How to Write a Book

The hard part of writing a book is not getting published, it’s the process of getting there. As the author of Kicking Financial Ass, I can tell you that sitting down to write is the biggest challenge. There is an infinite number of ways to describe something and I am constantly tweaking, re-reading my writing, editing, and shaping what I wrote. Doubts enter my mind when I question if what I wrote is good enough for the public, but I push through that doubt by writing, writing, and more writing. The most important quality in writing a book is to develop a habit to write. Out of the thousands of words that eventually land on the page, I might keep a fraction. But without going through that process you never get to where you want to be. In this article, I talk about what I went through and how you can use what I learned to write a book yourself and bring in extra income.

1) Find a topic that interests you

This goes without saying. If you are not interested in the topic, don’t write about it. It comes out in your writing that you are struggling to find the words. Not to mention you will not have a good time researching and writing on the topic.

2) Determine what your motivation is

Is it to learn? Is it to make money? Is it for a personal challenge? My reasons for writing Kicking Financial Ass were to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Only then could I dig deep when spending countless hours at a coffee shop, sacrificing my social life on evenings and weekends determined to put out the best possible work possible. If you’re doing it to make money, chances are you are you will lose motivation fairly quickly and give up. 

3) Do your research

When I was writing my book, I read up on the top-selling personal finance books on the market to determine where my book would fit in. I determined very quickly that while each book offered great advice, they were lacking with advice targeted towards millennials. Another thing to note, you do not need to be an expert on the subject to write. While having a background in finance and working in the industry helped me filter good information from the bad, it was not completely necessary. The key is to do enough research so that you know more than 80% of the general public and to build credibility to become a thought leader on the subject.

4) Write, write and write

A book doesn’t write itself. I know it can be intimidating staring at a blank page trying to come up with words, but don’t let that stop you. The key is to put something on the page. You can always edit it later or scrap it entirely. I find the best way to do this is to get into a routine and set a timer. I wrote primarily on weekends and saved my editing for after work on the weekdays, but what works for me may not work for you. I usually would set a timer for a few hours and write. If I got into the flow, I would keep writing until either a) I had something else to do that day or b) I noticed I was losing my focus and needed to take a break.

5) Determine how long your book is going to be

I didn’t take this approach when I started writing. Originally Kicking Financial Ass was supposed to be a short 20-page “to-do” list for friends and family. Then it morphed into a fully-fledged book once I realized there was so much more I wanted to write. Below is a rough guideline to what kind of book your book will be considered based on its length:

  • 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Average read time = 30 to 60 minutes.
  • 20,000 words = this is a short eBook or manifesto. Average read time = One to two hours.
  • 40,000 words-60,000 words = this is a standard length nonfiction book or novella. Average read time = three to four hours.
  • 60,000 words-80,000 words = this is a long nonfiction book/standard-length novel. Kicking Financial Ass fits in here with ~68,000 words. Average read time = four to six hours.
  • 80,000 words-100,000 words = very long nonfiction book/long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls into here. Average read time = five to seven hours.
  • 100,000+ words = epic-length novel/academic book/biography. Average read time = six to eight hours.

6) Get feedback from as many as people as possible

Friends and family are great places to start. Once I had an early draft I hired an editor to do an initial copy-edit to iron out all the typos and grammar mistakes so that the feedback I received from friends and family was focused on my ideas rather than being distracted from the quality of writing. Once you get feedback from a few, continue to tweak your material. It’s also important to reach out to complete strangers and gather their feedback. Friends and family are likely to give you positive reinforcement to be supportive but the most valuable feedback is direct and honest. Do not take this feedback personally; use it to improve your writing.

Once you are at a near-final stage edit, look to sites like NetGalley that provide advance reading copies (ARCs) of your book to professional readers such as reviewers, media, journalists, bloggers and booksellers that will read your book and provide feedback and early reviews. For writers, they have two options:

1) $849 Marketing-Plus-Title listing. Your book will be listed for 6 months in addition to being highlighted in any of their scheduled NetGalley Newsletters.

2) $450 Six-Month Standard Listing. Titles will be can be active on the site for up to 6 months, available on NetGalley for professional readers to request or download, depending on your preferences.

7) Hire an editor

There are a number of freelance websites out there where you can find qualified editors to edit your book. I recommend using Upwork where you can filter based on experience, cost, location, and more. As a reference, the editor I used for Kicking Financial Ass, Samantha Mason, has a background in engineering combined with editing and copywriting experience that proved invaluable to get my book to the state it’s in today. The general rule of thumb is that your book is only as good as the quality of your editor so if there is one area I would not try to skimp out on for cost savings would be your editor.

There are different types of editing that an editor will do.

  • Substantive (development) editing. This is structural feedback on your ideas, structure, organization, logic, flow, and coherence. Depending on the stage of your draft, you may want to ask for this type of feedback before the others listed.
  • Copy editing. This is grammar, style, word usage, comma placement, and having the periods in the right places.
  • Proofreading. The lightest form of editing and saved for last. Your draft should be in a good condition before asking for a proof-read. Minor errors include grammar and style, capitalization and punctuation, and keeping everything consistent.

8) Hire a graphic designer for the book cover

People do judge a book by its cover so having a quality book cover is crucial. Whether you decide to go the traditional publishing route or self-publish, I recommend getting a book cover done to help bring your book to life when pitching or marketing it.

I used 99Designs for Kicking Financial Ass and cannot recommend them enough. You can either pick a designer you like and invite them to work on your project, or setup a design contest where you receive a number of designs and work with.

9) Determine if you want to traditional publish or self-publish

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is still big business, however with more and more self-published books on the market, along with the financial difficulties many bookstores are facing, makes publishers even more selective in what they want to see before publishing. In order to get your book published, you need to create a proposal for a book agent and pitch them. Likely you need to contact at least 20 book agents before one might bite and offer you a contract. I recommend sending off proposals five at a time, that way as feedback comes in, you can tweak your proposal or book before approaching the next batch of book agents on your list. Note: it is important your book is in final draft form before sending it off to agents. Their job is to market your book to publishers and not to provide feedback or editing services.

  • Finding an agent. There are a number of ways to find a book agent such as using sites like Agentquery.com and WritersMarket.com. Pitch, pitch, and pitch some more. If an agent is interested in your book after reading your proposal, they are likely to ask for sample chapters and then eventually the entire manuscript. Keep in mind that this process can take months. Agents are busy people and things move slowly in the traditional publishing space.
  • Finding a publisher. If you get a book agent, it’s time for a small celebration as odds of landing one are less than 10%, but you’re not guaranteed for your book to be published yet. The next step is for your agent to approach publishers who have their own set of criteria that they look at when determining if your book is worth publishing. Factors can include other books they have on the topic, the perceived size of the topic you are writing about, and their risk tolerance. Also important to note, that this whole process costs you zero. The book agent gets paid a royalty based on how many books you may sell, usually 15%, while the publisher also only gets paid if your book sells. The publisher is the one taking the financial risk on your book between marketing costs, printing, distribution, and additional editing, in addition to covering your advance. This whole process can take multiple months, and even if a publisher was to say yes, expect another 6 to 9 months before you see your book on store shelves.

Pros:

  • Your book will be found in bookstores nationally. There is something to say about walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on one of the shelves.
  • Your book will be professionally designed and edited. After getting your book to publishable quality, the publisher will take things one step further for the final touches.
  • You are likely to get a book advance (typically less than $10,000). This is to help offset the cost of time put into writing. It’s still customary for traditional publishers to pay an advance even if the book is already written (which is recommended).

Cons:

  • Small royalties. You are likely to only receive 10% to 15% of any book sale which is likely $1.00 to $1.50 depending on the retail price of the book. The rest of the proceeds are split between your agent, the publisher, and the retail stores that carry it.
  • The industry is slow. You can likely self-publish within a few months compared to timelines upwards to a year with a traditional publisher.
  • You lose some creative control. A traditional publisher gives feedback that you will either appreciate or disagree with, however, if you want your book published it is hard to say no.
  • Need for a platform. Most traditional publishers are looking for an author with an established platform and an online following that they can sell the book to. If you don’t have a platform you may be out of luck.

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has taken the book industry by storm. Anyone can self-publish a book and you maintain full control over your book including all marketing efforts. The quality of the book you want to output is totally up to you; if you want to self-publish on the cheap you can do the majority of the work yourself. My opinion is if you’re going to put your name on something may as well do it right with getting it professional edited, typeset, and book cover created. This likely costs upwards of $5,000 to do a quality job. You can do an eBook version and also get physical copies made when self-publishing.

Pros:

  • Full control. Every decision is yours to make, which may seem a bit intimidating at first but you can do whatever you want. Want to put out a free chapter for promotional purposes? Price? Easy.
  • Shipping times are faster. Depending on the length and quality of the book you are writing, you can get your book out the door within months compared to over a year with a traditional publisher.
  • You keep upwards of 70% of sales. It still costs money to self-publisher, which services like Kindle, and IngramSpark offer, for a small cut of your book, but you still get to keep the majority of sales.
  • More frequent paydays. Traditional publishers only start making payments after you earn back your initial advance with sales. If that is achieved, expect to be paid twice a year for your royalty payouts. With self-publishing, you get paid monthly.

Cons:

  • Marketing is on you. What are the chances of someone randomly coming across your book while searching on Amazon and being interested enough to pay money for it? It’s unlikely, especially with the over 1 million self-published titles on the market (as of 2017). You need to actively market your book, whether it’s using Facebook ads, Google ads, targeting book reviewers, paid book promotion websites, or cross-promoting on other blogs/websites. This can be a lot of work. This is not to say it’s impossible to have success; Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published and became a monster hit.
  • You still need a platform. Having your own platform is one of the best ways to market and sell your book. The only thing is this further adds to the cost of starting up.
  • Upfront costs. You are not be getting an advance, and can potentially be sinking in a lot of money upfront between editing, typesetting, buying an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), and the book cover, for a chance that your book to sell.
  • Self-publishing stigma. People may wonder why you didn’t go the traditional publishing route and may associate your book with low quality. This is why I recommend spending the money to get your book up to a high standard.

10) Hire a typesetter

A typesetter arranges the book’s interior to create the best reading experience. This is typically the last stage of book production so make sure your book is in final draft form before moving on to this step. Among other things a typesetter:

  • Determines the size of the margins,
  • Styles the chapter starts, and
  • Picks the right font and size

You want your reader to have a positive experience reading your book so having your writing presented clearly and in an attractive way goes a long way for book sales. You can do it yourself, however, I recommend hiring a professional.

Legal Disclaimer: The views expressed by Mr. Dumont on Money Sensei are solely his and not intended as investment advice nor a guarantee of any financial return. Mr. Dumont is not an investment or tax professional, so the information contained on the blog is not a substitute for professional advice. The contents of this blog are accurate to the best of his knowledge at the time of posting, but rules and laws are ever-changing. Please do your research to confirm that you have the current information.

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