I have been asked about writing for many years. How do I start writing? What should I write about? Should I write in the morning? What method or style of writing will increase my chances of success? Should I get an agent? How do you choose an editor?
In a four-decade career in higher education, consulting, and now missions, I’ve asked my own questions. Every time I met an author, I tried to figure out what made him successful. I asked them about their tricks at the trade.
The observations that follow were gleaned from those multiple conversations with published authors, book publishers, and publishers, along with a few tidbits from my own experience. I have paraphrased the original comments to make them more accessible, and have borrowed them largely from “informed” friends. I appreciate your experience and expertise given so freely and lovingly to the craft of writing.
Some thoughts on writing
All writers experience “writer’s block.” Stop. Take a short break, like a walk. Maybe read a relevant book. Pray. Think about what you are trying to say.
All writers experience “writer’s doubt.” This is one of the reasons why “writers’ colonies” have developed in places like Paris, New York, or Boston. Writers need each other to stimulate, encourage, affirm, etc. So when you experience “writer’s doubt” remember, it is normal.
For most of us, writing is work. It may be a nice job, but it’s still a job. That’s the source of the old joke about the author who was asked, “Do you like to write?” The author replied, “I enjoy writing.”
For some of us, writing is like going on a diet. We don’t do it until we really want to. Desire produces discipline. Many more people aspire to write than actually do.
Dreamers dream, writers write.
There are many reasons why people write, personal expression, professional obligation, the feeling that something “needs to be said” for income, ministry or service, and so on. Whatever your reasons, try to choose topics that you are passionate about or that at least interest you. The writing process will be much more enjoyable and you are much more likely to finish the project.
Write sometime, somehow, every day. Make writing a habit.
To know why You want to write. Identify what drives you. Set realistic, achievable, yet challenging goals with target due dates. Goals can be a project, pages / words per day / week, etc.
The better the outline, the faster the writing. Do your homework.
Once you have the outline and have done your research, write. Just write and keep writing the best draft you can, but don’t worry too much about its flow, connection, or logic. This comes together on the second or third pass. Great writers like Philip Yancey take two to three years to write a book, and they usually rewrite sections repeatedly.
Pick a space where you can leave your writing materials open and ready. It is easier to “pick up where you left off” than to try to start over.
Pick a time to write that fits your own rhythms, early morning, late night, blocks of time, whatever works. John Maxwell frequently gets up in the middle of the night to write. It works for him. It wouldn’t work for me. Find what works for you.
For some writers, writing is not a sacrifice. For most, there are tradeoffs. Acknowledge this and make a decision. For example, you may need to give up late night television, etc.
Every writer needs readers, not only when the project is finished, but also when the writing is being written. Readers’ comments are only as valuable as your ability to receive criticism. Many academic writers never develop this ability. They seem to think that every word they write is “sacred”. Not so. You must put aside your ego and seek helpful criticism with a sense of humility. It’s still your writing, so you don’t have to embrace reader feedback, but you’ll always benefit from pre-post review from others. You must develop the same attitude when working with editors. This includes the project word limits. It is possible to say “more” in fewer words.
Getting readers can be one of your biggest challenges. People often say that they will read their material, then they will not read it, or they will not read it in the period of time in which it needs feedback (quickly), or they will not read it with a truly objective eye, that is, soft. pedaling their response to avoid “hurting their feelings” or saying what they really think.
Try to identify an informed and objective pair of readers who will faithfully return your material with honest comments within the timeframe you require. Try to identify one or two other readers, who may know very little about your topic, but who are well-read people capable of giving you honest feedback on style, grammar, sentence construction, flow, content, ” readability “, etc.
Don’t try to write for multiple audiences. It rarely works. Choose an audience, for example college students, colleagues, general public, professionals, housewives, space scientists, etc., and write for that audience. But know your audience.
Study the writing of successful authors who write for the audience you want to reach. Learn from these authors. Do not copy them. Emulate them.
Some thoughts on the publication
Get an editor and stand still. Step into the publisher’s stable and you and your projects will naturally rise higher in the company’s parade of hits.
If you want to increase the exposure of your work, program or organization, write books that reach the public and relate the interests of the organization to the interests of the public.
You may want to write for your colleagues. This is good, but few books will be sold and you may need to identify a college print shop.
You may want to write books for the general public. In this you are not trying to “impress” but to “express”. Don’t try to show your vocabulary. Remember, the first law of communication is to communicate.
“Books are not bought, they are sold.” You have to go out and sell the book. Conduct media interviews, book signings, book talks, etc. Cooperate with the publisher on this and create your own market.
Books are generally divided into post categories such as academic, professional, inspirational, etc. A business book is one written for the general public.
Publishers generally prefer to receive a book proposal before writing a book so that staff can work with the author to develop the book.
Book proposals are always mandatory and should be presented in the most refined form possible in accordance with the publisher’s guidelines. Proposal allows the publisher to assess the author’s ability to write a well-crafted book and can be the difference between an accepted or rejected project.
It is kosher to send your proposal to more than one editor at a time, as long as you tell them what you are doing. But editors don’t really like this and it can be a matter of shooting yourself in the foot robbing the editor of a small incentive to spend time and money proofreading your manuscript. It is probably best if you send your proposal to “your editor” (if you have published before) or to the editor you think fits your topic, and then wait for a response (4-6 weeks). If the book is rejected, then of course you can compare it.
If your book proposal is rejected, take heart. The publishing tradition is full of stories of authors who accumulated rejections just to publish and sell many books (for example, JK Rowling and Harry Potter).
Sometimes a book contract will include a “wholesales” stipulation, that is, bulk orders from an agency such as a radio show, which in turn will market the book on air. The contract may stipulate that the author receive a lower royalty rate on these types of wholesales. In other words, the author doesn’t get as much from this arrangement. Many books can be sold, but the royalty is lower and this arrangement can also dry up the upsell market.
One author said, “Get as much progress as possible.” But advances are based on the first year’s calculated and earned royalties, so this is largely a “Pay me now or pay me later” situation. An advance is good for the author, because it is guaranteed and in the bank, especially if the book fails. Many publishers now pay down payments regularly because it is becoming the norm and it is expected. When this happens, an author can receive half of the first year’s expected royalties when the book contract is signed and the other half when the book is finished and shipped to the publisher.
For new authors, what usually matters is publishing the book, not really the money involved. So whether you’re getting an advance or just waiting for royalties, it’s not much.
For new authors, royalty percentages range from 14% to 16%. Well-known authors sometimes get royalties of up to 22% to 24% or higher comparable advances, but this is rare.
For newer authors in particular, literary agents are generally not needed and, unless they really “add value” to the process, they become “middlemen” who can “get in the way” and do little more than take a percentage of the royalties. from the author. . On the other hand, some literary agents, depending also on the quality and content of their work, are worth their weight in gold because they can have your manuscript reviewed by editors who would not look at your unannounced submission.
Edited books usually don’t sell well, and publishers aren’t that keen on them. This is especially true for books published with many authors, unless the book has a very good focus. Edited books that include a “point-counterpoint” approach around a focused and timely topic sometimes work well. It is the responsibility of the publisher of the book (not the publisher) to obtain permission from other publishers to use material already published in an edited book.
Publishing is changing rapidly and dramatically, influenced by the Internet and digital capabilities that also affect audio and video productions. When writing, consider publishing in a “mediated” format, that is, a digital presentation. This could be high definition digital video on DVD, sound design productions on CD, a book or article posted on a website, etc. In these formats, it will potentially reach far more people than any print publication could reach, and it will reach younger people who now learn more from the media than from any other source.
Desktop publishing is easier and less expensive than ever and is gradually reaching new levels of acceptance. Desktop publishing is perhaps best accomplished through electronic means. Publishing your own work and promoting it until it gets enough recognition to attract the attention of the biggest publishers is a bit like a new or rebellious filmmaker producing an “independent” film, distributing it to the best of his ability, and then evaluating it. The results. You can pass. To think, The hut.
Writing is a trade. It usually takes time and effort to do your best work. Whether you write for yourself or for the world, learn from others and enhance the power of your pencil.