Category Archives: book matters

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

Creating a Book Outline—a Flexible Structure that Works for You

closeup of outline or mind map diagram

CC image “mind map” courtesy of madstreetz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Little divides writers as much as whether they should write a book outline or not. These two big categories are the pantsers, and the planners.

The planners, as you might expect, begin with a plan. They decide what they are going to write about, in what order the story should unfold, the main points they want to hit, and they typically create a detailed outline. Then, they write according to this plan.

Pantsers discover the story and the book as they go. Though they typically start out with an idea of what they want—the beginning and ending are common anchors—they don’t know, as they begin, how they’re going to get to the end. They “fly by the seat of their pants.”

Planners think of pantsers as disorganized and chaotic, and pantsers think of planners as rigid and unimaginative. Both these assessments are true and false in equal measure. Continue reading

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

Scrabble word BUDGET is a key for indie book publishing

Key to any book publishing, indie or otherwise. CC image “Budget” courtesy of airpix on Flickr and stubblepatrol.com. Some rights reserved.

Books don’t come free. In addition to your blood, sweat, and tears (am I being melodramatic?), you need to have a plan in place to conquer the hard financial costs that are part and parcel of publishing. Like any other business, your book has operating expenses, and it deserves a budget. Continue reading

black and white shot of audience from stage

Why does anyone care what you write?

Why does anyone care what you write?

How to not lose an audience

black and white shot of audience from stage

CC image “Audience @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-9308” courtesy of OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The single most heinous crime you can commit as an author—and the one most likely to lose you readership—is to make the whole story about you, and you alone, and to forget your readers.

But wait, you say. What if I’m writing a memoir, or a book that builds on my own personal experience? Surely that’s about me!

Not so. Your memoir or the details of your experience are interesting to your readers because of how it relates to their lives and experiences. Your readers care about what your book offers to them. You are purely incidental. Unless you are Michelle Obama, no one cares.

Be the reader

Think about yourself. What’s the first question you ask yourself when you think about whether you want to read a book?

Is this interesting?

When you read a book, you answer the question in the affirmative. If you skip it, the answer is no. Now ask yourself:

Why is it interesting?
What makes this book interesting?

This is the key to your audience.

Write down the titles of the last three books you read. Below the title, write what made that book interesting to you. Maybe you love books that make the technical accessible; you love books that inspire; you love books with actionable information; you love books with great characters; you love books that create alternate worlds you can lose yourself in.

Books are about the reader first. This is usually obvious to all of us whenever we’re reading a book…and we often forget it when we write one.

Don’t forget your audience

You the writer love what you are writing about. Whether your book is about sea urchins or is a fantasy novel, you’re mostly thinking about yourself. It’s easy, while you are writing, to get caught up in the story and forget those other people, your readers.

I see this happen a lot in early in early drafts. This is normal and perfectly fine—as long as we fix it before going to press. The most common ways writers forget their audiences are:

Nonfiction: while telling an anecdote or giving an example to illustrate a point, the writer keeps adding awesome details, and five or maybe ten pages later finally runs out of ways to express how cool s/he found all of this information.

Fiction: in writing a scene, the writer discovers that a secondary character’s backstory needs fifteen pages of manuscript space, or gets lost in a love poem describing the setting, where we have no paragraph breaks for several pages.

This is where the editor comes in and asks you why it’s all there. This is code for, “Why would the reader find this interesting/need to know this information, at this particular point in time, or in this way?”

After you finish an early draft, turn around to look at your audience. Bring the focus back to the reader. What are they going to do with this information? How would they relate to it? What questions would they have?

In nonfiction, you can directly ask your audience questions. That’s one way of turning to look at them. In fiction, generally we need to be more subtle. Does what we wrote make sense only in our heads? We may need beta readers to give us feedback.

The good news is, you can use your “whys” as a reader to help you build a wonderful book as a writer. Go back to the lists I had you make on the last three books you read. If you were to put together a list of whys for the readers of your book, what would that look like? What do you want your readers to say?

The bottom line

No matter how autobiographical your story is, your book is never about you in the way you think. If it was, you could keep a diary and be done with it. Why are you publishing?

This is a very, very important point from an editorial perspective. Readers, like all other humans, appreciate when we pay attention to them. If the story was clearly written for you the author and it’s an accident that other readers stumble into your monologue, how long do you think they’ll stick around? Treat them with respect. Build your book for them, as well as for yourself.

You may need to stop writing to finish your book

You may need to stop writing to finish your book

(or: a counterintuitive way to succeed)

road work ahead sign plus relax people, I think we'll be OK

A good motto. CC image “Relax” courtesy of Martha Soukup on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Introspection is frowned upon by our goal-oriented, fast-paced, and productivity-minded culture.

We all want to know how to get things done. We want to know how to get them done better, in less time, and with a bigger impact. Doing doing doing.

This is especially true during the end-of-year holidays. Wouldn’t a few worker elves be great?

Unfortunately, completing a book doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes, we need to stop writing and literally spend time staring into space, or playing. What better time to remember how to stop and take a breath than during what is meant to be a restful and celebratory time of year?

The writing habit

If you’ve been on my blog before, you’ve read about the single best way to write your book, which is to write (see: “pretending you don’t need to work on your book every day”).

Write every day. Make writing a habit.

You’ve read this before and now you’re wondering why I’m telling you to stop.

Writing sometimes means doing things that don’t look exactly like the activity we all know as writing, and it sometimes means letting go of being “productive.”

Writing is a creative act

Writing may feel like a business item or a job to you, but a part of it is always a creative exercise. Because of this, truths about creativity apply, even when you write a book about dog-training or how to grow a business.

One of these truths is: sometimes you have to do nothing for a while, to get something done.

Tell me whether you’ve had the following experience: you have a looming deadline. For days, you struggle with the final tasks and doubt you’ll ever meet the deadline. There’s one especially thorny issue you can’t figure out. After putting in a fourteen-hour day (or what feels like it), you give up in disgust and leave. You go home and vent to one of your friends or your significant other. A few more days go by while you play ostrich with your deadline. Instead of working on it, you clean the house, organize your desk, and buy greeting cards for your second cousins once removed in Singapore whom you haven’t seen since you were eight years old.

The next day, you realize you know the answer to the problem, and nothing has ever been so easy.

This is how writing often works.

The secret is that when you stop focusing on being productive, and let your mind wander, you’re more receptive to solutions that sit outside your current line of thinking.

Stop being productive

You might find yourself in front of the computer, producing nothing, and growling under your breath from frustration. If this happens while are you trying to get into a writing habit (see link above), I recommend you power through. Your best plan of action is to sit there for the appointed time, and suffer. Eventually, you’ll be writing.

If this happens in the middle of a productive stretch and after you’ve made writing a habit, I recommend that you take a break.

Step away from the computer, and do something else—preferably an activity that lets part of your brain roam free. Good activities include going for a walk, doing the laundry, sweeping, mowing the lawn, playing with the pet or the grandkids…you get the idea. Bad activities include complicated work of any kind, or watching TV/Netflix.

Do not try to be “productive” during this time. You’ve already thought a lot about your writing. Now let your subconscious have room to breathe. You could be surprised with the results.

The bottom line

There’s something about endings that makes us a little crazy. The end of the year, end of the quarter, end of the month… At this time of year, when it seems like all our schedules are blowing up and absolutely every known errand in the universe needs to be done before December 25th or 31st, STOP.

If you haven’t started your writing habit yet, this time of year is a tough place to start.

If you’ve got a good writing habit going, it will survive the next few weeks.

The more you force the issue, the less joy you’ll have in the process of writing, in the idea of your book—and more importantly, in your life and in whatever holidays you celebrate. It may be you need to stop writing now, in order to finish your book later.

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I’d love to hear how you might cultivate your writing habit with a spirit of rest, this season. Leave me a comment below, or drop me a line. Then enjoy the break!

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know

12 Things Every Self-Publisher Should Know
(before publishing)

christmas tree made of books with ornaments

CC image “Boekenkerstboom” courtesy of Bibliotheek Kortrijk on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In this day and age, where it seems like everyone is publishing a book and a lot of them are touting how easy that is (ha!), it’s important to remember that none of those books was published by magic. In tribute to the “12 Days of Christmas,” below is a list of 12 things every self-publisher and independent author should know.

Traditionally, the holiday season means a barrage of tips on how to market-slash-use-the-holiday-to-promote-your-book. While tying your marketing to the season is a great idea, your publishing plans should not begin and end with this fixation. Continue reading

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do you begin? The Foreword, the Preface, and the Introduction

Where do we start a book? To quote the King in Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

If only it were so simple.

Fiction needs to consider the prologue. Nonfiction books have introductions often, prefaces sometimes, and occasionally forewords. Do we know how to use them well? An introduction, preface, and foreword serve different purposes, although we tend to mix them up. Below are some tips to help you separate these three beginnings, and suggestions for how, or whether, you want to use them.

The Foreword

The most important distinguishing feature of the foreword is that it should be written by someone other than the author.

I’ve seen authors writing introductions or prefaces and calling them forewords. The foreword is not for you, dear author. The foreword is an opportunity for you—a marketing opportunity.

Your foreword plays in much the same space as your back cover copy: it helps you sell the book. Contributors to forewords are experts in the field your book is about, or authors of similar books. A foreword adds credibility to your book by offering a stamp of approval that other people will recognize: bookstores as well as individual consumers. You are after the name recognition and esteem of your contributor.

Because someone else writes your foreword, and they should have read your book before they do so, you need to complete your manuscript and send them an advance reader copy. This means you must be done with your book and budget extra time to incorporate a foreword.

The Preface

Think of the preface as an envelope. The preface is about the book itself—not the contents of the book.

This is your opportunity to talk about why you wrote this book. What brought you here? What are you trying to achieve? You may use this space to establish your credentials—indicate your experience in a topic or the professional expertise that makes you well-suited to talk about it. Often, authors muddle this together with the material in the introduction. They are best kept separate. Give your book a clean start and make it easy for your readers, who need to know what part of the story kicks off when.

What you include here should NOT appear in your introduction, and vice versa—avoid duplication.

The Introduction

Most familiar to us, the introduction is also for the author. If the preface is the envelope, the introduction is a cover letter to the manuscript: you get to explain how to use the contents of the book itself.

The introduction can be simple. You introduce the topic of the book, and leave it at that. You can also use the introduction to set up the themes you are planning to address, establish any definitions or methodology you use, or point out the structure of your book and any exercises or resources you include and how the reader may want to use them. What you do NOT want to do is repeat content that already appears in your preface.

Although an introduction appears at the front of the book (after the foreword and preface, if they are also included), you should write this content last, after you have completed your manuscript. You need to know what your book is about in total, and how it ends, to write a good introduction.

The Bottom Line

Your book structure should be clear, and so should the way you use your foreword, preface, and introduction (if you choose to include them). Although none of these are required components of your manuscript, each of them can add value or interest to your book. Remember to use them for their distinct purposes: they exist to guide the reader where you want them to go.

Be clear. Don’t knock your reader around with three or four beginnings to your book and ask them to sort it all out themselves.

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This post is adapted from an article published in the September 2016 CIPA Signature, the newsletter of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.