How to Write a Book in 2021: The Ultimate Guide for Authors

Writing a book is a long process, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Many writers benefit from having a checklist of things they need to do.

Enter: This comprehensive guide.

I will guide you through the planning stages, the writing process, the editing phase, and the marketing phase (though you should start marketing your book long before it’s finished).

And before we get there, I’ll help you determine if you should even write a book in the first place. Considering you’re here, the answer is most likely “yes!

Can anyone write a book? Yes, anyone can write a book. All you need is determination, a willingness to learn, and a story you want to tell.

Bookmark this page or copy and paste it into a text document so you can check off each step as you make progress along your book writing journey.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. How to write a book
  2. Best ways to plan ahead
  3. A lot of writing tips
  4. Industry standards and expectations
  5. Software recommendations
  6. Outlining tips
  7. Editing and proofreading tips
  8. How to market your book

Links in this article may give me a small commission if you use them to purchase products. There’s NO extra cost to you, and it helps me continue to write handy articles like this one.

Chapter 1

Should you write a book?

It’s common to hear between friends, “I’m going to write a book one day.”

But there are several steps in between that statement and the actual process of writing books.

Before you set deadlines or create your writing space, there are a few things you should do:

  1. Figure out why you’re writing
  2. Don’t give yourself excuses to not write
  3. Determine your big idea
  4. Create a budget for your book writing
  5. Establish accountability
  6. Announce that you’re writing a book!

Nail Down Your “Why”

Why are you writing this book? Answer this question, and your writing process will have a sense of direction.

Many authors have a story they need to tell. It’s in their heads. They can’t stop thinking about it.

Whether it’s because of the compelling characters, the fantastical new worlds, or the powerful central theme, a good book writer must tell the story in their head.

If you’re in it for fame and fortune, you won’t find it here. Only the top New York Times bestselling authors gain fame or fortune. Most authors make between $40,000 and $80,000 per year — though it’s worth noting that earning an author’s salary can take years of establishing yourself within the industry.

You should also determine what you want this book to become. Questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do you want this book to appear in brick-and-mortar stores across the country?
  • Are you happy to display in local bookstores and libraries?
  • Is this an online-only book?
  • Do you want to turn writing into a career or a one-time affair?
  • Is this the beginning of a series or a one-off story?
  • Do you want to write a book that’s great for people in a social media group you’re a part of and their friends?

Overcome Common Barriers to Writing Your First Book

Before they become a problem, you need to overcome common barriers to writing a book.

You can toss a rock and probably find a “writer” who started a book or, more often, has an excellent idea for a book they’re never going to write.

But you’re different. You need to tell this story, and you’re looking up resources to help you get started.

These are some of the most common excuses for not writing a book and how to overcome them:

  1. I don’t have the talent. No one knows how to write a book before they learn, practice, and experiment. Until you try, you’ll never know if you genuinely have the stuff it takes to be a successful author.
  2. I can’t concentrate. Yes, distractions abound: kids, work, Facebook, hunger, messy desk, neighbors, the dog. Find a way to overcome the distractions and just concentrate if you really want to tell this story.
  3. No one will want to publish my book. Though traditional publishing is difficult to achieve, independent publishers and self-publishing offer additional venues for success.
  4. I can’t write without a deadline. Then give yourself a deadline! Tell your spouse or a friend that you intend to finish your manuscript within 6 months. Or announce it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit — wherever peers can keep you accountable.
  5. Taking time to write makes me feel guilty. You shouldn’t feel guilty doing what you love, what you feel you need to do, or what could earn you a salary in the future.
  6. Writing is too hard. Writing may prove a harrowing task. It can take a long time (though there are ways to write faster). But there is nothing quite like the rewarding feeling of having written a book.
  7. My grammar is terrible. Use proofreading software like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Also, the more you write, the better you get at grammar — and quickly.
  8. My life is too dull to write anything interesting. They say, “Write what you know.” But honestly, that’s what research is for. Write what interests you. It doesn’t have to be about your life. Write to escape your (supposedly boring) life.
  9. People won’t like what I write. Thick skin is required for writing. Unfortunately, some ignorant or insecure people may put you down — whether for your book or for the simple fact you’re a writer. But let the ridicule roll off you like water off a duck’s back.
  10. My back hurts. Sitting in a chair for long hours to write can make your back hurt. Come up with a system where you can lie down to rest or walk around to mobilize your back every hour.
  11. Fiction offers nothing of value to society. This is just flat-out untrue. Art is society’s record of history. Fiction evokes emotion that causes a reader to feel something. A book’s central theme is powerful for its intended audience — and for some, life-changing.

Determine Your Topic

To determine your topic, answer these questions:

  • What do I want to write about?
  • What is important for someone (like me) to write about?
  • Can I effectively tell this story?
  • Who would want to read about my story?

For nonfiction, it’s customary to choose a topic about which you have particular expertise. For readers who buy your book, determine what information to include that will best benefit these readers.

For fiction, you can determine your genre(s), then your subgenre(s), then what would make your story unique. Each genre comes with its own tropes that readers expect you to deliver.

Is your book idea good? Does it serve anyone? Does it add value, whether by entertaining, informing, or teaching the prospective reader?

If you’re having trouble determining your topic, check out these resources:

Create a Budget

Don’t let this step scare you. If your budget is $0, that’s okay. But you need to create a budget, so you know what you’re willing to spend down the road.

What might you spend money on as an author?

  • Research software for authors, like Publisher Rocket
  • Book writing software, like Scrivener
  • Proofreading software, like ProWritingAid
  • Book formatting services, like Ebook Launch
  • Email service, like GetResponse
  • Cover design services, like Damonza (if you’re self-publishing)
  • A human editor (if you’re self-publishing)
  • Book reviews from paid influencers
  • Various marketing efforts
  • Promotional giveaways

What should an author not spend money on?

  • Literary agents — An agent should only make money when you make money. Beware agents who charge upfront fees. They are preying off of authors who desperately want to publish their book.
  • Vanity publishers — If an indie publisher asks for an upfront charge, they are probably a vanity press, and you do not want to use their services. These seldom result in a profit.
  • Beta readers — Although it’s nice to buy them lunch to talk about the book, when you find people to beta read your book, they are reading for enjoyment. They’re getting a free book out of this. If you pay them, that’s getting into professional editor territory, and most beta readers probably aren’t qualified for that.
  • A human editor and proofreader — If you’re traditionally publishing, the publishing house will most likely pay for the editor.
  • Cover design — If you’re traditionally publishing, the publisher will most likely pay for the cover design. This item may end up in your final budget if you’re self-publishing.

How much money does an author make per book? A first-time, self-published author might make between $5,000 and $20,000 on their first book, not including expenses. A traditionally published first-time author can expect up to $5,000 without a massive existing audience.

Establish Accountability for When Things Get Hard

It’s important to establish accountability for when the going gets tough. Who will support you through your writing process?

Find a reliable person in your life that's experienced in book writing or can help encourage you along the journey. Ask them to ask you about how your writing’s coming along.

Some days, you will hate them. Other days, you will thank them.

Also, plan for how you’ll handle writer's block, discouragement, falling behind, etc.

For example, if you didn’t reach your daily word count goal, plan on going over your goal next weekend. Or, if you get writer’s block, work more detail into your outline or take a walk to clear your head.

Publicly Announce What You’re Doing

You need to publicly announce that you’re writing a book. Not only is this a marketing must that gets your friends and family buzzing about your book, but it also creates public accountability for you.

Sound terrifying? Remember, if you’re going to be an author, this is the first of many marketing steps you’ll need to take. It’s also one of the easiest (and least expensive).

Don’t get scared by this step. You may worry about what people have to say about you writing a book. Writers need thick skin, and this is an excellent exercise in accepting congratulations and ignoring naysayers.

For instance, I recall a fellow author’s grandfather commenting on a Facebook post: “Hope it works out for you. But if it doesn’t, I can always get you a job down at Duke Energy.”

My friend didn’t let the comment bother him, instead accepting that his grandfather didn’t understand that writing and even self-publishing is an entirely legitimate career path nowadays.

Is it worth only selling your book on Amazon? Yes! As a self-made author who primarily markets on Amazon, I cannot recommend this route highly enough.

Make a Plan

Before writing your book’s outline, here are 8 crucial steps all great writers should use to plan ahead:

  1. Create a writing space
  2. Set a schedule
  3. Determine word count goals
  4. Set deadlines
  5. Do your research (market, genre, topical)
  6. Discover your voice & tone
  7. Choose the best book writing software for your project
  8. Get in the author mindset

Create a Writing Space

When you create a space for writing, it will mentally help you to set aside that space for only writing.

Your writing space should not be the same as your home office or your relaxation space. If you write your book in the same place as you watch TV, the temptation of TV easily overpowers your will to write. If you work in the same area as you write, it’s difficult to distinguish the two in your subconscious.

Of course, you don’t always have to write in the same place. Although some writers need to be in one place at a single desk to get in the headspace, many authors can write from multiple locations with no problem.

A good space for writing might be:

  • A dining room your family doesn’t use
  • A home office no one is using
  • A desk in your bedroom (facing away from the bed)
  • A coffee shop
  • On the porch
  • At the park

Set a Schedule

Every author can benefit from setting a designated writing time. Determine when you can work on your book and set a schedule.

Some authors love sticking to a strict schedule. For others, a schedule is just a helpful guideline.

At first, you may want to experiment with various lengths of time and days of the week. Figure out how long it takes you specifically to write what you want to write in a given day.

Some writers may need to relegate their writing to 8 hours on Saturday. Others may have the luxury of spending 2 hours writing, 5 days a week.

For inspiration from successful authors, check out Medium’s article: The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers (and How You Can Use Them to Succeed).

Determine Word Count Goals

You should determine your word count goal for each writing session. Average word count goals for bestselling book authors range between 500 and 2,000 words a day.

Again, for some authors, this strict word count goal is helpful. For others, it is nice to have a general goal to target — there’s no need to stress out if you don’t reach it.

Of course, your word count goal is flexible. It depends on your writing schedule, your genre, your experience, your discipline, how far you are in your book, and your own personal writing habits.

Many book writing tools, such as Scrivener, allow you to set daily word count goals and keep track for you.

Check out this fascinating article for more info: The Daily Word Counts of 19 Famous Writers.

Set Deadlines

A deadline for your writing makes you accountable. It gives you a tangible target. It drives you.

How many of us didn’t do the college paper until the night before it was due? Well, you can’t write a book in one night, but the sentiment still applies.

Setting a due date — even if it’s arbitrary — motivates you to keep writing, keep writing, every day on your schedule, and continue to reach your daily word count goal.

Set up a way to track your time and word count progress. Scrivener allows you to set an overall word count goal and a deadline to reach that overall word count. (I know I keep gushing about Scrivener, but it just has so many amazing features.)

Here’s a great article on How Long It Takes to Write a Book & Do it Well.

Do Your Research

Do not skip this step. This is not boring. It is necessary.

You need to do your research on the market, your genre, and the specific topic you’ve chosen to write about. If you don’t, sales numbers and the quality of your book will suffer.

Depending on your genre, whether you write fiction or nonfiction, and your familiarity with your future readers, you will probably need to conduct:

  • Market Research
  • Genre Research
  • Topical Research

Market Research

Get to know your audience. Market research tells you what readers want. It may also predict the sort of sales you can expect.

Market research might tell you that few people are interested in stories about a sentient clump of dirt. How would you market and sell that book?

Consider catering your story to the market research you discover.

This isn’t selling out. This is catering to a particular audience.

Figure out what your readers are looking for. Often, readers will respond to an audience avatar, which is a character the reader can really relate to.

If you’re writing a fantasy book, I strongly recommend working dragons into your story. Dragons sell. The word “dragon” sells. A picture of a dragon on the cover sells.

If you’re writing a children’s book, don’t be afraid to bank on traditions: Boys love superheroes, and girls love princesses.

If you’re writing a nonfiction book, try to reach an untapped market. A friend of mine is writing a book on a specific category of mobile software development that he couldn’t find any books on. He taught himself and now wants to teach others what he learned.

Genre Research

Genre research is critical. You need to deliver certain unspoken promises to your audience. Each genre has its own expected tropes and unspoken promises that you need to know to satisfy your reader.

Find out what is typical for your genre:

  • Character archetypes
  • Word count/chapter length
  • Story structure
  • Topics
  • Common themes

Pro tip: Check the Amazon bestsellers list in your genre for hugely helpful research.

If you write a romance book, for instance, and you don’t deliver on the expected tropes of romance, you’re going to get negative reviews and fewer sales.
There is a fine line between unique and unsatisfying.

Check out these great articles on genre research:

Topical Research

Fiction or nonfiction, most books require some foothold in reality. Topical research entails the research you must do to fully understand what you’re writing.

Readers can tell if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Even if a reader isn’t an expert, lack/misuse of jargon, an illogical timeline, or not following your own rules will key the reader in that you didn’t do your topical research. Then, you will lose credibility with the reader.

You don’t need to be a degreed expert on police procedures to write a police drama. You don’t need to scientifically study a unique type of plant to write about a forest. You don’t have to learn every detail of the War of 1812 to write a historical drama around that time.

But it needs to be evident in your writing that you have taken the time to research important aspects of your book’s topic.

If you can interview an expert, that’s an added bonus. You could even put that on the back cover or the foreword bragging that you did the in-person research. You need to get readers to trust you as a writer as early in your tale as possible.

Discover Your Voice & Tone

Discover your unique voice and the tone you’re most comfortable writing in. This may change between books, particularly if you swap genres or if you’re a nonfiction writer who now writes fiction.

Find your unique words. Determine if humor has a place. How literary will your prose be? Read other books in your genre for inspiration.

For example, one of my author friends decided to use “is/are/am/be” as little as possible in his prose, then go crazy with it in his dialogue — giving the dialogue a distinctly relaxed feeling separate from the prose.

Another example is Jane Austen’s unique voice. I think of Elinor in Sense & Sensibility. Her intellectual, judicious voice was one of the first examples in the literature of the character speaking for themselves instead of an author avatar.

If you benefit from writing prompts to discover your voice, try out Daily Prompt on iOS.

Word to the wise: Deciding to employ unique grammar techniques is risky. Some readers are sticklers for grammar and may put down your book if it contains what they perceive as grammatical “errors.”

For some readers, these choices are a distraction. For some authors, though, these changes are necessary or more aesthetically pleasing.

Choose the Best Book Writing Software for Your Project

You may already have Microsoft Word downloaded to your computer or be comfortable with Google Docs because you use it for work. But I implore you to choose the best book writing software for writing your individual project.


I use Scrivener for all my fiction novel writing. MS Word may suffice, but it is definitely inferior to Scrivener’s robust features emphasizing organization and customization.

Several book writing tools are available to try. Some cost a one-time fee, while others cost a monthly subscription fee. (I suggest the one-time price tag.)

Do not use Google Docs to write a novel. Once you get above 15,000 words or so, Google Docs is almost unusable. It is designed for short-form, collaborative documents — not lengthy books.

Below are 4 pieces of software for writing your book:

  • Scrivener
  • Ulysses
  • bibisco
  • Microsoft Word

Read my more in-depth article on the Best Book Writing Software.

Scrivener

Use Scrivener. It is unmatched in organization and customization. It has a steep learning curve, but only because it is such an amazing piece of software.

You can upload all your research files (including images and audio) into the Binder sidebar, so everything shows up in one window. You can split-screen within Scrivener, bookmark files, or simply write with its distraction-free Composition Mode.

Read my full review of Scrivener.

How much does Scrivener cost?

  • Scrivener costs $49 (one-time) for Mac or Windows.
  • It’s $19.99 for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch).
  • Reduced pricing of $41.65 is available for “students & academics.”

There is a full 30-working-day free trial that only counts the days you use the app.

Use Kindlepreneur’s unique discount code (KINDLEPRENEUR) to get 20% OFF your purchase.

Ulysses

Ulysses is a sleek, easy-to-use, yet customizable book writing tool. Your project syncs automatically between devices, or you can store projects locally.

Not only does it look great, but it also utilizes a drag and drop functionality with its Library feature.

Unfortunately for Windows users, Ulysses works only on Apple products.

The price has gone up in recent years. Ulysses now costs $5.99/month or $49.99/year. However, they do offer a free 2-week trial.

bibisco

The creator of bibisco, Andrea Feccomandi, believes character-driven novels are superior to plot-driven stories. So Feccomandi developed bibisco to focus on character development.

bibisco helps authors create every aspect of the characters in your book, including physical traits, character arcs, personality, and emotional state.

Its formatting options are limited, but bibisco is great for outlining and writing a character-driven story.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is the industry standard for word processing. Most people think of MS Word when you say “word processor.” However, it’s meant for memos and business letters — not novel writing.

Most writers probably use MS Word because it is so ubiquitous. Heck, the famous DOC/DOCX file format originated from Microsoft Word.

Stephen King uses MS Word to write his book manuscripts, as do other authors. But there are many helpful word processors out there that boast more robust features ideal for writing a book.

Word is cumbersome and only suitable for writing in a linear fashion. For many writers, it is helpful to write out of order or switch around the order of scenes and chapters. In MS Word, this is very inconvenient.

How much does Microsoft Word cost? Microsoft Word costs $139.99 as a one-time purchase. Alternatively, you could spend $6.99/month (or more) for a subscription to Microsoft 365, including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and 1 TB of cloud storage on OneDrive.

Get in the Author Mindset

To get in the author mindset, a million authors will do a million different things. Figure out what you specifically need to do to get into the writing mindset, and do that every time you get ready to write.

What might help you get into that author mindset:

  • Walk around outside (my favorite brainstorming method)
  • Turn on relaxing or mood-setting music (YouTube has every playlist imaginable, including ambiance scenes to transport you anywhere you wish you were writing)
  • Read a book
  • Listen to an audiobook
  • Read your outline where you’re about to start writing
  • Sit outside and breathe in the fresh air
  • Write in a journal
  • Doodle in a notebook
  • Close everything else on your computer
  • Clear your desk
Chapter 2

Outline the Book

Now that you’ve done the hard work of preparation, it’s time to outline your book! This is where we diverge from planning that applies to fiction and nonfiction and focus more on an outline for a fiction novel. (If you’re writing a nonfiction book, skip to section 3 for helpful writing tips.)

Yes, you need to outline your book — whether it’s vague or very detailed.

For some authors, a very general outline can give your story direction and focus, like a roadmap. For others, a highly detailed outline prevents writer’s block, improves pacing, avoids plot holes, and saves time editing after the fact.

How do you begin to write a book? You begin to write a book by writing the book’s outline. Writing an outline ahead of time can preemptively prevent writer’s block, plot holes, and pacing problems. And you can always edit your outline later; it’s a living document.

  1. Choose an outline type
  2. Pick an outlining software
  3. Actually write the outline

Check out my in-depth guide: How To Outline A Novel.

Choose an Outline Type

There are many types of novel outlines. Some are more detailed than others, so pick the outline type that best fits your individual needs:

  1. A synopsis outline looks the most like an essay. When you write a synopsis, you need to summarize everything that matters to the story in 2-3 pages.
  2. A beat sheet outline lists the “beats” of the story into individual paragraphs or bullet points. A beat is a change in tone, motivation, character development, etc.
  3. A mind map shows the spatial relationship between characters, story beats, timelines, and chapters. You can map out any number of story elements on your mind map.
  4. A scenes and sequences outline lists out all the scenes and sequences in your story, in whatever order you want. Switch the order and experiment with scene progression. This outline can be detailed or vague.
  5. A character outline puts character development first. List out the critical moments in your character arcs. Check out How to Create a Character Profile.
  6. A skeleton outline lists out the key plot points in your story. It is the most sparse approach to outlining.

Pick an Outlining Software

Whatever outlining software you pick, it should help you. That’s the only requirement.

The best outlining software can be the same as your novel writing software. But some authors find it useful to utilize software explicitly designed for novel outlining.

  • Scrivener offers ready-made, built-in templates for plotting out all sorts of books and genres. Using these templates, you can organize your thoughts into an effective novel outline.
  • The Novel Factory is a structure-heavy novel outlining software. Easy to use, genre-specific templates, robust export capabilities — the main downside is that it isn’t available on Mac. Read my full review of The Novel Factory or download The Novel Factory today. Use my coupon code KINDLEPRENEUR to get 20% off your subscription.
  • Plot Factory is useful outlining software that offers straightforward templates, character creation features, world-building capabilities, and many more. Read my full review of Plot Factory or download Plot Factory today. Use my coupon code KINDLEPRENEUR for 35% for the first 12 months!
  • Plottr is a handy outlining tool that offers templates such as the 8 Sequences Method, Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat, 12 Chapter Mystery Formula, and so much more. Read my full review of Plottr.
  • Microsoft Word offers a bunch of book outline templates that make creative writing easier. Plus, if you download any outline template from the web, you can likely open it with Word.
  • Google Docs is fantastic for collaboration. If you work with another person on your book outline, Google Docs autosaves to the cloud every few seconds across multiple devices at once.
  • Evernote helps you take notes in a modern, sophisticated way. Write down your notes however you want, share notes with others, and access Evernote across unlimited devices.
  • Ulysses creates projects out of fragments, such as chapters or scenes — a structure that lends itself to outlining in segments.
  • bibisco is a word processor that emphasizes character. Before you start writing, bibisco encourages you to fully map out your character beats and character arcs — great for character-led outlining.

Create the Premise

You need to create a premise for your novel. This gives your writing direction, helps with marketing, and provides you with an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a 30-second pitch about what makes your story interesting, unique, and worthy of attention.

To create the premise of your novel, write down the following:

  • The hook
  • Main protagonist
  • Main antagonist
  • Secondary characters
  • Character motivations
  • Central theme
  • Inciting incident
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

Now brainstorm. Write down all your thoughts, even the bad ones. Don’t censor your ideas. There are no bad ideas when you’re brainstorming.

Break up your book into smaller pieces. Determine the natural progression of your main idea and central theme.

Finally, consider your reader’s perspective. Is this book’s central idea what your readers want? Figure out the intersection between what you find most interesting and what audiences find most interesting.

Now you have created a premise that will give your writing focus and direction. You can use this premise to entice potential readers, editors, agents, or publishers.

Craft the Setting

The setting is where the story takes place. The setting should enhance character development, plot points, mood/tone, atmosphere, suspense, the passage of time, etc.

You must craft a setting that is:

  • Logical
  • Interesting
  • Evocative of some emotion
  • Vital to the central theme
  • Important to your character(s)
  • Well-fleshed out
  • Well-researched

Even if you don’t write down everything about your setting in the actual book, you need to understand everything about your setting. Readers can tell if you’re making the setting up as you go or if you know more than they do about where the story takes place.

Construct the Characters

Next, construct your characters, the story element with which most readers connect the most.

You must give each significant character (at least the protagonist and antagonist) a satisfying character arc. Many readers will care more about the character development than the plot development! The plot should serve characters as much as characters contribute to the plot.

Give each major character:

  • Goals
  • Motivations
  • External conflict(s)
  • Internal conflict(s)
  • Complex relationships with other characters
  • Backstory (avoid cliches, which are very easy to include in backstories)
  • Distinct traits, including physical and personality attributes
  • Strengths and weaknesses (character flaws are essential!)

You can base characters on real-life people, but I recommend not basing your character entirely on an individual person that you know. Instead, take inspiration for one character from multiple real-life people.

When you put your character through challenging situations, remember that you should construct characters that make bold choices that move the plot forward. Your main character should be more than just an observer.

Develop the Plot

Now that you have your outline type, outlining software, premise, setting, and characters, it’s time to develop your plot.

A plot is what happens in a story.

  • In the beginning, decide what exposition you need to occur in the plot before the inciting incident. How will you introduce your main character(s)? How will you get readers to care about the main character(s)?
  • After the inciting incident that starts the central conflict of the book, what rising actions occur? There should be twists and turns, surprising character development, and satisfying payoffs to promises made by the genre choice or premise.
  • To avoid the mid-novel slump, continue to put your character through hardships and mini-conflicts that engage the reader and keep up your story’s pace.
  • Usually, before the climax, the main character faces their lowest point. This is where he or she hits rock bottom.
  • The climax should solve the main conflict of the novel. It should be the most intense, satisfying section of your book.
  • The resolution is usually pretty short. What character arcs and side plots need to be resolved? Are there any unanswered questions?
  • Finally, a denouement is the very ending. What is the last thing that happens in your book?

Some authors may benefit from writing their plot on a physical piece of paper or index cards to start with.

It may help to use a plot structure, especially if this is your first time writing a novel. You can use any of these templates (or none of them — it’s your book!):

Chapter 3

Write the Book

It may sound simple, but writing a book takes hard work and determination. You have your goals, your space, your topic, and your research. Now you need to write that book!

Read my article on How to Start a Story that Hooks Readers Right Away.

As long as you have an outline, writer’s block and procrastination shouldn’t be significant problems. Whenever you sit down to write, go to whatever scene in your outline speaks to you most. Yes, you can write a book out of order — and it’s easy to do with a detailed outline.

Some authors may write in a very linear fashion. Depending on the narrative, it may be necessary to write every chapter and scene in order.

There are many rules of writing a book, including industry standards for formatting, grammar, and avoiding cliches.

I cover 20 major writing rules below, but there are also many “rules” of writing a book that you can choose not to obey, as long as you have a good reason.

How many pages should a book be? A book can be any number of pages, depending on audience and genre. A novel is defined as at least 40,000 words (or about 150 novel pages), though most authors aim to double that word count. Fantasy and science fiction tend to be longer. Nonfiction books vary wildly, depending on how long it takes to thoroughly discuss the topic.

Because you have the outline from the previous section, I’m not going to take you through how to write a beginning, middle, and end to your story. I’ve already covered how to outline those.

However, I think this is the place for handy tips and tricks that every author should know.

Follow These Writing Principles

Although most of these are strong suggestions, not necessarily must-dos, these writing principles can guide you through your writing process and result in a higher quality book.

20 writing tips, tricks, industry standards, and guiding principles for authors:

  1. Come up with a book title before you write. A title can give you direction, guidance, and focus. However, change it if need be. In the middle of writing, or after you’re finished, experiment with various title options. Check out this Book Title Generator.
  2. Pick a subtitle for marketing purposes. A subtitle can increase your novel’s visibility by including valuable keywords that are great for searchability and marketing purposes.
  3. Choose a basic typeface. When you’re writing a manuscript, stick with Times New Roman. When you’re submitting your manuscript to a publisher or a literary agent, they don’t want to see fancy fonts or weird formatting.
  4. Don’t start with a cliché. Beginning clichés include waking up, looking in a mirror, lots of dialogue, a dream sequence, a weather description, backstory, and similar book beginnings you’ve heard many times. Some experts even argue against starting with an action scene or prologue, but I would disagree. Those last two can be done well.
  5. Don’t start with an info dump. This is a common mistake for new book writers. They want to orient readers into their story’s world and setting. They want to immediately describe everything about their characters that they worked so hard to develop. But you need to start your novel with a hook, a little mystery, and an action (not an action scene, to be precise). An info dump on the first page will scare off readers, editors, agents, etc.
  6. Stick to one perspective. If you want to write in a first-person perspective, stick to it. Same for third-person — but with the added caveat of omniscient vs. limited. Beginner’s tip: Don’t use the first person for a first novel; it can easily come off as amateurish and overly introspective. Also, most writers should never use more than 1-3 POV characters. George R.R. Martin is the rare exception.
  7. Stick to one tense. Your book should probably be in the past tense. Present tense books from first-time authors tend to read as amateurish. However, young adult books may work in the present tense. Whatever you choose, stick to it. Do not go in and out of present tense. Read this article on when to use “had/have/has” in past tense flashbacks.
  8. Use adverbs sparingly. Adverbs may be a crutch for many inexperienced authors. Instead of an adverb, you should use a powerful verb that expresses gripping action without needing an adverb. For example, instead of your main character “loudly saying” an important line of dialogue, perhaps she should “exclaim” it.
  9. Avoid “to be.” Like avoiding adverbs, avoid “to be,” and its conjugates is/am/are/was/were. Use them whenever necessary, of course. But “to be” may signal passive voice and can often be replaced with a more powerful verb.
  10. Be careful with pronouns. Pronouns are great tools for avoiding repetition. However, you don’t want to confuse the reader with multiple he’s and she’s and they’s. When you finish a chapter, read it aloud and see if you confuse yourself with any pronoun usage.
  11. Ensure every chapter has conflict. Without conflict, your reader feels no stakes or urgency. Every single page should feature conflict and the progression towards its resolution. When you’re about to write a chapter — or finish one — ask yourself if that chapter has/had conflict. No? Then cut it. (Or rework it.)
  12. Make every sentence reveal character or advance the action. This is Kurt Vonnegut’s incredible advice that still holds true today. If a sentence doesn't accomplish one or both of these things, remove it. If the paragraph still makes sense, leave that sentence out.
  13. Never answer every question. From the first page, your readers need a question that demands an answer. You can introduce any number of questions, but never leave all the questions answered. An unanswered question is what makes readers want to keep reading. Answer a question here and there to satisfy readers with a sense of progression, but never answer every question.
  14. Avoid lengthy sentences. Sometimes, a long sentence is needed. More often than not, however, readers digest shorter sentences better. Especially in action scenes, suspenseful sequences, or heated arguments, lengthy sentences disrupt the momentum.
  15. Format your dialogue correctly. Commas and periods almost always go inside quotation marks. Check out my article on formatting dialogue for more in-depth info.
  16. Use dialogue tags sparingly. Dialogue tags, like “they said” or “she answered” or “Taylor sang” can be useful. However, replace dialogue tags with action tags from the speaker for more spice and less repetition. For instance, don’t write [Greg said, “Where are you?”]. Write [Greg cupped his hands around his mouth. “Where are you?”] instead.
  17. Don’t use flowery dialogue tags. “Said” is basically an invisible word. You can use it over and over without the reader noticing. Don’t replace it with more exciting words: elucidated, informed, filibustered, clarified, etc. These can easily distract the reader and ruin the flow of the conversation.
  18. Give your characters bold choices. Make sure your characters are making bold choices that progress the plot. No one wants to read about a casual observer in an otherwise fascinating narrative. The main character should directly affect the story.
  19. Create likable characters. You readers will root for your characters if the characters do likable things. Have your character show kindness to someone who is bullied. Have your character tell the truth in the face of a lie. Have your character save a cat from a tree (any Blake Snyder fans?).
  20. Create unlikable characters. Inversely, you probably want readers to hate certain characters in your book. Have your antagonist bully someone smaller or weaker than him/her. Have your antagonist lie, even if it’s petty and seems insignificant. Give your antagonist snarky comebacks to everything people say. But be careful — you don’t want too many unlikable characters. The most fun part of these characters is working in their comeuppance into the ending of your novel.

Take a Break Before Editing

Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break. You deserve it!

You’ll likely go through a second draft, third draft, beta reader draft, professional edit draft, and another professionally edited draft before you get to your final draft. But those will all be easier than writing the darn thing.

You’ve conquered the behemoth. You’ve finished a book. No one can take that away from you. Now sleep in for a few days.

Chapter 4

Edit the Book

Editing your book may take a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful.

You must edit your own book; then, you must hire a human editor. There’s no getting around it. No professional author publishes his/her first draft: not James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, or Joyce Carol Oates.

You need to edit your own book to be the best it can be before an editor makes it even better. You need to hire a human editor to go over your book, or readers will be distracted by every little mistake you missed: grammar, spelling, word choice, amateurish writing style, all sorts of errors.

Now here’s where the article diverges into 2 paths:

  • If you’re traditionally publishing, the publishing house will pay for a human editor.
  • If you’re self-publishing, you will need to pay for a human editor.

When editing, it’s almost always better to cut than to add. Although it can feel like you’re cutting off parts of your baby, some subplots, useless characters, lengthy descriptions, and directionless twists hurt your story more than they help it.

Let’s break up the editing process into 3 steps:

  • Developmental edits
  • Scene edits
  • Copy edits

Developmental Edits

When editing, you should deal with developmental edits first. These are big picture edits that become clearer after the entire narrative has been created.

For a nonfiction book, these edits frequently involve the clarity, focus, and consistency of your primary theme.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are there places the information or storytelling bogs down the pace?
  • Is my voice consistent throughout the book?
  • Are there any gaps in my content or places where the flow feels disorganized?
  • Does my book meet the need of my audience or just my own vision?

Read Cascadia’s breakdown of developmental editing for nonfiction books.

For a fiction book, developmental edits include making changes to your:

  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Theme

Your characters should have clear motivation, distinct characteristics, believable choices, and satisfying character arcs. Readers experience your book through the characters’ eyes, so characters are usually your most important story element.

Changing characters may mean changing many scenes or even adding scenes to elucidate their traits and motivations.

Your plot should be engaging, believable, satisfying, and free of plot holes. Your plot should follow a plot structure and genre expectations. If your plot doesn’t check any of these boxes, consider editing your story’s overall plot. This might mean cutting out or adding entire chapters.

Make sure there are no loose ends or plot points that go nowhere. Your ending should be preceded by a build-up, foreshadowing, set-ups, and a clear central theme summed up by said ending.

Your conflict should engage the reader, further the character development, and make them want to keep turning pages. Consider editing your central conflict if you see ways to strengthen your conflict.

Every chapter needs to have a conflict, as well as advancing the overall conflict. Look through your table of contents, and ask of each chapter, “What is the conflict happening in this chapter?”

Your theme needs to be clearly conveyed, usually via your plot, characters’ motivations, and conflict/resolution. If you think your themes don’t come across clearly enough, you may need to adjust certain scenes to clarify your central theme.

Beta readers are really helpful in determining whether your themes come across.

Scene Edits

We’ve got our big picture developmental edits out of the way. Now let’s dive into scene-by-scene edits, a critical step for editing fiction.

Here’s a checklist for when you do your scene edits:

  • Each scene and sequence should contribute to character development or the central conflict. Scenes can contribute to worldbuilding, backstory, and atmosphere, but no scene should go by without character development or conflict development.
  • Always start a scene in media res (in the middle of the action). It helps with pacing, keeps readers engaged, and offers up a mini-question for you to answer right away.
  • Always end a scene with a cliffhanger, however small. Keep your readers asking questions and turning those pages.
  • Make sure every scene is correctly oriented in time and location. Readers need to know where and when everything is happening. Near the beginning of each scene, insert a brief physical description of the unique qualities of where the scene takes place.
  • If one scene is a lot longer than other scenes, ensure that your physical descriptions aren’t overly long, or that your dialogue doesn’t go on and on, or that your action scenes aren’t slow-paced.
  • If one scene is shorter than other scenes, determine whether the pacing is too rushed, whether you skipped establishing time and location, or whether that scene could be combined with another.
  • Every scene needs a consistent voice, a consistent POV, and a consistent tone.
  • Of course, show, don’t tell in every scene.

Copy Edits

Now you can proofread and edit your book, line by line. If you don’t have the dexterity to pour over every sentence for grammar, spelling, word choice, and more, then you can use proofreading software like ProWritingAid or Grammarly. Hemingway is another valid option, but it’s my third choice compared to the other two.

List of common errors you should fix in copy edits:

  • Passive voice
  • Too many commas
  • Filter words (which are most common when writing in the first person)
  • Too many adverbs
  • Cliches
  • Inconsistent voice or POV
  • Too many pronouns, especially the nonspecific “it”
  • Sentences that go on, and on, and on
  • Improper subject-verb agreement
  • Misused words
  • Repeated words
  • Overused jargon

Stop Editing Your Own Book

Once you’ve edited and edited and edited, know when it’s time to stop. You’ve done well. You’ve spent the time necessary to improve your manuscript.

Now reward yourself with a week’s rest.

Chapter 5

Get Feedback

Authors may have big egos.

Not you, of course — other authors…

But it is essential to separate yourself from your work and get feedback from beta readers, professional proofreaders, and editors.

You can get feedback from anyone, but I recommend you seek feedback mainly from folks who know something about writing, publishing, or book marketing. Librarians, avid readers, English majors — these people may give you the most constructive feedback.

Enlist Beta Readers

Enlist beta readers to give you feedback. Find willing beta readers on social media, friend groups, and anywhere else you can imagine.

Alternatively, you can find a critique partner. This is basically a beta reader for whom you also beta read. Usually, critique partners have some experience in the field, so they can prove very helpful.

Plus, they’re free.

How many beta readers should you have? You should have at least 3-5 beta readers, but some new writers cast a wider net for more feedback opportunities.

Unfortunately, some beta readers may never get around to reading your work. They are doing this for free, so don’t harbor too many grievances.

Although you want feedback, don’t necessarily make any changes until 2 or 3 beta readers give you the same feedback.

Some authors enlist beta readers after they’ve hired a professional proofreader. But I say that’s not necessary.

Hire Editor(s)

You need at least one professional human editor to look over your work. And yes, this is after you’ve edited it yourself. You need to present your best work to a human editor and let him or her make it even better.

If you’re publishing through a traditional publisher, they will hire editors in return for a share of your royalties.

If you’re self-publishing, this is a necessary (and tax-deductible) expense. And I won’t lie to you: Full-time editors cost money.

A copy editor or line editor is different from a proofreader. Here are the 4 types of editors, in chronological order of when they should be hired in your editing process:

  1. Developmental editors are the first editor you should hire. They can be the most expensive, but they look at your whole book and help you know what big picture changes you should make to improve your overall story.
  2. Line editors focus on the flow of ideas, transitional elements, mood, tone, voice, and style throughout your entire book. They make sentences crisper and tighter by fixing redundancy and verbosity issues and improve awkward sentence and paragraph construction without a full rewrite.
  3. Copy editors make changes to the text, including spelling, grammar, word choice, syntax errors, and punctuation use. (“Copy editing” means something different in the UK; there, it’s akin to proofreading.)
  4. Proofreaders search for last-minute spelling, grammar, and minor formatting mistakes. A professional proofreader looking over your formatted book should be the final step before publishing.

Of course, you don’t need to hire all four editors. I recommend hiring a developmental editor early in the editing process, a line editor near the end of the editing process, and a proofreader with formatting experience right before publishing.

How do you find a great book editor? The best way to find a book editor you can trust is often a word-of-mouth referral from an accomplished author. You may also try book editing services that connect you with fantastic editors for your book.

How much does an editor cost?

  • Developmental editors may cost $1,000 and $8,000, depending on your manuscript length and the individual proofreading professional.
  • Line editors charge between $600 and $2,000.
  • Copy editors run between $300 and $1,200.
  • Proofreaders will set you back between $200 and $1,000.

Check out these helpful articles:

Build Your Launch Team

Your launch team (ARC team) is a group of people who help your book launch prove as successful as possible.

Members of your launch team leave (glowing but honest) reviews on Amazon and share the book’s launch with their circle of influence.

The more book reviews you have, the more Amazon suggests your book to other readers. Also, good reviews of your book mean more people are likely to buy your book.

A launch team could include:

  • Beta readers
  • Friends/family who want to support you
  • Fans of your previous work
  • Readers of your blog
  • Followers on your social media
  • Critique partners
  • Business contacts
  • Fellow authors

When you recruit launch team members, make sure they know what to do on launch day/week and kindly hold them accountable for following through.

Offer freebies to encourage follow-through.

Chapter 6

Publish & Market Your Book!

Finally, it’s time to publish your book. And don’t forget you have to market your own book, too — whether you’re going through the self-publishing or traditional publishing process.

When you publish your book, make sure you format your book correctly, nail your back cover blurb, have a stellar book cover (traditional publishers will usually pay for this), and properly organize the front matter and back matter.

Hopefully, you know that you have to start marketing your book long before it hits shelves and the online marketplace.

Be sure to check out my podcast about book marketing.

Here are some articles you can read to learn more about book marketing:

As always, please comment below if this guide was helpful and what you want to read about in the future. I love keeping up with my readers.

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3 thoughts on “How to Write a Book in 2021: The Ultimate Guide for Authors

Comments
  1. D.A. McGrath

    Loved this format, Dave – am currently editing my next book, so could skip right to that section for tips. The bloggers list will also come in handy for me very soon, so that’s much appreciated too!

  2. Delores Elaine Hill

    I really enjoyed this article. There were many good points I never considered. I am a new writer. I self-published my first book in 2008, it is on Amazon. I am working on a second novel and it is in the revising stage. I cannot afford an editor, so I hope my editing will be enough. I plan to submit to Amazon.

    Thank you so much for the hard work you put into making this information available for authors or soon to be authors, it was much needed.

  3. Sarah Waldock

    I laughed over the idea of outlining software. Really? I do my initial outline in longhand in my plots notebook, where I also describe the characters. I wouldn’t feel connected to them if I did them onscreen. Then I outline 6 chapters ahead, on the end of my document, erasing or moving events around as I go with the chapters written. It sounds like someone has come up with a way to make authors spend more. If I want to write out of order, I add a scene or convo to the plot outline to slot in. Word is quite flexible enough! You don’t need any fancy software. Indeed, you can do it longhand with a separate notebook for outlines. And then edit the first time on transcription, which is more efficient than writing to screen. Only arthritis makes me abandon the habit.

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