How to get from an idea to a book

Success in the majority of circumstances depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed. » Montesquieu

I’m sure you have an amazing idea for a book. I’m proud of you. Now please put that idea aside and pay attention:

  1. Pick up any book
  2. Flip through its pages
  3. It took hundreds of hours to make that book (e.g. 10 hours x 50 weeks = 500 hours)
  4. The big question: Do you love your idea enough to put in 500 hours? 700? 1000? more?

If YES, skip to the next list.

If NO, stop obsessing about ideas for books. Having an idea is easy. If you, the person who came up with the idea, won’t put in the time, odds are no one else will. There are infinitely more good ideas for books, movies, companies and everything else than people willing to put in the effort. I think you should put in the time, but it’s up to you.

How an idea becomes a book

There are only two ways an idea becomes a book: time and money. Someone has to decide to put time and/or money into making a book. Self publishing is easier than ever today, but it means you will have to invest the time required to publish the book. Many writers prefer to partner with a publisher to trade royalties for doing some of the work, but to get a publisher requires effort of its own.

If you want a publisher to publish your book:

  1. Publishers put money up front, authors don’t. Publishers pay for everything:  the production costs, editorial costs, the author’s advance and more. They are investors and they look at books as possible investments. To ask a publisher to publish a book is to ask for an investor in your project.
  2. Publishers are businesses. They primarily care about profit. They don’t care about you or your idea and the judgements of your work are not personal.
  3. You are competing for a precious slot. Many people want to write books. Bring your A game to the process.
  4. Your idea will be evaluated on your book proposal. A book proposal is a 10-30 page pitch for the book (explained here).
  5. If you can’t write a decent book proposal, you can’t write a decent book. Seems fair.

If you are willing to publish the book yourself:

  1. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You have the power, right now, for very little money, to publish anything and sell it on Amazon or even in bookstores.  It’s really very easy to publish books today (getting people to buy them is another matter).
  2. All you need to do is the work of writing the book.

There are good books about writing book outlines and proposals. Go read one. This is the beginning of the many hours you must put in. O’Reilly Media has an excellent summary of what they expect in a proposal.

Planning A Book

There is no one way to plan the book itself. The simplest way is to make an outline. An idea for a book by itself is vague as there are an infinite number of ways to write a book based on the same idea. What sections will the book have? What are the chapters? What is the one page (or 5 page) synopsis of the plot or major points? It’s useful to do research for books similar to the one you want to write and study them. They will sharpen your focus on what form you want your idea to take, possibilities for how to structure your book and more. (See also How To Start Writing A book).

Common questions

Q: Can I skip writing a book proposal?

No. Unless you are Lady Gaga, Bono or your Mom owns a book publishing company and she still likes you. Of course if you self publish you’re free to skip this step too (though writing it anyway is a great way to force yourself to think hard about what you’re getting into). A book proposal includes an outline for the entire book and writing an outline can be more difficult than writing the book itself. An outline forces you to think broadly about what will be in the book and what won’t. This takes time and thought.

Q: But won’t someone steal my amazing idea?

No. Ideas are cheap and editors/agents see hundreds of them every week. They have no motivation to steal your idea. Even if your idea is amazing someone still has to put in a year or more of effort, and as this essay explained at the beginning, that commitment is far harder to obtain than a great idea. Agents and editors rarely write books – that’s why they became agents and editors.

Q: What about self publishing?

Self publishing is awesome. I highly recommend it. If you really love your idea nothing can stop you from publishing. This is AMAZING. People buy books based on reviews, not because of the publisher’s name on the spine. The rub is you are on your own. A publisher can improve your book idea in many ways, and help you with every step of the process. If you self publish you must conceive, write, edit, design, market, proofread and promote the book all on your own, or be able to find and hire people to help you. This is liberating if you are willing to put in the additional time and like to learn. It’s a nightmare if your network is small, you’re not a good project manager and you fear the unknown.

Q: Is the proposal a formality? [new question]

Book proposals help the author tremendously. They force the author to get out of their dreamy stupor about their idea and think hard about the many elements that make an actual book. What are the chapters? What research do you need to do? What books are out there that are in the same category? How will yours be better? Many authors find writing the proposal a harder challenge than writing the book, since after writing a solid proposal many of the hard decisions have already been made.     

Q: Do I need to write the book first?

No, unless you are writing fiction. This is a surprise to most. The majority of non-fiction book deals are signed based on 3 things: a proposal, an outline and a sample chapter. Publishers of non-fiction believe if you can do those three things well, you can write a decent book. The vast majority of people with book ideas fail at those three simple tasks.

Q: Do I need to write an outline? 

Yes. If you can’t think of a list of chapters ideas that fills two pages, what makes you insane enough to think you can come up with a 250 page book’s worth of material?  One trick is to start an outline, as sparse as it is, and add to it whenever you get another idea. Little by little you may just build something awesome. Or you might just realize the idea for the book is better than the reality of the book (haven’t you read books like this?).

Q: Do I need to write a sample chapter?

Hell yes. Books are made of chapters. Have you written a chapter before? It’s wise to try it out before you sign on the dotted line to write 10 or 50 of them.

Q: I’ve tried writing, but I get stuck. Is there a trick?

No. Here’s why you are failing at writing.

Q: Shouldn’t I just get an agent?

The first thing an agent will ask is “send me your proposal.” There is no escape! Agents are busy people: you will get one shot at their interest. Contact them when you are ready, not before. Have the finished, polished proposal before you start looking around.

An agent will take 10-20% of your possible revenue for a book. In return they will guide you through the process, they will pitch your book to their network of editors and publishers, and help you negotiate for the best deal. If these services are worth 10-20% of the financial reward of the book to you, then hire one. If you think you can do those things well yourself and you have the time to do it, then don’t.

Q: How do I make sure I don’t get screwed?

Writing a book is entrepreneurial. Working with a publisher is a business deal. All business deals have risks. Working with an agent increases how much experience is on your side, but even an agent can let you down. But most of the horror stories I hear are from authors who didn’t carefully read the contracts, didn’t do the legwork to pitch the book to multiple publishers and allowed their hubris to get in their way.

The Authors Guild, which I recommend joining, is an advocacy group for writers. They offer this excellent advice on book contracts and how to negotiate them.

Q: When the proposal is finished what do I do with it?

 If your book is about something you are an expert in, start with your network. Ask colleagues who have published books to pass your proposal on to their editors. Look at books similar to the one you are proposing and read the acknowledgements. You’ll always find mention of the agent and editor who worked on the book. Some research will reveal how to get in touch with them. Many smaller, industry specific publishers have proposal submission details on their websites.

Q: What about fiction?

Fiction is harder to find a publisher for than non-fiction. A non-fiction book is marketed largely on your credentials. If you are an accountant writing about tax tricks, a publisher knows they can market you as an expert on the topic. Fiction has no experts. The market for novels is more competitive and marketing is more difficult. Most fiction agents and publishers demand a complete manuscript, and a short synopsis, before they’ll talk to you, for good reason.

Questions? Leave a comment.

[Note: edited estimate of hours in first numbered list 2/20/2014]

85 Responses to “How to get from an idea to a book”

  1. EricLaw

    I’m surprised you *ended* with discussion of self-publishing rather than opening with it. It’s easier than it’s ever been, and if you’re willing to be a Kindle-exclusive, you can get pretty well-paid even if your book isn’t “purchased” by anyone (Amazon Prime holders borrow for free and Amazon pays authors >$2 per borrow).

    While cautioning someone that they’d better be willing to put in 1000 hours is good to scare off those who aren’t willing to make a serious investment, I think it’s also very misleading. Depending on what sort of book is being written, the time involved might be much less. My self-published book (Amazon CreateSpace) is ~280 pages. I had the benefit of being “the” expert on the book’s topic, but had to learn everything else about the authoring process as I went. As it stands, I probably spent ~150 hours in writing and editing. Sales-wise, the book is doing better than I expected when I went into it; I had pretty low expectations.

    And I think that’s the biggest question to ask: “Why do you want to write a book?” If the goal is to share information, by all means, go right ahead!

    On the other hand, if your goal is to get either rich, or famous, you should go read and the related links.

    1. Scott

      Hi Eric. Congrats on your book: Debugging with Fiddler. Have you written anything about your self publishing experience?

      I’ve yet to find any data on hours per book. Asking around anecdotally among authors and editors 1000 hours feels about right. It’s a year’s worth of effort. But who knows. It depends on the book of course. A book of poems or soup recipes might just take a weekend to produce. I don’t think the number matters much. The point is to get people out of the romantic stupor of their idea, and to think practically about what they’re willing to pay in time to get it.

      I’ve written many posts about self-publishing with details on my experience and they’re largely positive. But when I get asked about “how to go from an idea to a book” people still are most curious about the traditional route. The prospect of fame is a big part of why people want to write and in that fantasy major publishers are involved.

      I’ve found explaining the traditional model first, and only after explaining how self-publishing works has a much higher hit rate of resonating with people than going the other way.

      1. Rozanne

        I get why you said it like that. When you said it might take 1000 hours, I didn’t hesitate at all and said yes. I have an idea I want to turn into a book, and I’m willing to put years of work into it.

      2. Dalmain

        Hi Scott

        As a dabbling, procrastinating, hope-to-call-myself-an-author-one-day writer, your article has been most helpful and informative. Your straight to the pointness is quite possibly the kick in the pants I need to get going.

        1. Cath garnett

          I am 46 and 2 years ago opened up to some people about my past . Abused as a child and lived the low life and high life . Still stalked and still in debt but after a breakdown I am coming back . Son at 30 years old and anther at 26 with lots of relationships I between . DJ s , footballers . Hard life but always lived a good one xx

    2. Scott

      btw: I added a note to the first question about self-publishing (you can skip writing a proposal if you do).

    3. Rachel Lilianne Cormier Burgess

      Introduction: Age is 79-born 1935= GrandFalls NB CA======I have lived experiences that that lots of persons will be interested in. I have 4 books to safisty my need to share with others. I will cause people to learn the contents, in my opinion. Even if only my Grand-childen… I know that help in needed. Would appreciate. Thanks. Me

    4. Rally

      “They don’t care about your or your idea and the judgements of your work are not personal.”
      There is a typo.

  2. Betsy Talbot

    Hey, Scott. Whether it’s 1000 hours or not, it’s still a huge investment. And that’s just to create it – not to mention the marketing and selling afterward. We’ve self-published 3 books now, and I think the reason we continue to have sales is because we treated the process exactly as if we were being published by a traditional house.

    Self-publishing is incredible because it removes the middle man, but it doesn’t actually take out any of the work necessary to make a good book. There’s no shortcut to that!

    1. Phil Simon

      Seth Godin said that all publishing is self-publishing. Godin’s not right about everything, but he’s spot-on here.

    2. Sarah

      I have so many questions for you.. Please, if you can find the time- email me. I need to pick your brain & self-educate.

  3. Phil Simon

    Publishers are business. They publish books they think they can profit from. They don’t care about you or your idea. They care about profit. You are competing for a precious slot. Many people want to write books. Bring your A game to the process.

    True dat. I’ve had ideas and proposals rejected. Just because you publish a book doesn’t mean that you have the green light for the next.

    I’d also add that legacy publishers are often wrong. Grisham, the Chicken Soup and Dummies series, and others are all examples of the big guys getting it wrong.

    1. Scott

      Good points Phil. I agree, publishers aren’t much better at predicting the future than anyone else. Nearly all books that hit the shelves were rejected by many other publishers. They’re like venture capitalists, and they make their bets just like all investors do.

      Which again comes back around to: how committed is the potential author to the idea? If they want to make the book in spite of what other people think, in spite of rejection, in spite of having to put in much work, then they’re in excellent shape to succeed.

      1. Phil Simon

        Totally agreed. Just because a publisher rejects it doesn’t make it a bad idea. They’re not the official arbiters of quality or success.

  4. Sean Crawford

    I myself am in for the long haul. Meaning I don’t need the boost of seeing my name in print, meaning I don’t need to do a novelty book such as soup recipes or trivia factoids. Hoping to be consistent, with bunts and singles, not home runs, I am slowly turning professional “between my ears” meaning I am paying my dues to put in the man-hours writing, and learning grammar, and studying the masters.

    And when the time is right I shall joyfully turn to this post. Nice one, Scott.

    1. Alexandra

      You are heading the right direction..
      That’s great!!!
      Good luck!!!

  5. Cami

    I am capable of writing a “book”, but I am having trouble coming up with an idea for a book. Whenever I get an idea, I only seem to be able to write about it for a couple hours or so. I might not be dedicated enough, but I think it’s a lack of ideas. Do you have any advice for me?

    1. Hannah

      Yes. I have had the same difficulty: you have a splendid idea that captures your attention but then loses it quite quickly. I think the reason for this (at least for me) is that when I read a book or watch a movie or am influenced in any way it gets me excited on a variety of topics and my imagination flows freely. But only the things that in which I am consistently interested have I ever been able to finish. You begin to discover what those sorts of things are. I think it’s really just a process of elimination. I would recommend picking out your long-lasting and ultimate favorite books and movies and really try to get a feel for your consistent interests. Believe me, I am constantly influenced by whims of all sort and my attention span is rather short. Also, though I hate to say it, writing a book is something that many people try to do or think they have a knack for, when really all they have is just excellent creativity (or in some cases the lack there-of). Anyway, I wish good luck and happy writing!

      1. Claire

        Wow Hannah, this is really good advice. Many a times I have started writing with a fantastic idea, only to quickly become bored with it. Turning to that which has always entertained me will probably keep me more interested. Now I just have to figure out how to combine my passion for Tim Burton, Jane Austen and “Gone with the Wind” into a novel. I think I may be one of those people who just has “excellent creativity” but if I give it all of my effort, at least I can say I tried. Thanks for the idea suggestions.

        1. Chris

          I know, and have known, for a long time that I have an idea for a book…it does come from life experience, but it’s definitely a “hot topic” issue that I know people want to know and understand more about. I just don’t know if I’d be the best person to actually write the book! Where do you go if you have a great idea, tons of content, and enough factual information that I think would be a book writer’s dream? Are there writers looking for ideas???

          1. Nora Martínez Thomas

            You can hire a ghostwriter.

    2. kenneth

      I find this site and every information I have enquired fasination, as I speak, am writting my own first book. As soon as I am throw with it, u guess will be the first to know, Love you all.

    3. Rozanne

      I am very good at developing a story and sticking to it. What I did, is creating a character I found interesting (I drew a picture of a boy who could transform into a dragon) and I started building a story around it. I asked myself questions like: Why? and how? At some point (after almost 4 years) the story got so big I decided to write a book about it. Here I am, looking for a way to do so. I don’t know if it works for you, but this is how I did it.

    4. J. Brian Chamberlin

      The writing fiction experience should not be a formulaic one. Write what works at the time. Stop when the idea grows mold and move onto something fresh. Don’t force the experience. Some of the greats like McCarthy and W. Allen are all over the place with their writing. Some characters they come back to like old friends while others they burry like ex-wives.

    5. Kevin

      When i get an idea I can sit with it for days, weeks or even months. During that time, as I go about my day, little details will emerge. I get insights into my characters, come up with fragmented little plot points or sometimes develop intricate scenes. At this point it’s a good idea to write it down and start to get a framework that you can build upon. By placing all the little pieces in line and fleshing it out a bit you’ve already got a very basic outline. But then comes the hard part. Writing any sort of long project can be tedious be it fiction, non-fiction or even a school paper. Plowing through and maintaining quality is part of developing your skills as a writer and it’s not a skill that comes easily. Developing an outline helps cement your idea and keep the inspiration train running but eventually every writer is going to hit a snag. Writing smaller projects like short stories, argumentative papers, journaling or poetry is a good exercise to expand your endurance on longer projects. I write mostly fiction but I learned in college that for non-fiction (i.e. long research papers) once i had my outline it helped me to treat each chapter like it was it’s own small project and start fresh each time.

  6. Carrie

    Hi Scott! I have been wanting to write a book based on things that have happened in my life but also want to add some exaggeration to the stories and incorporate lots of humor to the things that have happened – so do I focus this as a fiction book or non-fiction? If I’m exaggerating a story and it is not completely the truth that would make it fiction, correct? Any tips on dealing with publishers on fiction books vs. non-fiction.
    Thank you!

    1. Chris

      I too, after about half a year of deliberation, have begun to seriously flesh out an idea that is based on my own life events. I am also embellishing it, partially for emphasis of some life events I know people want to know more about, and partially to protect myself. So, as in your case, I would pitch it as a work of fiction.

  7. Juan Antonio Almaguer

    Very helpful reading everyone’s comments, I have plenty of ideas. As a “artist” and “writer” i seriously love both and just started one. But like some of you said, educating yourself on the subject of writing with proper grammar , punctuation etc… Is crucial. Takes money to make money baby.

  8. james

    i just began writing, my question ultimately is, can there be too much description? when i think about writing things down, i drift off into a zone where people aren’t just people but objects i have to give texture to and i really want the reader to see the kind of person i’m imagining… that said i’m afraid i’m devoting to much time painting a picture and not enough time story telling… any ideas?

    1. Rozanne

      Well I’ve read books with a lot of descriptions, even of things that had already been described, and I loved those books. If you want to be sure, re-read it, see if it flows well. If it does, don’t change a thing.

      1. Jodie

        I think your concern is a good one. In the first long story I wrote, everyone criticised the overdone description.

  9. Sapphyreopal5

    I personally wish to write a book and thus have come across this website for that very reason. I must say in this day and age, it MIGHT be easier to advertise using the conventional methods of getting a publisher, agent, etc. but you know what? There are many ways to advertise your book or advertise anything really (just requires the same creativity used to write the book in the first place ;) ). This includes:
    – creating a blog website (and at the same time, taking advantage of Google’s Adwords and Adsense services; why not rake in some extra bucks by also creating a website advertising your book?)
    – taking advantage of SOCIAL MEDIA (Twitter and Facebook to name a couple). Why not make a facebook fan page or something to ADVERTISE your book?
    – making a youtube video. I’ve seen partial books on youtube videos. I mean yeah it requires a bit of time and effort making a video AND a book but hey. Not only are you advertising your own book, you may actually have someone save time in picking up the book and reading it page by page. I mean heck, why not make a video with some cool music and backgrounds to go along with some text to advertise your book? You can also set up your youtube account so it’s setup with Google Adwords/Adsense (don’t know the entire process of getting this enabled but point is, that option IS available)
    – as another user (Eric) proposed, take advantage of Amazon’s kindle services (or heck, may be even other similar services on other websites). Why not have there be multiple formats of your book in multiple places? Technology (not just the internet either) should be considered everyone’s best friend these days!
    – and dare I mention this, take advantage of torrenting websites. Yes, sometimes torrenting can come to people’s advantage in my humble opinion, as it is a form of free advertising if you think about it (even if it is often times considered illicit or illegal by how they are used). The author Paulo Coelho can testify to this fact (even calls the Pirate Bay “Promo Bay” on his personal blog!).
    I mean heck, there are websites where you can sell your artwork free of charge (Ebay, Amazon,, etc.) for instance.
    Bottom line? USE THE INTERNET TO YOUR ADVANTAGE! It should be every author’s best friend. If you have a computer that has the ability to access wifi, you can go to public places such as Starbucks to write your book and do research.
    As the blogger points out, you really don’t need any technology to write a book but I am certainly saying every aspiring author should take advantage of the internet. If you ask me, publishers, agents, etc. are considered a luxury (perhaps more of a necessity) as far as advertising and selling goes if you want to have your book on paperback.

  10. sam

    I would like to write fiction. I have a handful of original story ideas and have discussed them with a few people that would be in the appropriate audience for them and they agree that they’re good ideas and original. However once I sit down to try and put them down, it quite honestly sucked. Is there somewhere to find help learning how to pace a story out and how to write dialogue that seems more natural? Stuck with ideas in my head that are more interesting than most I read but can’t get them in print without killing them.

    1. Eric Lawrence

      @Sam: Step 1: Write it all down, even if it sucks. Step 2: Revise, revise, revise, revise.

      Until you have something on paper, you haven’t got anything to speak of.

  11. Rozanne

    Hello, I have a very great idea for a fantasy book, which I’ve been working on since I was 15 (I’m almost 20 now). I’ve got almost everything figured out and I’m working on an outline now so I can start writing soon. I really want to self-publish, because I want my book to be the way I intended it to be. I’m even planning on translating it from Dutch to English myself, so it’s still the way I intended. Any advice?

    1. Scott

      My best advice is to pick a specific question you want advice on :) Self publishing? Outlining? What specific thing do you want input on?

  12. Dé'La

    is there a beat sheet for writing a book, like the beat sheets for writing a screen play? or could i wrap my idea for a book around the same beats? thanks in advance :-)

  13. Kimberly Taylor

    Hi Scott, I have been reading and re-reading parts of your site and I feel I am about ready to sit down and put the first words on to the page. I am mostly wanting to write for my own pleasure but also so that I may actually get some sleep. Ideas keep flooding into my brain as soon as my head touches the pillow. My proposed book idea is fantasy based. Any suggestions for new fantasy writers?

    1. Scott

      The basics are the same no matter what you want to write. Show up every day. Aim for slow steady progress. Plan to revise. When stuck, don’t wallow, instead revise, research or read good work that has elements you aspire to match.

      1. Kimberly Taylor

        Thank you, Scott. I will keep that in mind. I was surprised last night when I finally sat down to begin writing that, before I knew it, I was already on page three! I will definitely be returning to your site whenever I get stuck and re-read your inspirational posts

  14. laakbaar

    Strange, I get the feeling that this is more about, how can I earn a living by writing books, than about, how do I write a book.
    I like drawing, and we all know a picture is worth a thousand words (yeah right ;o) ) and after becoming homeless and the whole ‘shebang’ I was lucky to end up in a social project were I could draw, while many in there are obsessed by selling (like that is the only validation) I just like the drawing, and if somebody likes it, fine.
    In my ‘art’ I like to draw in such a way that the viewer actually sees what it wants to see, you know, the brains fills in a lot itself.
    So writing is like that too, you fill in the raw form, but the characters and situations and even the voices of the characters, you fill in yourself.
    So writing will be my next challenge I set myself. I found a new home, and I am back on track and I thought I needed something new after a year of new and strange impressions.
    (and if you wanna see my ‘art’ just facebook ‘Dennis Eijs’, and if you don’t, well then don’t ;o) )

    And thanks for the pointers etc. I can certainly use it.

  15. Cheyenne

    I have written a rough copy of a “book” that I want to get published. I want to re-write and incorporate better vocabulary into my story. I also want to make my story more interesting to the reader. My story is a fiction, but I want to know what can I do to make my story more interesting? Is there a certain way to format my story?

  16. stonew


    I’m only 14 but i have an idea for a book, you might be think well he is only 14 he wont have any idea’s for a book. well because i am 14 and I’m dyslexic when i want to i can come up with really good idea’s. and because i am 14 i have a longer time to write the story for. have a look:

  17. Madimoo

    This is a amazing and helpful website. Thanks.
    buuuuut, I am 13 years old and I absolutely love to read…and write. I am just now getting to where I actually want to write a book, and I have a pretty good idea! I started on it, but just can’t get the encouragement that I am looking for. Like I don’t really know if it’s good enough. So I thought, why not post my start of my idea on here, and see what all of you think about it. I know I am only 13 years old, but hey, “Go hard, or go home”. I can take the honesty of what you all think about the start. So all I am asking for is you honest opinion about it. Thanks!

    The.. “Start”:
    There I was. In the middle of Star Cafe with Dan Holsy. I expected this so called “date” to go perfectly smooth. But it didn’t..along with my thousands of other dates that usually only lasted the first date, and then I would make some excuse about why I couldn’t see them anymore.
    Dan was the typical six foot three football player, but he was amazingly handsome. I thought I had a chance with him when he came up to me in between fourth and fifth period, and asked me to meet him at Star Cafe because he had to ask me something. Well he did have to ask me something. That “something” was if I could tutor him. I have to admit, when he asked me this it wasn’t very enthusiastic. It came out of his perfectly shaped lips just like it was the easiest thing to ask the head cheerleader.
    I’m not the kind of person you would take one glance at, and think that I was a nerd. I was five foot six, weighed 119 pounds, and had golden blonde hair, with big blue eyes. Underneath all the glossy, cute look was my nerdy side, that only my fourth period saw. Math class. I was a genius at it. Of course Dan was in my math class. When he asked me if I could tutor him he said “Chelsea..I know you are busy with cheerleading, but I have a huge favor to ask you….Will you please tutor me?”
    I had to say I would. If I didn’t he would have thought I was some jerk who wasn’t willing to help others. I told him after he asked that I would tutor him, but could only tutor him on Mondays, and Wednesdays. He said this was fine, seeing that football players, and cheerleaders both had practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a game on Fridays nights.

    1. Marion

      “Madimoo”. Keep writing! I think it is wonderful that you are doing this. You are writing about your area of expertise, which is being a 13 year-old, so your audience will be composed of your peers. You are creating a basis and will be able to see your progress as you grow and mature as a person and as a writer. I encourage you to save your writings in a safe (printed form) for future reference. Consider getting involved in school publications so your work is published and people get to know you as a writer.

  18. Madhav Palshikar

    Great post… really helpful. Actually like many others I also want to start writing the book. But when we think about writing… immediately few questions comes in our mine, “How to write a book?” “Do I have a sufficient vocabulary?” “On which topic I should write a book?”…. and now I am into the process of finding the answers to these questions.

  19. Costanza

    Hi Scott! I was wondering, how old do you have to be to write a book? I’m 13 and I love books and it is my dream to write one myself… Thanks :)

  20. Áine

    Ii never assumed writing a book would be easy, but I have a belief in my ideas and after reading your article I do think I will start to put pen to paper. I don’t expect to ever be a published author… but that is not going to stop me trying. thanks for the tips.

  21. Vary

    Dear. Sir,

    The content in your web site here, is very helpful for a person like me, and other who want to write a book. I had not done a full research, about the subject in my book. In 2008, I just sit down in front of my computer, and started to put down my idea, into phrases, and form a complete paragraph, after paragraph. Two years later, I completed my manuscript, and send to editor. I self published my book with I felt good, the first time send me my first copy of my book. But now I feel, I might have written one of the worst book, any one has ever written, because it sold only a few here and there. My English is my third language, and this did not stop me from writing my two books: 1) Is That Why ? 2) Holly’s Law Of Life
    I am very glad to have seen your very helpful web site.

    Best regards,


  22. Vary

    I would like to introduce my self. I am a former Air Force NC Officer, I served from 1972-1975. I was trained by US Air Force, and US Army @ Lack Land Air Force base, San Antonio, Texas, and Fort Rucker, Army base, Alabama. As an NC officer worked with Air Rescue Squadron Known as: ” Red Phoenix ” as a flight crew member. I saw the death, and destruction from Cambodian war, where innocent man, woman, and children alike, paid an ultimate price with their life, without the fault of their own. I want peace for this planet, so I wrote a book of war memories, and tell the world. It has always been painful to remind me of that war.

  23. Vary

    Writing has been one of my past time favorite, during my spare time. Singing, has always been an exciting thing for me to do all my life. Until I reached 5th grade school, I had a chance to show my talent to my class mate of 65 audiences. Ever since, I can’t hardly ever stop singing, and I perform with my 400 guests, at the wedding party of my daughter. In 2003, my partner young lady friend of mine, and I we had wowed our 300 audiences, in Sheraton Hotel @ Richmond, Virginia ” It was a success ” I often asked me question, when I am I serious enough and just pick one thing I know best, and do it ?

  24. timothy

    I have started writing my first book. Before I stumbled on these words of wisdom, I had already started researching, as well as outlining my story,so I guess this info confirms I’m on the right thanks.I only have on question,how important is punctuation and capitalization .I’ve got my ideas from five dreams that played into each other,I awoke after the fith dream and knew I had tell these series of dreams if only it ketches the eyes of one who enjoy ill b happy

  25. Ireland

    I want to write a love story/thriller how much of a chance would i have at having it published???

    1. dessie

      Not at all just write the lovey dovey stuff not the thriller trust me.

  26. Trish Waldman

    My book is non-fiction and is the true story of our 34 year search for our daughter (my husbands daughter from his first marriage and my stepdaughter) who was kidnapped in 1977. I found her last year. Can I use the real names in my book? Do I need to ask peoples permission? Should I finish the book first or send out a proposal?

  27. Kate

    I’m thirteen years old and I want to be a writer. I want it since I was eight. My grandfather writes and my father every now and then edits books and translates them from English to Spanish or vice versa. At every single free moment I have at school, between classes, after tests, lunchtime, whatever, it’s the time for me to get my bloc out and continue writing. I have my best friend and she helps me and supports me, and I’ve often been told I write really good. Now I had the greatest Idea for a book ever and i want to write it, and I will, and this is probably the most helpful webpage for writing tips and more stuff ever in the world. TYSM SCOTT!

    1. dessie

      This is the most stupid website ever! It didn’t give me any ideas about what I should write about.

  28. Lori Severa

    I am currently writing stories from my mother’s life. First, I’m collecting these stories in Spanish, a language which I know only basically. I have about 300 pages so far, double spaced. It’s basically just the facts. Nothing extraordinary happens except that the stories are from another time, another place, and I think they are very interesting. Problem is, I don’t know if I have any writing skills. My writing down these stories happened by accident. At some point I have to begin the real writing in English. What should I do?

  29. Mischel

    I’m not sure I want to write a book after I read this, but let’s say I’m interested. I’m 16 and I want to write in english, but I’m from Czech republic, so I’d need some proofreader (if I ever get to write a book, and I doubt it…). I write short stories in english for about a year and I want to write something bigger, but maybe it’s just a stupid idea of a teengirl and it’s gone in the next few months. But right now I’m interested.
    And I just wanted to ask one stupid question about the book proposal. You wrote it should be 10-30 pages. But the pages are in A5 or A4 format? I’m asking because I usually write on the internet and there are no pages, so it looks like A4, but the books I read are almost always A5. Could you please answer?

  30. tabitha haney

    i started writing a book about two months ago. do you have any advice for me. i’m new at this sort of thing but i love to write poems and short stories. i am on chapter 2 of my book i am writing.

  31. Sean Crawford

    In my city we not only have a (Princess) Alexandra Writing Centre in a community school, for grownups, but we also have a group for teens that the kids call Reality Is Optional. You wouldn’t know about it if you didn’t ask your local librarian.

    Come to think of it, even small towns, where the library is only open alternate weekends (sharing staff with another town) there are writers groups such as, in my area, farm wives writing romance. Or passionate romance. I am saying to any youth reading this: Get off the web, and reach out to your local resources. Don’t assume in advance that it’s hopeless, because you don’t know until you try. Your schoolteachers won’t know as much as a librarian. Check the community news sections of local periodicals.

    So many, many of the questions I am seeing on this blog post could be answered well by someone in person. Believe me, there are groups for beginners out there. You only need to make one connection, and then you are off and running in a new world.

    …And besides, there’s something special about being with fellow writers. I find they are nicer, more curious and pay more attention to the world around us.

  32. Lauren

    Your information inspired me to put my thoughts into action. Thank you. With that being said – I am not looking for fame or riches, but I do want my story to be told and to be told well. I was thinking of collaborating with a writer – do you have any suggestions?here is my main question because I am concerned that the idea I have would be “stolen” since much of my story involves factual information and research – how do I protect my idea for a story while bringing the outline to publishing houses? For fear of sounding paranoid – I am afraid they could push me out the door with rejection and give the outline to one of their established writers. So, how do I protect my idea?

  33. Shara

    Been told “You should write a book” more than once (no, my mother has never been one of them).
    You should write a book about that! (personal observations uttered under breath but heard)
    “What an interesting life, you should write a book kiddo, make a lot of money” (like that is the measure of success?)
    Trying to find something to keep my Mother engaged mentally (she use to tell stories in the car to keep 7 kids from hitting each other)
    I finally found a use for FB (if you don’t know what FB is, I love you)
    Researched the process it takes of getting it from the “lofty idea” swirling around to readable. (POV, plot, conflict, audience, First Chapter, etc)
    So here is what I got: I have a plan of an outline of a story that has a specific message to share with a particular audience for a personal reason (if you said money, fame, recognition slap your cheek lightly)
    I understand that everyone can “write a book”, everyone can “decorate” a room, anyone can be a “parent”. Doing a thing, and doing a thing well……well, it is not the same thing at all is it?

  34. ken

    please i have idea.can some one guard me to make it a reality….my contact is +2348140840392

    1. dessie

      What idiot puts their number on a website? That’s so stupid.

  35. Francesca

    HI! Thanks for your advices, you never fail to give me something to think about. I am currently working on a book. I have already wrote a short story and I have clear in my mind how the story will develop. I have wrote the first seven chapters. Obviously, they need to be revised, but I am planning to do this once I have finished to write the entire book.
    The thing is, everytime I am writing a chapter, I am really focused and I really like what I am writing, but when I stop and I read what I have just wrote I think “this sucks!” I don’t know if some of you have ever experienced something like this. I would love to have someone who would read my first chapters and give me his/her honest opinion, but the thing is none of my family members or friends love to read, and in any case, I am too scared.

  36. sofia

    Hey. can someone write a book about maladaptive daydreaming? It is very interesting topic and I want to read more about it. I dont have md but will read a novele or book story about it. Thanks

  37. Robert Roy

    Hi Scott. I have never written anything before and have a few questions.
    My story is fiction and I know how it will start and end. Also have an idea of how it will play out. I don’t really know the 5 “W” of most of the characters as of yet.
    Should I start the story and create them as I go along or should I have it all planed out?
    I figured I could create them as I go along and make changes as they are required.
    “Make the steak and potato’s and add the gravy later”
    What do you think?

    1. Scott Berkun

      Before you built a house would you plan it out? I think so :) Some writers prefer working more intuitively during a first draft, but if you’re not sure that’s you I’d advice thinking through a basic outline that’s more detailed than the beginning and the ending. You can always choose to abandon your outline, but if you don’t have an outline at all it’s likely you’ll find that you painted yourself into a corner that’s hard to escape from.

  38. marlene

    Thanks for these advice. I am currently writing a book, not sure of the name I should give it. I started it soo many times and stop as I dont know how to get this really published etc and the steps to be taken. Help please.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Marlene: It’s hard for anyone to help you if you’re not willing to at least clarify where you’re stuck!

      If you give up before you finish a first draft, you need to decide to keep going. I can’t make that decision for you. Just like any other commitment in life, you need to find a reason why you think it’s important enough to put more time in. I think writing books is worthwhile, but what I think is irrelevant! I can’t write a book for you.

      This post might help you:

  39. christina

    Is there such a thing as unknown writer…what I mean by this is,I wouldn’t want people to know I wrote it…but yet I do want to publish it myself, I know that for sure.

  40. Two Questions

    1) How do you make sure that the people at the self-publishing house will not steal your manuscript and publish it passing it as their own/another writer’s? Like my question or not, this is terrifying for many new authors. Do we all have to register with the LoC beforehand, to be safe?

    2) When self-publishing, do they print your book FROM your word document (ie, they just feed it into the machine without so much as reading it themselves) or do they somehow retype it (for typesetting etc)?
    –>>>What I am asking here is: assuming my spelling is impeccable, are(/can) typos (be) created by the self-publishing house?

    The last thing I want is my work destroyed by someone’s incompetence. (I’m assuming that’s what happens with all those Amazon reviews that call writers “illiterate” as they call them out on spelling?)

    Would much appreciate someone-in-the-know’s truthful replies here. Thanks in advance!

    1. Scott Berkun

      1) There is no incentive for them to do this. They are publishing hundreds or thousands of books every month: how would they even have the time to know if your book is good enough to be worth stealing? And even if they happened to find a book so amazing that they considered this crime, why would they jeopardize their core legitimate business, publishing books, to take a risk like this? Frankly there are almost no cases of this actually happening. It’s so rare it’s not even worth thinking about.

      2) The general answer is to hire a proofreader, or to plan to do this yourself (and with your friends). There is no magic way to avoid typos if human beings are doing the work. Most services allow you to submit a PDF – where everything is final (it’s an image format, so there is no way to edit text). You could create a PDF yourself or hire someone to do it that you trust, eliminating the publisher from the possibility of adding mistakes.

  41. Amanda

    Hi, You suggested that, among others, authors who get crappy publishing deals may be those who didn’t submit their work to multiple publishers. So presumably, to be able to select the best deal for yourself from among multiple publishers at the same time, this must mean that when you send out a book proposals, you would have to simultaneously send them out to multiple publishers for their consideration at the same time. Other published authors say this is anathema: that you should only send proposals sequentially to publishers (i.e., when one rejects your proposal, send to another), but this takes up a lot of time and offers no competitive bargaining advantage to authors, who are already over a barrel. However it has been suggested that simultaneous submission risks wrathful publisher blackballing. So I am wondering: a) do you recommend simultaneous submission, b) if so, do you recommend mentioning in the proposal letter that you are submitting simultaneously to multiple publishers, or just say nothing and hope for the best, and c) in the unlikely scenario that more than one publisher wants to publish your book, could there be negative repercussions when the publisher whose offer you reject learns you submitted simultaneously (if you didnt already tell them in the pitch letter) , which could affect your contract with the publisher you chose? Just wondering–thanks!

  42. Sergio Cabral

    What a great post. It’s a little “old” in today standards but it has all the good points. I got here because, like everyone else, I have a “great idea” for a book, or two, and I’m doing a little bit of research. I think writing the proposal is helpful and important for everyone, specially those trying to do self publishing… If you don’t have someone setting and enforcing deadlines you might find yourself writing a never ending book. I think structure is important… Anyways… Thanks for the ideas Scott. I’m heading to Amazon to find a good book about writing books. Thanks again for your time!

  43. 3 questions

    Hi Scott

    1). Do you have to be a certain age to get your book published?
    2). Should you send your book to multiple publishers?
    3). Do you have any tips on figuring out what to name your book?
    Thanks for the tips : ) !



Leave a Reply

* Required