If you want to become a writer, but you're not sure where to begin, you're certainly not alone. My publishers get questions every day that all boil down to the same basic queries: you want to know 'how to be a writer', and 'how to be an author'? So, I've put together a few tips and guidelines about writing a book. (Freelance article writing is a little different, but if you're interested in how to freelance, I love freelance writer Jenna Glatzer's excellent guide, which you can check out on Wolfpack Publisher's Recommended Reading page.)
If you want to be an author though, to see your name on the front of a lovely fresh non-fiction book, or stunning debut novel, then it's time to start writing the book. I know, sounds obvious right? You'd be shocked at just how many budding writers and authors don't actually get round to this part, even though they seem to have plenty of time to set up Facebook profiles or business pages, and send query letters to publishers!
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants
to the seat of the chair.
― Mary Heaton Vorse
Q.1 Do you have a rough plan, plot, or proposal mapped out, a basic framework or structure for your fiction or non-fiction book?
Q.2 What's your total word count at now, and what does it need to get to?
For Question 1, if the answer is no, then that's what you need to be doing right now. Stop the research, quit telling your friends how awesome your book will be, and get a plan in place. Don't know where to start? A Writing Consultant can help, or check out the Recommended Reading section if you'd prefer to figure out how to write your book for yourself. Do it today!
For Question 2, most new writers are a bit clueless. What's an acceptable word count for your type of book? It varies of course, but there's an accepted general guide. Bear in mind, that it can wobble around by as much as 15,000 either side, depending on how well put together and tightly edited your final manuscript is. The only things that are really frowned on are an author picking the shortest word count because he's afraid of how to write that many words, or an author not paying attention to proper story-line or editing and leaving the story ramble on for thousands and thousands of words of unnecessary, confusing, babble spew. Yes, that's a highly technical term, we'll have you know.
Generally speaking then, when you're writing a book:
- Young Adult runs to about 45,000 words
- Non-fiction runs to about 70,000 words
- Regular Fiction runs to about 100,000 words
Taking a look at your book plan from Question 1, you'll have a rough idea of what chapters and sections you want to include, and probably even topic and titles mapped out. For non-fiction, 10 to 15 chapters is normal, while fiction is a choose-your-own-adventure type of fairground ride, with whatever chapter type and structure suits your work. Romance might run to the lower end of the word count for fiction, while sci-fi or fantasy fiction often runs higher. There's no real hard and fast rule for that though.
Now, you have a structure, you have a target, you know what you have achieved, and what you have yet to do. If you have a deadline to work to, then figure on how many days per week you can write, how many writing days til your deadline, and how many words you still have to write - leaving time for editing and word count for cutting of course. Good rule of thumb is a month (or two, ideally) for editing, and about 25% more than your targeted word-count, for fiction. Non-fiction has a narrower cut margin generally, but still leave 5-10%.
If you don't have a deadline, then you need to set one. What writing time do you have available per week? How long, roughly, does it take you to write say, 500 words? Yes, sometimes it flows faster, and sometimes you're dragging the words like pulling teeth, but give it an estimate at least. Aim for 500-1000 words per day, minimum, and how many days per week to reach your target word-count, plus extra editing percentage. Now, you have a date. Add 1/2 months for editing. Now you have a delivery to publisher date (the publisher will have their own schedule and time frames after that, but you need to write the damn thing before you're going to be looked at).
Whatever your daily or weekly writing schedule looks like now, set it by word-count, not time spent at desk. And don't move your bum from that chair til your word-count is done. Do you want to talk about being a writer, or do you want to be a writer? Then write.