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How To Write A Book: The Ultimate Guide

man in white dress shirt reading book
How To Write A Novel: The Ultimate Guide

Hello Friends, Grammarly has so graciously provided us with a wealth of knowledge on how to write books. Below is how to get started! I hope you enjoy and started your new novel today!

There’s no one right way to write a book. Some people participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and end up with a bestseller. Others start with a meticulous outline and structured plan. Some (usually not novelists) can get a publication deal on a pitch alone. This article is meant to talk through the various steps involved and help you decide the best way for you to write your book.

Pre-writing: What are you writing and why?

To quote the iconic 2014 film, Hamlet 2, “Oh my god, writing is so hard!” 

And books are long. Most novels clock in around 100,000 words, which is approximately 400 double-spaced pages on your word processor. 

If you’re going to write a book, it’s going to be a lengthy process; if you want to finish, it’s important to have an end goal to motivate you. Ask: What are you writing and why?

This could be as loose and simple as you having a story in your head that you just have to get out. Or it could be practical and specific: You’re writing an ebook to drive downloads and revenue for your business. There’s no wrong reason to write a book; you just need to know what yours is.

What kind of book are you writing? 

Fiction books

Fiction books tell stories that are all or mostly made up by the author. (We say mostly, because genres like historical fiction tell stories of true events, but the characters’ motives, exact dialogue, etc., is made up by the author.)

  • Novels are the most commonly published and read fiction books. They’re long (loosely defined as over approximately 40,000 words, but generally in the 80,000–120,000 range, with some being much longer). They tell a single, unified narrative, and can be of many types and genres (e.g., commercial fiction, literary fiction, upmarket fiction, young adult, science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical, horror, etc.). Examples: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez and Beloved by Toni Morrison 
  • Novellas are essentially short novels: They can also be of any genre, but generally have word counts of approximately 17,000–40,000. While there are many famous, notable novellas, they’re much less popular with modern readers, so they will be more difficult to publish through traditional methods unless you already have an established name as an author. Self-publishing is changing what people consume, and is currently the most viable publishing option for a first-time novella-ist. Examples: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Short story collections are exactly what they sound like: a collection of a number of short stories, which usually have a combined word length approximately that of a novel. Again, short story collections are less popular with readers, so they’re more difficult to get published, especially as a first-time author. Most short story writers don’t create books until later in their career (and instead publish short stories one at a time in literary magazines or similar publications). Again, self-publishing is changing how and what people consume. Examples: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  • Poetry collections are books of poetry. Word count is a less-relevant barometer here as there aren’t many standards. Poetry collections are a niche interest, and will be published by small, specialized presses. Examples: The Hill We Climb and Other Poems by Amanda Gorman and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein 

Nonfiction books

Nonfiction books are those that aim to tell factual narratives. This encompasses a broad, diverse number of genres and types of books. This is an inexhaustive list:

  • Popular nonfiction books tell stories that are true, but are written in a way to engage readers. There is a large market for popular nonfiction books, and most major publishing houses publish them. They include: 
  • Memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies, which tell the true stories of real people. Examples: Lincoln by David Herbert Donald and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Humor and commentary, which may overlap with other genres (but with the aim of being funnier). Example: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
  • Journalism books are like newspaper stories, but extended to book length, and are usually written by journalists (sometimes as follow-ups to important stories, as more in-depth coverage on a particular story or social trend). Examples: Nomadland by Jessica Bruder and All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • History books teach us about history; they can take a variety of different forms. Examples: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing and Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn
  • Travel guides and travelogues tell stories of adventure or give advice on where readers may want to travel. Examples: Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris and Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
  • How-to books aim to teach practical skills. This genre includes cookbooks, self-help books, and gardening guidebooks. 
  • Examples: The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen. R. Covey
  • Academic books are those that are published for the purpose of advancing learning. This can include textbooks to teach subjects to students, dissertations that share new theories and research, and other texts. They’re generally published by academic presses.
  • Examples: Film History, An Introduction by Kristin Thompson and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Ebooks, technical manuals, etc.

These types of books are mostly nonfiction, but are worth calling out separately as they’re generally published by businesses for a very specific audience. Their end goal is not for the reader to simply read the book, but to do something else once they’re done reading. 

  • Company ebooks are designed to share knowledge with prospective customers to build trust and ultimately sell a product or service.
  • Technical manuals are written to help existing customers learn how to use a product or service. 

>>Read More: 20 Women Who Paved the Way in Writing

What’s your end goal?

There are many things you can do with your book once it’s finished.

  • Publication through traditional publishing houses is the classic way of getting a book into stores. Generally, you pitch your finished book to an agent, who then pitches it to publishing houses to buy. (In some cases, you may not need an agent.) These publishers write a contract to pay the author (usually a small amount up front, and some sort of revenue split, but there are many forms a deal could take), then they take care of the printing, distribution, and sometimes marketing of the book. 
  • Self-publication allows individuals to release their books to readers without having to have an agent and publisher. Once looked down upon, it’s grown significantly over the past two decades, and is especially popular with genre writers (science fiction, fantasy, and romance, to name a few). Authors are responsible for marketing their books, hiring a designer for or creating their own book covers, and submitting to distributors (like Amazon Kindle). Authors get a share of the profits for all units sold through a particular platform.
  • Online publication allows individuals or businesses to distribute their work anywhere on the web, oftentimes as downloadable content. This format is generally preferred by businesses who are publishing books to attract new customers (with the content free to download in exchange for an email address).
  • Self-gratification. It’s also totally OK to write a book simply for yourself. 

If you want to write a book for monetary reasons, that’s also totally OK. If that’s your goal, though, you need to do your research to understand what does and does not make money. Writing books is both an art and a craft. If your primary goal is financial, do market research: Understand who your customer (reader) is; know what they want; and know how to reach them.

>>Read More: What Type of Writer Are You?

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