There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to writing and publishing a book. For new writers, it can be all too easy to get stuck, and sometimes getting stuck happens because there isn’t a clear idea of the entire process.
One of the main services we offer is start-to-finish coaching for writers looking to publish their first book. We make sure everything stays on track and help writers achieve their publishing goals.
Here’s an overview of the 4 key steps you need to create and publish a book you’ll be proud of.
1. Planning and Prewriting
Any successful book project starts with planning. You need to think about the kind of book you want to write and the audience you’re writing for. You may need to do a certain amount of research. And for many writers it is also absolutely necessary as part of planning that they create a detailed outline for the book.
There are as many methods of prewriting and outlining as there are book ideas. The key is to find out what works for you, what will facilitate the transfer of your ideas out of your head and onto the page. There’s no sense in creating an elaborate outline that paralyzes you; similarly, if you require more structure, then create it for yourself. Outlines should facilitate writing—so it’s up to you to decide what level of detail works for your project.
One way to start is by brainstorming and mindmapping. You can do this on a big piece of paper, or you may want to try newly developed online tools such as Scapple (from the makers of Scrivener!). It’s a good practice to take 20 minutes to brainstorm anything that comes to mind for your project, so you can begin to see natural connections and develop a working outline of your manuscript. Go for quantity over quality at this point. No thinking or elaborating. Do whatever you need to release your knowledge and insight into bite-size headings/words on the page.
As part of prewriting, we also strongly encourage writers to create and maintain an organizational system and productivity infrastructure to keep their work on track. This could be a physical binder with tabs. It could be online tools such as folders in Google Drive. We really like using Scrivener as an all-in-one place to manage sections, chapters, and research for manuscripts. It’s also easier to move things around than in a Word document.
2. Drafting and Compiling Your Manuscript
This part of the process is where you get the words down on the page. This is where all the work you did in planning and prewriting pays off, since you can now follow a clear path and avoid getting trapped in writer’s block. If you do, here are our favourite ways of extricating yourself quickly!
What often stalls writers is the inertia of trying to write and edit at the same time. Before you can even get a sentence down, your mind is already revising it seven different ways, and your writing session is over! There’s also another really common feeling, what Steven Pressfield calls ‘Resistance’, that keeps you from doing your work. The procrastination, the perfectionism, the so-called writer’s block. “Resistance” is the enemy and will stop at nothing to keep you from writing. The main takeaway from Pressfield and other prolific writers is to get your first draft written as fast as you can. Once you’ve done your planning (and even if it’s not that elaborate) you should try to move through the drafting stage swiftly. Don’t stop to do elaborate revising or detail-oriented refining. That comes later.
In other words, “covering the canvas,” as Pressfield puts it, means getting your full working draft done ASAP because momentum is everything. Just act. Revisions come later. (Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter is up to you, but the key is to not get bogged down in quality at this point.) Another important reminder is that you can break any project down into its beginning, middle, and end. Then you fill in the gaps. It seems obvious, and it is. The hard part is the actual work. We highly recommend Pressfield’s book Do the Work for more tips on getting yourself through your Resistance. And a perfect complement to this is his classic book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
During this drafting stage, it’s really common to get overwhelmed or bogged down in minutia, or procrastination masquerading as ‘research’. That’s okay! Just be aware of your tendencies and how they show up. Remember, being overwhelmed is not something to fight and get over and THEN start your writing. It’s a natural part of the writing process.
3. Revisions Stage – Editing and Proofreading
For many writers this is the least fun part of the process, but in fact it’s the most important. For many books, it’s in the editing and revising of the draft manuscript that the project takes on a clear focus and becomes what it was meant to be. We firmly believe that it’s in the act of writing that you realize what you want to say. There’s a fine balance between planning and prewriting (which is essential work) and letting the project emerge and develop as you go through the full process. It’s amazing how this works!
There are a number of discrete stages for the editing process, and an order that you should do them in. First, before you look to hire a professional editor, you should go through several rounds at least of your own self-editing. This means going through yourself and looking at big things like:
- the story arc (do you have all the obligatory scenes of your genre? Are you fulfilling reader’s expectations of the genre? Does the order make sense? Are there huge plot holes? Do you have a good sense of the timeline and how the plot develops, its pacing, etc.?)
- characters (do they each go through a transformation? Do they have distinct voices, demeanours?)
- Then looking at smoothing your sentences, looking at your word choice, your pacing, your repetitive phrases, basic spelling and grammar fixes.
Here are the different types of editing you could hire professionals to help you with:
Developmental editing is the big-picture revisions that look at the order of the chapters and sections.
Copy editing is about the sentence-level details and the technical side of the text itself.
Proofreading is the final stage where you go over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, catching any remaining formatting errors or typos.
4. Publishing and Launching Your Book
There are a couple of main publishing streams for most writers: traditional and self-publishing. Traditional publishing involves submitting your manuscript to either a literary agent or directly to publishers to see if they’ll take on the process of publishing your book. This can be very time consuming, but if you get a publishing deal the publisher takes on the cost of editing and marketing your book.
For self-publishing your book, you’ll take on all aspects of the process yourself (or hire professional editors and marketers to help you). You’ll need to make decisions about the format and style of the book, get all the front- and end-matter in order, create a properly formatted cover, and ultimately send the final documents to press. This will likely be on Amazon and various other online retailers or aggregators.
At this stage, you’ll also want to have a launch and celebration to help your book find its place in the world. Though a launch of course needs to happen once the print and digital book is all ready to go, a good book launch takes significant planning and requires some forethought in its own right.
As you can see, successfully creating and publishing a book is a fair bit of work. All too many writers focus only on the second part of the process, which is actually getting the words on the page. Obviously, this is critically important, but so are all the other pieces of the puzzle.
An all-too-common mistake is to think the writer’s job is only to draft the manuscript. They will then, often unknowingly, do their planning and prewriting while drafting, and also do their editing and revisions while drafting.
A better approach is to see these as mostly distinct steps.
That way you’re much less likely to get caught in a cycle of working on the same one chapter or section endlessly.
Where are you in your writing process? Where do you think you may need a little help? Let us know in the comments!
You got this!
Jon + Erika
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