If someone told you writing a book is easy, they lied to you. Writing a book is hard, especially without the right help. Without someone who’s done it before, you can end up making crucial mistakes.
But you’re reading this post because you don’t want to make those mistakes. And I don’t want you to either.
The process of writing and publishing a book successfully is so much more than just writing and pushing a button to publish on Amazon.
In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a book in a few simple steps, following a proven process that thousands of authors have used.
Here’s how to write a book step by step:
- The Problem: That Dreaded Blank Page
- Step 1: Start With Why
- Step 2: Mindmap
- Step 3: Outline
- Step 4: Rough Draft
- Step 5: Self-Editing
- Step 6: Professional Editing
- Step 7: Cover Design
- Step 8: Formatting
- Step 9: Launch
- Step 10: The Book Is Just The Beginning
I want to save you a ton of time and many headaches, so let’s dive into how to write a book. First, we have to overcome the biggest challenge all writers face…
The Problem: That Dreaded Blank Page
If you’ve ever tried to write a book, you know how it goes.
You stare at a blank page for 10 minutes, but it feels like hours. To combat the boredom, you stand, stretch, and brew yet another pot of coffee.
You get a paragraph or two written, painstakingly, and then you throw your hands up and leave the manuscript saved on your desktop.
A few months later, you come back to it, read what you wrote, and think, “That’s awful!”
So you rewrite the couple paragraphs you had, get another down, then have to move on to real-life demands again.
One step forward, two steps back.
Before you know it, years have gone by and you still haven’t accomplished your dream of writing a book.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can beat writers block and procrastination. Let me show you what to do instead.
Step 1: Start With Why
The challenge, however, is many of us don’t know what the end looks like yet. Someone just told us we should write a book. Or, we’ve had all these ideas stirring in our minds for so long, but we haven’t actually connected all the dots to create a cohesive book, let alone boil it down to a single guiding idea or cohesive storyline.
Simon Sinek is famous for his TED talk and book, Start With Why.
Let’s quickly cover the four reasons why you want to write and publish a book:
- Passion Project (think raising money for a charity, leaving a legacy for the grandkids, etc)
- Shared Experience (think weight loss, battling cancer, overcoming childhood trauma, dealing with divorce, etc)
- Full-Time Author (think writing a series and living from your royalties, becoming a full-time writer / speaker / consultant, supplementing royalties with freelance work, etc)
- Business Growth (think getting more leads, referrals, and sales for your practice)
Most people find they fit in a couple of these buckets. That’s totally fine.
Connecting with your why will set you up for long-term success. So, get clear on your writing goals: what you want the book to do for you; then, get clear on what you want the book to do for your readers.
Here at Self-Publishing School, we believe, “Books change lives.“
Books change the lives of the authors, the lives of the readers, and the lives of those who cheer you on and watch the process unfold. I call this concept Leveraged Impact.
Now you know why you’re writing your book, you’re ready for the M.O.R.E. Writing Method.
Step 2: Mindmap
(Mindmap is the “M” in the M.O.R.E. Writing Method)
I’ve run workshops and spoken at conferences all across the country, and let me tell you, the idea I’m about to share with you blows people’s minds. It’s nothing new, but it’s insanely powerful.
Pull out a blank piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle of it, with some lines sticking out.
Now, write your book idea in the circle.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and start working on filling in your mindmap.
If you’re having trouble, here are some questions to get you started:
- What are the main concepts you want to get across?
- What stories do you have that relate to this?
- What real-life experiences can you share?
- What are the broken record conversations you’ve had over and over on this topic?
- What are other books you’ve read related to this topic?
Here’s a mindmap example for a simple cookbook:
When I let people create a mindmap for 5 minutes in a workshop, they are blown away at how many ideas they have. When you’ve done this for 15 minutes at home, I’m sure you’ll experience the same “Wow! I have so many ideas!” feeling.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at how many ideas you have, check out the FAQ at the end of this article for tips on how to narrow in on which book to write first. Also, if you’re wondering how this applies to writing a novel, check out the FAQ at the end of the article.
Now, it’s time to bring order to the mindmap.
Step 3: Outline
(Outline is the “O” in the M.O.R.E. Writing Method)
So you’ve created a scrambled mess of a mindmap and now you need to bring order to it by creating a book outline. Here’s the easiest way to think about it:
You have three groups of content:
- the main message of your book or guiding idea
- a few sections which will become your chapters
- supporting content or supplemental stories and examples
When you look at your mindmap, you’ll likely start to see some themes emerge. You’ll be able to group certain bubbles of the mindmap into sections or buckets. Continuing with the cookbook example, here is the outline:
Those sections or buckets will become chapters in your book. Then, the supplemental ideas, stories, or examples will go in each of those chapters as subheadings.
Book outlines create structure, order, and a map of where you’re going with your book.
Now you’re done with the “pre-writing,” it’s time to start filling in that outline and write your rough draft.
Step 4: Rough Draft
(Rough Draft is the “R” in the M.O.R.E. Writing Method)
When you start working on your rough draft, you need to have answers to these three questions.
How long should my book be?
First, you need an answer to the question, how long should my book be? Or, how many words do you need for your manuscript? Each genre has pretty standard word count expectations.
Who is my ideal reader?
Once you know how many words you’re shooting for, then you need to determine your target audience / ideal reader / customer avatar.
Essentially, you’re answering questions about the 4Ps: person, pain, promise, price. These 4Ps are explored in more in-depth in Published.
How to start my rough draft?
Now, it’s time to pick up the pen (or keyboard) and write.
Work backward from your target word count. Set a target for how many days you’ll write, how many words you’ll write, and how long you’ll write. This will give you a target date for finishing the rough draft.
If you miss a day, don’t worry. Get back on track tomorrow.
Tips to finishing your rough draft
After working with thousands of authors, I can already tell you one of your biggest challenges in this entire process of writing a book is going to be this: finding the time to write.
You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy.
But there’s never a convenient time for writing a book. There will always be excuses if you let there be.
The #1 tip I give people is to wake up earlier. If you wake up at 6:30am currently, wake up at 5:30am and give yourself an hour to get some words on a page.
Or, use your lunch break to write the book.
Or, put it in your calendar that every Sunday afternoon from 1pm-4pm is your writing time and show up.
Whatever you choose, make sure you stick to it. Persistence is the name of the game when it comes to getting your draft finished.
Another tip I’ll give you here: set up a good writing space. Make it a place you want to go to every day to write the book. Block out distractions and write, write, write.
Remember, done is better than perfect. This is called a rough draft for a reason. Don’t edit while you write. The editing comes later.
And finally, you’ll need accountability. That’s why we created the 1% Author Challenge with Pedro Adao.
PS: I cover more tips on writing the rough draft in the FAQs at the bottom of the article.
Step 5: Self-Editing
(Editing is the “E” in the M.O.R.E. Writing Method)
You’ll need two different types of editing and I’ll cover them both here.
First, you need self-editing.
The problem for many writers is they want their first draft to be their final draft. But any experienced writer knows, the words never come out perfect the first time. When you look at your rough draft, you’ll likely feel embarrassed at just how bad it is.
But get over it and start working on the basic self-edits. As you read through your first rough draft, you’ll likely see a bunch of problems.
You need to move this paragraph to the end, move that other one up, clean up the grammar, fix some punctuation, and more.
Maybe now that you have all the words out on the page, you realize chapter three should actually be chapter five and you’re missing chapter four, so you need to add that.
Some of the best writers in the world say it takes a minimum of three drafts before they have the manuscript in a decent enough working order to give it to an editor.
So do your self-edits, but don’t get stuck in it.
If you need self-editing tools to help you, we have a few we can recommend.
Then, send it to your professional editor.
Step 6: Professional Editing
(Editing is the “E” in the M.O.R.E. Writing Method)
Now that you’ve finished a verbal read-through and self-edit, it is time for you to give the manuscript to a professional editor.
There are a variety of types of editing:
How much editing do you need? And how long does it take to edit a book? It really depends on how much work you did in the self-edit, how experienced you are as a writer, and how much you’re willing to pay for editing.
Of course, we can talk through this with you and help you make the best decision for yourself and the book.
Step 7: Cover Design
Please, please, please do NOT try to create your own book cover! There’s a 99% chance you are not a professional graphic designer or book cover artist. And even if you are, you’re too close to your own work.
When we design the cover for you, we use our internal team of professional cover designers. We will give you, the author, these 10 questions to answer:
- Book title / Subtitle
- Book genre
- Trim size / dimensions
- Page count and/or word count
- URL links to 3 bestselling covers that you like in a similar genre
- Are there any important themes, symbols, settings, objects and/or events in your book? Tell us about them.
- Back cover blurb
- Author bio
- Additional info
This allows us to make sure the cover designer and the author are on the same page for what the vision of the cover is.
Your job as the author is to give the cover designer quick guidance on what your vision is, then get out of the way and let them do what they do best.
Remember, when you title your book you want to be clear, not clever. You want the reader to instantly know what your book is about and what they will gain from reading it.
Also, remember a best-looking cover is not the same as a bestselling cover.
Here are tips I give every author to make sure their cover is C.L.E.A.R. and readers G.E.T. it!
Step 8: Formatting
There’s a lot of confusion about how to format a book.
I won’t dive into all the specifics of formatting here, since I linked up the article above, but I will tell you this:
Just like you want a professionally designed cover for your book, you also want the interior design of your book to look professional.
The inside of your book is where most readers will be spending their time (duh!) so you want to make sure it’s beautifully designed and easy to navigate in every format–ebook, paperback, hardback, and audiobook.
For more advanced formatting questions, see the FAQ at the end of this article.
Step 9: Launch
In a nutshell, there are three launch strategies I teach people in Published.
First, the MVP launch, or Minimum Viable Product launch. This is best for first-time authors, people without a big list or following, who aspire to establish themselves as an expert or want to get started on growing a following.
Basically, you need three essential ingredients to pull off this launch: a launch team, reviews, and promotions. You can learn a lot more about this in Published. or in one of our programs.
Second, the Traditional launch. This is best for authors publishing with a traditional publisher, for public speakers, consultants, and business owners who already have a following. It’s also more time and money intensive, so having a team and deeper pockets definitely helps.
Basically, you need the same ingredients as the MVP launch, but you’ll need a few more ingredients too. And your goal is to multiply the efforts. Learn what it takes to hit the New York Times bestseller list or other lists and begin to plan accordingly. Schedule author interviews on podcasts, try to land bulk pre-orders, and do an influencer campaign. If you can land traditional media features, do a virtual book launch party, or schedule speaking gigs, those things can help too.
Third, the One Year launch. Everyone needs to adopt this approach to launching their book, because we all want our book to sell long-term. I don’t know anyone who just wants to sell copies of their book in the first week or the first month and then see it go stagnate.
To solve for that, you’re going to plan ongoing marketing efforts, along with evergreen assets, to continue selling your book long-term. Having an email list, a solid author brand, and ongoing ads and promotions will help you. Then, you create promotions and mechanisms to keep moving more copies of your books long-term.
There’s so much more to be said about publishing a book and launching a book successfully. In fact, we have an entire article just on how to publish a book.
We also have multiple articles on our blog dedicated to this topic of how to launch a book.
Plus, we have 100s of interviews with ultra-successful authors who have launched their books to bestseller.
In our programs, we even set up a launch plan for you based on your goals and needs as an author. Visit our Self-Publishing School reviews page to see other authors just like you who launched their book(s) successfully using our proven step-by-step program.
If this sounds like the type of help you want and need, check out the free training and book a call with our team.
Step 10: The Book is Just the Beginning
[Pssst! Want to see some of our authors’ published books? Check out the SPS Library here!]
Once you join our library of published authors and launch your book, doors will start opening up for you that were never before open to you.
Maybe you get a podcast interview request, a speaking gig request, or a mastermind invitation?
Depending on how well your book sells, you may have the opportunity to launch a book-based business or add a new branch to your existing business.
After writing a book and publishing it, the possibilities are truly endless. I’m excited to see what opens up for you!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions About How To Write A Book)
Question: I have so many book ideas now, how do I decide which book to write first?
Answer: We have a quiz that can help you decide which book to write first and which publishing path to take.
Question: I’m writing a novel; is learning how to outline a novel different?
Answer: There are many ways to storyboard a novel. We have further information on the snowflake method, the three-act structure, the Harmon Story Circle, novel writing software, and general storytelling tips for beginners.
Question: I’m really struggling to write. Do you have tips for overcoming writers block or finding motivation as a writer?
Answer: Yes, we have written on how to find your writing motivation and overcome writing excuses. We even have an article on how to dictate a book if you’re a better speaker than you are a writer. Many speakers have found this technique to be super helpful in finishing their rough draft.
Thirty minutes (or even 10 minutes) spent writing is better than nothing, so resolve to make it happen and find the time.
Look at Omer Redden, a Self-Publishing School author. He was working full-time at one job, had another part-time job, raising 3 kids, and moving across states—busier than most people—yet he found the time to write his book Give and Grow Rich: Change Your Mind, Change Your Money and launch his book within 3 months. Using the Self-Publishing School process, he’s gone on to write multiple books, and his wife and kids are publishing books now too!
If Omer could make it happen, then writing your book is certainly an attainable dream.
Question: I’m trying to figure out how to start my story and write a book for a specific genre. Do you have genre-specific writing advice?
Answer: Thank your lucky stars! We have articles on how to write a book in every genre:
- How to write a novel
- How to write a memoir
- How to write a childrens book
- How to write a romance
- How to write a thriller
- How to write a cozy mystery
- How to write a fantasy novel
- How to write a western
- How to write a graphic memoir
- How to write a nonfiction book
- How to write a book about your life
- How to write an autobiography
- How to write a self help book
- How to write a leadership book
- How to write a book about your faith
- How to write a poem
- How to write a short story
- How to write about pets
- How to write a childrens book series
- How to write a book series
Question: I’m struggling with the self-editing process. Is there software that can help me quickly self-edit my book?
Question: I’ve heard a lot about writing in your unique voice. What does that mean to have a writing voice?
Answer: Your writing voice is made up of a “mixture of tone, word choice, point of view, syntax, punctuation, and rhythm that make up sentences and paragraphs.” [Source linked above] This differs from an author’s writing tone. It also ties into writing styles, but styles are predefined. If you’re a fiction author, there are different points of view in writing to consider as well. In summary, all of these are different: voice, tone, style, and point of view.
Question: How do I find an editor for my book?
Answer: There are thousands of editors in the marketplace, available to help you with the different types of edits you might need. If you want to try finding one yourself, check out this article on how to hire an editor for your book. At Self-Publishing School, we also have a short list of editors we know, like, and trust; we also keep that list up to date. When you sign up for one of our programs, we connect you to an editor.
Question: How do I find an editor for my book?
Answer: We have found and curated some of the best book cover designers. At Self-Publishing School, we also have in-house cover designers who do tremendous work. Your cover design is included as part of the package when you sign up.
Question: How do I find a formatter for my book?
Answer: We have tips on how to prep your book manuscript format, as well as some of the most common mistakes to avoid in formatting. Of course, when you’re a Self-Publishing School author, we take care of that process for you as part of your publishing package.
Question: I want to have the biggest launch possible. How should I launch my book?
Answer: First off, re-read the section above on Step 9: Launch. Then, you need to learn how to get more book reviews, how to run book promotions, and how to run Amazon ads for books. We also have information on how to run BookBub ads, Facebook ads for authors, and even ideas on social media for authors.
Other questions about writing a book
- How do I write my first chapter?
- How long does it take to write a book?
- Should I hire a ghostwriter?
- Once I finish writing the book, how much does it cost to publish a book?
- How long does it take to publish a book?
Now that you know what it takes to write a book, it’s time to get moving.
As mentioned at the outset, we have programs to help you publish any book you’re working on. We have programs for nonfiction and fiction, memoirs and children’s books. To learn more about how we can help you write your book and publish it, book a call with our team.