When you think of the phrase “imposter syndrome,” what comes to mind?
A shadowy figure dressed in mustache and sunglasses? A copy cat watching your every move?
Though imposter syndrome isn’t that insidious, it can still wreak havoc on your work.
Fortunately, by following the tips outlined in this post, you’ll be able to identify your imposter syndrome and kick it to the curb!
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome for writers is when you compare yourself to other writers to the extent that you question your own ability in writing. Imposter syndrome can apply to any creative field, but is prevalent for writers.
On the most basic level, imposter syndrome results in doubting your work. At a severe level, it results in a refusal to engage creatively.
What do I mean by “a refusal to engage creatively”?
Fearful of being inadequate, you don’t reach for your pen to jot down that amazing story idea. Distracted by other writers, you leave your page blank. Though you have great concepts, you don’t show them to anyone because you’re afraid you’re not good enough.
But you can overcome this self-doubt. Why? Because you are good enough.
Do I Have Imposter Syndrome?
Bookstores are usually a writer’s paradise. Home to a wonderful collection of different authors and book genres, it’s usually any writer’s dream to display their own work on the shelves.
But to someone with imposter syndrome, this place is a hotbed for competition. If you have imposter syndrome, you might feel the urge to instantly compare yourself to every book you come across. You might start thinking thoughts like: Their idea is so cool! Why can’t I come up with that? There are already so many successful authors…I can’t hope to be one.
Imposter syndrome might affect your writing itself.
Writing workshops are great opportunities to gather feedback and make your work stronger. But someone with imposter syndrome might freeze up when it comes time to share their work.
If you have imposter syndrome, you might start picking your piece apart, embarrassed to utter a single sentence.
Good news! With our writing tips, you’ll gain confidence in your writing ability.
How Can Imposter Syndrome Impact My Work?
When someone has imposter syndrome, it’s not just the author who suffers…it’s their work. Imposter syndrome can snuff out someone’s will to write, that key energy that pushes anyone to even start typing in the first place.
Imposter syndrome is a state of mind.
You’ll start questioning everything you put to paper; you’ll question the good reviews you get on your work and instead focus on the bad.
That sort of mindset tramples the creative process.
But you can quiet self-doubt and endless comparisons today.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
If you have imposter syndrome, you’re not without luck.
Here are just a few of many tips and strategies you can employ to hop back on that writing saddle.
#1 – Force yourself to write
This might be the greatest hurdle to overcome. But the first step in overcoming any writing issue is by taking to the page.
Start simple—you don’t have to write a memoir of 200 pages just yet. If you can’t think of any imaginative ideas or writing prompts, write about something that relates to you, like your morning commute.
If pressure forces you to write, add a timer. Hop onto Google and search for a stopwatch, or go the old-fashioned route and grab your own. Scribble down a few basic themes or ideas, set that timer for five minutes, and start writing!
This tip is professor-proofed.
I was first exposed to this tip in one of my college classes last semester. Engaging in it truly helped me shed my imposter syndrome.
Taking to the whiteboard, the teacher wrote a handful of basic words. Robot. July. Clouds. Balloon. It seemed silly, but this exercise helped the entire class.
Instead of being scared to read their work aloud, everyone was eager to share what they wrote. To my shock, I was too!
The goal isn’t to use every single theme you wrote down. If you do, that’s terrific! The main goal of this challenge is putting yourself back into a writing mindset.
Challenging yourself through creative writing is just one of many ways to diminish your imposter syndrome.
Up for taking this challenge with others? Make it a party and grab some friends. Instead of focusing on who wrote the “best” story, though, try celebrating the simple fact that you’re all making something creative.
The more you spend thinking of ideas and diving back into your writing, the less you’ll think of other people’s opinions.
#2 – Create balance in your life
A stressed mind creates stressful scenarios. Look for what is lacking in your schedule—or what’s eating it up. Are you getting an adequate amount of sleep each night? Is your work environment clashing with your mental health? If you’re tense, try deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
Here’s a great table on creating your writing environment:
How to Start Writing Tip
- isolate yourself from family/friends/even the family dog - remind everyone it's YOUR time - Turn your phone off - Close ALL web browsers - Close your email
- invest in a GOOD chair - or resort to using a stand-up desk for more energy - fill the area with motivational quotes - make sure you're physically comfortable for the next 30 minutes or an hour
Choose Beneficial Background Noise
- turn off all sounds if it distracts you - turn on lyric-less music to help you concentrate - choose energizing music to help you focus
If schedules rule your day, pencil in some time to write. Follow rule #1 and take advantage of gaps in your day. Scribble some sentences while you’re munching during your lunch break, or make a habit of journaling before bed.
Not only will this help you make long-term progress, but it’ll also help you fall into a writing routine.
Visit this post on how you can create your perfect writing space.
However, you normally gather your ideas, make sure you’re actually jotting them down. Nothing hurts more than thinking of your next great story idea and forgetting it because you didn’t have it on paper.
The easier you make it for you to find your character bios or world maps, the less stress you’ll be putting on yourself when it comes time to write.
The more you declutter your mind, the more room you’ll have to start focusing on your work.
#3 – Create balance in your feedback
It’s no secret that if you want to grow as a writer, you have to accept feedback. For someone with imposter syndrome, though, accepting negative feedback is especially difficult. The solution?
Realize that feedback is supposed to enhance your work. Instead of attaching yourself to the feedback, remain subjective.
The joy of being an author and sharing our work with the world is that we come across various viewpoints. Some might agree with us, and others might not. And that’s okay! You can decide when and how you want to respond to reviews.
For starters, this type of feedback is rude. More importantly, feedback like this doesn’t offer any suggestions or justifications. You can toss “feedback” of this sort out the window. Instead, look for feedback partners who will lift you up.
An example of proper feedback:
“I really liked the tone of this piece. It was consistent and locked me in. Yet, I’m not sure if your main character’s actions are justifiable. I didn’t see any character development in this chapter and I think adding that would help.”
Positive, constructive feedback creates balance.
As an author, positive feedback lets you know what you did well and what you need to improve on. Creating this balanced feedback opens up an honest and respectful dialogue between writing partners.
Cultivating these conversations helps eliminate imposter syndrome.
#4 – Interview other writers
No one is immune to self-doubt. But one way to start squashing that feeling is by interviewing authors.
Here are a few sample questions you might ask:
Have you ever faced imposter syndrome?
Are you still battling imposter syndrome?
What tips have you used to overcome your imposter syndrome?
What are your favorite writing exercises?
What are your favorite inspirational quotes?
What book serves as your inspiration?
What is the best feedback you have ever received?
What is the worst feedback you have ever received?
How do you overcome negative feedback?
What might you say to your younger writing self?
What is your biggest writing achievement?
What are your writing goals?
If they are not finished with the journey of overcoming imposter syndrome, you can help each other. Try tip number one and get lost in the sample writing activity together—or create your own!
By engaging with other writers, you’ll start realizing that most of them have the same concerns you do. You’ll realize that writing is a personal—and community-filled—journey. While we might feel excluded in our writing dens, bent over the keys, nothing is more welcoming than knowing we’re not alone.
#5 – Realize every story and writer is different
Your western murder mystery is probably very different than someone else’s comedy road trip novella.
It makes sense that comparing those two ideas is rather difficult. Even at the surface, it’s rather hard to come up with like-minded ideas. Gunslingers and modern-day travel sagas don’t exactly share too many similarities.
But, what if you did? Finding common ground in another work shouldn’t spell the end to your writing career.
Let Stanley Kubrick’s words be of inspiration to you:
“Everything has already been done. Every story has been told…it’s our job to do it one better.”
Take it upon yourself to add your creative twist to your work.
When those comparison-laden thoughts surface, realize that every writer brings something different to the keyboard.
#6 – Everyone starts somewhere
If you’re anything like me, you didn’t pick up writing skillsets overnight. Instead, it’s been a long journey from the day you first started scribbling on paper to where you are at now.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to…yourself. Think about how long you’ve been writing. If you’ve been writing since elementary school, it’s likely your younger self would be in awe about what you’ve written throughout the years.
Picturing that little kid smiling over your skills might be enough motivation to keep going.
Even if you just picked up the creative pen last week, every day is a new experience. Every sentence written is a new notch of knowledge added to your belt. Root for yourself.
Final Tips for Getting Over Imposter Syndrome for Writers
If following numerous tasks stresses you out, nothing says you have to follow all of these pointers at once. Try them out of order, mix them around. If you would rather find a writing community first, then start working on how to balance your feedback, that’s perfectly fine.
Conversely, if you like following guides step-by-step, give it a shot!
Is goal-setting your calling? Try marking on your calendar when you would like to erase your imposter syndrome. Sometimes, having a feasible end date serves as great motivation.
Regardless, by following these steps, you’ll start living the inverse of imposter-ridden scenarios.
Stepping into a bookstore, you’ll feel energized looking at the latest best-sellers and fresh faces on the shelves. You might even picture your work standing proudly amongst them.
Heading to your next writer’s conference, you come prepared. You’re happy to gather feedback on your work and even happier to share your piece aloud.
You don’t compare yourself to the big leagues or your writing partner. You see other writers as writing allies, no matter if they’re writing about a space opera and you’re writing about an romance saga in Venice.
Most importantly…You realize how imperative it is to foster a healthy community of writers—and you’re ecstatic being a part of one.
You have dreamed about this—this world which is different from ours and actually worldbuilding for fantasy in general.
It’s interesting, it’s riveting…
Now you want to share this world that has been created in your head with the world.
It’s not easy to write and writing a book which is completely or mostly imaginary is even harder. How do you even start?
Maybe you have your world figured out but don’t know anything about your characters, about the plot, the conflict, the resolution, nothing. You just have the magic and fantastical element figured out but don’t know how to convert that into a story idea you’re proud of.
Well that’s the fun in being a writer. Now let’s sit down and figure this out!
While many book genres exist, nothing sweeps you off of your feet (or your bed, if you read before turning in for the night), than a well thought out, captivating, and magical fantasy book.
The only thing absorbing you in other fiction books that take place in our reality is the plot and main characters. But in fantasy, you get the IMAX experience – characters, plots, and a gripping fantastical world.
Who doesn’t want to escape and read about wizards and warlocks, vampires and werewolves, hobbits and fairies, ghosts and zombies, witches and aliens, magical creatures and monsters, and of course, superheroes and villains?
Fantasy novels immerse the readers into that curated world and take them along the journey.
Like almost every book-reader in the world, a series which I grew up with is Harry Potter. Of course Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all the other characters are incredibly well-written that have you coming back for more, but one of the things that have to this date gripped audiences is the world of Witchcraft and Wizardry – Hogwarts, Ministry of Magic, how wizards operate on a day-to-day basis, Quidditch, and much more.
I mean, to this day you have Harry Potter fans visiting King’s Cross station to see platform 9 ¾.
That’s the power of good world-building. Years after your book has published, you still have your audience feeling home-sick for that world.
How Do I Get Started on My Fantasy Novel?
You have an active imagination, you have an idea of your fantasy world, and now it’s finally time for you to start writing your book.
After some time procrastinating on Instagram, you finally sit down to write but aren’t sure how to start explaining your fantasy world. Or you suddenly realized a loophole or fault in that world.
Don’t worry. Creating a fantasy world which is believable and loved by your readers is possible! If you’re also coming short on ideas, try searching through these writing prompts.
Before you start your story, getting a cup of coffee, and getting your laptop out to start writing, you need to do one important step: Plan and draw it all out in a comprehensive outline!
Before doing anything else, it is important for you to sit down and plan your world. Do your book research.
Why do you think a lot of fantasy books have a map and/or symbols drawn on the front of the book? It’s not just for the author’s own organization; it also gives the readers an understanding of the physicality of the world.
If any point in the story, a reader is lost in the imagery and needs clarification, they can just turn back to the map and clear their doubts.
Step 1 for Starting to World Building Fantasy:
Start by drawing your landscape, your characters (especially if they’re not human-like), any symbols, weapons, buildings, and other imagery.
Focus and write out the world’s culture, people, history, weather, food, traditions, societal norms, religion, and other elements you learn about in this post.
Step 2 for Starting to World Building Fantasy:
The devil is in the details. Sit down and dash it all down along with a ton of scribbling, erasing, and cutting. If you don’t you will leave those dreaded plot holes.
If things don’t perfectly connect and instead tend to contradict each other, your reader will get lost and might feel frustrated.
Your base needs to be strong and this is the perfect time for you to strengthen that base so that the rest of your book flows much easily. It’s like math; if you never understood the bases, you’ll always struggle. Don’t worry—writing is not as difficult as math, it doesn’t make you cry tears (for the most part).
Step 3 for Starting to World Building Fantasy:
Accept the truth.
The hard truth is this: it’s harder to write fantasy than it is to write any other genre or non-fiction.
If my story was set on Earth and involved just humans in our timeline, I don’t need to guess anything. If my characters are set in Toronto, Canada in 2019, I know for a fact that it is spring in Toronto, Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister of Canada, and poutine is sold there. My whole book is set in a real world, where everything is already set. All I need to do here is do some research on Canada and write my book.
But if I’m writing a fantasy book, I have to figure out that world all by myself. Sure it’s time-consuming and challenging but how fun is fantasy to read and write?
You and your reader will get to get lost in your world.
As said by George R. R. Martin, the author of one of the most famous series in the world,Game of Thrones:
“We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”
And honestly, yes! Bring on all the mysteries, magic, and alternate realities.
How do you world build a fictional world?
In order for your reader to not get lost and connect with your world, it is important for you to describe it perfectly.
This doesn’t mean that you have to list absolutely anything and everything, but you should at least have your readers understand the basic structures and elements of your world.
Your description of the world has to be as cohesive as possible or else your story would come across as choppy and fragmented, making the reader feel frustrated soon enough.
One of the best tips for this is to use the old rule of “show, don’t tell” when writing.
All of this information you build has to come across to the reader, but you can’t just tell them everything in an info-dump.
What you want to do is leak the information about your world into the narrative with as much showing as possible. Paint the picture with your world through scenes and setting so your readers interpret it themselves.
Fantasy World Building: The Essentials You Must Cover
The 10 elements of world-buildingthat you should ponder over and plan so that your audience falls in love with your fantasy novel are:
#1 – Time in Worldbuilding
Is your novel based in our time? Is it based during World War 1, the Ottoman Empire, when Prussia existed?
Or is it in the future: 2080, the end of the world, or post-apocalyptic?
Or better yet: is it based on another planet or a whole other magical world where our definition of time is irrelevant?
Like The Good Place, does a part of your world follow a weird and different time like Jeremy Bearimy?
Once you’ve established your timeframe, it is easier to then think about the specifics of the world. If it’s during WW1, then you can’t have cell phones, if it’s in 2080 maybe instead of cars there are flying drones.
Or in your world, no elements of our society exist. Aladdin is its own magical realm where the mode of transportation is horses, carriages, or a magic carpet.
The possibilities are endless.
#2 – Location
Location, along with time, plays a key role in your world building. If your characters are in Paris in 1945, they are fighting in WW2 but if they are in India, they are fighting for their independence from Britain along with Gandhi.
If your world is completely imaginary, it then helps answer whether your world has continents, countries, and cities?
Does it have buildings like ours or some high-tech ones that keep floating in air?
Your location then also helps figure out other important elements of your world such as the culture, people, and political systems, which we’ll get to below.
#3 – Laws & Government
Just like our world, this fantasy world of yours will also have the basic fundamentals and structures that make a functioning society.
Of course, instead of having a male or female President, your world’s political system might have an eight-feet tarantula who is the one True Ruler.
Here are some fantasy worldbuilding questions for laws and government:
Who or what are the ruling class and what method of governance do they use?
If magic exists in your reality, what are the rules and regulations surrounding it?
If someone breaks a rule, do they go to prison, are punished, or exiled?
Who enforces the laws in general?
Is there some sort of organization to laws and the justice system?
Maybe whoever kills the Ruler becomes the new Ruler, or according to a prophecy, the true Ruler is the one person who is born on the 4th new moon of the year at exactly 1:02 a.m.
Thinking about these different elements is a great way to tie in your own morals and values, along with your story’s themes, in a cohesive manner.
#4 – Worldbuilding People in Fantasy
There’s a ton to consider when you’re world building for fantasy people.
Here are some question to ask when doing this:
Is your protagonist a human like you and me or a half alien from an imaginary world, one-third wizard, and the rest a bird?
Are all the people exactly the same or characterized based on their gender, race, age, number of feet, what animal head they have?
Maybe the ruling class can only be birds but the local population is a mixture of birds and raccoons?
What language do the people speak? Of course your book would be written in English or any other language, but there might be a language that your characters use?
This could be a cool and fun way for you to include a sentence or two in a made-up language (of course, include a translation for it to not confuse your readers). This will also make it easier for you to write dialoguebetween the characters.
You may also consider if the people live in our world but live in the shadows and are invisible?
Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series features us humans, vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels, demons, warlocks, and an imaginary race of humans that are a mix of humans and angels known as ‘shadowhunters’.
They are invisible and everything they use—weapons, appearances, and buildings—are invisible or enchanted in some way.
Species is one of the most important part of your world. In your head, you should have an absolute clear and detailed image of how all the people look like.
#5 – World History
History is what defines and shapes our present. Every world has its history which makes it—its culture, people, government, traditions, etc.
Historical events will also pose as a point of friction and plot point for you world.
Do the vampires in your world hate the witches because centuries ago a group of witches massacred vampires? Is 2230 Earth a dystopian society cause of a zombie apocalypse breaking out in 2095 due to climate change?
Without a strong historical base and understanding, it would be very difficult to understand the situations and choices that your current characters and their surroundings are taking.
History explains the why of the way current society functions.
#6 – Society in Fantasy Novels
All of the characters combined along with their social identifiers, history, and relationship to each other creates a society.
Answer some of these world building questions for forming your society:
In your world, what is the basis of your society?
Does a class system exist with poor and rich people?
What’s the family structure like?
Are relationships monogamous or polyamorous?
Are same-sex relationships accepted or frowned upon?
How do gender roles operate?
Usually our real life societal elements of sexism, racism, classism and others are adopted and reflected in other ways in a fantasy novel. In Harry Potter, racism is reflected in the way Purebloods hate Mudbloods and Muggles.
Find your unique take on societal issues and reveal it in an interesting way.
And remember: you do NOT need to follow our societal structures. You can say “to hell!” with any sexism/racism if you want. There are many other conflicts your story can have without maintaining our own toxic shortcomings as a society.
#7 – Religion in Fantasy
Religion may or may not play an integral role in your world. However, as an important part of society, it will affect your characters and the general values and traditions of the society.
What do they believe in? What are their values?
You can create a religion which worships God(s) or Deity(ies), a cult-like religion which calls for human sacrifices, or create a world in which religion is banned.
Mythologies are ancient stories that characters grow up listening. They are believed to be false or very dramatized religious events, however, to understand a society’s functionality and history, they are important to know. What’s the famous legend or folklore of your world?
Create a backstory for this religion as well. In fact, treat religion as a type of character archetype and fully flesh it out with details, rituals, and more.
#8 – Worldbuliding Magic in Fantasy
In fantasy novels, magic usually plays a huge role. Magic is what defines the fantasy genre.
If there is no magic, it’s not fantasy.
To truly make your world a gripping one, carefully creating the magical aspect of it is important and also a lot of fun!
Ask these questions when world building a magic system:
What type of magic exists?
Do only wizards and witches have magic or some other creatures possess it too?
Or is it magic accidentally born out of a science experiment gone wrong?
Even Spider-man’s powers could also be considered magic as he got them after being bitten!
Or is magic banned in your society with only a few in the ruling class being able to employ it?
This also brings into the question the other important aspects of magic that you need to consider: the rules and regulations surrounding magic.
Can anyone of any age utilize it or just a few? Is magic taught and tested or does it just come naturally?
Magic is the essence and heart of fantasy. Make sure you do it right.
#9 – Economy in Fantasy Novels
Not only does economy include the existence of classes or social strata, it also includes the kinds of professions that exist in your world. Are doctors as well-respected and highly-paid as they are in our world or are they considered useless as magic is the sole healer?
What currency does your world have? Does it have banks or other financial institutions or do people just keep all their money with them?
Does currency even exist or is a barter system in place?
Make sure to have a firm understanding of how your characters acquire goods and services in your novel. This bit will help in worldbuilding other elements as well.
#10 – Daily Life in Fantasy
Finally once you’ve figured all the above elements of your world, this should come naturally.
What does a normal day look like in your world?
Just think about your own daily routine. Most people have the same ones – wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to work or school/university, eat lunch, come back home and maybe go to the gym, cook some dinner and watch t.v. before you finally go to bed.
Of course endless other little things might be included in it, like if you stopped for groceries, walked your dog, went to the doctors’ etc., but the basis is pretty common for everyone.
Jenna Moreci, author of The Savior’s Champion, does a really great job of showing us the day-to-day for her main character, Tobias, as seen in the example below.
Here, we can see what Tobias’s everyday life looks like, and if you’ve read the book blurb and know what this book is about (hint: a tournament to the death), you can see just how much those two things create an intriguing contrast.
Fantasy World Building Final Tips…
Now that you know the time period, location, people’s characteristics, type of society, laws and government, existence of magic, religion, and economic system, you can easily figure out what your character’s day to day life is like.
Of course, to advance your plot and keep your readers interested, your characters would probably be on some crazy adventure doing extraordinary things, and not just following their normal routine.
However, other characters would be and it is important to show what the rest of the world is doing while these few people are on their journey.
By strengthening these 10 elements of your world, not only will your world be interesting to read, it will also help you organize yourself while writing. If you need a template to have this all figured and written down, you can try this BookMap.
And now finally, once all these details are out of the way and you have a clear understanding of your world, there’s only two things left to do: love your book and write it!
Building a world can be a lot of fun but it is also a very tedious and laborious process. Create a world that you love! If you aren’t excited imagining, writing, and reading your fantastical world, your readers won’t either.
As Stephen King mentions:
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
Find everything that makes this world of yours special. And don’t worry about creating the next fantasy hit, this one’s all you.
Writing the book might seem like the most difficult part…and then you have to actually title the darn thing!
When it comes to writing a book, coming up with reasonable book title ideas is surprisingly one of the hardest parts to complete. It’s difficult because titles are essentially short hooks that advertise your book using the fewest words possible.
It’s also what readers look for first when they discover new books, and can take less than 5 seconds to make a decision.
This is why it’s so crucial tocrafta perfect name.
Give these a try, and comment down below your favorite! Also, let us know if you want any book title generators we should add to this list.
#2 – Your Title Must Include a Solution to a Problem
Your title should be crystal clear on what your readers will achieve by reading your book. Experts say that a title with a clear promise or a guarantee of results will further intrigue your readers.
Here are some questions to consider when creating your title:
Are you teaching a desirable skill?
Can your personal discoveries impact someone’s life?
Can your book solve a very difficult problem?
Here are our favorite book titles that offer a clear solution to a problem with promising results:
Asperger’s Rules! How to Make Sense of School and Friendship by Blythe Grossman
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Write down the best solutions or teachings your book offers and form these into potential book title ideas.
#3 – Use a Subtitle for Clarity
A great non-fiction title employs a subtitle to clarify what the desired outcome will be from reading your book.
In this video clip, Chandler explains in 5 simple steps how to create a compelling subtitle:
Here are some questions to consider when creating your subtitle:
How can your subtitle further expand on achieving a desirable outcome?
What are the biggest pain points that your subtitle can provide a solution for?
How can you further address your innovative solution in the subtitle?
Here are our favorite book subtitles that spell out what their readers can expect from reading their books:
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Make a list of 10 attention-grabbing subtitles that promise big outcomes and other positive benefits.
#4 – Make Your Title Unforgettable
Catchy titles are memorable, boring titles are not. So make an effort to be more creative and fun with your book title! Use alliterations to make your title easier to read and remember. A memorable and light-hearted title adds additional character to your book and is also a great way to attract readers.
Here are some questions to consider when creating your memorable title:
Will a fun title turn a normally boring subject into something more interesting?
Will adding humor to your title further entice readers?
Will a cleverly written title stand out from other books in this genre?
Here are our favorite books that engaged us with clever titles and subtitles:
Me Talk Pretty One Day and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
Trust me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Experiment with different types of styles and poll your audience to determine whether a comedic, shocking, or even bizarre title will be the most appealing to your target audience.
No matter which method works best on creating a compelling title for nonfiction books, a good thing to remember is to always test multiple titles with different audiences to determine which book title generates the biggest response.
Getting good feedback is the only way to know for certain which title is perfect for your book.
How to Generate Book Title Ideas for Fiction
Generally, fiction titles are allowed more creative wiggle room than their non-fiction counterparts. That being said, an effective fiction title must still pique your readers’ attention.
And while it’s true that you can title your fictional book with random names, it still must catch the reader’s attention.
Here are some key guidelines to keep in mind:
#1 – Your Title Should be Appropriate to Your Genre
Your novel title should use language that resonates with both your book genre and target audience. For example, a romantic book can call for dreamy language whereas an action book can warrant strong and powerful words.
This means that you must know your book’s genre and words that best fit the style of title.
Here are some questions to consider for appropriate genre titles:
What genre best fits this story?
Which are the perfect choice words for your genre?
Here are our favorite fictional titles based on genre:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Based on the genre of your book, pick out a few keywords that best suit its category and evoke strong emotions in your readers.
#2 – Your Book Title Should Pique Your Reader’s Interest
A great fiction title teases and leaves your audience wanting more. You want your audience to read your title and think, “I must read what’s behind that great book cover!”
Here are some questions to consider on how to pique interest with your title:
Which key components of your story best captivates your readers?
What emotions do you want your readers to have once they read your title?
Here are our favorite fictional titles that drew our attention:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Choose a theme that will best draw your reader’s attention. Come up with 5 titles that will catch your reader’s attention and pique their curiosity.
#3 – Look to Your Characters for Book Title Inspiration
A great book title captures the spirit of the protagonist. Some authors simply use the hero’s name for their title.
Others have combined the names of their hero along with their special qualities to inform the audience about their protagonist’s accomplishments like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
On the flip-side, a formidable antagonist can also be an amazing book title.
A sinister name can convey a sense of dread and expectation for what’s to come like Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. Both choices are great title ideas and should be seriously considered for your fictional book.
Here are some questions to consider when including a character as a title:
Between the hero and villain, who impacts the story more?
Are there any stunning qualities from your characters that will draw a reader’s emotion?
Can the plot of the story be summed up as a title?
Here are our favorite fictional books thatuse characters for its title:
Harry Potter (Literary Series) by J. K. Rowling
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Book Title Ideas Action Plan:
Determine which character best conveys what the story will tell in your title. You may also include creative words or themes to further showcase the character’s unique qualities or the journey itself.
#3 – Get Feedback From Your Target Audience
The people who will know if your title is a good fit best, are the people who would pick your book out of a lineup.
This can be difficult if you’re not a part of a writing group or aren’t active on social media.
However, here are some tips for getting book title feedback:
Create a poll in a Facebook writing group
Reach out to some friends or family you know read in your genre and ask for their feedback
Post a poll on Twitter with your various options
Do all of these in order to get a wide variety of input
Your Next Steps
Ultimately, the title of your book depends on you, the author. By following these constructive guidelines, you will be able to generate a number of book title ideas you can use to find the perfect one that grasps the attention of readers and soon become an Amazon bestseller in no time!
#1 – Join your FREE training!
This training was created just for you. Make sure to save your spot and sign up right now so you can learn exactly what it takes to write and publish your book within 90 days…or even less!
You won’t find this guide anywhere else. Take advantage of this offer so you can spark multiple book title ideas in as little as an hour!
#2 – Create a list of book title ideas
Now is the time to fire up that imagination and start brainstorming! We gave you a number of different actionable steps to help you generate book title ideas that work well.
Now is the time to make a list of every potential book title you can think of! The more, the merrier.
When this is done, you’ll want to go through and jot down any that really make you feel something in a separate list. These are the ones you’ll use for the next step.
#3 – Get feedback about the top title
It’s hard to pick a title by yourself because you’re too close to the book. What will help you find the best title is putting the options out there for your target audience to choose.
A fantastic way to do this is to join writing and publishing groups online where you can post polls.
So, you have a dream to write that book, but you’re locked into a schedule that’s keeping you from pursuing your dream.
I know the routine: Get up, work all day, come home and make dinner, and look after the kids (or unwind in front of the TV) and then you fall into bed, exhausted, before you have to do it all again the next day.
When the weekend comes, you just want to kick back, take it easy, and put the week behind you. Then Monday comes around and the rat race starts all over again.
Soon you can hear yourself making excuses for all the reasons why you didn’t write:
“I was so busy this week I just didn’t have time…”
“I’ll do it next week when I’m more organized…”
“I’ll start writing when I’m feeling more motivated…”
“I’ll get to it once I quit my day job and have more time…”
But as you know by now, there’s never a perfect time.
We’re always busy with something. And if we don’t take action when we can, the excuses will keep coming until we run out of time forever.
Don’t let your dream die. I’m going to help you get your book done.
How to Make Time for Writing in Your Busy Life
By becoming a weekend writing warrior, you can get it done. I know because I’ve done it. In this post I’ll share with you my 8 step strategy for writing a book on the weekends even if your week is crazy busy.
#1 – Build a Writing Habit to Make Time for Writing
When it comes to getting your writing done, strategy is everything. Without a plan, you drift; and when you drift, you end up back where you started, wasting more time while procrastinating.
The key to writing a book on your weekends is to get plan out how you will use your writing time and develop a writing habit. If you know ahead of time what you’ll be focusing on, where you’ll be writing and for how long, when it comes time to start writing, you’ll show up ready for keyboard action.
Our intentional planning model should consist of:
Researching topics, articles, and interviews
Chapter mind mapping
Crafting an outline
A good craftsman always shows up to create with his best tools. As writers, we need to spend time preparing to write before showing up at the keyboard. You want to do any necessary research outside of your writing time, not during it.
Stopping just to check that “one thing” breaks your writing flow (and often sends you off into the wilds of the internet, never to return).
During my writing sessions, if I get stuck and need to check on something, I’ll make a note in the paragraph like CBL [Come Back Later].
You can set up your chapters as well by doing brief mind maps for each. If you have crafted your book’s outline already, this should be easy. Take a few minutes each day during the week to do a quick outline for each chapter.
You don’t have to write anything until the weekend, but at the very least, make some notes about what you’re going to write when the weekend comes so you’re prepared.
#2 – Set Up Your Writing Space
Your writing environment has a huge influence on how your writing sessions flow. Will you write in a coffee shop? A quiet room? Under the stairs?
Locked in a closet with just your laptop and a light bulb? Wherever you choose to write, it should be at least comfortable and a place you can stay focused for long periods of time.
My writing space consists of my computer, motivational quotes, and mind maps for my books.
Here’s a table detailing what a good writing space looks like.
How to Start Writing Tip
- isolate yourself from family/friends/even the family dog - remind everyone it's YOUR time - Turn your phone off - Close ALL web browsers - Close your email
- invest in a GOOD chair - or resort to using a stand-up desk for more energy - fill the area with motivational quotes - make sure you're physically comfortable for the next 30 minutes or an hour
Choose Beneficial Background Noise
- turn off all sounds if it distracts you - turn on lyric-less music to help you concentrate - choose energizing music to help you focus
Decorating your writing space adds to inspiration, but also serves as a reminder:
This is where you write. Make it a place that you can enjoy creating in. But does it have to be just the one place? Of course not. You can change writing locations and have two or three designated spots.
I would recommend having a primary spot you write at consistently, but have another place set up that you can get to just in case you need to change locations. Try out several places and see what works best.
Take note of how you feel working in your creative element.
Here are some questions to help you decide if it’s right:
Is it comfortable?
Are you comfortable?
Is it an energetic spot or, do you feel irritated and restless?
Do you work better in a place that’s quiet [private room] or super noisy [Starbucks]?
On days when I spend all day writing, I’ll break it up into two different locales: one is my writing room, and the other is a coffee shop.
If the noise is a problem, I’ll wear headphones and tune out everything with some mellow writing music.
#3 – Keep Your Mindmap and Book Outline Handy
I have shown up many times to write only to realize I had no plan for what I was writing. This leads to procrastination and then I look for something else to occupy my time.
Know what you are going to write by planning beforehand. Developing your mind map or a book outline is the surest way to start cutting into the pages.
Before you can find time for writing regularly, you’ll need your mind map and outline.
If you start writing without having done these important steps first, you’ll eventually end up stuck. Make sure you have your book fully mind mapped and a general working book outline.
Use your outline as a checklist to get your words down on paper with purpose. Each of your writing block sessions should have a clear purpose as to what you are going to write.
#4 – Eliminate Distractions
One of the biggest obstacles writers face is being pulled out of their “writing zone” by message indicators, vibrations, pop-ups, and a whole list of writing excuses.
This includes notifications that “you’ve got email” or, better yet, someone that you don’t even know has just liked one of your comments on Facebook and you feel that need to check it out right away.
My advice: unplug yourself from all things connected to the Internet.
Here is what you can do to eliminate distractions:
Option 1: Unplug yourself completely from the internet. Turn off Wi-Fi or physically unplug your network cable. This is the best option to separate yourself from the internet during your writing time. This is the “zero tolerance” method that I use as my number one choice for getting things done.
Option 2: Use productivity apps to eliminate or cut down on time spent checking certain sites. Use an app such as RescueTime to block the sites that distract you by choosing the amount of time you need to focus. RescueTime send you updates via email to let you know how much time was spent on certain websites. This is good to know, because the next time you catch yourself saying “I didn’t have time to write” but you spent three unproductive hours on a certain site, you can channel this time into your weekend writing schedule.
Two more apps I recommend:Cold Turkey and SelfControl [for Mac]. Both apps are designed to reduce or eliminate wasted time, and this means higher focus and more time targeted for writing words fast.
In a nutshell: Sit Down. Unplug. Focus. Write.
#5 – Overcome Those Writing Excuses
Writing excuses are present in literally everyone.
We all have those things we tell ourselves to stop us from sitting down and making time for writing.
Do any of these writing excuses ring a bell?:
“I just need a few minutes of rest and then I’ll write…”
“I need to watch that new episode everyone’s been talking about…”
“I just don’t feel like writing today…”
We all have these lies we tell ourselves. Because they are, in fact, lies. Once you notice this, it will be much easier to take ownership of these excuses and overcome them.
#6 – Establish a Writing Schedule & Time Slots
When time is limited, it’s important to be strategic in how you use it. In the previous step, we took action by realizing and overcoming our writing excuses.
The next thing we want to do is decide:
How long are your writing sessions going to be? 25 minutes? 40 minutes? One hour?
How many writing sessions are you doing today?
For example, I’ll do three one-hour sessions in a day. I’ll write for one hour, take a ten-minute break, repeat.
During the break, get up and move around, stretch or grab some coffee.
How to Set Up Your Writing Session
One option is to use the Pomodoro Technique. Self-published author Steve Scott, who has written close to 70 books, utilized the Pomodoro Technique to structure his writing time.
Set your timer for 25 minutes and write. Take a five-minute break, and repeat.
This system works really well and is great for getting focused and writing in short bursts. If you want to go longer, set your timer for sixty minutes. I use the timer on my iPhone.
Set it for the time you are committed to writing and GO. You should focus only on your writing during this period.
No research, editing, or breaking the writing flow, unless there’s a house fire. Just write.
Set a goal for yourself to crank out one thousand words in an hour. These are longer stretches and can be tough for some people so if you are struggling, start with the Pomodoro System and ease your way into doing longer sessions.
#7 – Set Your Word Count Target
Many people get overwhelmed when they think about writing a book. But if you write 3000 words a day on the weekends, you can be done with the first draft of your book in a month.
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If you plan ahead and set your writing goal at a pace of 800-1200 words per hour, you’ll be done in thirty hours of writing time.
This might seem like a lot but think about it: How much time do you spend watching TV in a week? How much time do you spend at the office? How much time do you spend checking email or on social media?
It can be done, and you can do this!
Set a daily word count target for yourself. Be strategic about this and take a rough guess how long your book is going to be. If I know I’m planning to write a 25,000-word novella, if I crank out 6000 words per weekend, I can complete a draft in a month.
If your book is shorter or longer, you can adjust to fit your target deadline. You can easily track your word count in Scrivener. You can also use a Google spreadsheet or a simple Excel spreadsheet.
By tracking your progress, you have a clear indication of how close you’re getting to your goal.
It’s also highly motivating to know you’re making progress.
#8 – Reward Yourself
There’s a famous proverb that says: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
I have no idea who Jack was, but I do know that if you spend your entire weekend writing, you’re going to need some R&R at the end of it. This is a critical stage.
If you spend week after week putting in time at work and then working more on the weekend, even if it is a passion project like writing your novel, you’ll get burned out and feel less inspired when the next weekend comes around. You deserve a break.
Do something for yourself. Go to a movie. Take your friends out to dinner. Get away from the manuscript.
I usually end the weekend by engaging in some fun activities such as:
Watching a movie
Spending time with the kids
Taking a long walk or running
Taking a long drive and thinking about future goals and what I accomplished this weekend
Meditating or working out
Find what activities allow you to refresh as well as relax and you’ll find much more joy in the process of writing a book, and you’ll make more time for writing because of this.
#9 – Plan Your Next Writing Weekend
There’s one more stage after you have wrapped things up at the end of your writing weekend.
This is an important step.
Before you pack it up, take ten minutes to draft a quick action plan for the week. This consists of the book research, chapter outlining, and anything else you need to do outside of the book writing process.
I do this step Sunday night before bed. Then, when the week starts I know exactly what work on to set myself up for success the following weekend. The alternative to this is to spend five minutes each night writing down what you’ll do the next day.
Do you need to outline your next chapter? Tighten up your overall book outline? Reach out to any online influencers about your next book release? This step is part of the intentional planning phase that will keep you focused.
So even while you are busy in the week with your other commitments, having a shortlist to refer to makes your mission clear.
The weekend is nearly here again. Are you ready? Don’t make excuses—get your book written. You can do this. If you follow the 8-step plan, three months from now you can be celebrating the publication of your next book.
The next time someone asks you the question: “How do you find the time to write?” You can now tell them: “Oh, it’s easy. I write books on the weekends.”
So you’ve finished your draft and are ready to tackle the next steps of putting it out there in the world. (Promise me that you’re not procrastinating by reading this blog! If you are, get back to writing right now!)
The first step is to figure how who you want to be perceived, how you want to brand yourself, is in your author bio.
This is the blurb that will go on your Amazon author page, your Book Bub author profile, your Goodreads page, your author web page, on the back of your book and so forth. It’s a really important little piece of work that you want to get right!
While your book cover design is the most important tool when marketing a book, your author bio is easily number two. This is where you convince your audience why you are the best person to tell them about the matter at hand.
It’s a place to connect with your readers and build your legitimacy.
You’ll want to stay factual while interesting. You want to make yourself approachable and toot your own horn, just a little bit.
Here are some tips to master these.
#1 – Author Bio Formatting
Although you are writing the bio, it still needs to be written in the third person no matter how quirky it is. In other words, avoid using “I” as your sentence subject but utilize your name or last name instead.
Additionally, you’ll have many drafts and varieties of this author bio. You’ll want to change it up depending on the application.
You may have a punchier version on your website while your bio for that speaking engagement session at a writing conference that you’re leading (and we’re confident that will happen for you!) will be more serious.
Today, we’re working on the basic draft that you can tweak as needed.
Remember to keep the bio short, less than 300 words. It seems that three sentences is a well-tested length (more on this later). Your author bio is not an entire list of every single award you’ve won or your life story.
Even if you did win the “Young Writer’s” award in middle school, unless you’re still in middle school, this little known fact probably doesn’t deserve to be on the back of your book.
Feel free to have a “full accolades” section on your author website where you can list every single thing you’ve ever done, won or written.
Your mom will be super proud of this list but readers browsing Amazon don’t need to get into the major details.
Here’s how to format an author bio wrapped up:
Use third-person POV when writing it
Keep it under 300 words
Add relevant/recent achievements
Minimize the number of sentences within those 300 words.
And remember: an author bio longer than 300 words or so will take up too much space and become an oversell.
#2 – Know Your Readers
Your bio is an extension of your book.
Write it for your audience. Keep the same writing style and connect this text to your subject matter.
If you wrote a book on productivity, a lengthy sentence about your lazy vacations doing nothing is not relevant and in fact, can persuade readers to avoid your books because they’ll think you to be uncredible.
Here are a few tips for getting to know your audience:
Interact with your readers on social platforms
Listen intently to the feedback during the beta reading process
Run your author bio by a group for feedback and adjustments
Ask people close to you if the bio embodies your personality and is accurate
#3 – Include Your Background
In order to sell yourself to new readers, you will want to include your pertinent background. If you happen to have other books, do include their titles and how many languages they have have been translated into or how many countries they’ve been sold in.
List your related education and memberships. Any higher education beyond college is usually noteworthy too.
Keep your lists short though. Only list three books, for instance, and a couple of memberships. A list of ten books, three degrees, and five memberships will only be skimmed by potential book buyers at the very best.
A huge list like this will become white noise so only include the most important and interesting stuff.
Your fanboys and girls (and your mom’s friends) will look to your aforementioned author website for more info and you can keep the tidy, complete list there.
#4 – Stay Factual
Statements like, “has always dreamed of writing a book,” while certainly may be true, are hard to back up and aren’t going to help sell your book.
Stick to the facts and to what you can prove.
Another reason for this is if you claim achievements that aren’t true or invalid, there will always be someone there to point it out in an attempt to cut you down.
This can reduce your credibility, and therefore, readers’ trust in you.
#5 – Use your personality
One of the best things about being an author is that you get to put your personality, views of the world, values, and more into your writing.
What some don’t understand about authors is: if a reader likes you, they’re very likely to enjoy what you write, because your essence bleeds into the pages.
Being able to showcase this with your personality can do worlds for your readers connecting with you and wanting to read your book out of curiosity if nothing else.
Here are a few tips to add personality to your author bio:
Exaggerate your tone just a little in order for it to be more evident
Be goofy and creative with how you describe yourself (See Jenna Moreci’s example in #11)
Have fun with it!
Throw a joke in your bio
#6 – Jot down an achievement or award
In addition to your backlist of books, your awards, and education, you’ll want your readers to know any higher-profile stuff you have going on.
Be sure to cover your awards, your following, and any big deal author interviews or features.
Again, if any of these this happened decades ago, it may not be relevant. But if you have a quarter-million followers on Twitter or on your blog, this will sell your authority (and yeah, a quarter-million sounds better than 250,000 but are the same number!).
If your writing has been nominated for awards but didn’t make the cut, that is often fitting for an author bio too. “Award-nominated” anything is pretty cool!
#7 – Get Personal
Provide a bit of personal information to connect with your audience. The reason for this is if a reader sees something they have in common with you, it’s an automatic bond and gives them more of a reason to buy.
It’s standard for authors to share where they live and what their family make-up is.
A few non-divisive hobbies and interests are also often included. If you have experiences that are related, such as extensive travel or extreme situations, they may relevant to share as well.
Again, know your audience and choose wisely. Maybe (terribly) you were part of a cult as a child?
That’s really interesting but unless you’re sharing this story in the book or proves your authority on the subject at hand, skip including it in your author bio!
Bonus Author Bio Tip: Keep these bits broad enough to include a larger number of people. For example, if you play the flute, simply mention that you’ve been playing an instrument for however many years as this is more inclusive, and there’s a higher chance of others connecting with you.
#8 – Chandler Bolt’s Author Bio Example
We all known and love Chandler Bolt, Self Publishing School Founder. We wouldn’t be here learning about writing without his hard work and book writing methods. Chandler’s author bio on the back of his book Published is only three sentences long but packs in a lot of authority building, states facts plus toots his horn a bit.
These three sentences along with the killer book cover art work well to sell Chandler’s mastery of book publishing.
Chandler’s Amazon Author Page is another version of his author bio. Here, Chandler gets really personal stating that his birth was almost miscarried!
He also gives some background about his entrepreneurial experience and awards.
#9 – Joanna Penn’s Author Bio Example
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller and nonfiction author who also writes under the pen names of JF Penn and Penny Appleton.
She’s written and self-published nearly 30 books so she really knows what she’s doing. On her Book Bub author page, Joanna’s short bio is only (surprise!) three sentences.
It concisely tells potential readers a short version of her accolades and narrows down her writing style quickly. Then it tells us where she lives and one of her favorite drinks.
On her own website, The Creative Penn, Joanna provides a different three-sentence version of her short bio and then gets into the details about all her books, the many awards and best-selling experience she’s had plus where she lives and her favorite wine (a different drink mentioned here!)! Joanna’s short bio on her page is three sentences and shoves in a ton of accolades into a small space.
Here she tells about her family, her gymnastic prowess as well as her authority and love of athletic mental training. T
his all builds strong authority for her book and brand.
On her Goodreads page about the same book, she sells the book by telling prospective readers that she’s been where they are and know “what it feels like to try your best and to fail.
I also know how it feels to work hard to achieve your goals.” She sells her wisdom and experience. Note that it is the norm to write in the first person on Goodreads but this is a big rule breaker everywhere else.
All of these examples have variations of author bios written in just a slightly different way for different applications. They all say very similar things about the same person.
Not only does Moreci have ample experience when it comes to self-publishing, but she’s also among one of the best examples of how to market your book effectively, including how she’s written her author bio.
Here’s an example of her Amazon author page with her bio:
Notice how Moreci keeps it short, brief, but very clear with who she is, what she writes, and even has enough personal information to let readers into her life at an appropriate level.
If we take a look at her personal author website’s “about” page, we’ll see she has something similar, but with a few more additions, including her books and more.
In this example, Jenna has also doused us with her personality, giving us insight into how she operates and therefore, the tone of some of her books.
Some Additional Author Bio Ideas
Know the very essence of your book and find keywords that your readers may search for to find your book. When crafting your author bio, use these keywords that search engines can catch.
Although it may be irrelative in some bio spaces, add links to any free giveaways (we’ve got some ideas on that here..) on your website, your newsletter, social media or whatever web presence you have.
Also, feel free to add a call to action where applicable.
Final Author Bio Thoughts
Remember that there is no perfect bio, and there are no two alike. Although these are all good ideas, it’s not an exact formula. Your author bio will be unique and will change as you write more books and gain more accolades (because we know you will!).
Now tell me the truth. Is your book really done? We can help you finish your manuscript and really make use of this carefully crafted author bio! Schedule a webinar with Chandler today to get started!
Do you have more author bio tips to share with our writing community? Do you think bios should be longer than three sentences or do you like this standard size?
Here are some of the wrong reasons to write a children’s book:
“I’m retired now and want to make a livable wage doing something easy.”
“Children’s books are short so I know they’re easy to write and fast to the money.”
“I want to write but I’m not sure what. Kids don’t expect much so I’ll write for them.”
“There are some awful children’s books out there. I know I can do at least that well.”
Here are some of the right reasons to publish a children’s book:
“Children are the present and future of our world. I really want to impact them.”
“I want to make writing for kids my business and have a plan to write many books.”
“I LOVE children’s books (even though I’m an adult) and want to write them so much, that I’m willing to learn how to write well in order to exceed their expectations.”
“There are some awful children’s books out there. I want to improve the quality of children’s literature to give kids a better reading experience.”
The reality is, children’s books are the most difficult type of literature to write and produce.
You have to engage an adult audience (the people who hand over the money and are likely to be the one reading your book Every. Single. Day.) but you also have to engage the children, who will beg their money-wielding parent to buy the book and read it to them Every. Single. Day.
Additionally, you only have zero to 700 words to communicate an entire story, with inciting incident, climactic moment, and final resolution, to the full satisfaction of both adult and child—much like when writing short stories. On repeat.
If I’m honest, I didn’t enter the children’s industry for the “right” reasons. I have always been a writer and was finally ready to pursue that professionally.
So, in 2007, I began the hunt toward publishing. Self-publishing was nearly unheard of and I knew enough about traditional publishing to know that who you know matters as much as the quality of your work.
What I learned Writing Children’s Books
Before we teach you how to write a children’s book, it’s important to understand a few key things I wish I knew when I got started.
Here’s what I learned writing a children’s book:
The children’s industry is highly competitive. So even though sales are on the rise, so are people writing and publishing them.
Books that thrive in the industry are extremely well writtenand well marketed.
It takes timeto study the craft of writing for children well and of marketing and selling your book well. Thus, it also takes time to make money.
Self-publishing children’s books is a totally viable and profitable way to produce your stories. From conversations I’ve had, I learned that I make more money per book sold than my traditionally published counterparts, have to do the same level of marketing as they do, have more creative control, and can get my book out in three months instead of one to two years. (I have many friends in the traditional industry and I love their contribution to market research and high-quality value. Together, we partner to impact children.)
Writing for children is the best.Fan mail for kids? Nothing else like it. Experiencing the giggles and gasps of kids who are caught up in your words is life-giving. And knowing that your story is a safe space, gives kids permission to be uniquely them, and passes on important life skills to our upcoming generation is among the highest of honors.
With time and practice, I learned how to set my expectations correctly, develop a writing habit, and produce high quality, professional, and engaging children’s books.
If, after reading the right reasons to write a book for children, you realized this is YOU, then stick with me a bit longer and I’ll walk you through some standard first steps.
If, after reading the wrong reasons to write a book for children, you realized this is YOU, then consider writing a book for adults. We have some great resources on how to determine what you should write, starting with something that gets you excited, that you can write quickly, and that you can write easily.
For the rest of you, there are a number of standards and steps to get you going on writing your first children’s book.
We’ve broken down the steps for writing children’s books with a strategy that works.
#1 – Determine your children’s book’s audience
Everything about how you start your book: your story idea, book layout, page count, number of illustrations, and depth of the plot depend on who you are writing for.
A picture book, for example, is normally ready aloud by an adult. The child is captivated by full spreads of illustration and relies almost entirely on listening to the story.
Language can be a little more developed, poetic, and nuanced since the book is as much for the reading adult as it is for the child. Early chapter books, on the other hand, are for the older budding reader who still relies on some artwork while gaining vocabulary.
If you don’t know the age and stage of the child you’re writing for, you might lose their interest. The following is a guide for your book according to age group.
Determine What You’re Writing:
Children’s books length varies depending on the age group you want to write for and the detail of the story you want to tell.
If you want to write for children 0 – 4 years old, then you’re most likely writing a board book or a very simple, short concept book.
These books often teach children their colors or how to count or demonstrate a routine like bath time or bedtime, in 0 – 100 words.
Children ages 3 – 8 love picture books. These are stories 0 – 700 words (1000 at the most) that use full page images to tell a story.
These books are often read aloud to children by an adult. Picture books rely in part on the quality of the story as told through text and the work of the illustration to communicate the story. With so few words, picture books must be compelling and tell a complete story, meaning that every word must be purposeful in moving the story forward.
Early Readers are short chapter books aimed at 5 – 7 year-olds and range from 200 – 5000 words. This youngest chapter book is designed for kiddos who see big kids reading chapter books and really want to read them, too.
However, these kids are still developing reading skills and need simple language because they are reading it solo. Chapters are short so kids can feel successful as they make their way through such a “big” book. These are most popular in the educational market as a bridge for younger readers between picture books and chapter books.
Here’s a handy table for an easier overview:
0 - 4 years old
0 - 100 words
3 - 8 years old
0 - 700 words
5 - 7 years old
200 - 5000 words
6 - 7 years old
5000 - 20,000 words
8 - 10 years old
20,000 - 35,000 words
40,000 - 55,000 words
50,000 - 70,000
Naturally, as age of target child increases, word count increases, and the depth of the plot increases as well. These books include illustrations, in lesser measure as the word count increases, stopping around Middle Grade.
Children’s books are unique in the sense that their lesson and what children learn are so very important, but you also have to create this in a way that holds their attention.
Here are some criteria for writing a good children’s book:
It has an important lesson
The story is easy to follow for your chosen age-range
The illustrations are high-quality and professional
It’s relatable to a wide range of children
It can entertain adults at the same time
Using these criteria can help you structure your story, create a better story setting, and ensure you’re hitting the milestones needed for a good children’s book.
#3 – Read LOTS of books in your category
There are many different genres to choose from when writing for children and the best way to write them well is to read them often.
The following are a sampling of the options:
Realistic Fiction: Made up stories that could happen today in real life (but didn’t).
Historical Fiction: Made up stories based on actual historical events.
Biography: A story like this, or a memoir, is based on the life of a real person.
Fantasy: Made up stories that involve ideas that don’t happen in real life.
Science Fiction: Made up stories that generally aren’t plausible and are normally set in the future involving some level of science and technology.
Poetry:Writing poetry is telling stories told in verse, rhyming or not, mean to communicate in such a way as to evoke emotion.
Non Fiction: True stories that are informational (to teach facts) or based on actual real-life stories.
Folklore: These are the stories, often told orally first, that represent our history, our culture, our stories, myths, legends, nursery rhymes, songs of the past, and even some passed on fairy tales. These are often retold since we don’t know the original author.
Reading books in your genre can help you understand the story structure that works, including how to start your story, the maturity of the content for your intended audience, and more.
#4 – Come up with a children’s book idea
Children’s story ideas can be silly, deep, inspiring, hilarious, zany, serious, and straight up weird. They can make you laugh, cry, gasp, squeal, giggle and guffaw.
Ideas like these come from so many places: the kids around you (eavesdrop on ‘em, it’s great), adults around you (eavesdropping actually goes a long way as a writer), nature, books, movies, newspaper articles, youtube videos, animals… be an observer and you’ll find ideas everywhere!
Here are a few of my favorites places to come up with children’s book ideas:
Unlikely Characters and Settings: Speaking of Tercules, another great place to get ideas is by throwing together two very unlikely characters and dropping them in an unlikely setting. Shark versus Train is a great example of this.
Putting Characters in Child-like Settings and Circumstances: Some book ideas are life skills we want to teach our kids in creative ways. The Princess and the Potty worked magic with my daughter. Or Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, illustrated by my friend, Daniel. Taking a unique character and putting them in the position of a child will help kids catch all sorts of great life skills. Or on a more serious note, my own Speranza’s Sweater: A Child’s Journey Through Foster Care and Adoption, gives children permission to experience the many conflicting feelings of adoption through the lens of Speranza. Our own SPS coach, Jed Jurchenko, also does this with his recent release, The Stormy Secret, helping kids navigate the safe places to share secrets imposed on them.
#5 – Outline the Story
Once you have an idea, start laying it out in a book format. Yes, this is essentially outlining. Depending on the book category and genre, this outline will look different. For a picture book, the story will be, on average, 28 pages of story.
Create a book dummy and fill in the pages with your idea. (To make a book dummy, take 16 pages of regular paper and fold them together in half to make a small booklet.
This should create a 32 page “book.” The first few pages are your title page and copyright page, 28 pages of story, and then any end matter you’d like to include, like “About the Author” or an author’s note.
Use this book dummy to layout your scenes and choose where in your story you want the page to turn.
If you’re writing a chapter book, make sure to outline the entire story with the five important milestones of a strong plotline, as well as the individual chapters. If you’re more of a pantzer, writing by the seat of your pants, then at the very least have a framework for your story so you don’t get lost on rabbit trails.
If you get lost, your readers will too.
#6 – Nail Down the Details
Choose whether you’ll write the book in poetry or prose, first person or third person, past tense or present tense.
Use other books in your genre to guide you as a standard.
If you choose to write in poetry, be aware that if you can’t do it perfectly, you really shouldn’t do it at all.Writing poetry is much more than rhyming words. It’s meter. Rhythm. Timing. Pacing.
If one of these is off, it throws your reader off and discredits your book and your storytelling skills. If it can be told just as well in prose, do it. If you have mastered poetry, do it.
#7 – Write that first draft!
Don’t stress the details, just get the story down.
If you can accomplish this, you’re further along in the process than most other writers you never get past the idea phase.
Here are a few tips to finish your draft:
Schedule writing time
Get an accountability partner for external motivation
Set a deadline
Get rid of distractions while writing
Focus on just FINISHING, no editing along the way
#8 – Re-read and revise your first draft
Do you have enough words? Too many words? Add or cut as necessary.
Does your story make sense? Are there plot holes you need to address? Did you break any of the “rules”? If so, why? If not, why?
Tighten up your draft.
This self-editing process can take a while, but you’ll feel better sending a cleaner, tighter manuscript to the editor because it can only get even better from there.
#9 – Get a critique and/or an edit.
Getting a book critique gives you a chance to get a children’s book professional’s feedback on the marketability of your book, the content of your book, and to address any grammatical issues.
No matter how well you think you’ve nailed grammar or understand a child’s brain, your set of eyes alone will never be sufficient for a perfect draft.
I’m a seasoned writer and editor and I still don’t trust myself to catch every grammatical issue or plot hole. Invite a professional to give you content feedback as well as outside eyes on your grammar and syntax.
But not just any professional! Make sure they have strong experience in the children’s writing industry and credibility to back up their work.
There’s more to writing a faith-based book than jotting down your feelings and interpretations.
These steps will help you take your idea and vision to the next step and write a good book about your faith and understandings of it.
#1 – Similarities and differences between Faith Books and other books
The main difference between a book about faith and other books is not so much what is seen, but what is unseen.
According to one Biblical writer: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
While this is a Christian scripture, it could apply to writing a book about any faith. One goal of writing about faith is to convey hope to those who are hurting.
So, in order to write and publish a book your audience will want to read…
#2 – Convey Hope in your writing
You hope your work will be published and, I assume, that it helps your readers.
Pass hope onto your readers with examples of how faith “moves mountains,” and your book will have a higher chance of success in selling more books and becoming an enjoyable experience for everyone who encounters it.
Here are a few examples of how you can convey hope in your writing:
Display your own or others’ struggles
Make a point to develop a full range of emotions by the “show, don’t tell” rule in writing
Focus your book to look on the bright side
Show the steps from struggle to hope so readers can understand how it’s done
#3 – Write a story; not just a list
The most popular faith-based books have story settings where people overcoming impossible challenges.
Perhaps the most famous example is David and Goliath.
You know how it goes; an unknown boy destined to become king slays an evil giant. Even if you heard this only once, you would never forget it.
Keep this in mind when looking to convey faith through your words.
Faith comes to life through stories, and those stories will be remembered longer than any list of does and don’ts. Not that I’m against lists; I’m writing some here. However, this is an article, not a book.
A good story helps ensure your words have staying power. Do you know anyone who doesn’t remember the story of David and Goliath? Exactly!
#4 – Fiction vs nonfiction faith-based books
While far from fantasy, Cori Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place reveals parallel worlds.
Outwardly Ten Boom endures a brutal concentration camp while inwardly she lives in a world of faith. Faith, in this case, is essential to her survival. While the threat of death is ever-present, the main character and author find freedom against the ultimate antagonist.
After becoming friends with many ex gangsters, I wrote the book in the middle.
Fiction needs to be as real as nonfiction!
The more implausible the story, the more you need to anchor it in details that make it seem real.
The people we met long ago in a galaxy far away behave like we on earth—they are sometimes petty and self-centered and at other times noble and selfless.
#5 – Draw on your own experiences
Recall a time when you needed a certain amount of money, and it came just in time.
If you are writing a fictitious book like The Shack, you can use the feelings you encountered in life, and exaggerate them to make your point. Can you remember needing a certain amount of cash on the first of the month and receiving near that amount in the mail, just in time?
Take the amount you received and multiply it along with the penalty for not coming up with the money.
Turn things from difficult to desperate in order to further your message and story.
#6 – Trust your faith
Trust in the force!
Star Wars may not seem like a faith story, but it is. An entire galaxy is under the boot of darkness when Princess Leah suddenly appears and utters those desperate and now famous words, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!”
The story of Moses who, with Pharos’s army before him and the sea behind him is similar.
The only option for Moses and the people he led was a great miracle. What is the only hope for the characters you want to write about?
Make the obstacles insurmountable, the solution nearly impossible, the resolution semi miraculous and you’ll even maintain that writing motivation on your way to a great faith book.
# 7 – Flawed, but not too flawed
When it comes to stories like this, you want to make sure you never write it as anything being “perfect.”
Here are some tips to avoid creating not enough or too many flaws:
Don’t make your faith hero too good. Nobody is perfect, and your characters should not be perfect either.
On the other hand, don’t give your characters fatal flaws. Some flaws are endearing while others are repulsive. Readers will easily forgive a woman who chews gum constantly while a man who runs over a puppy for the fun of it will remain beyond redemption to them.
Make flaws relatable. If your reader thinks, I do that, or if they know someone with similar quirks to your characters, they will most likely relate to your creations and enjoy the story.
Tip for writing flaws in your faith-based book:
Think of it this way: You are on a bus. It is crowded and noisy with all sorts of distractions. Someone takes a seat across the aisle from you. You have something important to tell them…
Hold that image; the person you envision is your audience.
Write to them alone. The first thing out of your mouth should be more attractive to them than anything competing for their attention. Also, everything that follows after those initial words should hold that attention.
Lose them for a moment, and you may never get them back.
By the time you reach your destination, your imaginary friend should be so intrigued by what you have said that he or she will follow you when you exit the bus.
# 8 – Write so they understand
Know what moves your readers and talk to them like you would any other friend, in terms they understand.
Everyone understands words like hope, faith, and love.
What you want to avoid is speaking in terms and scriptures and such in a way that those even looking to build their faith won’t understand.
#9 – Have a strong faith
One of the most famous writing tips, and wisely so, is that you write on what you know.
To write about faith, you will need to exercise faith. That starts by getting up early and writing.
Tip: I begin fiction drafts first thing in the morning, pre-coffee (tea in my case) while still in pajamas. Being nearly half asleep tends to bring out a loose, dreamy quality. While this style is good for fiction when getting the framework of the story down, it is not recommended for non-fiction or final drafts.
Nonfiction and self-editing require concrete logic. I suggest attempting them later in the day, when well fed, fully caffeinated, and wide-awake. You can then correct the mistakes you made while floating in that pleasant morning haze.
#10 – The Protagonist needs to face overwhelming odds
Hosoi, my life as a skateboarder, junkie, inmate and Pastor isa book I co-authored for HarperOne.
The memoir follows famed skateboarder Christian Hosoi, who became one of the world’s top skateboarders before falling to meth addiction.
After his incarceration, Hosoi faces himself for the first time, a showdown that ends at the feet of faith.
Immersed in fame, money, and vice since his childhood, the character has little chance of surviving, much less in becoming what he is now—a faithful husband, attentive father of four and a church pastor.
The example here is that your protagonist has to face challenges and odds stacked against them.
When others relate to hardship, it creates a more powerful emotional impact in your faith-based book.
#11 – Learn lessons from those experienced
Some of the most powerful lessons can be learned by those who have experience. I learned as much when interviewing Shack author, William Paul Young.
In the last century writers like C.S Lewis and G.K. Chesterton led the faith-based fiction pack.
More recently, William Paul Young made a big splash with a small volume called The Shack.
I interviewed Young a short while ago, and he mentioned that Shack began as a hand-stapled gift for his grandchildren.
As you may know it went on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide.
C.S. Lewis had similar success with a book he wrote for his grandchildren, The Chronicles of Narnia.
While these are extraordinary examples, they illustrate two things: The power of faith and focusing on a narrow audience.
While written thousands of years after the books in the bible, both Lewis’s and Young’s tales weave in some timeless common threads: For one, the main characters have little or no chance of succeeding in their goals. Similar to the story of young King David, a cursed land is liberated by a band of children in The Chronicles of Narnia.
ISBN stands for International Standard Book number and is a 13-digit code used to uniquely identify your book amongst the millions out there.
What is an ISBN number used for?
Essentially, an ISBN number, or International Standard Book Number, is a regulated 10- or 13-digit identification number which allows libraries, publishers, and book dealers to locate and identify specific books.
But where did these ISBN numbers even start and why do we have them?
In the early days of World War 2, the Japanese military sent messages back and forth and the Allies needed to crack their intricate numbering system to get an edge in the war and turn the tables.
But how did they crack this complex system?
MI6 recruited a young mathematician named Gordon Foster to work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, where he scanned millions of numbers looking for patterns in the code.
Decades later, when the book industry needed a standardized tracking program in order to coordinate the increasing number of titles being published each year, Gordon Foster was approached by WH Smith, a British retailer, to write a report on how to create such a system.
This report led to the 9-digit standard book number which went live in the UK in 1967 and eventually led to the ISBN system used worldwide.
Several years later, this turned into a 10-digit numbering system when a policy was needed for new editions and variations. Then, in 2007, the ISBN switched to a 13-digit format and is now the standard used everywhere.
How much does an ISBN cost?
ISBNs cost about $125 for one number in the US. However, if you purchase more than one at a time, this cost could be lowered.
Here are a few tips for buying an ISBN:
If you publish physical copies through IngramSpark, you get your ISBN for only $85
Buying your ISBNs in bulk can save you money if you intend to publish more than one book
Let’s unweave the intricate web of how to get an ISBN and how they work in the publishing industry.
How To Read an ISBN number with an ISBN Example
As of 2007, the ISBN is a 13-digit number. This came about in part because of the large volume of eBooks now being published every year.
Knowing how to break down and interpret these 13 digits aren’t of much use and interest to most book readers, but for publishers and distributors, it’s a necessity.
If you want to publish lots of books under your own publishing name then it’s something you may want to pay attention to. You can tell a lot about a book and its author by reading the ISBN number.
The 13 digit ISBN number helps:
Identify the specific title
Identify the author
Identify the type of book they are buying
Identify the physical properties of that particular book
Identify the geographical location of the publisher
Let’s break it down and look at what all these numbers mean.
Here is the ISBN for a particular book:
You’ll notice this sequence is divided into 5 number combinations. But the first three digits “978” indicates that this string of numbers is for an ISBN. If we remove these digits we have:
First is the initial digit, in this case: 3
The 3 is the language group identifier which here indicates German. For English speaking countries a 0 or 1 is used. Numbers for language identification generally range from 1-5.
Here is a list of the most common Group identifiers:
0 or 1 for English
2 for French
3 for German
4 for Japan
5 for Russian
7 for People’s Republic of China
It’s worth mentioning that the rarer the language, the longer the number identifier will be. For example, Indonesia is 602 whereas Turkey is 9944. You can reference the complete list at the International ISBN Agency.
Next is “16”. This is the “publisher code,” and it identifies the publisher on any book that has this number. This number can be as long as 9 digits.
“148410” — This six-digit series represents the title of the book. The publisher assigns this to a specific book or edition of the book, such as a hardcover version or paperback. This could be a single digit or stretch to multiple digits.
“0” is the last digit and is known as the “check digit”. This number is mathematically calculated as a fixed digit. This is always a single digit.
This number indicates that the rest of the ISBN numbers have been scanned and is calculated based on the other digits in the code.
Where is the ISBN number on books?
The ISBN is usually found above the barcode on the back of the book. However, they’re not the same.
The barcode is much different than the ISBN number.
This is an important distinction because:
When you purchase an ISBN you don’t automatically get a barcode
The barcode of your book can change, while your ISBN can remain the same.
We’ve already discussed what data the ISBN carries, however, the barcode includes extra information such as the book’s fixed price and the currency it’s being sold in.
Barcodes are a necessary element of your book as they allow for most retailers and distributors to scan your ISBN for retail and inventory reasons.
The Book Designer also has a great resource for learning how to reconstruct an ISBN if you finally decided to write and self-publish the book you’ve been thinking about since you bought the ISBN.
ISBN Search: How to Find Your Book’s ISBN
If you want to look up the ISBN of any book out there, you can do so easily by visiting the website ISBNSearch.org.
You’ll be greeted with a screen like the one above where you will be prompted to type in the ISBN, author name, or book title.
After hitting “search,” you will have a list of books matching your searched items with the both the 13-digit ISBN and the 10-digit, like in the example below.
How to Read a Barcode
If you look at the picture of a standard barcode, you’ll notice two barcodes side by side. The barcode that appears on the left is the EAN generated from the ISBN number.
The other number appearing on the right is a 5-digit add-on, called an EAN-5, that contains the price of the book. The first digit is a 5 and is a must for scanners to read. The 4-digits after the five indicates the price of the book.
For example, if the number reads 52995, this means the price of the book is set at $29.95. If the price of the book changes, a new barcode must be used, though the ISBN wouldn’t change.
This would only be replaced by a new ISBN number if the book is published as a new edition or as a new version.
To buy a barcode you must first purchase an ISBN. You can buy your barcodes at Bowker and they even offer a barcode-ISBN combo:
1 barcode + 1 ISBN is $150.
1 barcode + 10 ISBNs is $320.
The Difference Between ASIN and ISBN
If you’ve used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program you’ve probably come across an ASIN. ASIN numbers are used by Amazon to manage and identify the products they are selling on their site. It’s a 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier that’s assigned by Amazon.com and its partners.
You can find this on your book page. In your browser, the Amazon ASIN will be after the product’s name and “dp”. The next place to find this is in your book or product details area of your book page.
However, an ASIN is not the same as an ISBN. You can only use it with Amazon. If you want to sell through other platforms or in brick and mortar stores, you’re going to need an ISBN.
Reasons Self-Published Authors Need an ISBN
If you want to publish and sell your eBook on Amazon, then the quick answer is no, it isn’t necessary. Amazon will assign your eBook an ASIN number which will be used to identify and track your title.
However, that’s only with Amazon, and only with eBooks.
This might be important if you have a brick and mortar marketing strategy, or if you want your book to be accessible through libraries (more on this later), or if you’re looking to deal with wholesalers or other online retailers.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if you want to sell your book by means other than as an ebook on Amazon, then you’ll need an ISBN.
How do I buy an ISBN Number?
You might not even have to buy your ISBN number because of services offered to self-published authors. You can get assigned a free ISBN by Createspace, the On-Demand publishing company that has now merged with Amazon.
If you can get a free or cheap ISBN with them, then what’s the use in paying for your own one?
Here’s the problem: most of the time, you can only use those free ISBNs with the channels those companies distribute through.
Let’s say you get a free ISBN with Draft2Digital, but then you notice that there are some retail channels you can access through Smashwords that you can’t with Draft2Digital.
You can’t use the Draft2Digital ISBN with Smashwords.
Smashwords will only let you use your own ISBN or an ISBN they assign to you. So what do you do?
You get a free ISBN with Smashwords.
And now you have two ISBNs for the same book. Same book title, same book format, but two ISBNs.
You then hear of some exclusive channels you can get through eBookPartnership. The only wrinkle? You need an ISBN and they won’t take your Smashwords’ or Draft2Digital’s ISBN. So you sign up for their free ISBN instead.
Now you have three ISBNs for the same book.
The Problem with Multiple ISBNs
This problem can repeat itself again and again as you discover more ways to distribute your book. Sometimes you’ll have to pay for the ISBN, sometimes you won’t. But it leads to you having several ISBNs, all from different publishers, for the same book.
Can you picture how unprofessional that looks to a bookstore?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to start off by buying your own ISBN? Wouldn’t that make you look more professional?
All of these issues can be sidestepped by simply purchasing your own ISBN through Bowker.
Libraries and ISBN Numbers
We briefly mentioned that if you want to stock your book in libraries, you’ll need an ISBN. However, that might be the furthest thing from your mind. You might have decided to focus purely on eBook publishing and what part do libraries play in eBooks?
A big one.
Libraries are becoming more important to the distribution of eBooks. Overdrive is the largest supplier to schools and libraries in the world (serving more than 30,000), and they circulated more than 105 million eBooks in 2014, a 33% increase from their previous year. They also supply to retail stores globally, making $100 million in sales in 2013.
And guess what you need to be able to partner with Overdrive? Yup. An ISBN.
How to get an ISBN
ISBNs are free in many countries, provided either by the government or a publicly administered branch. However, in the US and the UK, ISBN numbers are administered by Bowker and Nielsen respectively and require you to pay.
If you’re located outside the USA you can find out your local ISBN Agency here. While ISBNs are assigned locally, you can use them internationally.
If you live in the USA, you have to get an ISBN through myidentifiers.com, run by Bowker, the only company that is authorized to administer the ISBN program in the United States. You can purchase ISBNs as a single unit or in bulk of 10, 100 or 1000.
How to Register Your Book and ISBN Number
As soon as you purchase your ISBN through Bowker or the International equivalent in your local area, and you publish your book, you should register here at Bowkerlink.
This is an automated tool that will add your book to Bowker’s Books In Print and Global Books In Print.
You can only use an ISBN once. The ISBN is a unique number for that particular book, and can be assigned once, and only once, to that title. It can’t be used with any other book in the future, even second versions of the same book.
You don’t need an ISBN to sell in each individual country. ISBNs are international, they are just assigned locally. A US-based publisher can purchase their ISBN through Bowker, but can stock their book worldwide using that ISBN.
You need an ISBN for every specific format of the book and any new versions. Want to sell your book in print, as an eBook, and also as an audiobook? That’s great, however, you need a different ISBN for each one. If you want to publish a revised and updated version you’ll also need a new ISBN. (This doesn’t cover fixing some typos and errors).
If you create a series of books you can’t use the same ISBN for them. You can use the same ISSN, however. Many fiction and nonfiction authors have an ISSN number assigned to their book series. ISSN stands for International Standard Series Number and can be purchased from the Library of Congress. However, each book in the series will need its own ISBN.
We mentioned that in the USA you can buy ISBNs as a single unit, a bulk of 10, 100 or 1000. Here are the prices:
Number of ISBNs
First off, it rarely makes sense to purchase a single ISBN. A single ISBN would cost you $125, but a bulk of 10 only costs $295. Meaning if you purchased 10, each ISBN would cost you $29.50, a 76% discount.
Buying a single ISBN might seem feasible if you only want to publish one title, but remember that you need an ISBN for each format. So if you want to publish your book as an audiobook, you’d need a brand new ISBN for that. As well as needing different ISBN numbers for your eBook and print versions.
Not to mention that you’ll need an ISBN number for any future books you publish, perhaps as sequels to your book.
We recommend that if you’re serious about making book sales, you should purchase at least a bulk of 10 ISBNs. That gives you 3 ISBN numbers to use for publishing as an eBook, in print, and as an audiobook. You can keep the remainder for any future books you might publish.
How to Get an ISBN final steps
Now that you have a very good idea how to buy and use ISBNs for your own books, all the best on setting this up. If you want to be recognized as a publisher and have your books available to a larger global audience by registering through Bowker, consider investing in your own ISBN numbers.
Think of it as buying a piece of property: You own it and it is registered in your name.
If you publish your paperback through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can fill in your number in the “Paperback Content” section of your book when you log into your bookshelf. If you choose to have Createspace assign you an ISBN, KDP will ask for your 13-digit number if you are transferring your physical version over to KDP.
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How many book genres are there?
There are more book genres than you might think. In this blog post, we’ll cover 22 of them, however, there are upwards for 40 genres and even more if you count sub-genres for books.
For example, you can have a book that’s a dystopian fantasy novel.
Dystopian and fantasy can be genres on their own but if you have a dystopian story that involves magic, your book will then have two genres.
This is also important to keep in mind when you have subplots within a novel that might fall into a separate genre.
You’ll see this most often with romantic subplots in broader genres like fantasy or sci-fi.
What are the main book genres?
There are such a large number of book genres that we can’t cover them all in this post, though we will cover 24 of them for you.
That being said, being familiar with the most common can help you identify which your book will fall under.
These are the main book genres:
Let’s go into more detail with these and nonfiction book genres as well.
List of Book Genres All Authors Should Know
If you’re looking to sharpen your knowledge as an author or are just trying to find which genre your book fits in specifically (perhaps to decide which Amazon categories to go after), we’ve got you covered.
Here are 22 book genres, both fiction and nonfiction, to help you understand which is which and how you should label your novel.
#1 – Fantasy
Fantasy encompasses a huge part of the book world. It’s one of the most popular book genres out there—a personal favorite of mine to read and write.
Fantasy is a genre that’s identified by the use of magic within it.
Overall, fantasy is the genre of possibility. You can write in a little magic, like Jenna Moreci’s The Savior’s Champion or you can write a book where magic is the forefront of the plot, like with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
To take this a step further, let’s look at the different categories within this genre that has more specific characteristics.
Young Adult Fantasy Genre:
Young adult is typically meant for readers between the ages of 13-17. However, adults enjoy this category of writing just as much as teens.
One thing to keep in mind when writing young adult fantasy is that the themes and messages within the literature will often revolve around teen-aged problems, like coming of age and exploration of identity.
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 90,000 words
Adult Fantasy Genre:
When you think of adult fantasy, think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings versus Harry Potter or Children of Blood and Bone.
The main plots or themes in adult fantasy will likely revolve around more grown issues like the difference between right and wrong, death, adult relationships, and more.
Average word count for this book genre: 70,000 – 110,000
Epic Fantasy Genre:
An epic fantasy novel is characterizes by the overall lengthy and grandiose nature of its plot, characters, setting, or theme.
Books that tend to call into this book genre are Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, like we mentioned above. Most often, epic fantasies will also fall under fantasy adventures.
Average word count for this book genre: 100,000 – 200,000 +
Add a variety of types of adventures like both a journey or destination as well as smaller adventures on their way to the destination
#3 – Romance
Romance authors have one specific goal when it comes to their books: to make you fall in love with the characters just as much as the characters fall in love with each other.
In this book genre, the romance is the center point of the plot. The entire novel moves around the relationship, though other plot points may be present.
A classic example of a romance novel is The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
When used as a sub plot:
Romance can also be used a subplot in many novels, and is, in fact, used quite often as a complementary element in books.
When romance is used as a sub plot, the main plot does not have to do with the relationship but rather, is something completely different. The romance simply adds to the plot in order to increase conflict or intrigue.
Average word count for this book genre: 70,000 – 100,000
Tips for Writing in the Romance Book Genre:
Never romanticize abuse (meaning, if there is a toxic element in the relationship, never make this seen appealing or “good”)
Write healthy, consensual, fitting romances by developing both character to work well together
This book genre is among the most popular, though most writers aren’t sure of what this category even is.
The contemporary book genre is simply books written in the current time period with most of the parts of the novel revolving around common issues in a character’s life.
But really, this genre is actually more of the absence of a genre. You may have heard this genre lumped in with others, like Contemporary Fantasy or Contemporary Romance.
The term is used to tell readers that this book takes place in current times, though it might cover other genres as well.
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 90,000
Tips for Writing in the Contemporary Book Genre:
Create a realistic and widely-experience conflict in order to draw readers in
Create a sympathetic character readers will feel bad for
Up the stakes by introducing an element, character, or conflict completely out of left field to shock readers
#5 – Dystopian
This is a newer book genre that’s really been picking up popularity within the last 5 to 10 years.
Though many stories of this nature have been published prior, the term “dystopian” was recently coined to describe a book genre in which the current government or society has been destroyed and the book centers around the aftermath.
Writing Dystopian fiction can give you a ton of freedom in how you develop society while lowering the worldbuilding you’d have to do for a fantasy or sci-fi novel.
The dystopian genre can also be used as a secondary genre label in order to clarify the contents of the book, much like with contemporary.
For example, you can have a Dystopian Fantasy novel as well as a Dystopian Science Fiction novel.
Here are some examples of dystopian novels:
The Hunger Games
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 110,000
Tips for Writing in the Dystopian Book Genre:
Learn what types of dystopian books have been done before (this genre blew up in recent years and is on the verge of becoming vampire-esque in the novel world, aka, overdone)
Mix this with another genre, like horror or mystery to add a something new
Get more creative with the reason for the collapse of society before your book happened as disease and/or zombies is far overdone
#6 – Mystery
We’ve all heard of the mystery book genres. It’s an extremely popular genre, and for a good reason.
This book genre is defined by the plot focusing on solving a mystery, most often with the mystery impacting the main character to the point where they’re the ones involved in solving it.
Many other genres can have mysteries within them (in fact, most do), but what makes a book specific to this genre is the fact that the mystery is the main plot and point of the book.
When thinking of your “horror” elements, add something real or common to them in order to make them more horrifying. An example is to have a serial murderer who is a huge fan of the local high school baseball team—and attends the games regularly
#8 – Thriller
If you’re writing a thriller novel, the book will focus around a high suspense and action-packed plot.
This book genre most often deals with danger and dread instead, with high emotional impact involving fear.
Here are some examples of popular thriller novels:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Woman in Cabin 10
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 110,000
Tips for Writing in the Thriller Book Genre:
Use the literary device of juxtaposition in order to increase the tension in those “thrilling” moments
Whenever you have a moment of high tension, add in a personal conflict to up the stakes in a non-physical way
Continuously ask yourself how you can increase the stakes in a realistic way that fits with your story idea
#9 – Paranormal
Paranormal books are characterized by including paranormal activity, like ghosts, clairvoyance, mediums, demons, vampires, and more.
The difference between fantasy and paranormal is the elements within. Paranormal doesn’t typically have magic like witches or fantasy-specific beings like unicorns, mermaids, and more.
But the paranormal book genre includes a current or real-life setting and is not often set in another world, like fantasy sometimes can be.
However, keep in mind that you can have a paranormal fantasy novel if your book covers both types of abnormal occurrences.
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 90,000
Tips for Writing in the Paranormal Book Genre:
Opt for paranormal beings from different cultures
Create your own paranormal beings for a culture or religion of your own creation
Use some of the writing tips for thriller novels in order to up the tension with your paranormal story
#10 – Historical Fiction
This book genre is exactly as it sounds: a fictional story that takes place in the past.
Usually, historical fiction centers around known events or problems that take place in a time significantly prior to the present.
Average word count for this book genre: 60,000 – 90,000
Tips for Writing in the Historical Fiction Book Genre:
Be sure to avoid the common excuse of “there weren’t many people of color” when writing historical fiction from any time period and any location. This is a cop-out and the world was just as diverse then as it is now
Research your book and its details for complete accuracy. Any slip-up in facts can pull a reader out of your book
Add in personal and emotional conflicts that make sense for the time period but are still relevant issues today so readers can connect to your book better
#11 – Science Fiction
Sci-fi is among the most popular book genre there is. With movie adaptations like Star Wars and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this genre has exploded and is abundant in the book world.
Science fiction novels are those that take place in a futuristic society with advanced technology and occasionally otherworldly beings.
This is another genre that can add to another, like with Sci-Fi Fantasy, which would include a futuristic world with advanced technology and some sort of fantastical being or magic.
When writing a memoir, you’re essentially telling the reader about the most defining moments in your life that have led you to where you are and who you are today.
Memoirs differ from autobiographies in the sense that an autobiography is more of a timeline of your life, events, and accomplishments whereas a memoir is more of a collection of the most significant moments, pulled together by a theme or message you wish to share with readers.
Average word count for this book genre: 45,000 – 80,000
#13 – Cookbook
You already know what a cookbook is.
Cookbooks are those featuring recipes and directions for making the dishes correctly. Not only that, but many cookbooks features stories about why the dish was created and the inspiration behind it.
Average word count for this book genre: Cookbooks vary greatly and are more dependent on number of recipes instead of total words.
#14 – Art
This book genre encompasses several different types of books. However, all of them require the same thing: a focus on something art-related.
There are many ways a book can qualify to be in the art genre.
Here are a few ways your book would be a part of the art genre:
it covers art-facts
it teaches specific art methods
it discusses are in detail (art history)
art is a primary focus of the book
Average word count for this book genre: 10,000 – 60,000
#15 – Self-help / Personal Development
If you’re writing a book aimed to aid someone in their personal life, as well as lift them up to make positive change, it’s likely you’re writing in the self-help or personal development book genre.
Essentially, if your book helps others have a better life by empowering them, it will fall under this genre.
Keep in mind, this book genre is one that encompasses many other genres as well. You can have a health self-help book in additional to a relationship self-help.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 70,000
#16 – Development
The development book genre is growing rapidly as the world focuses on self-improvement as a whole.
If you’re writing in this genre, you’ll likely write about specific struggles pertaining to character and personal problems as well as overcoming these obstacles.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 70,000
#17 – Motivational
This book genre is on the rise significantly as of late. If you write in this genre, your book will center around empowering people to do whatever it is they’re struggling with.
Essentially, motivational books focus on problems that can prevent people from accomplishing their goals and dreams, and how to solve them.
Most often, motivational books can be lumped in with other book genres like health, fitness, business, and self-help.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 70,000
#18 – Health
The health book genre is vast and covers a wide variety of different topics.
Your book will fall under this wide genre if it features anything health-related. This can be topics ranging from fitness, holistic healing, to more complex medical topics and in-depth coverage of different health conditions.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 70,000
#19 – History
Any book covering historical facts of any kind would fall under this category. And since this is nonfiction, they all have to be accurate.
Many history books are much different than what you might have read in school. In fact, there are several books simply covering different events in history written in a more entertaining fashion versus a factional play-by-play textbook.
Those books still fall under this book category.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 70,000
#20 – Travel
Whether you’re writing travel guides or an in-depth review of different travel destinations, this book genre will cover all of them.
Your book would also fall under this genre if you’re writing about travel-hacks or ways to travel for cheap or even free.
Average word count for this book genre: 20,000 – 50,000
#21 – Guide / How-to
There are so many guide books and how-tos out there that it’s fairly easy to know if your book fits this genre.
The way to know if your book falls in this genre is to think about the core purpose. Is your book written in order to show someone how to do something specific?
The biggest giveaway is in the book title. If your title features “how to…” then it’s in this genre!
Average word count for this book genre: 3,000 – 50,000
#22 – Families and Relationships
You can write a book about how to build a stronger familial foundation or a book about improving your relationship. Either way, those books would fall under this category.
Oftentimes, books in this genre will fall under a smaller, more specified genre as well, like family bonding or romantic relationships or even fostering friendships.
The relationships genre is not to be confused with the fiction romance genre.
Average word count for this book genre: 30,000 – 50,000
#23 – Humor
If you’ve ever read a joke book or a book revolving around a humorous endeavor of some sort, it falls under this book category.
Books in this genre are also often gag gifts or are meant to be facetious.
Average word count for this book genre: 10,000 – 50,000
By the time you get to Death Wish 5, Charles Bronson has run out of reasons to seek vengeance on the world. You can only have everyone (and everything, if you count the house and the dog) you love destroyed by violence so many times before it stops being much of a motivation.
In action films (and thriller-type novels), the setup for revenge often comes down to quickly killing a loved one. But the 80s are over and motivations need to resonate with an audience that rightly finds some quick woman-in-a-refrigerator to be as irredeemable as it is lazy.
When writing a book, you need to incite your hero to action by giving them a reason.
Your reader needs to be on board with that reason. Barring that, your reader needs to understand the reason. Failing that, your reader shouldn’t hate your reason.
The difference between an antihero and a villain often comes down to a mixture of how they handle an Inciting Incident and the scope of the incident.
A villain will want to burn the world because they lost face to the protagonist. An antihero might decide to shoot every criminal they see because children murder, for example.
Before we get lost in the weeds, let’s break it down and ask the big question.
What is an inciting incident?
An inciting incident is a specific event at the beginning of a story that kicks off the main plot by forcing your main character into it. The inciting incident changes your character’s life forever.
A good Inciting Incident contains the following four qualities:
Creates a Story Question that the Climax must answer
Is Sufficient and Kickass: The stakes matter, the presentation WOWs!
Sets a Tone
Truly Motivates a Character (internally, not superficially)
Essentially, an Inciting Incident gives the hero a reason. This reason must be sufficient to the character in question and also sufficient to the story in question.
In the Matrix, the Inciting Incident for Neo comes from learning that he is in a simulation. He is offered a choice between learning about that world or going blissful ignorance.
In Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers meet and fall in love at a party, setting them on a course that leads to tragedy.
Katniss, an independent girl with skills and a drive to protect others, sees her sister drawn to be Tribute in the Hunger Games.
Mild-mannered office worker Richard Mayhew has a job, a fiancé, and no real problems in his life until he can’t help but rescue a wounded girl he sees on the street in Neverwhere.
All these examples show inciting incidents that start their respective stories.
Each of these inciting incident examples reveals something about the protagonist and the world they live in. They don’t just set the story in motion; they give us a reason to want to see our heroes succeed.
How do they accomplish this? They do so by deftly ticking off all four boxes without ticking off the reader.
How to Write an Inciting Incident & do it Well
As stated above, if you’re writing a novel, you need an inciting incident. The key here is to do it well by including the necessary elements to do just that.
Here’s what an inciting incident needs to do:
Alter a hero’s life in an irreversible way
Draw a Line between mundane life and the Quest
Kick Off the story’s MAIN plotline
Let’s walk through what each of these means as well as examples to bring them to life.
#1 – Alter a hero’s life forever
There’s really one main objective of an inciting incident and if you fail this part, the rest of the book will be hard to construct.
Your inciting incident must, above all else, alter your character’s life forever.
Without this very element, it’s very hard to “convince” your readers to buy into the story.
If your readers can sit back and say, “or they could just not do it.” to whatever the inciting incident is and their life would be unchanged, you’ve created a lot more work for yourself when it comes to the plot.
The idea behind this is that if your character’s life is changed forever, they don’t have a choice but to move forward with what has happened.
And that forward momentum is what you need to keep readers engaged.
#2 – Draw a line between normal life and the “new” normal
There needs to be a stark contrast between what your character’s life looks like now versus what it’s about to look like after the inciting incident.
Because readers want to know that your character can’t just “go back” to how things were. Otherwise, what’s the point of them continuing on this journey?
With the inciting incident (and really the setup of your story), you are making a promise to the reader about what will happen in your story. If you don’t draw a line between the old and what’s to come, they won’t be interested in finding out what’s to come because it won’t feel like a mystery.
#3 – Kick off the story’s MAIN plotline
Your inciting incident has to be related to the main plot of your story. If the inciting incident is unrelated to what the main plot points are, you’ve done something wrong.
A common mistake authors make with this is using a big, tense moment as the inciting incident in order to draw intrigue, but then in the next chapter, introducing the real main plot elements.
If your story can work separately from the inciting incident, it’s not done correctly. Go back and tie it into the main plot.
An example of this would be Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.
The main plot is her journey to survive the Hunger Games. The inciting incident is when she volunteers as tribute to replace her sister in the games.
Had the inciting incident not happened (volunteering), the main plot would not exist (Katniss surviving the games).
An example of how this could not go well is if the author decided to use a raid or a brawl of some sort as the inciting incident, and then making Katniss be chosen for the games. These elements would not be tied in this instance and it wouldn’t be as intriguing or as good of a story.
Inciting Incident Examples
One of the best ways to get the hang of what an inciting incident really is, is to read and learn from some examples.
Here are 4 inciting incident examples to help you learn how to do this well.
Inciting Incident Example #1 – The Matrix
For Neo, the choice represents an important internal motivation for his character. He doesn’t choose red vs blue pill because he wants to find out what’s going on, he NEEDS to know.
The events leading up to this choice have already illustrated his deep-seated need to thwart authority and solve puzzles, the choice represents a chance to make what he was already doing matter more.
We see his personal stake at play and this also creates a story question for the audience, what is the Matrix and how does Neo matter?
It sets a tone about choice and about the power of illusion which is spelled out by betrayals and misdirects later.
It very much delivers on a WOW! As Neo wakes up in the real world. The rest of the plot follows from the decision and Neo very literally is no longer in Kansas. A metaphor so apt to the application it is the actual reference used in the film.
The audience and the character go through the same revelation created by this Inciting Incident.
Everything that can be hoped for begins and everything that seemed out of place before is shown to be out of place. Despite the trilogy’s faults, this incident is textbook what an Inciting Incident must be.
Inciting Incident Example #2 – Romeo and Juliet
The titular characters met and fall in love. As has been said, you can redo this story with anything, like 2005s pirates and ninjas, and by the end, the audience will demand to know why pirates and ninjas can’t be in love. Or vampires and werewolves, if Underworld is more your thing.
The Inciting Incident creates a story question about love and its consequences which the Climax delivers on.
It reveals the character of both Romeo and Juliet as they feel truly, without the pretense of the society they live in. The costumes and masks of the party keep their prejudices out, revealing an inner truth.
Whether you enjoy a stage production, an older movie, or the Baz Luhrmann version, the party sets a tone for the rest of the events. The presentation leading up to the moment of love discovered feels earned even after a thousand iterations. We root for the characters because we are practically programmed to do so.
Finally, the line is drawn between each character’s former life and their new reality of being in love.
Nothing about their old prejudices continues forward. The consequences of the main plotline stems from this moment.
Inciting Incident Example #3 – The Hunger Games
Katniss offers herself up literally as ‘tribute’ to save her sister. It’s character motivated, it sets a tone, and it stuns the crowd. This Inciting Incident creates an echo that follows the character as the story question becomes about the purpose and meaning of sacrifice.
The separation between the world of the District and the world of the Games themselves is inexorable and clear cut. The film uses a diluted and diffused palette for the earlier scenes, giving way to a brighter almost saturated pallet for the games. In the book, the prose shifts, becoming more playful and les terse. In both cases, the audience knows which world they are witnessing.
The story happens because of this decision.
All of this is sufficient, but Collin’s pulls it off in three words. Well, almost, the setup makes the specific Inciting Incident possible.
The main plotline occurs, in almost a cheat, at the titular Hunger Games.
Finally, the stakes matter to Katniss personally. She saved her sister. The further ramifications that change the society also stem from this incident, but they don’t have to.
If the book ended with her sacrifice it would still be sufficient.
Inciting Incident Example #4 – Neverwinter
Gaiman uses the Inciting Incident figuratively for the reader and literally for the character of Richard Mayhew. The moment that Richard notices Door, he crosses over from the real world to the realm of London Below.
The distinction between the two worlds is irrevocable but not obvious to the intractable Richard, at least not at first.
Meeting Door is both an Inciting Incident personally for Richard, who must help because you help people when you see they need it, and a deeply revealing part of his character development.
The naiveite that comes with it almost gets him killed quite a few times, but the character line is there.
The WOW! of the moment comes from the way Richard entirely focuses on the wounded girl, Door, and totally ignores his blathering fiancé who demands Richard make a decision, on the spot, between helping the wounded waif and staying engaged.
Much like in the Matrix, this is no kind of choice at all. Richard can’t not help.
The stakes don’t seem high to Richard, but the reader soon learns that without aid, the men who wounded Door would have caught up to her.
Finally, the Incident creates a story question about both Richard and Door, how they interact with the world(s) they interact with and who they are. All of which has a pay off in the Climax.
How the Inciting Incident Shapes Your Story
As you see, the Inciting Incident does a lot with very little. The best of them seem to be almost happenstance, a nearly throwaway event that makes an impact on the characters and the world(s) around them.
Even something simple can be used as an iceberg tip, drawing the reader down a rabbit hole (for a fifth example of this EXACT thing) into the world of your story.
Be cautioned! These examples represent everything going right and fulfilling the Musts to be sufficient. Losing one of the Musts alone can cause a story to stumble out of the gate.
It is possible to recover, but never ideal.
Consider the Inciting Incident of The Phantom Menace (picking on a poorly executed story is low fruit, but that’s the point). Anakin is discovered because they need a part to fix a ship to get back on the ‘real’ adventure of protecting Padme. The Incident has prophetic potency but its lack of both a clear separation between the mundane and the quest and its failure to set the stakes leave the audience baffled and relying on external information to care.
The Inciting Incident can be thought of as the first major hurdle you need to jump to make a story kickass. If you stumble, even a little, on that first hurdle getting to the finish line and medalling in the event isn’t impossible, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be easy.
I’m going to start with showing you an image of my nine-year-old’s perseverance that can be applied to anyone.
Every week she climbs a 16 ft rope at her gymnastics class. She decided that she was going to make it to the bell about 2 months ago and she has steadily climbed further up the rope each week.
Her hands slide up the rope with precision, her knees are out like a butterfly and she uses her whole body to climb up the rope. Every week I shoot a Facebook live video of her.
And every week the time it takes her to climb the rope decreases.
Preserving in writing is a lot like my 9-year-old’s determination to squirm her way up the rope.
It is climbing, hand over hand, using all the resources you have to keep your eye on the finished target. In my daughter’s case, it is the bell at the top of the gymnastics rope. In my case, it is finishing my second book this year.
When my family and friends ask me about my first book, how much time it took, and what keeps me going, I shrug and say, “I started working on it consistently in November.” I went from idea to self-published in 6 months. Of course, that was with intentional, uninterrupted writing times and the determination to keep going – even when it was hard.
You can write a book too. You just have to make the most of every second and continue on your journey, even when it is hard.
How to Form a Writing Habit to Maintain Writing Motivation
It is not always easy to consistently write. In fact, there are days when it is downright HARD, but we all have the same 86,400 seconds in every single day.
How we choose to use our time is one of the things that sets apart those who persevere in writing against those that don’t.
And forming a writing routine and habit is the best way to make that happen.
I don’t have a lot of time for writing during the day—so I have to create time. The absolute best time for me is to wake before the sun and spend the first two hours of my day writing and creating.
I do find small chunks of time during a break at school to pull up the google doc app on my phone and write a few words. However, as you can see by Chandler’s video about burnout, it is super important to create hard and fast boundaries about your life and your writing routine, so that you don’t burnout and you’re able to continue writing.
Gather the Writing Tools to Help Writing Motivation
Sometimes those boundaries include using the right tools for writing, which will also help you persevere and keep you motivated to keep going. The right tool or writing software is generally not your phone.
That’s not to say that you can’t have your phone as an occasional tool; however, it is equally as important to understand that if you pull your computer out and go to your dedicated writing space, you will likely accomplish a lot more.
There are different people and people who do things in different ways. In the writing community, we call them plotters and pansters, or discovery writers.
The plotters plan every single detail out and they are then able to compile their narratives. The pansters go with the flow and get things moving by simply putting one word in front of the other.
Here are some of the best tools for writing:
A word processing program (like Microsoft Word or Google Docs)
A blank piece of paper
Keep in mind that the word processor you use can make a huge difference in writing motivation.
For example, using something like Scrivener to track your word count and goal line can keep you pushing to reach the end.
Check out our Scrivener Tutorial below if you’re curious to learn more.
Keep Writing Motivation Through Determination
When I am most likely to want to throw in the towel, I usually get some inspiration from someone that I’ve allowed to read my work to help me keep going. If that’s not possible, I reach out to the #writingcommunity on Twitter and someone there will give me some sage advice—like go for a walk.
So many writers dream of having the ability to work from home, never get dressed if they don’t have to, and being an authorpreneur. However, it takes a lot of perseverance to get there.
It takes the dedication of finding the one time in your day to keep an appointment with the most important VIP in your life: yourself.
How to Maintain Writing Motivation Even When it Gets Tough
My writing coach, R.E. Vance, told me that the worst thing I can do is not to look at my writing for a few days. He said that when you aren’t engaged with it, it takes longer to move to the creation part because you have to re-read, figure out where you are, and you lose momentum.
So follow these steps for persevering in your writing journey every day.
#1 – Keep a Writing Date With Yourself
You are a very important person in this blank page to published process. So, find a time that works for you, whether that is early in the morning or after your family is in bed for the night, and dedicate five, ten, twenty-five minutes, or an hour to working on your book.
“But I am tired.”
Guess what? You’re making the most of those 86,400 seconds in a day by finding a few minutes to commit to writing. Personally, I am a morning writer. I know that I am a lot less likely to be interrupted in the morning than at any other time.
#2 – Keep the Document Open and Visible
When you open your work in progress document, you’re setting yourself up for success.
You know that you want to add more words to the page and you can do this by simply putting one word down and following it with the next.
You can edit bad writing, but you can’t edit a blank page.
That’s why keeping the doc open, no matter what writing software you use, can help keep it top of mind. Think of it like keeping a sticky note out reminding you.
Whenever you log on to your computer, you’ll have a reminder to write right in front of you.
#3 – Do Writing Sprints
For those of you who don’t know, writing sprints are when you set a timer and simply write as much as you can during that time. You don’t go back and read, you don’t edit, you just write and keep writing until the time is up.
Set a timer for a few minutes. It can be one minute, it can be two minutes, or it can twenty minutes.
You get to decide how many minutes you want for a sprint and then during that time period, you simply write.
You write as many words as you can in that sprint and perhaps it will inspire you to do another sprint.
If you want to have more accountability do this, hop on Twitter and search the hashtag #writingsprints to find people who are currently looking for sprinting buddies.
This can help you stick with it and then be accountable for it at the same time, since many post their word counts after (usually followed by more sprints).
#4 – Connect With Other Authors
Sometimes we need a little motivation to keep us going. Most other authors are more than willing to help you when you’re feeling down.
Reach out to the author communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
They often have advice for you, whether it is on their blogs or through direct messages.
If you’re not sure where to go to find other writers, here are some hashtags you can use to search and find people writing in your genre!
The awful news for authors out there today is that there are plenty vanity press scams and self-publishing companies to avoid…unless you want your money stolen, that is…
If you are a self-published author, publishing your book today has never been easier. With a quick Google search, you’ll come across dozens of self-publishing companies offering publishing services for authors.
Before making any decisions, you want to check out all your options carefully. If not, you could find yourself the victim of a self-publishing scam, forking thousands of bucks over to a shady publishing company with nothing to show for it.
In this post, you’ll learn how to recognize the self-publishing scams when they cold call you…and the companies you can really trust to get your book published!
Here’s what we’ll cover in this post on self-publishing scams:
As with any lucrative industry, there are a wide range of self-publishing scams in business for one reason: To take your money.
A Vanity press publisher charges sky-high prices for author services that includes editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing.
But, all of this is outsourced to the lowest bidder and in the end, the author is left with a poor quality book and no way to market it.
“You get what you pay for” doesn’t equate when it comes to vanity press and the publishing scams they represent. You do pay top dollar, often tens of thousands, and what you get back for your investment lacks anything of value.
So, how can you avoid these self-publishing scams?
Let’s take a look.
Why Authors Fall for Vanity Press Scams
There could be many reasons why someone would sign up with a scammy publishing company that wants you to pay big money up front.
There is no shortage of scams out there when it comes to self-publishing. The biggest reason authors fall into these scams is because…well, they don’t know what they should know to avoid being scammed in the first place.
The fact that you have to pay a publisher to get your book published is warning sign enough: The lies are on the wall. Most authors who fall into this trap are not published authors yet.
You are either thinking of writing a book, you’ve started writing it, or you’re done and can’t wait to get it out there.
So, when a publisher comes along offering to get their “just finished” manuscript into the hands of thousands of readers and sell millions of books worldwide, I would grab at it, too. Who wouldn’t want that?
As a first time author, you are most likely not going to write a book that sells thousands of copies. And if you do, it will not be through a company that you just paid $5,000-$10 to for this to happen.
Most soon-to-be-published self-publishers fall into the lap of predatory publishers because they need help.
For someone who wants to become a successful author, your passion to publish is so strong that it overrides the sudden impulse to take the first offer on the table.
Here are several reasons why you might fall for the vanity press trap:
You are desperate for the know-how of book publishing.
The publishing process is too complex.
You are scared of “not publishing” and want it done right now.
You are not tech-savvy and would rather pay someone to overcome the hurdles.
Your friends keep asking you “When is your book coming out?”
You know nothing about book marketing and need to hire the experts. Guess what: Vanity publishers don’t know much about it either and you’ll have to market no matter the avenue of publishing you choose.
You watched a video of a self-published author who just signed a 6-figure deal with a large publisher…and you think that is what usually happens.
Before you make any hasty decisions, stop and breathe. If you need help with publishing your book [and everyone does] there is a right way and…
The other way that steals all your hard-earned dollars.
My hope is that you read this post before signing anything. If you can know the danger signs to watch for, you’ll pull yourself back from making a decision that costs you thousands of dollars, not to mention the heavy burden of regret later.
Early Warning Signs: The Lies of Vanity Press
Vanity presses are generally a bad idea all around, but we’ll cover some specific ways they can scam you and why they’re often on the list of self-publishing companies to avoid.
How Vanity Press Publishers Scam You
It is actually easy to spot a predatory publisher. I only hope you get to this post before they get to you. Here are the 5 big signs you are at risk of being scammed.
#1 — The company asks for publishing fees. This should be enough right here. Although Hybrid Publishers require authors to pay for all the publishing services upfront, they usually split the fees later.
A vanity press publisher will charge thousands for a publishing package. You are told that the book sales will be recouped later through book sales…which almost never happen. Don’t listen to the so-called “reviews and testimonials” on the websites. These are rigged, of course.
#2 — “We will publish your book for you on Amazon.” Let me be clear about this: Publishing on Amazon is super easy, even if you have limited tech skills. Not to mention Amazon has an excellent support system in place. The response time to inquiries is less than 24 hours and they are very detailed when it comes to responses.
A vanity publisher will make this sound more complicated than it really is. They will “take care of everything” and upload the book for you. What this also means is you lose control over making any future changes to the book. The only person that should be uploading the book to Amazon is YOU under your own account.
#3 — Charges for A Reading Fee. Never. This just isn’t done. A traditional publishing house never asks for this. If you are told by the sales rep they will read your book for a certain fee, red flag this. The “reading fee” scam is less common today, but just in case you do run up against a company that tries this old scam.
With a real publisher, nobody makes money until the book is selling. Actually, this practice has fallen the wayside these days and it would be rare to come across. But there is always someone willing to try…
#4 — The publisher will buy you an ISBN [because they are so hard to get]. You can buy an ISBN through Bowker.com if you reside within the USA. The cost is $125.00. In the U.K. you go through Nielson. In Canada ISBNs are free through ISBN Canada. If you buy this through IngramSpark they offer a slight discount. Again, this is just another ploy to make you think it is a difficult process that is better off left to the “professionals.”
#5 — “We will take care of all the marketing, because we know how difficult it is.” Yes, marketing is difficult, especially for authors. But a vanity press company won’t market the book to sell, they will do the bare minimum required so it appears as if the book is being placed in the proper channels.
My advice: Grab a book on marketing for authors or enroll in a course. Learn it. You can even outsource it out so that you doSell More Books. But in the end nobody is better at marketing their own book than the author.
#6 — Excessive use of flattery. The first time I spoke to a vanity press sales rep I remember the praise she gave me for my book. I felt as if I had written a book that was going to sell thousands of copies in the first week.
The rep was quoting passages from the book and referencing everything from the first page. Mind you, I later realized, everything she was quoting was from the first few pages. So did she read it? Of course not.
#7— A sales rep calls you several hours after you sign up to their newsletter with a sales pitch. I tested one of these sites by enquiring about their services, and I downloaded a freebie. The next day I received a call from my “Publishing consultant” ready to help me fulfill my dreams as an author. Wow. The sales pitch was impressive, but if you already knew the situation, it was a total scam. You can smell it.
But, for a new author excited to be part of the publishing journey, listening to someone else tell you how excited they are to publish your boom is a very tempting catch. In the end, they don’t care about your book or you. Whether it is Author Solutions or another of the dozens of publishing scammers out there, they get your money and keep milking it with constant upsells.
#8 — Make “over the mountain promises” to get you endorsed by Hollywood. It is not unusual for these companies to tell you that your book has a shot of being featured in Oprah’s book club, or that they will send your manuscript to one of their agents in Hollywood for review.
I can promise you one thing—Your book will never see the inside of a movie studio. Not unless you are a well-established author who has already proven themselves, and even then, it will not be through a vanity press company that you get there.
#9 — Promises to get your book into barnes and noble and other bookstores. In this case what happens is, they put your book into a large catalogue where bookstores and libraries can order it. But realistically, you’ll be hard pressed to sell a single book in any bookstore if you publish through a vanity press company. Libraries and bookstores won’t even consider it in most cases.
#10 — Insists you sign a contract handing over exclusivity. If this final dose doesn’t make you run the other way, I don’t know what will. By any and all means, as a self-published author, you do not sign over your material rights to anyone. This gives the vanity publisher the right to further exploit your work and profit from all sales. The author, in this case, gets a lower end percentage.
Now that you’ve seen the red flags, you are well-informed to make a decision if you come across what appears to be a shady publisher. You don’t need to sign anything or pay huge amounts of money for the publisher to “publish you to Amazon” or set you up with a movie deal.
Now, let’s take a look at…
Your Self-Publishing Options
We are not living in the 1990s anymore. Back then, choices to self-publish were limited. You either paid a company—like a vanity press—a lot of money. Or, you went on your own and hired a printing company to run off tons of copies that were not cheap.
Today, you will see that you have many good choices these days that make it easier for you to get your book published.
#1 — Self-Publishing Courses
There are quite a few reputable self-publishing courses out there. You buy the course, and work through the modules to write and ultimately publish your own book.
There are costs to publish your book, including creating it, cover design, editing, and launching your book.You still have to pay for these services, but at least you get to choose who is working on your book.
It is up to each individual author to outsource his or her own book. Publishing courses provide the content you need to get it all done, but you do all the work and take on additional costs outside the cost of the course.
You have to pay for the basics that any author pays for: A good cover design, hiring an editor and formatting, and maybe a budget for marketing services such as book promo sites or a media package.
But many new authors are weary about self-publishing and think uploading to Amazon— or other publishing companies—is a complex ordeal. It isn’t. I have been coaching authors for years and, nowadays, the system is built in that all you have to do is plug your book info into the Kindle Direct Publishing Bookshelf and away you go. The cost for actually self-publishing your book is O.
The production cost for the average book is about $1500. If you pay $1000-3000 for a course + $1500 for the book production, you are still under $5,000. If you continue to write more books, you’ve already paid for the course that usually gives you access for a lifetime.
Taking a self-publishing course is the best option we think. You learn how to do so much of the process yourself, and can rinse and repeat for future books. You still pay for everything but, who you decide to hire is up to you and the creative decisions are all yours.
#2 — KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing]
The KDP platform is Amazons book publishing platform. Publishing a book is so much easier now than it ever used to be, especially with Amazon self-publishing.
You no longer need to go through painstaking efforts to land a book deal which locks you into unrealistic deadlines and cuts you out of most of the earnings. You don’T have to sign up and fork over thousands to a vanity press company.
You can now have complete control of your book – and its revenues – by publishing directly through Amazon self-publishing.
Setting up your KDP account is easy, and should be the first step you complete.
Here’s how to set up your Kindle Direct Publishing account:
Next, click “Update” in your account information and fill in your tax information. It’s important to note that you need to complete your tax information BEFORE you can publish your first book. So don’t skip this step!
Once your tax information is complete, click “Finished” and return to the main page.
To start printing your own books with IngramSpark, visit their website and set up an account. Do the same with Amazons’ Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Do it yourself. It’s not the difficult process many would have you believe, and there is lots of support on these sites ready to help you right away.
How much is the cost to print a book?
It depends on the book size but, for a book that is 30k in length with little to no photos or graphs and text only, expect to pay less than $4 per copy. The average scammy publisher will charge new authors $15-20 dollars per copy.
But for them, they print the books at the same cost as an author who sets this up through KDP or IngramSpark.
In fact, many vanity press publishers use IngramSpark for the print-on-demand service only just to sell the books back to the author at 5x the print cost.
#4 — Vanity Press Publisher
Vanity press publishing, also called subsidy publishing, differs from self–publishing in that the author assumes all the risk and pays the publisher for everything.
The editing, formatting, cover design, and even marketing the book are paid for by the author through the various packages offered when an author signs up.
But, there is a trap here: The costs are more than you initially pay for, and they don’t tell you this until later when you’re mired deeper into the project. Once invested, most authors are compelled to publish the book no matter the costs.
The emotional investment is what these companies prey on. Knowing how you feel about your book, they are ready to help you do anything to get it to market…and that means offering more expensive services.
By the time you are done and the book is published, potentially you have just spent $10k. With close to 0 book sales.
Vanity publishers make money, not from selling books for you, but from the author buying their own books back from the publisher. It is a scam where the author always loses.
#5 — Traditional Publishers
This is not a self-publishing route but, if you want to take the traditional path, you can begin by querying your manuscript with agents. Keep in mind, you may not see your book in print for a couple of year due to the lengthy process of first finding an agent, and then having them submit it to publishers to buy.
What is a traditional publisher?
“A traditional book publishing company buys the rights to an author’s manuscript. Buying rights from the author is how book publishers have traditionally acquired books. …The advance is deducted by the book publisher from any royalties the author receives from the sale of the book.”
That’s right, they pay you an advance for the book. You don’t pay them anything. It depends on the publisher’s contract but they will pay for [some] marketing.
The editing, cover design and formatting is taken care of by the publisher [in most cases].
There are a lot of nightmare stories of authors signing on with traditional publishers, but that usually equates to the publisher not trying hard enough to sell any books. In this case the author may end the contract and, after that, many authors take up with self-publishing and find better success. After all, why not be in charge of building your own book business?
#6 — Hybrid Publishers
A hybrid publisher is what you will find between a traditional publisher [pay nothing upfront but get paid an advance] or a vanity press publisher [pay for everything upfront and keep all royalties.
The hybrid publishers model is simple: An author pays for everything upfront but gets a bigger cut of the royalties after book sales, upwards of 50%. The initial cost means that the author assumes all the financial risk in order to get the book to market.
One other difference between traditional and hybrid publishing is, the hybrid has to pay the author a higher percentage of royalties than a traditional publishing house.
In order for a company to be called a hybrid publisher, there are 9 criteria set out by the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) that must be adhered to:
In order to not be classified as a vanity press, ALL book submissions must be reviewed. This means if your book does not meet the criteria, it should be rejected. A vanity press doesn’t care. Anything and anybody will do.
Hybrid publishers must clearly define a vision to follow for their company.
Must report reputable sales on all titles they publish.
Authors who sign with hybrid publishers must be paid a higher royalty than that of standard traditional publisher rates.
The quality of the production—cover design, editing and formatting—must meet industry standards.
The publisher must publish as its own defined imprint and request its own ISBNs.
Manage all distribution services for the works.
Hybrid publisher must manage the rights of the works they publish as well as any subsequent rights acquired.
Hybrid publishers must meet the standards and best practices set out by the publishing industry.
But…the vanity press publishers are bad seeds. Lately they are disguising their services as “hybrid publishers” but still operate with the same scammy tactics.
Take caution here that, while a hybrid publisher might look legit on the surface, there is a possibility you could get ripped off if you are not 100% sure.
Taking Down the Scammers
As a coach and self-publishing authority, I have worked with at least a dozen authors who’ve come away from a vanity press publisher broke, not just financially, but emotionally as well.
Like most authors, they just wanted to fulfill a dream and publish a book. But as soon as you sign up with a self-publishing scam company, your dreams are ripped apart and so is your bank account. By the time the not-yet-published author realizes it, they are invested by thousands of dollars and bound by a contract.
Over the years several class-action suits have been launched against scammy publishers for bad business practice. The worst of these publishers is Author Solutions, a company with a bad rap and a long history of complaints targeted against it by authors who have been exploited.
This company boasts on its website “300,000 authors published.” I would be hard-pressed to believe this and to go a step further, the percentage of those authors who would use Author Solution service again?
Chances are if you have been down this road, you realized before you were half way there that you’d taken a bad path.
Author Solutions is at the top of the chain of seedy publishing houses promising to get your book to market because the world needs to hear your story. And for a publishing package upwards of $5999 it could all be done for you. Well, initially you are led to believe.
Author Solutions is the parent company of several subsidiaries that operate, not only in the US but now have an International reach as they have set up in countries worldwide.
How do they make their money?
It isn’t from helping authors to sell books.
The authors usually end up selling nothing. Instead, they are made to buy the books they want from the publishers at a high cost just so they can have their own copies to sell or giveaway.
Fortunately, authors are better educated these days on the publishing options available. Vanity publishers are disappearing. But do return “wearing different clothing”, disguised as the next best company to get you that bestselling book.
Red Flag List: Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid
I have compiled a list of publishing companies you should avoid at all costs. This is not a complete list but includes names of the major companies flagged by Writer Beware and Alliance of Independent Authors.
For a very thorough listing, I would recommend you check with the Alliance of Independent Authors. ALLi stays up-to-date on the scammy reports, warnings and lawsuits taken against bad publishers.
Here are some self-publishing companies that have made the list of those to watch out for:
Archway Publishing [Simon and Schuster]
LifeRich Publishing [Reader’s Digest]
Palibrio [for the Spanish-speaking community]
Christian faith publishing
Balboa press [a Division of Hay House]
Newman Springs Publishing
Xlibris [UK, AU, and NZ]
Dog ear publishing
Writers Beware and Watchdog Groups
Remember: Always do your homework. To make sure if you are buying into a legit business you should check in with these sites listed below.
“Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.”
A detailed breakdown of self-publishing companies and their ranking based on service and reliability.
Educate Yourself in Self-Publishing
Publishing scams will always be around as long as authors are paying for their services.
How do you, as an author, avoid falling into this trap?
The self-publishing arena is like a vast oasis of information and a never-ending learning process. Vanity press publishers are banking on you having no idea what to do, which is why you might consider turning to a publishing company in the first place.
You will learn how to write and market your book your way and all of it within your control. You won’t have to give up anything or sign your book rights over to a publisher that will exploit your creativity.
If you are uncertain as to whether you should spend money on a course or not, but you want to know the ins and outs of self-publishing, grab a $5 book and start here.
Meanwhile, the scammy publishers are on the phone right now with a future author that isn’t doing these things.
Read Books on “How to Write” and Self-Publishing
Reading is a cheap way to educate yourself on writing. Make it a habit to read for 30 minutes a day. Educate yourself on the publishing industry.
Top 10 Book Recommendations on Writing and Self-Publishing:
Worldbuilding is the process of creating a fictional world within your novel that can be as complex as designing an entirely new and unique location with exotic creatures, societies, religions, and governments.
Or it could be as simple as using the world we currently live in as a foundation, then tweaking it with a few historical, physical, or social adjustments.
World building gives the writer a clear understanding of what their world looks and feels like.
The imaginary world serves to establish where the story takes place. Its purpose as the setting of the story is to anchor the reader into the book by giving them a concrete location.
When a writer makes the decision to half-heartedly world build, it shows. The world they create lacks authenticity and leaves the reader wanting.
World building is a chance to capture the imagination of your reader. Once the reader is immersed in your world, they will be able to suspend disbelief and fully engage with the entire story structure to enjoy a full experience.
But, how does one go about achieving this?
World building might seem daunting, but it can be broken down into simple steps that will make the process thorough and fun.
It is important to think of how the world you are creating is going to be unique to your story ideas. However, it is just as important to keep in mind how your world will serve the plot and affect the characters.
Four general questions to ask yourself before you start building your world are as follows.
#1 – What does the world itself look like?
The physical appearance of your world makes a big difference. Because you have to describe the story setting, you need to know what that looks like.
Here are some questions you can use to do this:
Is it a small dense area, or a vast world full of different environments?
How much of your world are you going to need to show in order to support the story?
How does the terrain influence the story?
What is the weather like regularly as well as when it’s severe?
What does the landscape look like? (Hint: this will influence transport and clothing)
Are the characters going to be concentrated in one area like a small town, or inside a labyrinth?
If so then all you need to world build is that location and focus on elements such as: is this location safe and what is the social structure within this location?
An author who does a great job of setting up the world right from Chapter 1 is Jenna Moreci in The Savior’s Champion. You can see in the example below, you know what the land looks like, how it feels, and even one of the primary agricultural elements is…all in a few short paragraphs.
However, if the cast is going to be traveling within your world, then things get more complex, and you may need to create multiple countries or planets.
Creating multiple countries means analyzing how they will be different from each other.
Here are some questions to get this part right:
Where do the borders lie?
What are the languages spoken?
What are the natural resources?
What are the various cultures and cultural practices?
If you are creating multiple planets, how do they differ from ours? Are there seasons? Is there more than one moon/sun? What life forms exist on these planets?
Knowing these details upfront can also help you shape the cultures and customs around the world itself as we have done in this world. Your worldbuilding will appear more natural this way as well.
#2 – Who are the inhabits?
Think of your main cast. Since your characters drive the story, it’s important to be clear on every type of person involved from the start of the story to the end.
Answer these questions for worldbuilding your inhabits:
Are they human, alien, or hybrids?
What is their population?
How did they get to be a part of this world?
Is there are class system amongst inhabitants?
Is the class system defined by wealth or some other factor?
What of gender, race, and species?
How do the inhabitants of the world you are building get along?
Are there natural alliances between particular groups?
Are some of the inhabitant’s oppressors towards the others?
What resources do the inhabitants have?
Knowing these details can not only help you shape the plot, but being able to slide in these details will make your world appear more lifelike and therefore, more entertaining for your readers.
#3 – What is the history of the world?
History is important, it tells of how things came to be the way they are. Your fictional world, just like the real world, is going to have to have a history—and this history can often be very influential to your plot. Therefore, you have to know it.
While it is not vital for you to know every minute detail in regards to the history of your world, it is crucial to know what are some of the important events of the past.
Here are a few aspects to consider:
Who have been the major rulers?
What key events took place during their reign?
How did their reign change the governments?
How did the countries or settlements arrive at the state they are currently in?
Is there a recent historical event of note?
What are the religious and political historical events that are impactful to your plot?
What have been the major environmental disasters? Famine, plagues, flooding?
How have these impacted the land and the people?
Wars – what nations have been at war with each other in the past? What nations are still at war?
Has there been any civil wars?
This can be the most fickle and influential part of your world building ventures.
An author who excels at weaving history into his storyline is George R.R. Martin in his Game of Thronesseries.
The more you know about your world’s history, the more opportunities you have for foreshadowing, plot twists, and a more comprehensive story in general.
#4 – What are the rules of society?
Every society has codes of conduct, a set pattern of behavior expected to be followed.
Having rules in place will give an understanding to character actions and reactions as well as the overall character development process. Ask yourself what the guidelines in your world are, who enforces them, and how these will affect the plot.
Here are more questions for worldbuilding your society:
What is the political structure of the world?
Who holds power, influence, or authority?
Is it an individual or a group?
Is there a ruling monarchy?
Or is it a form of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, or a democracy?
Are characters going to be breaking or bending the rules, or will they be the ones administering them?
Are the rules considered fair and just, or is the society at large frustrated by the rules imposed upon them?
How are inhabitants punished if the rules of society are broken?
This is a great starting point for crafting the mood and general vibe of your book, not to mention building your main character and others to fit these standards.
#5 – What are the religions, and social customs?
Readers and critics generally frown upon a world building so unimaginative that it contains only one race of people.
Creating a society filled with inhabitants of different races means there will be a variety in the traditional practices from one particular cultural group to the other.
A well- developed world will have its national/religious holidays, dress customs, cuisine, and linguistic characteristics.
How will this affect your characters? What are the legends and fairy tales that serve as a means of entertainment or education for inhabitants?
Here are more religious and social customs worldbuilding questions:
What is the religious belief system?
What gods, if any, exist?
Do the gods play a tangible and active role in the world, or are they entities people believe in?
Are there religious services attended to at a house of worship?
How much does religion play into the daily life of the lay person?
What is considered sacred?
Are particular symbols revered?
What are some rituals or customs related to religion in your world?
How many inhabits believe in the religious system?
Are there any quarrels between different religions?
Are there any specific festivals or celebrations that occur?
Do people work all week?
Are there holidays?
Do people celebrate their birthdays?
How do the various social classes behave?
What customs to they adhere to?
How are gender roles defined?
How do families, marriages, and other relationships operate?
How is death handled – are services held, and do loved ones’ mourn?
Is procreation done out of love or duty?
Do people get to choose their own partners?
What behaviors are generally considered to be improper or immoral?
While there are a lot of questions for this section in particular, these are some of the most important, as they have the power to shape motives, societies, and characters in full.
Even if you decide to create a society that is a monolith – where the entire cast is of the same race or religion, you still need to clearly state what the customs unique to your world are.
How to World Build for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Specifically
These book genres are among the most important for worldbuilding.
From the halls of Hogwarts, to the Starship Enterprise, to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a captivating and unique world is what sets the SFF genre apart from the other genres.
When it comes to the science-fiction and fantasy, there are some key world building elements to consider in addition to the above.
World Building for Fantasy Questions
Fantasy is a genre that includes magical elements or a supernatural humanoid races/species such as elves, vampires, dwarfs, and fairies and that means it needs a set of world building criteria that differs from the above.
World Building for Magic Systems:
Magic systems need rules, regulations, and overall, its own set of world building.
Here are some world building questions for your fantasy magic system:
How does the magic system operate?
Who is able to use it and where does it come from?
Are some individuals more adept at magic than others?
How are magic users grouped and perceived?
How do people hone their magic skills and become stronger?
What is the general attitude towards magic, are people accepting of magic, weary of it, or both?
What are the limitations and rules of the magic?
What happens when these rules are broken?
Are there any exceptions to these set rules and how are they possible?
World Building for Supernatural Humanoids:
These creatures run rampant in both science fiction and in fantasy, but we’ll touch on fantasy right now.
Here are some worldbuilding questions for supernatural humanoids in fantasy:
How are they received in society?
How ethnically and culturally diverse are they within their own species?
Did they evolve or migrate from somewhere?
Where do their powers come from?
Generally speaking, are they a friendly species?
Who or what do they worship?
What languages do they speak?
Are there any cultures or customs distinctive to what they are specifically?
World Building Questions for Sci-Fi Novels
Science-Fiction is a genre that typically deals with futuristic concepts: advanced science/technology, artificial intelligence, time travel, space exploration, and extraterrestrial life.
Because of all these elements we don’t experience in our day-to-day lives (yet, in some cases), you have to be diligent with ensuring the world makes sense.
Here’s some help with world building for science fiction.
World Building for Advanced Science and Technology:
Because this is the backbone of what makes a novel belong in the sci-fi genre, you should spend a great deal of time in this area.
Here are some questions to help you world build for sci-fi:
What is the level of technological development, how does this affect day to day living?
What technologies are used to communicate?
What ones are used for entertainment?
What technology is used to travel?
What is weapons technology like?
Who can afford the technology and how does technology affect social structure?
Who created these technologies?
What are some up-and-coming technologies?
What technologies cause the most issues in your culture’s society?
Which technologies are the most helpful?
World Building for Artificial Intelligence:
This is another hot and ever-growing topic in the sci-fi world. Because artificial intelligence is so significant right now, you have to remember to include it and ensure it sounds natural in your world.
Here are some questions for developing artificial intelligence in your sci-fi book:
Who created the artificial intelligence?
How does the artificial intelligence operate?
Are they self-aware?
What form do they take?
Are they easily identifiable?
How do they communicate with each other in order to complete tasks?
Are AI considered a lower caste? If so are they assigned roles of caretakers of the world?
How have humans managed to sustain supremacy over the artificial intelligence?
Do artificial intelligence feel the need to break out of their assigned roles?
World Building for Time Travel:
Another common practice when writing a sci-fi novel is to include some sort of time travel.
While not all sci-fi novels have this concept, if yours does, it’s helpful to get clear on some details to avoid plot holes later in your writing journey.
Here are some worldbuilding questions for time travel:
Who can time travel?
What is the time travel paradigm?
Can people meet their past/future selves?
How far back/forward in time can one travel?
What are the repercussions of time travel?
Does the time traveler physically change upon returning?
Does time travel have effects on mental health?
How is time travel viewed in society?
What happens when the laws of time travel are abused?
World Building Questions for Space Exploration:
Many science fiction books include space exploration or travel at one point or another.
Here are some world building questions for space exploration:
Who was the pioneer of space exploration?
Is this a new undertaking, or have multiple worlds been aware of each other and living as a large community?
How many planets and how many solar systems does a galaxy comprise of?
What is the system of travel between worlds?
How is the language barrier between worlds solved?
Who regulates space travel?
What sort of documentation is needed for space travel?
Can anyone space travel or is it reserved for specific individuals?
What is the purpose of space exploration and travel?
How was space exploration made possible in your world?
World Building Questions for Extraterrestrial life:
Aliens are a natural part of space exploration so if this is in your novel, you may want to work on world building this particular bit as well.
Here are some questions for world building with extraterrestrial life:
How were they discovered?
Are they friendly or antagonistic?
What are their goals/motivations?
How does their presence affect the community?
What do they eat?
What are their weaknesses and strengths?
How do they communicate?
Does the public know of their existence?
How long has their presence been known for?
World building can be as simple or as complex as the author chooses. Keep in mind, even though you will be developing your world from scratch, not every single element of your world needs to be revealed to the reader. It is important to not overwhelm your audience, and avoid the dreaded info dump.
Elements of your world should be sprinkled in slowly, the details woven into your story in a manner that is enjoyable for the readers instead of dropped all at once in exposition.
Your imaginary world will naturally grow and develop as you write. When done correctly, world building can be a wonderful way to enhance your story.