“I Want to Write a Book”: Five First Steps For Aspiring Writers

When folks contact me because they want to write a book, especially someone who hasn’t been writing, I’m often pessimistic. I want to be able to encourage them, but I know this:  An agent or publisher needs to see that a communicator is reaching an audience. So what’s a first-time writer to do?

1. WRITE

Write an article. Online magazines usually have writer’s guidelines available at their sites. (Also google-able)

Pitch articles to magazines that are already reaching the audience who will read your book. If you don’t know what publications those are, ask among your friends on social media: “Moms, what blogs do you read?” “Business people, what magazines do you read?”

Your pitch to an editor—explaining what you want to write, how it will serve his/her audience, and why you’re the best person to write it—needs a hook. No editor will respond well to a pitch from you offering to write on “parenting,” but if they might be interested if your hook is, “What I Learned About Parenting During My Time in Prison.” Give your pitch a strong hook.

Having a number of articles that appear in print or online communicates to an agent or publisher that you’re reaching audiences.

2. SPEAK

Drum up speaking gigs. Ask folks you know to help you find venues where you can share the message you’re passionate about. Start by speaking for free to build your resume.

Speaking builds your audience and helps you hone your message.

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3. BUILD

Build a website. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Before you pitch one article or seek one speaking gig, build a simple site to let others know who you are and what you’re about. Include experience and endorsements to give editors, agents, organizers, and publishers confidence that you have something to say and that others want to hear it.

A website legitimizes your credibility as a communicator.

4. GROW

Grow your audience. Beyond building your website, be intentional about your online presence. If blogging feels manageable—and it might not!—consider blogging regularly. Guest post on other writers’ blogs. Post quotes or memes on social mediate that relate to your message. Don’t always be self-promoting, though: share relevant content, from other worthwhile sources, with your followers.

Providing valuable content builds your audience.

5. LEARN

Attend a writer’s conference. Even if you’ve never considered it, the chance to grow in your craft and network with other writers and folks in the publishing industry will serve you well.

 

Bottom line: If you’re not willing to start building with one or more of these building blocks, it’s unlikely that an agent or publisher will consider the book you’re holding in your heart.

The exception, of course, is if you are: the President of the United States, the MVP of the NBA, or someone whose face has graced the cover of People magazine. If you are any of these, disregard this post. The rest of us, though, need to be hustling to build an audience.

Your future agent or publisher will thank you.

Reflect: Which one of these 5 made you balk? How willing/unwilling are you to move forward on any of these? What can you learn from your response?

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Crafting a Writing Goal

Book Proposal Image

Words aspiring writers want to hear.

“Send me a proposal on your idea.”

When it happened for me, at a writers conference, I first went off to a private place and cried happy tears. Then reality set in.

I hadn’t written a thing. I only had an abstract idea, a desire to write, and a nudge from God. The publisher didn’t offer any guidance on how to format a book proposal; he simply told me to send one.

When I got home, I got to work. The situation called for a marriage between prayer and practical actions. Shortly after I said, “Amen,” inspiration hit.

I wrote my goal on a piece of lined notebook paper. “I Will Read 100 Books on the Craft and Business of Writing.”

I practiced while I studied. It took me almost two years to accomplish the task, but when I finished the one hundredth book, I was able to look back and see the transformation in my work. Only then did I gather enough courage to submit a few queries for articles. And though there were rejections, there was also success.

Article Queries

After focusing on the craft of writing, I invested in the business of writing. If I wanted to author books, I needed help. I networked with other professionals and listened to their advice. I attended more conferences. I hired an editor to critque my work. And I continued reading beyond my first 100 books.

Michael Hyatt

How to Write a Winning Book Proposal

I wanted to create a stellar proposal. After gleaning the best information, I practiced on my first topic numerous times. By the time I ran across Michael Hyatt’s e-books on Writing a Winning Book Proposal for fiction and non-fiction, I was ready to finalize my project.

It took another year before I harvested any fruit from my labors, but harvest I did. WordServe Literary signed me based on that original topic. The hard work of crafting a writing goal and meeting it helped my agent sell my first book, scheduled for release in 2013.

I’ve now lost count of the number of writing books I’ve read. But there are a few I refer back to time and again:

10. On Writing Well — William Zinsser

9. Story — Robert McKee

8. The Art of War for Writers — James Scott Bell

7. Bird by Bird — Anne Lamott

6. Stein on Writing — Sol Stein

5. Writing Down the Bones — Natalie Goldberg

4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers — Renni Browne & Dave King

3. Finding Your Voice — Les Edgerton

2. Writing for Story — Jon Franklin

1. Screenplay — Syd Field

I’m a lifetime learner. Without the help of many willing to share what they learned through their books, I probably wouldn’t be writing today.

What are your goals, and what are you doing to meet them?

Mentored by The Best Selling Author

Best Selling Author - Anita Brooks

I had no idea what I was doing.

I went to my first writers conference with zero expectations. I simply wanted to explore this crazy dream God had planted in my heart.

At my allotted appointments, I sat across from editors, agents, and publishers and said the same thing, “I don’t have anything to pitch. I just came to learn. Can you tell me what you think I should know?”

Every person demonstrated gentle patience and gave me a huge boost of encouragement. One discussion, spurred by a workplace pet peeve, kept me awake most of the night jotting down notes.

On the last day of the conference, I knew my life would never be the same. And I was right.

I flew home feeling overwhelmed. My mind swirled with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. A professional thinks I have potential. A professional believes my differences are a good thing. A professional requested a book proposal. I don’t know how to write a book proposal.

I was a long way from being ready to submit anything, and I knew it.

When I arrived back at normal life, I needed help. But where do you turn when you live in a tiny town in the Midwest? What kind of education can you get when there’s no college close? How do doors open when you have no degree or credentials in writing?

You ask the Best Selling Author of all time for help.

Wanting to do nothing less than excellent work, I got on my knees and asked God to personally mentor me. I figured since His book, the Bible, had sold more copies than any other book throughout history, I should try to learn from Him.

My schooling took months, even into years. I turned the television off and got to work. I spent hours soaking up assigned books on the craft of writing. I practiced with devotions, articles, and blogs. I listened to the professionals He sent to help me develop better habits. Then I re-wrote my devotions, articles, and blogs. Sometimes it took many copies to get the words and punctuation just right.

I graduated to the study and practice of book proposal writing. I wrote at least three dozen drafts while my Mentor patiently encouraged me to keep trying. All the while, prayer and a listening ear helped me maintain a teachable heart.

Only three years later, I signed with WordServe. Recently, I signed a book contract for the original non-fiction idea I’d had at the conference. This may seem like a long time, but in publishing years, it’s pretty fast.

Today, I still need my Mentor. He’s guiding my mind and hands as I finish my book for publication. Because of Him, I hope to write many more.

If you’re an aspiring or experienced author, I encourage you to call my Mentor. He’s available 24/7/365. His name is God, and he turns good concepts into strong books. There’s no better Muse than the one who created your mind.

Do you have a mentor? Where do you go for guidance and encouragement?

Anita Brooks - Best Selling Author

God’s Story – The Best Selling Book of All Time

Nuke the Slush Pile

Photo Credit: 02-11-04 © Maartje van Caspel / istockphoto.com

What is a slush pile?

Have you ever read a market listing for a book publisher that reads something like, “Receives 2,000 submissions a year; publishes 20?”

The 1,980 manuscripts that didn’t get published are the slush pile. They are the mountain of unsolicited—and largely unpublishable—manuscripts that land on editors’ desks every day.

The slush pile also represents your competition.

I’ve spoken to more than a few writers who became discouraged at the sheer numbers of manuscripts out there and gave up on ever getting published. That’s unfortunate because it’s possible to move that slush pile out of the way.

Here are three simple practices that will help you stand out from the competition.

1. Learn Your Craft.

Believe it or not, most wannabe writers never take the time to learn how to write well. If you will take the time to study, learn, and develop your craft, you will stand head and shoulders over 90% of the people out there who say they want to be writers. Thus, when you submit a query or manuscript, your writing will stand out as superior.

Trust me. Good writing gets noticed.

2. Be Professional.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to make a living at writing or if you just see writing as something to do on the side. If you want to be taken seriously, then you have to approach your craft as a professional. That means properly formatting your manuscript, proofreading it carefully, and following the publisher’s guidelines to the letter. It also means being courteous, not missing deadlines, accepting editing and critique. It means committing yourself to turning out the best product you can–every time you sit down at the keyboard.

If you adopt a professional approach, you will distinguish yourself from many writers who do not take the time to learn (or practice) the etiquette of the publishing industry.

Do this and you will move more of that slush pile out of the way.

3. Network, Network, Network!

Over the years, I’ve learned that personal networking with editors, agents, and other writers can greatly accelerate your journey to publication (assuming you’ve learned your craft and are acting like a professional). And the best place to network is at a writers conference.  Consider this: If you had the choice between sending a query to an agent or editor (who will probably have a stack of them piled on her desk) or sitting down with her for fifteen minutes and pitching your idea in person, which would you prefer? At a writers conference you can meet that agent or editor face to face. You might not be able to attend a conference every year, but try to make at least one. It’s an investment, but it’s one you won’t regret making.

Learn your craft. Adopt a professional approach. And network, network, network. Keep these three principles in focus—and persevere—and sooner or later you’ll find yourself in print.

Because you’ll not only move the slush pile out of the way, you’ll nuke it.