Tips and hints for writing your first book

“I want to write a book, what do I do?” I get asked this question all the time, so I thought I would write a short piece to hopefully help potential authors take their first steps in writing and publishing their first book.

There are lots of people out there with wonderfully interesting stories to tell, many of which would undeniably make brilliant books. However, let me give you a startling true fact; 80% of everyone in the process of writing a book, never finishes it - there are hundreds of thousands of half-written books, or unfinished manuscripts on computer hard-drives or in drawers and cupboards worldwide. And the percentage of people wanting to write a book or have an idea about a book and yet never ever do anything more about it, is even higher! And out of the remaining 20% of people who have finished their book, 2% get it published.


So why do so many people do absolutely nothing about becoming a writer?


In my opinion, there are two main reasons; firstly they don't love writing enough. If they loved writing they would finish their book, simple. The bookshelves are full of books by authors that love writing, and I am sure that many of these books are no better, and probably a lot worse than many of the books sitting dusty in drawers or dormant on hard-drives.


However, just a love of writing is not enough, the second and much more important reason is … they don't write! The bookshelves are full of writers... who write! If you love writing, and you write every single day, you will be successful. If you find reasons not to write, which most of us do, you will not be successful, which most people are not! Successful musicians, artists, actors etc., are those that practice their art every single day, without fail. All professionals practice and perform every single day of their lives, and writing is no exception.


As my friend crime writer Frank Muir says: “If you write 1,000 words every day, at the end of 1 year you will have written 365,000 words, or in other words, the equivalent of almost four of my crime novels.” This means, in theory, if you write 1000 words every day, you can write the first draft of your average size book (80-100,000 words) in three to four months! Six months if you write just 500 words – or one single page – every day. So, set yourself a goal, and tell yourself that no matter what, you will write every single day. Be relentless, persistent and determined to get that word count down on paper every day. Rise earlier, or stay up later, or cut back on a your lunch break, or write a few words in the morning, some more at lunchtime, then finish them off at night. But no matter what, make it your daily goal in life to meet your word count. And whenever you feel demoralized, just remember the beauty of that simple mathematical calculation. It never fails. NEVER.


However, before anything else, the first thing you have to figure out before you put pen to paper - so to speak - is to decide whether you want to write a book for yourself, or to get published. Sounds daft and a contradiction doesn't it? But if you want to write a book for publishing, you don't need to actually write it! As most publishers only need the first three chapters - no publisher will ever read a whole book and then make up their mind whether to publish or not! If a publisher likes your first few chapters, they'll then commission you to write the rest and give you a date to complete it.


So, if you are writing to get published, this is the first thing you need to do; write the first three perfect page-turning chapters and, because most mainstream publishers work at least a year in advance, you'll then have plenty of time to write the rest of your book if it gets commissioned.


Of course, if a publisher likes it and you have the whole book already written and ready, then brilliant; if it is a small publisher they might even take it immediately, but this is very rare. However, if you want to write a book just for yourself and for no one else, and not to get published, then yes, write it all because you won't be bothered about whether it'll eventually get published or not, will you?


But remember that there are thousands of manuscripts on hard drives and in drawers from people who have decided to write their whole book, in advance, without any promise of publication, and then find they can't get it published! I have lost count too of the number of people that have gone on to do this, regardless of my advice!


So, to recap... if you want to write a book for yourself and are really not bothered if it gets published or not, then write merrily away. However, if you did indeed want to write a book in order to have it published (and who doesn't?), then don't write it all straight-away! Most writers really do want to get published and their words read, so once you have written your first three page-turning, brilliant chapters, what do you need to do next?


Well, you also need to write a brief synopsis of the rest of the chapters, as the publisher will want to know what happens after the first bit. You will also need to summarize the book as the blurb for the back cover, identify your readership - who will actually be buying and reading the book - and of course your writer's biography including anything else you have written or have had published. It costs a lot of money to publish a book and so publishers need to know that their investment in you, as a writer, will pay off. And if you have not had anything else published, anywhere, then start!! A publisher will look more favourably at your manuscript if they can see you are indeed a... writer! You don't have to get paid for it (you probably won't anyway if you don't have much experience), but just write for anyone and anywhere! I remember someone many, many years ago saying they are not going to give up their time and write if they are not going to get paid for what they write. Needless to say, they have not ever written anything, not had their manuscript published and I expect they never will. Writers write, paid or unpaid, simple!


And then, once you have done all of the above, you need to do some research and identify all the publishers that publish books in your particular genre, and then put all of the above together in a Publishers' Pack and send everything out to all the publishers at once. Don't send to one publisher and wait, because most won't even reply to you as they get literally hundreds of book proposals landing on their desk or in their Inbox each and every week! But remember, the Publishers' Pack that you send them must be perfect because if they turn you down you can't ever go back to the same publisher with the same title! So don't approach any publisher until your three chapters are perfect!


If a publisher then likes what you send them, they'll call and commission you to write the rest. As a new writer you probably won't get an advance payment though, first time authors rarely get any money upfront because they don't have any previous sales records. However, once your book is out in the market place, royalties on books are normally paid by the publisher to the author every six months.


So, if you are thinking about writing your first book, I hope this article helps you a little. I am sure that there are many other successful published authors who may not agree with me, or have got themselves published in different ways, but these are just my thoughts based on the non-fiction books I have written and  may of course differ with other genres and in other countries. But I wonder how many writers reading this will still spend months or even years writing their whole book anyway, and then find it sits forever in their drawer or on their computer? Sadly, most.


GOOD LUCK, and keep on writing!

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