Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Rory Vaden. Rory’s first book, Take the Stairs, is a bestseller that has been translated into 11 languages. Rory Vaden writes and speaks about the key to building a rock-solid reputation and how to achieve success by doing the right thing. He is passionate about helping others build their personal brands with Brand Builders Group.
Brand Builders Group is the world’s leader in the Reputation Strategy study, with the mission to help every person identify their voice, tell their story, and share their unique message. BBG is one of the only true Personal Brand Strategy Firms. Co-founded with his wife AJ Vaden, Brand Builders Group helps people become the type of person they want to do business with.
“The book conversation is the #1 accelerator of credibility in the world.” Rory self-published before he traditionally published. “The question is not whether I should do a book or not because the answer to that is always ‘yes.’”
Rory notes that the New York Times isn’t looking for the once and done author when speaking about getting on the bestseller list. To achieve this status, you must be a cereal author and show an established track record. “What you really want is the real bestseller – the long-tail, perennial bestseller.” Selling hundreds and thousands of copies over the years is more useful to business and brand success.
Authors have numerous challenges when writing a book. “Authors struggle the most with telling people what their book is about in one sentence. If you can’t explain the message of your book in one sentence, then you have more thinking to do.”
Listen in to find out what is the common factor among the best sold books in the world, the hardest challenge when writing a book, and why you should build your personal brand before you write your book.
[02:27] Why Rory chose self-publishing before traditional publishing.
[05:28] His marketing launch process which landed him his first best-seller.
[07:15] What authors struggle with the most before their book is published.
[10:15] How Rory and his wife started Brand Builders Group.
[12:22] Why personal branding should come before creating a book.
[15:20] The six components of Rory’s Brand DNA.
[21:22] Why there’s not a right way to do it, but a right way to do it for you.
[24:53] Why building a personal brand matters and why your brand drives sales.
Let’s dive into exactly what these writing blogs have to offer and why you should be paying close attention to them if you want to improve your writing, start your book, and publish it on Amazon (or wherever else you want to publish it through)!
There are a lot of different avenues writers have to be aware of when it comes to building a successful career from their work.
And Write to Done gives you just that!
Being both a creative writing blog along with covering nonfiction writing, Write to Done teaches you how to master a number of different techniques and habits geared toward helping you succeed in the literary world.
You don’t want to miss out on all the writing advice they have to offer along with motivational material to help you keep it up.
The Write Practice is a massive source of helpful information for writers everywhere. They cover writing blog posts touching on topics revolving around key writing practices, writing exercises, and even writing prompts to get your mind stirring.
You won’t be without help with The Write Practice.
Not only do they offer free help through their blog posts, but they also have programs, writing contests, and help involving your author platform in general.
All of these writing blogs have something unique to offer that you won’t find any anywhere else. When it comes to learning any craft – especially writing – it’s important to broaden your search and learn as much as you can from as many talented minds as you can.
Conversations are an important part of storytelling and are used to reveal a wealth of information: from a bonding moment, to a backstory, to a plot twist, and everything in-between.
It’s the writer’s job to ensure that the dialogue used within a conversation not only fits the character speaking, but that it flows in a realistic fashion.
In fiction writing it is vitally important that the speaker within a conversation is easily identified. This is where dialogue tags come into play.
What are dialogue tags?
They are markers, little sentence clauses that follow the spoken words and act like a signpost for the reader. Their function is to attribute written dialogue to a particular character. These small phrases indicate speech, telling the reader exactly who is speaking.
“Did you hear that?” Emma asked.
The phrase ‘Emma asked’ is the dialogue tag in the sentence.
The main use of those is to keep characters straight for the reader. Writers can also use them for: mimicking the natural rhythms in speech, breaking up long pieces of dialogue and making them more digestible, maintaining, elevating or break tension.
Tags can, and for the most part, should be basic and simple. The words ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are the most obvious and the most used tags. However, dialogue tags can, of course, go beyond ‘said’ and ‘asked’ – we will get to that in a later.
First, let’s discuss how to properly utilize them in a written conversation.
How to use Dialogue Tags
Dialogue sentences are made of two parts: the dialogue, which is the spoken portion of the sentence, and then the dialogue tag, which identifies the speaker. The dialogue tag is the telling part of the sentence, while the actual dialogue used is the showing.
Dialogue tags can be found in three places: either before the dialogue, in-between the actual dialogue, or after.
The rules for punctuating dialogue and associated tags are quite precise. Commas go in particular places, as do terminal marks such as periods, exclamation points, and question marks. In this article we shall be following the rules for standard American English. (UK English uses a different set of punctuation rules.)
#1 – Tag Before the Dialogue
Adding a tag in the beginning means that the character who is speaking is introduced before the actual quote.
Rising slowly from her chair, Emma asked, “Are we sure about this plan?”
Placing her hands on her hips, Emma said, “I doubt you know more than I do!”
Use a comma after the tag.
If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter.
End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation and keep punctuation within the quotation marks.
#2 – Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue
Dialogue can be interrupted and then resumed in the same sentence. The tag can also be used to separate two sentences. In both cases, this signifies a pause your character takes.
“I thought you cared,” Emma said, “how could you let her leave?”
“I thought you cared.” Emma said, hoping to provoke him. “How could you let her leave?”
When it is one continuous sentence, a comma is used before the dialogue tag and goes inside quotation marks.
A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce it.
Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation keeping it inside the quotation marks.
When it is two sentences, the first sentence will end with a period and the second begins with a capital letter.
#3 – Tag After the Dialogue
Most often you will likely place your dialogue tag after the quote. Therefore, making the quote the focal point of the sentence.
“Are you done?” Emma asked.
“Are you done?” asked Emma.
Punctuation goes inside quotation marks.
Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation.
All the examples given up until this point have focused on using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ as part of the dialogue tags. These are the most common tags, and simply let the reader know who is talking. They serve the purpose without distracting from what is being said.
Often times both ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are overlooked by readers, becoming invisible as they act out the conversations in their heads.
As long as ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are not overused, (repeated in every paragraph of dialogue) they will definitely fade into the background. However, if they are used in every sentence during a section of dialogue, then they will most definitely cease to be invisible.
As a writer, you never want your conversations to stand out and distract, confuse, or slow the read.
Avoiding Unnecessary Dialogue Tags
The purpose of dialogue tags is to identify the speaker, not to draw attention to the writer’s broad vocabulary or their limitless ability to consult with a thesaurus.
Two common mistakes every author makes:
#1 – Adverbial
An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb used. They are those ‘–ly’ adverbs used to convey emotion and tone. The problem with these types of tags is they are all tell. Readers are being told how a character feels, as opposed to the words themselves showing what is happening.
“This is not your concern,” Emma said angrily.
The adverb ‘angrily’ adds nothing to this sentence. What it does instead is distract from it. A writer should want to evoke the emotion, and using adverbial dialogue tags take that away.
An example fix for the above sentence could be as follows:
“This is not your concern!” Emma said.
By using the exclamation mark you are showing the readers Emma’s emotions. There is no need for extra embellishment. When you tell the reader how a character says something, you remove the power from their spoken words. Try and refrain from using adverbial tags, instead show the reader character emotions though punctuation, dialogue, or action.
More on using action with dialogue tags later.
First, let’s discuss the second faux-pas when it comes to dialogue tags: synonyms
#2 – Synonyms
I like to call these types of tags, saidisims. A saidism is a synonym used to replace the word ‘said’ in a dialogue tag.
The key to realistic dialogue is keeping it simple. Using distractive synonyms such as ‘exclaimed’ and ‘uttered’ draw attention to the mechanics of the conversation you are writing.
“Emma,” she implored, “please listen.”
The word implored stands out like a sore thumb. It jarrs the reader from the moment putting the focus of the sentence on the tag, not on the dialogue. Instead of using this saidisim, you can simply use punctuation to get the point across.
“Emma,” she said, “please listen.”
By placing the word ‘please’ in italics, the writer shows the reader that the speaker is earnestly begging Emma to listen. No need to switch out ‘said’ for ‘implored.
The key to realistic dialogue is to keep it simple. Avoid searching for synonyms to use as creative descriptive dialogue tags which will only stand out. The dialogue tag should do its duty and identifying the speaker without shining light on itself.
Sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) it is indeed okay to substitute the word ‘said’ for something else.
“Stop.” Emma said.
“Stop.” Emma muttered.
The tag ‘muttered’ adds a new understanding to the way the line of dialogue is spoken. This saidism enhances the dialogue and gives the reader a deeper grasp of the conversation. That is the key difference between the ‘intoned’ example and the ‘muttered’ example.
Substitutes for ‘said’ should be used sparingly and when they are used they need to elevate the dialogue, not distract from it.
When you find yourself using a saidisim, pause and ask yourself these two important questions:
Is the dialogue itself able to convey the expression without the use of the tag?
Can punctuation be used in place of the tag?
The more you write and find your own writer’s voice/style, the less you will not need to pause and question your use of dialogue tags. However, until then it’s vital to take a moment and make sure you’re getting them right.
What happens when a writer has a lot of conversational ground to cover and does not want to overwhelm the reader with repetitive dialogue tags? In that instance should the tags be avoided?
Let’s examine this in detail.
Should you avoid dialogue tags?
Dialogue tags should not be completely avoided, but their use can be reduced so as not to wear about the reader. Make sure that readers always know which character is speaking, but keep in mind that dialogue tags aren’t the only means to identify the speaker.
A safe alternative is the use of action beats along with your dialogue tags.
What are Action Beats in dialogue?
An action beat is the description of an action a character makes while talking. It serves to let the reader know not only who is talking, but also show the character in motion. An action on the same line as speech indicates that particular person was speaking.
[Dialogue tag] “Leve,” Emma said, “right now!”
[Action beat] “Leave,” Emma pointed at the door, “right now!”
As you can see, action beats help break up dialogue, and can be used in place of dialogue tags. If you are writing a conversation with multiple speaking characters, then you don’t necessarily need to use a dialogue tag to let the reader know that there has been a change in speaker.
Action beats can turn the reader’s focus from one character to another.
“I’m gonna kill him,” Emma said.
Victoria grinned. “Want some help?”
“I’ll need to hide the body.”
“I know the perfect place, very isolated.”
Geri let out a deep sigh as she stepped between them. “No one is killing anyone or hiding any bodies.”
In this example, there has been only one use of a dialogue tag, yet it remains clear who is speaking each line. The key is to use the tag only when it is needed. Once you identify the speaker, the reader should be able to go for several lines without needing another identifier.
An action beat can replace many words of description. We associate a frown with displeasure, clenched fists with anger, and tears with sadness. However, like any other literary device, action beats can distract the reader if overused and abused.
Remember, dialogue should sound real.
The most effective dialogue is the conversations that readers can imagine your characters speaking, without all the clutter and distractions of incorrect punctuation, repetitive tags, adverbs, or synonyms. Reading your manuscript out loud, actually hearing how the conversations sound, will be the best way to see if you have your dialogue tags right.
Researching for a book, while super important in the process of publishing a book, is difficult and if you’re not careful, it can stop you from finishing at all.
The phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of students.
What if you didn’t write enough? What if all the answers are wrong? Too bad; you’re stuck with your final essay. There’s no going back.
There’s something about the finality of closing the door on any knowledge work that’s tough. We don’t want to miss anything—whether it’s a witty quote or that perfect case study. The same with writing books—ending your research and starting your draft is daunting.
It’s possible to go on researching forever, really. Countless book ideas remain unwritten and unpublished because the writer is just looking for that perfect piece of research. But with that attitude, you’ll never publish your book!
Here’s what we’ll cover for how to research for writing a book:
We’re not asking you to abandon the research process. Virtually all non-fiction work and most fiction works require at least some research to complete a final draft, but it does require moderation.
This post is split into two parts. First, we’ll show you how to carry out a comprehensive research process in as little time as possible, then we’ll show you how to fine-tune your research once you begin drafting your book.
The Research Process
Many writers fail to publish or even begin drafting their books because they’re stuck in the research process. Here we’ll show you three critical steps you can take to make your research as thorough as possible, and to avoid the trap that many writers fall into–researching their books forever.
#1 – Plan Your Research
Research is a necessary part of writing, and with some genres (e.g. historical fiction), it’s impossible to start without research. However, before you pick a single book or open a new tab in the name of research, there is something you have to do: Plan your research.
In academia, there’s an entire subject called research design, which teaches researchers how to choose their research methods, scope out their timeline and outline their research process. Professional researchers have to plan out their research before they carry out any research. Not only does this tick the check boxes for funding, but it also helps them stay on track and ensure their research project is valid.
Notice what they don’t do.
A researcher doesn’t just blindly pick up a book and follow where their gut tells them (though this does make up part of the process) or start experimenting and follow what’s interesting. First, they plan, set a specific end date, and then execute.
Instead of approaching your book research in an ad-hoc manner, putting in research time when you feel it’s warranted, we advise that you design your research process.
We’re not asking you to leave no room for spontaneity, often the best ideas come from the most unlikely of sources, but there should still be some structure to your research so, you don’t waste any of your precious time.
Remember many writers have still not begun their manuscript years after they started working on their book because they’re “still researching.”
You want to avoid this trap.
This means you should set a clear end date for your research process, where you promise you’ll start drafting no matter how little, how much, or what kind of data you’ve gathered. It also means that before you start, you think about where you’ll gather your research from, and how much you’ll gather.
As interesting as a side tangent can be, you don’t want to wander too far. Keep your research focused on the subject matter. If something seems interesting, note it down for the future. Maybe it could be your next book.
#2 – Outsource Your Research When Possible
Often, writing feels like a solitary endeavor, after all, it is just you and yourself staring at a screen, tapping away at a keyboard for hours on end. But just because it feels like a lonely mission, doesn’t mean it has to be one. Especially in research.
No matter your subject, there’s an almost certain chance that someone else has done the heavy lifting for you.
Someone who has immersed themselves in the field, found the dead ends, the wrong turns and the secret passageways. So why not tap into their knowledge?
When thinking of where to begin your research, tap into the human capital available before books or the internet. Are there any professors at your local college you can ask? Any editors in your domain that you can first reach out to? A great place to find names are the references used in journal articles or the authors of literature reviews and book reviews.
By asking them for help you can save yourself miles of wasted research, get an expert’s perspective on the topic (differentiating yourself from many other self-published books), and save yourself time.
Often, as long as they don’t have a demanding schedule, they’ll be happy to respond to an email or two.
Don’t forget to remember them in your acknowledgements!
#3 – Ignore Your Inner Perfectionist
There’s a chance that if you’ve always wanted to write a book, you’ve got a perfectionist streak. And when it comes to book research, you’ll want to keep it under control.
You want to be a laser beam in your research. Focus on the best books for the keywords you’ve identified and don’t get sidetracked. Practical research is the key–find facts and data that will make your book more interesting, not analysis that you find interesting.
It might not necessarily be the same thing.
This also comes in when you’re writing your book. Ignore the temptation to include all the research found in your book. Often 20% of your research efforts will form 80% of your book.
If you found some piece of research you’re just dying to get out there, maybe package and release it as a bonus eBook for the thorough minded amongst your audience (and build your email list,) or have it in the appendix of your kindle edition.
7 Killer Tips on Researching Your Book
Now that you know the critical steps to carry out your book research, it’s time to look at ways to improve it. Some of these will save you time during the research process, others will help you to finish your manuscript as fast as possible, and yet give you that sense of completeness and thoroughness once it’s done.
#1 – “Backload” Research
There’s a secret to mastering the craft of research when writing your book that might strike you as controversial:
Write first, fact-find second.
You may think that’s odd, but first hear us out. Consider this scenario: You’re working on your draft and you hit a spot where you feel stuck. You don’t know the answer to a question that arises in your manuscript, so you switch over to Google and start poking around for the answer.
Soon you find yourself wandering around the internet as if you came into a room to find something, but you can’t for the life of you remember what it was.
And here is where you find yourself at the end of your writing time–watching cat videos– and you don’t even like cats.
The problem with researching while you’re writing is that you squash your momentum. Your draft will take longer to finish and it will be harder to write if you need to jump out of your writing mindset to switch over to research.
The solution: Don’t research at all once you’ve started writing until your rough draft is finished.
#2 – “TK” is Your Friend
Here’s an editorial trick:
When you hit an impasse in your draft and you’re tempted to look something up, whether that’s a quote, a proper name, or details about a location, mark that TBD spot with the letters “TK.”
TK annotates a spot in your draft to return to when it’s time to research.
Then keep writing!
Why the letters “TK”? There are no words in the English language that have the letters “TK” next to each other, making it easy for you to use the Control+F command to find your TBD spot later on.
By setting aside your research for later, you can keep moving on your draft and fill in the small details later.
This prevents you from taking up all your time with research and avoiding writing.
#3 – Turn off the Internet
Turn off the Internet while you’re writing. Madness, you say? Well, why do you need the Internet? You’re going to do your research when you’re done writing, so the Internet is just distracting you. Write now. Google later.
Some pro writers say they like to take their laptop to a locale with no Wi-Fi so there’s zero temptation. Try an Internet desert for a day or two and see if it improves your writing pace.
#4 – Keep it Organized
When you find a key piece of research, file it so you can track it down later. Whether you do this with a virtual folder on your laptop, an actual folder in your desk, or with a tool like Evernote or Scrivener, the idea is the same.
You need to compile all your resources together in one place so you can find it later.
Organization now will make adding research to your manuscript later easier and quicker. When your draft is done, you can put your hands on your resources right away.
#5 – Red Text Marks the Spot
If you’re humming along in your draft and hit the crossroads of a quote or stat, switch your text color to red to highlight that you need to come back. Red text marks the spot that needs later attention and you can keep drafting.
Of course, if you used the “TK” tip above you don’t need this step, because then you can just use Control+F to find where you placed “TK” in your draft.
However, the red text will give you a visual STOP so you know this is an area that needs more research just by looking at it. Call it extra insurance so you don’t miss anything.
#6 – Hired Guns
There’s no shame in outsourcing the manual work of research. For the most cost-effective resource, consider a college intern. When looking for interns, make sure they have a background in your field. If your book is about demographic trends then look for qualitative researchers, perhaps someone with a major in the social sciences.
If, however, you need to do some number crunching then look for some more quantitative oriented interns.
Or, if you need to hire a pro, look to Upwork to find a good researcher—be sure to check ratings and consider giving applicants a short test to make sure they’re up for the task.
#7 – Add it All In
Batching your work is a trick of the productive. By segmenting what you need to get done, you maintain focus without the need to switch from unrelated task to unrelated task. When your first draft is finished, return to the designated areas that required research, which you marked with “TK” or red text. Fill in these gaps and add in all your research at once.
Researching a book can be tricky, and you definitely don’t want it to derail your progress. With these steps, we make it easy.
Before, you were at the mercy of your publisher on how your book format looked, but today, you have control over this entire process.
In fact, you have the final say over everything in your finished manuscript is displayed. Therefore, knowing the proper book format you need is crucial. And with great power comes great responsibility.
If you’re not careful, you may end up with a sloppy and messy manuscript that an editor will refuse to work on until you tidy it up.
Or worse, your audience will slam your book with negative reviews because you published it riddled with errors.
An unprofessional looking book will not only distract readers, it will harm your brand and label you as an amateur, affecting the sales of future books as well as your current one.
There are over a hundred things that can go wrong with your book formatting, and if we wrote about all of them you’d be reading from sun-up till sun-down. But fear not!
From our experience, most authors make the same mistakes when with their book format.
In this article, you’re going to learn what the most common book formatting errors and how to avoid them. By avoiding these mistakes, not only will you have a professional looking manuscript, but you’ll make the process of designing your book to publish on Amazon’s Kindle or in print via CreateSpace a lot easier.
If you have a completed manuscript with botched book formatting on your hands, this article will teach you how to fix it using Microsoft Word.
(A quick note: it’s possible to do many of the fixes in Google Docs, however, Word has a more comprehensive set of features, so it’s better to use that when formatting your complete manuscript.)
#1 – Avoid Hard Indents in Your Book Format
A hard indent is when paragraph indentations are created by manual use of the keyboard’s Tab key.
Many of us learned how to type using the Tab key to create an indent at the start of each paragraph, so this can be a tough habit to break.
When it comes to book formatting, use of the Tab key is a no-no, because it results in an indent that’s far larger than you need.
With fiction book formatting, you want to have just a small indent at the start of each paragraph. If your book is non-fiction, generally speaking, you want to use block paragraphs rather than indents, unless your book is a memoir or historical fiction. (More on that in tip #2.)
If your book is fiction, you may be wondering how to create paragraphs without the Tab key. The fix is simple: In MS Word, set the Paragraph settings to automatically create indentations for the first line in each paragraph.
This simple auto fix will make creating your book format way easier. In Word 2016, on both Mac & Windows, to get to Paragraph settings, click the Paragraph dialog box launcher on the Home or Layout tab. Then on the Indents and Spacing tab, go to the box under Special and click on First line. You can change the size of the indent using the box to the right.
If you’re wondering how big to make your indents, my advice is to pull your favorite book off the shelf, open it up, and take a peek. How big are the paragraph indents?
Experiment with making yours larger or smaller, printing out the page, and comparing them to the book in your hand.
But what if your 535-page tome has already been drafted, using the dreaded Tab key for each and every paragraph? No need to set fire to your laptop!
The reasoning behind whether you should use indentation vs. block paragraphs is this: in works where one thought should flow smoothly into the next, such as in a novel, paragraph indentations are used with no line spacing between paragraphs.
But in books where complicated information is being consumed, having a single line space between paragraphs aids the brain in processing one piece of information before moving on to the next.
An exception to the block paragraph for non-fiction/indents for fiction guideline: non-fiction narratives, such as a memoir or historical fiction, should use the same indent style described above in tip #1.
In non-fiction works where some information should flow, and other sections require more brain power to comprehend. Some authors decide to mix formatting types and use indentation where appropriate and block paragraphs where useful.
But in general, to avoid confusing the reader and to make your book look uniform, clean, and as if you didn’t make a book formatting error, it’s best to choose one style or the other and stick with it throughout your book.
However, if you insist on getting crazy and mixing it up, knowing how and when to use block paragraphs versus when to indent results in a more professional manuscript.
#3 – Avoid Double Spaces After Periods
Here’s the truth: Two spaces after a period is wrong. Period. (Ha!) Just as with the good old-fashioned Tab key indent, two spaces after a period may have been the norm back when you were learning to type.
This is because, with typewriters, characters were all the same width, so the two-space rule allowed for greater readability.
With modern computer fonts, the characters all fit closer together in a proportional fashion, thereby eradicating the need for that one additional space.
From an aesthetics angle, one space looks neater, which your readers’ eyes will appreciate. Before you convert your manuscript, change all double spaces to single spaces. The result will be a better formatted, stylistically correct book.
You’re going to use that super handy “Find and Replace” function again:
Enter two spaces in the Find (This will help you find every double space in the document.)
Enter a single space into the Replace field.
Hit Replace All.
Voila! Like magic.
#4 – Be Cautious with Hyphens
Improper hyphenation is a common error that may be harder to stay on top of because the rules of hyphenation differ depending on the grammatical situation.
For instance, you or your book designer will need to change your page size or page setup according to the book size and style you’ve chosen.
Using paragraph breaks will create extra space where none is needed and will change the page layouts of your book, making your book look ugly.
If you’re wondering why after you change your paper size, your chapter headings are no longer at the top of the page, but halfway down, it was because of your liberal use of paragraph breaks.
Instead, use the page break function.
This instantly creates a new page, and it remains a new page even when you’ve changed the page size, page layout, or added more content above. On Microsoft Word, this can be done by pressing Ctrl+Enter (Windows) or Cmd+Enter (Mac).
You can also find it in the ribbon in Word. Google Docs also has this feature. In Word 2016 go to Insert > Page BreakIn Google Docs go to Insert > Break > Page Break
#7 – Use the Styles Feature Instead of Formatting Yourself
Stop formatting your chapter titles yourself. Many writers indicate a title or subtitle by simply changing the font size and changing the font from the default font (ah, Times New Roman, how we miss you) and thinking their job is done.
This makes navigating and formatting your book a pain.
What you want to do is use MS Word’s “Styles” feature. Google Docs also has this feature. In Word 2016, you can find the Styles section under the Home tab on both Mac & Windows.
In Google Docs the styles section can be found by clicking the box between the zoom level and the font type.
When creating a new chapter, highlight the chapter heading, and then make it a header by applying the relevant style. If it’s the main heading make it “Heading 1”, if it’s a subtitle make it “Heading 2”, etc.
This has the added benefit of allowing you to easily automatically create a table of contents page, or to navigate through your 30,000-word manuscript with Word’s navigation pane, while also making your book format look professional.
You Need a Proper Book Format
Without question you want your book to stand out because of its invaluable content, stunning tone of voice, and laser targeted towards your audience.
However, don’t let your book formatting or grammatical errors get in the way of your book’s success. If you’ve written your book, and are ready to get it published, follow the guide you just read to make sure your manuscript isn’t full of errors.
For tips on how to format your book for Kindle, it’s best to follow Amazon’s comprehensive guide on the matter. It will help you design your title page on a different first page, your copyright page, trimming to the correct paper size, and the million other things you need to do to get your book ready for print.
The authors who are willing to put themselves out there—whether in the form of speaking gigs, media, or other in-person appearances—have the best chance of standing out from the crowd and grabbing the attention of book buyers.
What area speaking engagements?
Speaking engagements are when you speak in front of a group of people on a specific topic you’re knowledgable about in order to inform or inspire.
Most people think of TEDx Talks when they hear the term “speaking engagement.”
However, not all speaking gigs have to be at the Ted Talk level in order to be considered a speaking engagement. Any scheduled speech you give (even unpaid) in front of a group of people is considered a speaking gig.
How do I book paid speaking engagements?
Not everyone can get paid to be a speaker upfront. If you want to be a paid speaker, you have to first hone the craft of speaking and then gain experience in the field.
Some may get lucky enough to be booked as a paid speaker upfront but usually, it can take time, experience, and a resume of speaking engagements in order to take home money for it.
An easy way to expedite the process of becoming a paid speaker is to increase your authority by writing a book.
Before you can reach the days of paying someone else to book your speaking gigs, you have to put in the work for yourself first.
This means doing research and performing a lot of outreach in order to connect with those responsible for booking speakers at different events.
Keep in mind that you may have to start small (and we’ll touch on this below) before you can expect to book yourself at larger, paid speaking engagements.
How to get speaking engagements at churches?
One major way to not only make an impact but reach new levels with your faith is to book speaking engagements at churches.
While not everyone will need this bit, it’s super important for those of you seeking to share your story and message. And like some other methods listed here, one powerful way to reach more churches is to write a book about your faith and message.
This allows you to present the church with some concrete information about you as a person of faith and the specific message you’d like to share. Not only that, but it can also be a great way to sell more books.
Here are a few ideas to help you land speaking engagements at churches:
Be present in that church community
Share your message and ideas with others
Develop a strong speaking ability
Live your faith and message outwardly
Allow someone else to nominate you (due to #2)
Attend local church activities
Ultimately, you’ll have to pitch your idea and message in order to land this speaking gig. However, the steps above can help others see you as a source of information, inspiration, and faith.
How to Land Your First Speaking Engagements as an Author
We’re not saying it can’t be nerve-wracking to stand up in front of a crowd. That’s why we recommend starting small, saying “yes” to multiple opportunities, and getting lots of practice.
This isn’t a one-and-done proposition if you truly want speaking to become an effective piece of your “professional author” repertoire.
So, how exactly should you land that first speaking engagement?
Read on for our ten tips, and you’ll soon be writing your notecards for your debut talk.
#1 – Start Local
Conferences are a natural place for speakers of all levels to take the stage. However, don’t feel as though you have to limit yourself to formal settings to find speaking engagements.
Any group where your desired audience gathers can provide a chance for you to speak.
You could speak to students, to religious organizations, women’s groups, at your library, local business associations…the list is endless! Look around your own community and make a mental list of all the places where you might ask to speak.
#2 – Speak to Your Niche
If your book is geared toward a specific niche, explore related groups. For example, if your book is a memoir about overcoming an obstacle—such as domestic violence or cancer or another illness—you could speak to a support group.
If your book is about productivity, then seek out entrepreneur groups or the chamber of commerce.
If you’re a nurse, and you’ve written a book about health care, then hospitals are a natural place for you to speak. If your story relates to a specific sport, then hit up the closest sport teams.
No audience or venue is too small or informal for your first “official” speech.
#3 – Find a Natural Connection
While we do recommend starting small and local, look even closer: make sure the group you choose will actually be well-served by hearing your message.
Look, there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a crowd that’s bored, or worse—hostile—because you’re wasting their time.
There’s an easy way to warm up any crowd, and that’s to have something in common with them. You want your first speaking engagement to be closely related to your book and your book’s message.
If your book is all about the stressful life of a lawyer, then you’re not going to want to speak to a group of airline pilots.
For your first speaking gig, your goal is to find an audience that will benefit from your book’s message. Ideally, you want to find an audience you naturally connect with, because that connection will make you more relaxed and authentic, which will result in a better speech.
#4 – Build Excitement
If you’re not quite ready to beat the bushes in order to grab your first speaking engagement immediately, then consider building up some excitement first.
We authors share a common goal: to get our target readers excited about our book’s message!
How do you do that? The good news is the Internet makes building a virtual audience fairly easy these days with consistent effort. You can establish a following of readers through your website, through online forums, via social media, and by writing blog posts, both your own and by writing guest posts for others.
Use all of these types of content to build your audience with the goals of increasing book sales and finding your first speaking gig.
#5 – Hone Your Skills
Think of informal ways to practice your speaking abilities with the goal of scoring a “real” gig.
You can produce videos on your book’s subject, join podcasts, and seek out online interviews to share your voice with the world, gain exposure, and get comfortable with your talking points.
By showcasing your speaking talents, you open the door to an invitation to speak in a more structured setting—that even pays more.
Plus, you get great practice speaking about your book’s message before you have to stand on a stage in person.
#6 – Attend a Writer’s Workshop
A great way to get the inside scoop is to meet other authors and pick their brains about their speaking process.
How did they find speaking engagements? What are their best speaking tips? What fees do they charge?
Meeting other writers gives you a broader network to use as resources on all topics that impact authors—not just the nitty-gritty of drafting books.
#7 – Speak at an Industry Event
These fact-based speaking engagements are perfect for non-fiction authors. Whether your industry is blogging, healthcare, law, plumbing, or real estate, it’s likely you can find a conference about it.
The exact nature of the industry doesn’t have to mirror the topic of your book.
Instead, you can focus your talk on skills that can help people in that industry.
For example, if your book is about productivity, you can create a talk that’s focused on how your audience can adapt the productivity lessons found in your book to suit their particular industry.
#8 – Aim Low (at First)
The first of your speaking engagements probably won’t be a Ted Talk, and that’s okay!
The first time, in fact, you may have to volunteer your time to speak at a pretty tiny event.
But as the saying goes, you have to walk before you can run. Just keep taking steps toward bigger and better events. With each new speaking gig, your resume will grow—along with your confidence!
#9 – Practice Makes Perfect
Write a speech today, and read it to yourself daily—before you even have speaking engagements lined up. You want to be able to handle a speaking engagement that’s the very next day if someone called you out of the blue.
What way when the times comes, you’ll be ready to shine.
#10 – Say YES!
When you’re offered your first speaking engagements—take it!
Even if it gives you butterflies or if it’s not the “perfect” fit for your brand, you need to be open to invitations when you’re just starting out. You’ll gain valuable experience, polish your skills, and get your book’s message out there to the public.
All good things!
Get started now on finding your first speaking gig. No matter the size of your audience, you’ll gain exposure for your message, while achieving the unparalleled life experience of speaking about your passion.
Today, I’m joined by Carlos Whittaker, a people’s choice award winner, a former recording artist who spends his time creating new books and travels to speaking gigs. I’ll be chatting with Carlos about how he sold his books “from the trunk of my car.”
With a passion for writing starting with his blog, Carlos was pursuing writing in addition to a career as a singer. In 2010, he created a VLOG that went viral, which, in turn, produced traffic for his blog. At this point, he had 30,000 readers per day looking at his website, and publishers started to find his blog. “Although I was a singer, I had more people reading my words than buying my music.”
When Carlos decided to write his first book, he chose his best blog writings from his work that created the most traction from his past seven blogging years. Moment Maker was birthed from his blog in 2014. Although it didn’t sell well, “this was my little experiment, and I’m proud of it.”
He took his first offer from a publisher that approached him. “The first book was a book that I wanted to write that felt good for me, and I thought that maybe this could help a lot of people.” Carlos decided to be strategic in writing his second book and directly answered his audience’s pain point. Doing beta testing, targeting sales, and tweaking his talks to target more book purchases in the lobby post-speaking. “Once I found that secret sauce, I just stuck to that.”
With his third book, he is creating many Zoom talks and hasn’t had as much success with video marketing. Carlos is looking forward to 2021, when he can hit the road and see people in person to market his book.
Listen in to find out how you can make your audience the hero of your story, how to set up your book sale to get more people to buy your book, and Carlos’ pro tips for selling books.
[01:40] Why Carlos decided to write his first book.
[05:16] Getting approached by publishers to write his book and had one offer.
[07:01] Tips for bloggers who want to turn their blog into a book.
[09:52] Why he wrote his first book.
[18:18] How to make your audience the hero of your story.
[24:26] Pro tips for selling books at speaking gigs.
[28:05] Figuring out how many books to bring with you to sell.
[32:14] What Carlos reviews when revising his talk to sell more books.
[37:30] Parting advice for listeners about how to be a better author.
By default, nobody wants to read your book. Not even your mother. Not really. She’ll humor you, she’ll hope for you, but she doesn’t want to.
Since nobody is instilled with an innate commitment to read your book, you must craft that desire personally. Your opening paragraph, hell, your opening sentence is as much largess most people will be offered.
As any good
salesperson knows, a crack is an opportunity and anything that opens a little
can be forced to open a lot. All you need is confidence, technique, and the
guts to push forward.
Yes, that is a lot to ask from the first page, which is why so many writers stop before they get started.
Remember, the first page isn’t the first page you write, it is the first page someone reads. Of all the darlings you must get used to killing, your original first page should always be ripe for the axe.
#1 – Connect the reader to your character
Your opening sentence
shouldn’t be a warning shot. No haphazard hail Mary you hope lands. It needs to
be well aimed and land solid. It sets a tone, introducing the reader to you and
Like any first impression, it has as many don’ts attached as it has do’s. Let’s hit the do’s first.
You want to achieve a
minimum of one and a maximum of three of these in your first sentence. Three is
pushing it, you might want to try for that all-in approach, but you will just
end up coming across disorganized. A page long sentence can be an interesting,
impressive feat, but as a first sentence it reeks of smarter-than-the-room and
will alienate most readers.
Diving off a cliff
puts the reader immediately into the action. In film school you will see this
as in media res. It works by forcing
the reader to accept everything that is currently happening while also inviting
them to see what happens next or hear what brought the character to this
To execute this
action-packed introduction, you need to have a firm idea of what is happening
and deliver the setting with confidence, don’t over explain and don’t linger.
How to Start a Story Example:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Connecting a reader to a character is done in several ways. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along to see the character’s arc.
How to Start a Story Example:
“Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever.” — The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
#2 – Produce intrigue
Producing intrigue works a lot the same as the Dive. The difference is you want to leave more questions than generate answers.
Again, the more you know about the story when you drop this first hint, the more clearly it will communicate.
Avoid vague prophecy, hit them with something that will echo when the reader arrives at the resolution.
How to Start a Story Example:
“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.” – Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard
#3 – Elicit an emotion
Eliciting an emotion is about getting the reader to feel something, not just displaying emotive language. You don’t want the reader to feel for the character or the world, as those fall into other categories. One of the main ways to do this is by adding literary devices to your story.
With this opening, you need to place the reader in a specific emotional headspace to engage with the rest of the page.
You accomplish this by using trigger phrases and touchstones.
How to Start a Story Example:
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer by William Gibson
#4 – Create a strong visual snapshot
Finally, a snapshot is exactly that, a picture painted in words. You don’t want to make a whole landscape. Take a look at a random post card for five seconds.
What stood out to you? How would you describe that scene to someone else?
That’s the essence of a snapshot, the highlights, and standouts, not the overview.
How to Start a Story Example:
“The thing was big and white and hairy, and it was eating all the ice cream in the walk-in freezer.” — Monster by A. Lee Martinez
While you toil to create these openings, you want to avoid a few key elements. Each of these can destroy your efforts and drive the reader into dismissal mode.
Avoid these elements when starting a story:
“He woke up”
World building is about establishing what your world is, not what it isn’t. Describing how the regular world works and then adding ‘but mine doesn’t do that’ wastes a lot of time.
Expect your reader to know mundane information and don’t bother repeating it. It bores you to write and the reader to read.
Cliché’s have their place in an established book genre. Don’t confuse a genre trope with a cliché. What you want to avoid is saying the same thing in the same way.
Your fantasy world may well have a dungeon and a dragon, but you don’t want to put those facts too close to each other.
Cliché will kill emotion in its cradle. Readers want to feel something genuine and cliché is the opposite of that.
Far too many science fiction stories start with someone coming out of some kind of sleep. There is a temptation to start the story from the very first conscious moment of the character but remember that you don’t even really remember the first few minutes of your day.
Start the story where you remember starting your day, usually after breakfast and post stimulant.
Not convinced? Alien 3 started with Ripley waking up in a tube. Nobody likes Alien 3, ergo, no starting by waking up.
#5 – Construct a compelling first paragraph
If everything has gone to plan you have gotten a foot in the door, wedged the sucker open, stepped into the vestibule, and presented your wary, but accepting, mark… er reader, with your wares.
You haven’t made the sale yet, but you have an opportunity to deliver a spiel before they work a clever excuse to get you out.
Seize that advantage
by showing that your opening sentence leads into an opening paragraph that
isn’t just more of the same but a makes some promises that most of the rest of
the pages are also going to offer something worth sticking around for.
Having gained some
headway, you have more to lose than gain. That is, there are more wrong things
to do with the first paragraph than there are right things.
The right course of action has three options for your starting paragraphs:
Stay the Course
Ramp Up Gradually
Staying the course
Staying the course means keeping the same tone and attention you presented in the first sentence. This works best for mystery stories or when you have started with a Dive.
In both of these cases, the idea is often to put the reader immediately into the world and you need to be careful not to shake the hook loose with too much pull.
Example: Back to Stephen King and The Gunslinger, the paragraph after the opening line is a delicious snapshot of the desert mentioned. It holds the reader, drawing them further into the enormity of the task presented by the preceding sentence. He already has us ready to find out more, so he sets the hook gently, rather than pulling us right into the boat.
Note also how he goes from one strong type of opening, the Dive (mixed with a character connection), into a snapshot. Right there he’s established three strong openings without breaking a sweat.
Ramping up gradually
Ramping up gradually is seen more often in character connections and snapshots. With each detail you add through the paragraph, you build interest. The character gets slowly separated from other characters of their type.
If you start with a high school student, you see how they break the mold. If you start with a city, you reveal what makes that city unique.
Example: Consider the wide panoramic opening of EM Forester’s Passage to India, how he shows the country in an almost dreamlike shot you can immediately visualize. The book was written before film was invented and yet it used a standard technique employed in nearly all aerial establishing shots.
The hardest technique to use is the double down. Here you pull hard and fast, hoping to take the opportunity gained by your first sentence to really wow the reader.
While this can be done with several techniques, you see it least commonly with the Dive. If your action is strong enough, more action blows the reader away. However, a complication to the action works.
By slipping in some Emotion or Intrigue you deepen the scene without pushing the reader out.
Example: In The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a mysterious circus appears in the first sentence. Complicating this matter is the first paragraph which suggests the sudden appearance wasn’t the kind where it was simply not advertised in advance but hints it may well have materialized out of nowhere.
Regardless of the approach, remember that the first paragraph serves to grow your lead and hold the reader through the chapter.
While pulling is the goal, the main aim, as mentioned several times, is to avoid pushing the reader out.
We call these the Goldilocks
In the Too Obvious
scenario the reader develops a certain “Simpson’s Did It!” mentality. If they
feel like they know exactly where the story is going, that this is just one
more reprise of the hero’s journey, the fetch quest, the star-crossed lovers,
they will put it down.
Conversely, if you go
Too Obscure, they won’t have any investment. Sure, nobody has ever really read
a book quite like those composed by Thomas Pynchon, but then again, ask anyone what
Gravity’s Rainbow is about and be prepared to get a ‘the what and who?’ in
You want to land in familiar territory with some new spins. Don’t reinvent story structure or character, not in the first chapter. You need to gain trust before you start pulling the rug out from a reader.
#6 – Leave a hint in the last paragraph
While the first
sentence gets the reader hooked and the first paragraph makes promises, the
last paragraph needs to introduce more concepts while limiting resolution.
That sounds like a
heavy order because it is. It isn’t all that bad once you break down the
Aim for one of the following:
Hint at the End
Roadmap to a Plan
Each of these chapter
endings provides the reader a reason to keep going. Many television pilots fail
at this, they either wrap up the first story and have nowhere to go, or they
toss in a last-minute villain preview to suggest a larger threat somewhere.
Sure, it worked out
for Avengers to tease Thanos but they also had the advantage of a sixty year
comics history to assure viewers they know how to build a multi-part story.
When you give a Hint, you want it to be broad enough to be interesting but narrow enough that your resolution (within the next chapter or two) satisfies it completely.
If you toss an owl through a window to get Harry Hunter or Harry Potter to explore a magical world, you better make good on the magical world sooner than later.
If you are building up a large world and need to set several things in motion before you get to the major plot, which is a risky move in itself, you need to show the reader a roadmap. The hobbits need to get out of the Shire before they can get to Rivendell on their way to the ultimate goal.
#7 – Opt to end the chapter on a cliffhanger
Ending on a cliffhanger is usually a good call. The pulp stories of the 30s were sometimes christened Cliffhangers because they used this technique extensively. When releasing serial stories, it is the default way to go, how will our heroes get out of this sudden predicament!?
It makes the ending exciting and demands the reader pick up the next installment, or, in your case, turn the page and keep going just a bit further.
Cliffhanger Generation Tricks and Tips:
A Lingering Question
A Sudden Insight
The Depths Appear
Dropping a new character into the scene, especially one that shows up with the same aplomb as a first sentence Character Connection, gets the reader going. They want to know who this is, and why they will have importance to the next section.
The end of the first
chapter of Stardust by Neil Gaiman does this perfectly, introducing us to a
baby delivered via faery door. You have to turn the page to find out more.
In a Lingering Question scenario, you invite the reader to ponder something about the event that just transpired.
Why was it so hard, so easy, what was the significance of the turns? Any question that goes unanswered makes the reader wonder. In a serial, they would have to wonder for weeks, or months. In a book, they can always find out by turning a few pages.
Sudden insight works somewhat the opposite of the Lingering Question.
Here, a character understands something that just happened, something the reader may have been in the dark about, this often goes hand in hand with the next tip. Knowing what is at stake drives tension and the character and reader both being ‘in on it’ delivers.
The Depths Appear works well in science fiction, horror, and fantasy stories.
Any place where the world isn’t just what is known, where other dimensional forces can act, where a universe of possibilities can exist, it is possible for something else to be out there.
Alluding to the larger forces at the end of a first chapter puts the story into a context against these larger, more meaningful threats. This is especially a good idea when your first chapter reads like a self-contained story.
#8 – Try a bookend for the first chapter
I lied about the
mother thing, turns out she really does want to read your book. She always did,
she can’t not, mostly because she loves you.
This type of ending paragraph reflects the Bookend.
Here, you offer a mirror version of the first sentence to show that what has been set up and was so gripping originally has turned around. This works especially well for stories that start in a known world.
Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore, Alice ends up down the rabbit hole, and the once bright sky is now overcast with the coming troubles.
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.
Writing Children’s Books Is Increasing in Popularity
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.
Learning to Write Children’s Books Taught Me…
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.
How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Step by Step
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 depends 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 Your Children’s Book
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.
For chapter books, 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 pantser (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.
Don’t get lost! Your readers will, too!
#6 – Focus on Your Children’s Book 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 or 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.
It’s a tough, yet brave decision. Sitting down to get your message out in the world will be one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you do.
But now that you’ve made this decision, you may be wondering:
Should I approach a publisher and go down the traditional route? Or should I self-publish and become an indie author? Which is better, traditional publishing versus self-publishing?
Before the age of the internet, the only way a writer could get their book in front of millions was to send a book proposal and a query letter to a traditional publisher or agent. The writer hoped that day’s gatekeeper had drank their morning coffee, woken up on the right side of the bed and actually given your letter and proposal more than a 10-second glance.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening was slim to none.
This resulted in brilliant people like yourself being denied the opportunity to share their experiences, stories, and knowledge with the world.
Thankfully, this industry is changing for the better – at least for those of us who are savvy in self-publishing.
With the development of online marketplaces like Amazon, the publishing process has changed. You can distribute your book to everyone, regardless of what some traditional publishing house thinks about your idea.
You have a book inside of you and the world needs to read it!
Is it better to self-publish or get a publisher?
Whether or not self-publishing or getting a publisher is better relies entirely upon your own goals and resources. For you as a person and a writer, one or the other will be better.
If you want to have far more creative control but pay a little more upfront (with the knowledge you also make a lot more in royalties), self-publishing is the best route.
But if you want to put in a year—sometimes two—more to find an agent, write a great book, and get a deal in exchange for that $5,000 – $10,000 first-time advance, it might be better for you.
The truth is that you have to inform yourself of each and make the decision for yourself, which is why we put this comprehensive blog post together for you.
Let us know which you’re going for in the comments too!
How much can you make from self-publishing?
The amount you make from self-publishing depends on your royalty rate, how much you sell the book for, and how much time you’re spending marketing the book.
But also keep in mind that you have to know how to self-publish the book correctly if you truly want to see high returns.
Thankfully, self-published books have a much, much higher royalty rate than traditional publishers because you get to keep anywhere from 50-70% of your book’s profits.
With a traditional publisher, they take much more and you only end up with 10% maybe 12% after years of proving yourself as an author.
Want to see how much you’d need to sell in order to make a specific amount? Fill out the calendar below so you know exactly that!
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Does self-publishing hurt your chances with a traditional publisher?
Self-publishing does not hurt your chances with a traditional publisher at all. The opposite is true, actually. Self-publishing a book and having success can make it more likely you’ll publish with a traditional publishing house.
Major publishers like their authors to have an edge. The more successful you are on your own, and the bigger your author platform, the more likely it is a traditional publisher will publish your book.
So by having success and building your following as a self-published author, it makes landing an agent and a book deal that much easier. And it also saves you a ton of time searching for that agent too!
Some literary agents may actually approach you if your book does well enough. Does the book The Martian ring a bell?
It does happen. But first, your book has to sell and be successful much like The Martian was.
The publishing world has changed, and it’s time for you to reap the benefits. Here are seven reasons why self-publishing is the best route to take—and why you’ll think twice before dealing with a publishing company again.
#1 – You Don’t Have to Wait for Permission
With self-published books, you do not have to wait for anyone to give you the green light.
In other words, you don’t have to convince any gatekeepers to allow your book to reach the global market.
“But, don’t traditional publishers have a good idea for what will sell or not? I mean, if they reject my book, they’re probably right that no one would want to buy it.”
Have you ever heard of Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek”? It has been a New York Timesand Wall Street Journal bestseller for over four years. It sold nearly 1.5 million copies and has been translated into 35 different languages.
Oh, and get this: It was rejected by the first 26 publishers it was presented to.
Maybe you’ve also heard of a certain children’s book, the one about a young boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead who discovers he is a wizard. The ”Harry Potter” franchise is a patent bestseller, with the last four books in the series being the fastest-selling books in history.
Yet it was rejected by 12 publishers in a row, and was only picked up because the eight-year-old daughter of an editor demanded to read the rest of the book. Even then, after the editor agreed to publish, they advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job as she had little chance of making money in children’s books.
Little did they realize the publishing success they had stumbled onto.
Now, just imagine all the other authors out there who stopped after the first 10 or 20 doors slammed in their faces, believing the lie that they didn’t have a profitable idea.
You cannot allow other people to determine your success.
Self-publishing gives you the avenue to do that. You and your readers decide the worth of your words, rather than one person at a publishing firm who may not realize the potential publishing success in their hands.
#2 – You Can Publish Your Work Quickly
If you were to take your book to a traditional publisher, it would take years to publish.
For example, it may take up to six months for you to even hear back about the book proposal. And assuming they accept your proposal, it will take at least another year before the book is actually published.
With self-publishing, you can produce your content as quickly as you want. And in the Amazon Kindle store, you can publish a new book whenever you want. That way, you can share your work as quickly as you create it!
#3 – Bring Home the (passive) Bacon
Traditionally-published authors are typically paid an amount of money up front. However, once the sales come rolling in, they only get a small cut of the earnings.
Why? Because they have to pay the publishing house, the editor, the marketers, the designers, etc.
But when you self-publish, you take in most of the earnings (save for the money you actually choose to spend on marketing book production and publishing). On Amazon, for example, self-published authors receive 70% of the royalties for an eBook priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Now that isn’t bad!
#4 – You Form Invaluable Connections
Self-publishers around the world have gathered online and in person to provide a community that supports one another in publishing their work.
These connections become priceless as you meet other up-and-coming influencers like yourself.
“Wait—so where would I meet these people?”
Because self-publishing requires that you find your own editor, cover designer, formatter and launch team members, you end up connecting with people throughout your whole writing experience.
Self-published authors also gather on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.
The camaraderie allows people to expand far beyond what they could have done on their own, or what they would have been limited to with a traditional publisher.
#5 – You Control Your Objective
So much of a book is influenced by the motive that fuels it.
Is your motive to make money?
It is to launch a new career?
Is it to share your story?
Is it to become a public speaker?
Or, is it simply something to cross off your bucket list?
Remember, writing a book is hard work. And nothing is worse than seeing your hard work be transformed into something you didn’t want. When you self-publish, you are able to preserve the dignity and genius of your objective. No one is pressuring you to sell more books, or to taint your message so that it will reach wider audiences.
You are not pigeonholed or made to become someone you’re not comfortable with.
You write as you, and for you. And that is liberating. That is self-publishing freedom!
#6 – You Control Your Creative Concept
There are horror stories about authors whose ideas and voice became unrecognizable after they went down the traditional route.
When you work with a traditional publisher, you don’t just sell them your manuscript, you sell them your idea.
Your book may become something you are not comfortable with. Or, your dreams for a sequel or a revision may be completely squandered if it does not comply with the motives of the traditional publisher.
But as an independent author, you retain total creative control.
You are free to be expressive with your work. You are free to be vulnerable and controversial. You are free to be you.
When you self-publish, you also control who you write for. If you sell via the Amazon Kindle store, you can choose, and then tweak, your categories and keywords. You determine your marketing efforts.
Most people looking to write a book want to earn more money, gain more freedom or have a platform to share their ideas.
When you self-publish and have complete ownership over your ideas, you also have complete ownership over your future.
There is no traditional publishing firm to stop you from selling a supplementary online course that includes material from your book, starting a speaking career, re-releasing your book with a hardcover or audiobook, or even releasing an updated version of your book.
You determine the trajectory of your book, your ideas, and your publishing career when you self-publish.
Even Big Names Choose Between Traditional Publishing VS Self-Publishing
Though there are some benefits to traditional publishing, even some well-established and successful authors admit that the joys of being an indie author outweigh a traditional publishing deal.
So much, in fact, that big name entrepreneurs who have large followings and could easily get a traditional publishing deal are opting to go the self-publishing route.
It really is…but only if you’re dedicated and have the right process to get you results.
The fact is, a lot of misinformed people judge self-publishing as being a waste or that you won’t make money. Those people just don’t know how to properly position their book on Amazon, market it, or even title their book to sell.
That’s why so many of our students are successful; they follow our program and with the help of their coaches to tailor their strategy, they make money and have major success with their books.
Why Go With Traditional Publishing?
As you can probably tell, we here at Self-Publishing School are huge advocates of being in control and ensuring you get all the money you deserve for the work you’ve put in.
That being said, sometimes traditional publishing will be the best option to fit your needs.
Here is why some people might opt to go with traditional publishing instead of reaping the rewards of self-publishing.
#1 – You have connections in the publishing industry
The chances of landing and agent and making it in traditional publishing is very low.
Because this market is very saturated and publishers really only publish certain types of books, those who have better luck with traditional publishing are those who have connections within the industry.
Basically, if you know someone who is an agent or an editor at a publishing house, it might be beneficial for you to work with them in order to get published through that house.
#2 – You want the label
The best perk when it comes to traditional publishing is typically the fact that you can say you’re a traditionally published author.
Because you have to go through a number of different processes and rejections in order to “make it” with traditional publishing, it can be seen as a sign that you’re a better writer than others.
However, as much as it can sound impressive, it doesn’t always mean it is.
#3 – Distribution
Book distribution is much easier as a traditionally published author, mostly because you don’t have to deal with any of it.
Traditional publishing houses have very wide reaches and because of this, your book can reach a lot more stores in more places than if you traditionally publish.
#4 – Less responsibility on your part
If you’re the type of person who just wants to write the book but don’t want to worry about the title, book cover design, editing, or more, then traditional might be for you.
Keep in mind that traditional publishers do purchase the rights to your book when you get a book deal and therefore, can make you alter anything in it to meet their needs.
Meaning, your plot and characters can drastically change. If you’re okay with that, then traditional publishing works for you.
#5 – No upfront costs to you
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean traditional publishing is necessarily “free.”
Typically, those who get traditional book deals receive an upfront payment of varying amounts. From there, the rest of the expenses fall on the publisher.
However, those upfront payments aren’t often big enough to cover your living expenses for the length of time it takes to get your book finished and out into the world. And that means you’ll still have to continue to work another job while writing and meeting deadlines in order to get your book done.
#6 – A slow and steady process
This can be both a pro and a con. If you’re not in a rush to get your book out into the world, then the slow and lengthy traditional publishing process might be a good thing for you.
Ultimately, Self-Publishing Will Change Your Life
It may be that, like quite a few writers, you’ve dreamed about working with a big-name publishing house all your life, and nothing will satisfy you until you get that experience. There is nothing wrong with that.
If you’ve identified this need early on, then maybe it’s best for you to go down the traditional publishing route.
But let’s say you win the book lottery and get published. There is still no guarantee that your publisher’s efforts will get your work in bookstores or into the hands of the editors of your favorite literary magazines and newspapers. There’s also no guarantee in sales volume.
However, self-publishing gives you an alternative path. It gives you an assured chance of getting your book out there. You have a better chance of seeing success in your sales and making an impact if your message resonates with enough people. Not to mention, you get to stay true to the vision of your book.
Self-publishing allows you the freedom, money, community and control to shape your life into one that you adore.