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.
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.
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.
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.
I want to get this idea out of the way: you can and should write a book!
Most people want to write a book but never get around to it. Well, you can do it.
If you don't think you can, or you think you're not talented enough, remember that even the Stephen Kings and Neil Gaimans of the word started out with a skill level of zero, and you're probably more skilled than that!
Don't get me wrong, writing can be hard. But it's learning to deal with those hard things that make you a better writer. So let's discuss how you can make it happen.
Before you set deadlines or create your writing space, there are a few things you should do:
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:
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:
To determine your topic, answer these questions:
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:
Before you completely narrow down your story or topic, you need to know if it's a good idea or not. To do this, you need to run through four steps:
If you find your book topic is not profitable, you can still write it. But if that's the case, you will have to resort to different marketing tactics. You will need to focus on finding the right market somewhere other than Amazon, and getting them interested in reading your book.
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?
What should an author not spend money on?
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.
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.
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). If you need a community of like-minded authors, I'd recommend fully investing in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as a great way to push yourself and gain accountability.
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.
Before writing your book’s outline, here are 8 crucial steps all great writers should use to plan ahead:
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:
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).
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 Atticus allow you to set daily word count goals and keep track for you.
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. Atticus allows you to set an overall word count goal and a deadline to reach that overall word count. (I know I keep gushing about Atticus, 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 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:
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 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:
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:
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 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.
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 Atticus for all my fiction novel writing. MS Word may suffice, but it is definitely inferior to Atticus’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.)
Be careful using Google Docs to write a novel. Once you get above 15,000 words or so, Google Docs slows down. It is designed for short-form, collaborative documents — not lengthy books, though their technology is improving.
Below are 4 pieces of software for writing your book:
Use Atticus. It is unmatched in overall capability. Not only does it allow you to write great books, but it comes with tracking software to help you form effective writing habits, and it's a robust formatting software, which means you'll never need to use more than one program to handle the entire novel production process from start to finish.
How much does Atticus cost?
Scrivener is the next best thing. It has great organization and customization, but 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?
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
There are many types of novel outlines. Some are more detailed than others, so pick the outline type that best fits your individual needs:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!):
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 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, most are 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. I do recommend creating some kind of guide, like a few questions to ask themselves as they're reading. A deadline can also help.
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.
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:
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?
Check out these helpful articles:
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:
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.
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:
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