Many, many people must at sometime think “One day I’ll write a book about that”. It has certainly occurred to me, and although I have a subject in mind I’ve yet to make the time!
If you want to write a book, it’s important to be clear from the start what your reasons might be. Vanity might be one of your reasons—a desire to be famous, for example. A more noble intention might be to share experience or knowledge for the enlightenment and/or entertainment of others. Likewise, you might have a promising story or set of characters to share. Whatever your reasons, you’re going to need to hold onto them and the motivation they provide.
Writing a book is a huge commitment, with no guarantee of success. Yes, the world is awash with books, but there are still many good reasons for going ahead with yours. Self-publishing is so much easier and more affordable now, following advancements in production and distribution technology.
Traditional publishers definitely still have a place—they’re just not the only route to publishing anymore.
So, now you’ve decided to take seriously the idea of writing a book, you can determine what its function will be.
You want to write a book, but what type?
The first thing to establish is: will your book simply be a product, or will it be a marketing tool as well?
Your book as a product
To be an effective product, your book needs to be an absorbing read (or look, if it’s mostly photographic or illustrative!). Its intent and design also need to be robust and clear. You need to create an irresistible package that not only promises delight, but delivers on it, page by page. When you’re putting this sort of experience together, the value of third-party oversight cannot be overstated. This is not just to fill skill-gaps, or get ‘donkey work’ done, but to provide an ‘outsider’ view and a sense-check.
Your book as a marketing tool
Branding and credibility will be key things if you’ll be using your book as a marketing tool. Every brand worth its salt has a personality—not so much a figurehead (although many do) but rather a set of characteristics and values.
Converting those qualities into a clear textual and visual language is what it’s about. Just slapping your logo and colours on won’t cut it—you will need a distinctive ‘voice’, and a look to match.
With the fundamental brand values established, the convincing can begin. This is where text content comes into its own. Every twist and turn should not only explain and entertain, but also drive the reader to take further action. This will be helped by succinctness, a clear sense of direction, and plenty of memorable hooks.
What’s to be gained by writing a book?
You can gain many things from writing and publishing a book, if you go about it in the right way. If you do, although nothing is guaranteed, you stand a better chance of getting the result you want.
Writing as a profession is a tough game, and most people playing it don’t win, at least not financially. If direct financial gain is your aim, the attractiveness and professional quality of your product will be paramount. Even if you’ve got that right, there is still the obstacle of selling your book in a crowded marketplace.
Publicity for your business or cause (or even you as an individual) is easier to attain. If that is your aim, you probably already have a promotional structure within which to do this. In a book, you can put across a great deal of detail in an authoritative way and still take the reader with you. This approach just doesn’t work in most promotional media, where you’re up against the short attention span. The key is to resist the temptation to use your text to sell—that will only get the reader’s back up. First and foremost you need to inform and, if possible, entertain.
Lastly, but not least important, is a real sense of achievement. The writer can gain immense pride in successfully completing a cohesive and good-quality book. If they can see their writing brought to life in a printed or electronic form, so much the better. This is something which is now within the grasp of everyone, and is truly cathartic.
How easy is it to write a book?
Putting words on a page is relatively easy. Making those words stir the imagination of the reader, and prompt them to read on, is much, much more difficult.
As already mentioned, you will find third-party oversight, by a mentor/editor/proofreader, invaluable. A writer will find it almost impossible to fully gauge for themselves the quality, or validity, of their own writing. Even the most diligent of us overlooks things and makes mistakes. A professional, with the right experience and skill, can pick all this up.
It’s not just about being pedantic and nit-picky. It’s vital that you use good spelling, grammar and punctuation, and that your prose makes sense. The reader will form an opinion on the writer, and their writing, from the quality of what they read. These things will also affect the readability of your book, and how well the information and points you make come across. Third-party oversight can, in short, make all the difference between a great read and a mediocre one—or worse.
Whilst the writing process presents formidable challenges, the process of converting the finished manuscript into a high-quality physical or electronic book is a different, but equal, challenge. This is dealt with in my articles on book design and book production.
Decided to write that book? Then read the next article about why you should self-publish.