Your Book: 5 Things to Think About Before You Write a Word

08 Sep 2020


If you are like most people, you’d like to write a book someday.

But, as anyone who has actually followed through and written a book will tell you, it can be a long and arduous process.

If you want to have any chance of succeeding, it is important to plan and prepare first. The more effort you put in up front, the better your chances are of actually getting a draft of your book completed.

Here are five important steps you should take before you write a single word.

1. Plan the Topic of Your Book

You might think the starting place for writing a book is answering the question: What do you want to write about?

But that’s probably the second most important question.

Instead, the critical question you need to ask before you do anything else is: Why do you want to write your book?

Why Knowing Your Goals for Your Book Is Important

Writing a book is hard work. Like many long-term projects, maintaining enough momentum to actually finish the job will require some serious motivation.

But most aspiring authors never follow through.

This is why focusing on your purpose for writing your book is so important. Be clear about how you define your goal. What is your definition of success?

When your purpose is clear and meaningful to you, it helps you to stay motivated and focused.

What Are Some Good Reasons for Writing a Book?

There’s no right answer to the question of why you are writing a book. To find out your “why,” try asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you trying to solve a problem for your readers?
  • Are you trying to motivate your readers to achieve something?
  • Are you trying to entertain readers?
  • Are you trying to boost your career or business?
  • Are you trying to become rich and famous?

Author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn explains how knowing your purpose will guide you. “The answers to these questions will shape what you write, how you publish, and whether you’re happy with the result.”

Define Your Audience

Knowing your reason for your book also helps you be clear about your audience.

Who is your ideal reader? The answer to this question will also help you find the right content, approach, and tone of your book.

The writing center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains this concept with the following example:

To illustrate the impact of knowing your audience, imagine you’re writing a letter to your grandmother to tell her about your first month of college. What details and stories might you include? What might you leave out?

Now imagine that you’re writing about the same topic, but your audience is your best friend. Unless you have an extremely cool grandma to whom you’re very close, it’s likely that your two letters would look quite different in terms of content, structure, and even tone.

The more clearly you can define your audience, the better your chances of attracting your ideal reader. Again, this knowledge will help you stay focused and on point during your writing process.

2. Define the Topic of Your Book

You may already be clear about what you will be writing about. Or you may have several ideas in your head and just need to narrow them down to one.

If you’ve been following the steps in this article, then you have already identified what you hope to accomplish with your book.

Let’s say you want to help people accomplish something, such as being a better parent.

Your next step is to get specific.

How can you help your readers be better parents? Do you want to help them raise compassionate children? Or maybe you want to help them stop clashing with their teenager. Or perhaps you want to help them survive the potty-training process with their toddler.

Whatever you decide to write about, the topic needs to be important to you.

You are going to be spending a lot of time with your book, so if you are not really interested in your topic, it’s going to be hard to keep hanging out together when you are only halfway through.

3. Evaluate Your Book Idea: Do a Competitive Analysis

The next step in the process is to figure out if your idea is a viable one. Unless you are writing your book for purely personal reasons, you need to know whether your book is worth writing in the first place.

Here is what you need to know:

  • Is there a market for it?
  • Has it already been written?
  • How can you make your book stand out?

The simple actions discussed below will help you determine how feasible your book idea is likely to be.

Research Books Similar to Yours

A good place to start is to simply search on Amazon to see what books already exist that are somewhat similar to yours.

If you are writing nonfiction, simply search for your topic and see what comes up. Focus on books that were recently (in the last one to three years) published. Do not spend time on the classics, because these will not help provide you with insights into the current market.

Are there many books on your topic? If there are a lot, it doesn’t mean there’s no more room for another. But it does mean you should think about what specific angle your book can cover to make it unique.

If you are writing fiction, look for other books in your genre. In other words, what category does it fall into? Some popular genres include fantasy, historical, science fiction, romance, and humor.

Study Amazon Best Seller Listings

To find out what is selling the best, use Amazon’s Best Sellers page and select the category that best fits your book idea.

The idea here is not to copy what is already out there. Your goal is to understand the market. Read the descriptions and reviews of the top-selling books and any that are similar to yours.

You can also glean some idea of how well a book is selling by its Amazon ranking. Simply scroll down to the product ranking of a specific book. The last bullet point shows “Amazon Best Seller Rank.”

Rankings are given compared to all books, as well as in different categories the book falls into. For example, Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is ranked No. 39 in the Words, Language & Grammar Reference category and No. 755 in Memoirs.

A lower number means more books have been sold.

Translating rankings into estimates of actual book sales is tricky, however. Amazon does not reveal how sales ranking is determined. But it is possible to make ballpark estimates based on this information.

Marketing consultant Rob Eagar crunched some numbers and developed a chart estimating the correlation between Amazon book rankings and sales. According to Eagar’s estimates, a book ranked at No. 100,000 was selling about once a day.

Read Other Books in Your Topic or Genre

You should also try to read other published books that are similar to yours. Unless a book was published in the last few months, you can often find copies of them at the library.

Study how long they are, how they handle the topic, how they are structured. Look for commonalities among several books to determine if there is a way to present the information or story that seems to work best.

Most importantly, you need to make sure you are not just rehashing a topic or story that has already been done.

Mark Twain was spot on when he said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible.” The key is to take an “old” idea and add a new angle to it. Reading what has already been written will help you avoid repeating someone else’s work and hone your unique approach to the topic.

4. Prepare for the Writing Process

Before you start writing, it helps to have some idea of the structure of your book. Creating a broad outline of the beginning, middle, and end will help you plan how to move forward with the writing.

Sketch Out the Structure

Regardless of whether you are a plotter (someone who plans their book in great detail) or a “pantser” (someone who “flies by the seat of their pants,” and goes with the flow with their writing), you need to establish some structure to your book before you begin writing.

It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it should offer you guideposts to follow as you travel on your writing journey.

If you are writing a nonfiction book, having some structure will help you determine if there are any holes in your research. If you are writing fiction, it will help you see if you have a proper arc to your story.

A detailed outline is not necessary if that’s not your style. But the broad structure of beginning, middle, and end will help keep your book on track.

Inject Yourself into Your Work

One of the important ways your book will distinguish itself from all the others out there is that it will be written by you.

You have a unique voice, personality, and perspective that no one else has. As entrepreneur and thought leader, Marie Forleo always says, “No person has or ever will have the unique blend of talents, and strengths, perspectives, and gifts that you have.”

The style, tone, and voice of your writing are all elements you can use to showcase your unique qualities.

For example, if you are writing about a complex subject, such as finance, but with a friendly and conversational tone, your book will probably appeal to someone just starting to learn about the topic as opposed to an expert in the field.

Your voice is how you convey your personality through your words. It helps you connect with your ideal readers. Just as you are drawn to be friends with certain personality types, your writing voice will do the same for attracting your readers.

5. Develop a Writing Strategy

Here’s where you get into the nitty gritty of the writing process. To set yourself up for success (and by that we mean actually starting and finishing writing your book), it helps to have a writing plan.

Put Together a Timeline

Unless you are fulfilling a contract, you are your own boss when it comes to getting your book written. If you want to reach the finish line, it helps to put yourself on a schedule.

For some, it’s too easy to keep adjusting their deadline if they fail to actually meet it. They need some external motivation to keep them on track.

Author Jeff Goins shares a technique a writer friend used to create a serious consequence for missing his deadline.

Goins writes, “Fearing he might never reach the last page, he wrote a check to a political candidate he hated and post-dated it for X months in the future. Then he gave the check to a friend with strict instructions to mail it if he had not completed his book by that date.”

You may not want to use such drastic measures, but, apparently, the strategy worked!

Gather Your Information

If your book requires any research or interviews, you will need to get these done before you start writing. If you are writing nonfiction, this is an obvious step.

But most fiction writing also requires research, if only to get your setting right or to write accurately about your characters’ experiences.

Create a Writing Routine

Writing a book is marathon project. While there are authors who report being able to write an entire book in a matter of days, most people will need months, and even years, to finish.

Many writers swear by a regular routine that ensures they get in some writing time every day. For some, that means getting up an hour early and using that time to write. For others, it means staying up an hour later.

Because most people have jobs or families that demand their attention, setting up a regular writing schedule is one of the biggest challenges.

Few aspiring authors have the luxury of sitting down in their quiet writing nook with a restorative cup of tea and hours of uninterrupted writing time.

If this is you, your writing routine might not look like a routine at all.

It could mean committing to writing during your child’s nap time or scribbling down thoughts whenever you find yourself waiting for more than five minutes. It could be while sitting in the carpool pickup line, at the doctor’s office, or on the metro to and from work. 

It boils down to making a commitment to setting aside time to write. It may not even be every day, but it should be on a regular basis.

Congratulations, You Are Finally Ready to Write!

If you take these steps to prepare yourself for the writing process, you will increase your chances of successfully starting and finishing your book. Keep your end goal in mind as a source of motivation.

And then start writing!

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your plans for writing your book fall short. Or you discover, in the process of writing, that you are not cut out for the writer’s life. But you still think you have a great idea for a book.

In such cases, there are still ways to get your book written. You could hire a ghostwriter, or even a co-author, to help you with the writing process. You will still be the author of the book, and you can usually complete it faster than if you do it yourself.

Whatever path you end up taking, stay committed to finishing your book. Because while not everyone enjoys the entire process of writing a book, almost everyone enjoys having written one.

Carol Kim 

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One thought on “Your Book: 5 Things to Think About Before You Write a Word

  1. This is very helpful with a bit of validation to boot. I’ve had the idea for a trilogy that I play with then set aside for sometime now but after reading this it inspires a new plan for completion. Recent successes with poetry & short narratives published have helped me with the confidence in my ability.

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