a book based on my life.

    Reply
  40. Karl

    Just asking if some one has ideas of a story’,that was thought up just like a film. It was like a step by step of a movie from a dream that some one had.but now the twist is my friend can not right or read or write as he has dyslexia.but when he told me about it it was a good story , but he has never even looked at a book ,so how can he get help to make his dreams in to a book ,wow just looked over what I have put forward for help.some one could make a book out of this twist in fate lol.but why I am trying for him is when he told me ,he has dreams and wakes up at around 4 am and try’s to record his movie he had dremped of inside his head ..so all in all has he got any chance of getting his storeys told

    Reply
    1. Jim

      Okay, seriously, this was great. I like your honesty and I agree with all your tips! I am also going to write a book about one famouse woman in my country.

      Reply

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