There is no right or wrong way to write a book however asking yourself these 10 questions BEFORE you start can save you a lot of time, money and frustration.
1) What is your Why?
Knowing your WHY (the big picture stuff) helps you throughout the entire process of writing, editing, publishing and marketing your book. When you fully understand your reasons for wanting to write your book, it will give you:
- help you throughout the writing process to decide what to leave in or edit out
- and it will motivate you to achieve your goals.
Really think about why writing this story or book is so important to you. Write it down, record it and refer back to often throughout the journey to help keep you on track.
Consider which of the following best describe your WHY:
- I’m passionate about this story idea
- My purpose in life is to share this story to help others
- Personal reasons
- Healing – the process can help me heal old wounds
- Profit – I just want to make a lot of money
- It could boost my business
- I want to be famous
- I want to record my life and leave a legacy for my family
- I want to inspire others and create change
2) Do you have a date or time-frame to finish your book?
If you are writing your memoir for personal reasons or as a form of healing, this may not apply to you. The process of writing your life story is valuable in itself. However, for many of you having a deadline will help motivate you to actually finish it.
The biggest problem for writers is not the lack of ideas or telling people about their book but actually writing it.
If you are writing this book to help you promote your business or career, consider timely events which relate to your business. These events could be great opportunities to launch your book.
- a book about an experience of motherhood or a mother – daughter relationship could be launched on Mother’s Day.
- a book about finding your true love could be launched on Valentine’s Day
- a family story could be launched on a particular anniversary that is important to your family
Reverse Engineer to Meet Deadlines
So the idea is to REVERSE ENGINEER or work backwards from this date. Mark milestones on your calendar to work towards in order to have it written, edited and published in time. This works well for self-publishing however it gets more complicated if you want to traditionally publish.
Action Step: print out a calendar and mark out:
- your writing time
- your word count for the day, week or month
- when you need to have draft 1 completed
- what dates to book an editor by and confirm they can have it finished in the period you require
- research graphic designers to design your book cover and again confirm time-frames for completion
- decide on a publishing service such as CreateSpace.com and when you would like to publish it by
3) What is your most conducive writing environment?
Create a healthy writing eco-system
In other words where is the best place for you to write without interruption or that keeps procrastination at bay?
If that’s at home can you close or lock the door and let everyone know not to bother you unless the house is burning down. Or if you can’t trust yourself with the distractions of home, get out of the house.
Decide which of the following writing goals suit you:
- commit to at least an hour of writing a day
- a word count of at least 1000 words
- finish a chapter each writing day
- go away for a weekend or longer period of time to devote to writing
Do whatever works for you in order to be productive, to enjoy the process and
to feel as if you are working towards and achieving your goals.
Do you love your writing space?
Perhaps your study or writing space is messy with files, coffee cups or stacks of books to read. Is it cramped or just plain ugly? Beautify it; make it a place that reflects you and your style. This doesn’t have to be expensive.
- stick some affirmations, goals or writing quotes around the walls
- make it a space that you love to enter and feel inspired to create
- go to the library or cafe
4) What obstacles do you face which could prevent you from starting or finishing your book?
Consider what the REAL obstacles are to starting and potentially completing your book and what is IMAGINED?
Time is a big one for many people.
If you can organise your time and incorporate chunks of writing time, you begin to see that writing a book is really achievable.
A book is generally 60,000 words but it could be more or less. If you were to write 1000 words a day (which is about 4 pages of 250 words, you could have your 60,000 words in 60 days (2 months). Of course that is Draft 1 but it doesn’t seem so hard when you look at it like that.
1000 words a day x 60 Days = A BOOK
- get out that calendar and block out times when you can write
- turn off the TV
- get off Facebook temporarily
Keep asking yourself how important writing this book is to you. What would it mean to your family, business or for your own sense of achievement?
Lack of Confidence
Another obstacle may be a lack of confidence in your writing ability. The beauty of writing memoir is that this is your story and you can tell it in your unique voice. Anne Lamott says to “write the shitty first draft” and Kate Grenville says that “writing is re-writing” so don’t let your perceived lack of writing ability stop you from sharing your story or important message with the world. You can always buy books on ‘How to Write’ or borrow them from the library.
There are ways you can capture your voice and translate it into words on a page.
- brainstorm and Mind-map
- free write (writing without self-editing)
- talk into your phone and transcribe or consider transcription services to get words on the page
The most important thing when starting to write your book is to get words on the page.
Here are some good books to help you with the art and craft of writing and writing memoir:
- Writing your Life by Patti Miller
- Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington
- On Writing by Stephen King
Find the help you need:
- join a writers’ group
- enrol in a writing course
- join your state writers’ centre
- find a mentor to support you
Behind all the excuses there is usually the underlying emotion of FEAR and fear paralyses.
I could write a whole book around this one. In fact one of my writing mentors Joanna Penn from, The Creative Penn wrote a book titled, Author Mindset. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to change their mindset in order to write their book. Another one is of course, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
5) How do you want to present your book? In words, pictures or both?
In this day and age of self-publishing and interactive methods of receiving information I think it’s very important to think about how you want to PRESENT your book. There are so many more options available to us and if you have an idea of how you want to create your book from the beginning, it could save you time, money and frustration in the end.
Most people think in terms of writing a book of text which is how traditional publishers expect to receive a manuscript and publish a book. It is not commercially viable for a traditional publisher to take on a new writer who wants to publish an “experimental” book or a book with many images in it.
However, there are so many exciting ways to present a book and I teach this in my e-course – Write and Publish Your Memoir. To the left is an example of my self-published (experimental) book, Wobbly Woman – An Illustrated Memoir. Click on the book if you would like to buy it.
I love experimental books and enjoy new and interesting ways of reading or hearing stories, so I encourage you to be creative but arm yourself with all the information so that you don’t waste time or money.
6) How much money will you need to write, edit, publish and market your book?
Most people don’t really think about the cost until after they have written their manuscript. However, it’s useful to know that depending on the type of book you want to write and your why, your book could range in cost from a minimal amount to thousands to produce if you self-publish. It’s good to be prepared and to plan for your costs.
If you are writing for personal reasons or a family book you can pool resources and find people who are good with words to edit, find someone who can draw or have experience in graphic design to do a book cover. However, if you want to create a book and put it out into the public arena you have to make it the best you can and that means investing in it.
There are two things that are not negotiable:
- you need to invest in a good editor
- you need to invest in a good cover designer
I would ask for recommendations from facebook groups or forums and get honest feedback about services provided. There are a number of organisations such as The Society of Editors or the Australian Society of Authors who can recommend legitimate editors and illustrators.
Shop around, negotiate and be prepared to invest in quality people to produce a quality book.
I can’t really give you an exact figure on the cost of self-publishing your book because there are so many factors involved including:
- your word count
- how many pages you write
- the type/quality of the paper
- the number of illustrations
- the type of book cover you want (some Print on Demand services have free covers or you could invest in a graphic designer to create your own)
However, I pay my editors roughly $40 – $50 an hour. They can usually edit about 6 pages of work in an hour. If you have 250 words on a page that is 6 pages @ 250 words a page = 1500 words per hour. So if you have a 60,000 word manuscript divide that by 1500 words per hour = 40 hours. Therefore the total cost would be 40 hours x $50 per hour = $2000.
Please note that most editors need to see your work first and your writing ability before they quote. If your manuscript needs a lot of work they should tell you that it will take longer or give you the opportunity to continue working on it. Or if you are a competent writer you may be charged less. Please do a spell check at the very least!
Book cover Design
I have worked with some amazing book cover designers and some not so amazing ones. You really need to:
- shop around
- communicate what you want clearly
- give the designers examples of what you like
- if you do have a clear image inside your head, let them know. They are not mind readers!
Illustrations, graphic design and book covers can really vary in price depending on their experience, their workload and where you find them. There are a number of sites which offer very competitive rates however, I believe you get what you pay for. Some sites are:
- 99 Designs
I had great success finding my illustrator for Wobbly Woman on freelancer.com and he was amazing to work with. The latest graphic designer I worked with was referred to me by a friend and she was brilliant also. You simply have to do the research, communicate clearly and have milestones for completion before you make payment (especially on sites mentioned previously where you do not know the people you are working with).
Therefore, I would suggest you put aside at least a few thousand dollars for editing and book cover design to have it professionally done.
7) Who do you need to talk to (if anyone) to complete your book?
Writing a memoir is of course about writing about one aspect of your life as opposed to an autobiography which is writing a whole life. So you may not need to talk to anyone to write your story.
However, writing a memoir or life story can bring up positive or painful memories about your past or the particular story you are writing about. Perhaps you have blocked memories and need to talk to family or friends about events.
You may need to verify facts, dates or simply get other people’s
perspectives about the story you are writing.
I found that interviewing my family brought a richness and depth to my story that I would not have had otherwise. It gave me more understanding and empathy.
Writing a memoir is about the observation of life or the meaning you can construct from life events that makes it so interesting to read.
Writing your life can bring up painful memories and force you to deal with emotions you may have buried. I’d like you to consider this an opportunity to work through your “stuff” and talk to a counsellor or psychologist if need be in order to work through any issues or difficult emotions that may surface.
It takes courage to write a life story and you cannot write it
without being transformed in some way.
Be prepared for difficult times, difficult conversations with loved ones and get the support you need. I can honestly say that writing my family story has changed my life. I have a greater understanding of my family members and myself and we have become closer as a result.
8) What research do you need to do?
Writing a memoir is more about the observation and reflection of the events of your life, however, research may still be a component of your life story journey.
I realised that in order for me to understand myself better I had to know where I came from. I travelled back to my father’s country of Croatia in order to walk his walk and discover the secrets of his life that shaped his character. He was such a strong influence on my life that I could not write my story without going back to my roots.
I also spent time at the State Library of NSW researching migrant stories in Australia in the 50s and 60s because I grew up between two cultures. I found interesting television footage and interviews that helped me understand this time in our history and how that related to our family story.
What is your story is about? What do you need to discover about yourself?
What information about your heritage shapes you as a person or has affected the decisions you have made in your life?
I don’t believe that you can write a memoir without considering your heritage, culture, race or religion/spirituality. It’s all woven into the complexity of our characters.
Organisations that might be useful are:
- National Archives
- State or local libraries
- Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages
- Genealogy Societies
Research closer to home:
- old photos
- personal documents
- momentoes from family members.
- interview your family members and keep the interviews for your family records
9) Do you want to traditionally publish or self-publish your story?
You may wonder why this is crucial before you start your book. Trust me – it could you save you a lot of time and your sanity. I’ve learnt the hard way.
I wasted a lot of time writing Part 2 of my book in a particular way knowing that traditional publishers may not accept it. I wanted to incorporate pictures and primary documents into the narrative. I spent a long time searching for the right documents and photos, and formatting them, only to be told by my manuscript assessor that traditional publishers would not publish it because it was not “commercially viable” presented in this way.
This was disappointing but I also understood their reasons. If I was clearer on my WHY, I wouldn’t have wasted time writing it this way because I really did want it to be traditionally published. So now, I have to go back and re-write Part 2 in order for it to be considered by a traditional publisher.
Don’t let this happen to you. Be clear about how you want to publish your book first because it will save you time later. That doesn’t mean you can’t write an experimental book, it just means that you may have to self-publish it.
Go back to your WHY…
There are pros and cons for both methods but there is no right or wrong either. It just depends on your WHY.
Please note – Print-on-Demand Services also have guidelines about how many images you can include within a text. So I highly recommend that you research which self-publishing service you want and what you can actually include in your book, especially if it is a little different.
Createspace.com will only allow up to 25 images to be inserted into a text. Note that the price to produce also varies according to whether you choose black and white or colour for your book to be printed.
Therefore, it’s wise to start at the end (the publishing process) to discern whether the way you want to write and publish your book is commercially viable. This may not be a consideration for some, depending on your story and your why.
10) How are you going to market your book?
DISCLAIMER: You have to have a book to market – so don’t waste time with the business side of marketing a book if it stops you from WRITING your book.
Again, how you market and distribute your book depends largely on the type of book you write, your why and how you publish it.
Consider how you will share the book if it’s for family only.
If you traditionally publish your book (that’s if you’re able to get a contract) the publishing company has a budget to market your book, however, this may be small or large depending on who you are (a first-time author or someone who consistently pays their wages). However, you are also expected to do what you can to market your book and build your author platform.
If you decide to self-publish you have to manage every aspect of marketing and distribution. Again, Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn has a fabulous book titled, How to Market a Book which tells you everything you need to know as an indie author on how to get your book out there.
Your major focus at this point will be writing your book but I suggest that you start thinking about how you may want to market your book and keep a list of ideas so you are organised when your book is completed.
Try to think outside the square with your marketing strategies:
- blog or website to promote your book
- social media and blog tours (virtual book tours)
- guest blogger or guest on podcasts
- speaking engagements – contact organisations who would love to share your story to inspire or inform their members
- promote your book at the local level – libraries, writers’ workshops, schools or community groups
- consider merchandise related to your book especially if you are writing a memoir/self-help book
- television or movie rights for your story
- be creative and find new and interesting ways to promote and sell your book (if that is part of your why)
In summary, consider the 10 questions BEFORE you start writing your book because each of the 10 points can affect the process of writing, editing, publishing and marketing your book.
- Know your why
- Have a plan and deadline
- Create a space and write consistently
- Identify obstacles real or imagined and take action to overcome them
- Make a decision about how you want to present your book
- Be prepared to invest in your book and in quality service providers
- Seek professional help if needed (this is an inner journey also)
- Research and reflect
- Decide on how you will publish your book first
- Start to think about marketing and think outside the square
Trust in the Process
There is a lot to think about when writing a book and especially when writing a memoir. However, don’t let that stop you. Believe in yourself and never give up on your goals and dreams. You can do it.
The Next Step
Consider these 10 questions and take some time to write them down in a journal. Use them to motivate yourself; get organised and help you write your book.
By putting your intentions on paper makes it more real. If you are serious about writing your story, ask your family and friends to support you. Hold yourself accountable, reward yourself along the way.
How to Write Your Life Story WITHOUT Fear
Click here to download your copy of my 30-page inspirational ebook to help you overcome any obstacles about writing your life story.
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