How I Write a Book

Now that I’ve written four novels (with a fifth nearly complete) I think I’ve finally settled into a process and routine that works. I titled this post “How I Write a Book” and not “How To Write a Book” because I don’t think there’s one “right” answer. Different people do things differently than others. I thought, however, that sharing my process might provide ideas to other writers on how to settle on a process of their own (should they not already have one).

The Idea

My books tend to start with an idea. Sometimes it’s a thought or a feeling of the type of book I want to write. Other times it’s a world that I’d like to create and explore. Sometimes the ideas just come from nowhere, other times it’s more deliberate. Either way, without an idea you really have no story.

The Outline

I outline. Some don’t. For me, the outline is the best approach because I know that if I can finish the outline then I can finish the book. I have too many off the cuff books that I got 20k words into before watching them die a painful and slow death. That said, an outline is just a rough blueprint. Things can and will change as the book is being written.

The Manuscript

Once the outline is finished I write the manuscript. I set a 1,000 word per day quota and I hit that quota hard. This is critical. Setting and meeting word count can’t be underestimated. I try to shoot for 75k to 80k novel length, but sometimes they run shorter or longer. I simply adjust my due dates when this happens. Writing a book is a creative endeavor, after all, and one that can’t always be accurately estimated.

Put Out the Call for Beta Readers

Once the manuscript gets a month or so away from completion I put out the call for beta readers. I have a stock of betas who always read for me, but getting a few new faces at the table provides new perspective from book to book. I look for betas who have a good idea for story and who aren’t afraid to tell me when something sucks.

First Revision

After the manuscript is complete I do the first revision, one chapter at a time. I work all week on the revisions, sending out the revised chapters to the betas on Sunday night. I repeat this process until the entire first revision is finished. This allows the betas to get the story in bite-sized chunks, which means they’re more likely to stick with it until the end. It also avoids the scenario of keeping betas waiting until I finish the entire first revision and then me having to wait while they consume an entire novel. That all takes time and this multi-tasking approach shaves months off the process.

Second Revision

This is where I go over the book again, incorporating the beta reader feedback and cleaning up any clumsy prose and spelling/grammar errors. I run the manuscript through several different spelling and grammar checkers including Scrivener, Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, Apple Pages and Google Docs. They all catch something different and provide different suggestions for improvement. (Sometimes it takes more than one pass to get through this revision.)

To the Editor

With the second revision complete, I’ve now gone over the manuscript three times (including writing it). Now I’ll send it off to my editor. She’ll have the manuscript for maybe two to four weeks, depending on her schedule and how long the book is. Her job is to check for spelling and grammar issues and to ensure that the story is reads well. She looks for inconsistencies, repetition, awkward phrasing and other areas that need improvement.

To the Proofreader

Once the manuscript is returned to me, I’ll make the changes she suggests. I’ll then send the manuscript off to my proofreader. She looks primarily for spelling and grammar errors. She’ll also find weird stuff that both my editor and I missed. Improper word usage and other stuff like that. She’s the last set of eyes on the work before it goes to publication, ensuring I’ve done all that I can to catch and fix all errors.

Final Read

Once the proofreader’s changes are in, I’ll copy the book to my Kindle and read it as if I were one of my readers. This allows me a final look at the entire book, start to finish, after all changes have been made. This way I can ensure it reads as I want it to and that something didn’t go awry during the editing process (like accidentally deleting entire chapters).

Publish

Once the final read-through is complete it’s time to hit the publish button. I export the manuscript into both Kindle and ePub formats and get busying uploading to Amazon and the other vendors.

Back Cover Copy

This is the synopsis or product description, the bit where you pitch the salient points of the plot to potential readers. It tells readers what the book is about, sets up the problem that needs to be solved and leaves the reader guessing as to whether or not the problem can be solved. I usually start this process when I get the outline finished and tweak it along the way. It needs to be finished before I upload my finished book and hit “publish”.

Notify My Mailing List

I now have a mailing list compiled. I use MailChimp to collect and manage this list and I use it only to inform readers of my new releases. By signing up for this list, these readers have told me they’re very interested in my work. As such, they get notified the moment the book is available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook (the other vendors take longer and I don’t want to make readers wait that long). At this point I don’t post anything to my website about the new book being available, nor do I post on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or anywhere else. Think of it as a silent release (where only a select group of readers are notified).

Advertise the Release

This is the part where I tell everyone else that the book is avaiable. I hit Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and my website with the news. I only do this once, because I don’t want to push a hard sell on people. I don’t want to be the BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! guy. I don’t know a person alive who likes that sort of marketing approach. The time between notifying the mailing list and notifying the rest of the world can vary. Last time I waited a couple of days, but next time I might wait a week or two.

Start the Next Book

I usually take a short break, maybe a week or two, and then I start the next book and do it all over again.

So there you have it, the process I use to write and release a novel. You’re bound to do things a bit differently, but this approach has worked very well for me during my last several releases. It keeps me on a reasonably quick production schedule and ensures the books are high quality. Hopefully some of what I’ve said here will give you some ideas, whether it’s your first release or simply the next one in line.

And if you’re a reader, you now know that publishing a book isn’t simply finishing a manuscript and hitting the “publish” button. There’s a serious amount of work that goes into each release to bring you the best quality work I can produce. I hope you enjoy it.