Writing A Book For The First Time – What I Learnt
I recently published my very first book. It took me two years to write. I wasn’t writing for two years, I couldn’t write for a year in the middle! I learnt a lot of lessons, both about the process and myself. Here’s what I learnt about writing a book for the first time.
My book is non-fiction with a bit of personal memoir thrown in. But I like to think that these general learnings are applicable to any kind of book, fiction or non-fiction, or anything in between.
Just keep going. You can’t write a book without writing a book! It won’t appear magically, without you sitting down on a regular basis and writing stuff. So find some system or process that will enable you to write regularly.
Be disciplined about it. Show up with pen to paper or fingers to keyboard or even, as I am writing this post, by dictating it straight onto a phone or computer.
Believe that you have a book worth writing. We all have stories to tell. We all have experiences to share. Never doubt that your story or what you want to write is in any way less valuable than anything anybody else has ever written.
If you see other books that look similar to yours, take what’s good about them and then carry on writing yours. Your voice will be different, your experiences are unique, what you need to say is what you need to say.
Have a plan/structure – probably. I don’t think I could have written my non-fiction book without having a plan. Not having a plan for what you’re going to write can sometimes work if you’re writing non-fiction and you want the story and characters to have a life of their own.
But if you’re telling a non-fiction story, I think it helps to have a rough idea in advance of what you’re going to say and where. Obviously, this may well change as mine did, but my original overall structure enabled me to get the book done and actually it didn’t change that much over the course of the project.
When you can’t write, just write anything. When you’re completely stuck for something to write, just write something, anything. The process of writing itself will generate writing. Morning Pages are a great example of just random writing that then can turn into something profound.
Morning Pages, as described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, is the process of writing three pages of about A4, each morning to empty one’s brain. It’s often by the third page that the true genius of our brains finally gets kick-started. So if you’re suffering from writer’s block, just write something totally random, keep going, and see what appears on the page.
Take a break. When you’ve finished your first draft, put it away for a while and try and get some headspace. Then go back and look over it again.
Look at it as if you are looking down from a helicopter and see how it all hangs together. Your first draft is exactly that, your first draft. There is a long way to go between the first draft and final book. Don’t be discouraged if your first draft is a pile of poo. That is sadly often the way!
Read your work out loud. When you have done several drafts and have edited as much as you feel comfortable with, try reading your book out loud.
This is one of the best ways to find problem areas in the language and ascertain whether your book really works. When authors record their own audiobooks, they often make lots of changes, because it’s the first time they’ve heard it out loud. I read my entire book out loud before I went anywhere near the audiobook, so in fact, any changes I made during that process were minimal.
Find yourself a developmental editor. I’ve heard writers say they no longer use developmental editors when they have written several books. But for a first-time writer I think a developmental editor is an absolute must have.
You need someone who will take an objective look at your book and be brutally honest about its potential and how good of a read it is. We can never be objective about our own work. My developmental editor made significant changes to my book and it is a much better one as a result. You can find Ricki Heller here.
You’ll need a copy editor and a proofreader. My developmental editor was also my copy editor but I made sure to have a different person to do the final proof read. It was important that somebody came to the text at that stage with completely fresh eyes to catch any last-minute errors. You can find Theresa Thorne here. You can find editors in author groups on Facebook, for example. Ask around for recommendations.
Don’t scrimp on design. When you’re finally ready to publish, unless you yourself are a designer or specialist in book layout, you will need someone to design your cover and your internal layout. I decided to invest in these and I feel it made a real difference to the quality of my book.
Cover design and internal layout have an impact on both the e-book version and hardcopy. When you have put so much work into the content of your book, don’t scrimp on the cover design or the internal layout. I found suppliers on Reedsy.
We all know the phrase, don’t judge a book by its cover, but everybody does. So make sure your cover is one that will stand out and attract the specific kind of readers you are looking to attract.
Read your own audiobook. This is a lot of fun. It also gives you a whole new appreciation for your own work. I’m very lucky in that my husband has his own recording studio! So I was able to record my book there. I also happen to like reading out loud and have experience of recording through doing my own podcast.
If your book is fiction, you probably want to find an actor or professional book reader to read it for you. But for non-fiction, if you can get some animation in your voice, and it won’t send your listener to sleep, I think it’s nice to hear the author reading their own work.
Don’t make marketing an afterthought. Try to think about marketing as you are publishing, especially if you are self-publishing. I was so focused on the self-publishing aspects and getting it all sorted – which is a mammoth undertaking all of its own – that I didn’t really think about marketing.
Ideally I’d have had a launch plan in advance, rather than playing catch up once the book was published. But I’ve also learnt that when you self-publish a book, marketing and the growth of that book is a very long game. It’s quite unlike the initial big launch you might get with a publisher. But you get a much higher percentage of any revenue from your book.
Be proud of what you’ve achieved. Even if you just write a book and never publish it, you have done far more than most of the population. If you actually publish your book, then you are in a tiny minority and really do need to be proud of your accomplishment.
So take some time to celebrate and pat yourself heavily on the back. Well done!
If you’d like to read my book – Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond you can find that here. It’s available in three formats: e-book, audiobook (narrated by me) and paperback.
Now go get writing! Your readers are waiting!
You may also like: Must-Read Books About Menopause, Making The Most Of Life And Ageing Well