The Write Practice is here to kick-start your practice. You have to write millions of words no one is ever going to see before you can write the ones that will change someone’s life. Fifteen minutes a day, six times a week, you will practice writing like Hemingway, James Joyce, Malcolm Gladwell, and many others.
Recently, as I was in the middle of revising my book, a question occurred to me: “How do you sell 100 million copies of a book? Is there a way to reverse engineer that kind of success?” Because if we want to reach readers with our stories, we need to know how to sell books.
In this post, we will dissect what makes the top best-selling books of all time books so popular, and then look at how we can apply those lessons to our own writing.
“How do you sell 100 million copies of a book?” It’s an interesting question, right? One we’d all love to know the answer to.
Of course, to sell 100 million copies of any book, you have to have marketing, PR, a sales team, and so on. But even the best team of marketing geniuses couldn’t make a bad book sell 100 million copies.
To sell 100 million copies of a book, you have to start with a really amazing book.
Writing a Great Book Isn’t Enough, Though
I found that there are only nine books that have sold over 100 million copies (excluding religious, ideological, philosophical, or political books), and looking over them, I found that they have five criteria in common.
They’re not quite rules, because not all nine books follow them. In fact, only one of the five criteria is found in all nine of the books.
However, if you want to know how to sell books — and sell a lot of copies of your books — you should consider paying attention to each one of them.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Have you read all of these? Do any surprise you? Let me know in the comments.
What Doesn’t Matter if You Want to Be a Mega-Bestseller
But before we talk about what types of stories will sell a lot of copies, let’s talk about what won’t help your book sell.
Sex doesn’t sell.
To sell 100,000,000 copies of your book, you don’t need to write about sex. That might help your otherwise midlist book sell more copies, but it won’t get you on the list on its own.
In fact, only three of the books on the list of nine top-selling books have any romantic element at all — and one of those is about an old man!
Realism needs to get realistic.
Sadly, for all the realists out there, only one book on this could be argued to be part of the realist genre. The rest all have elements of the fantastic.
Why so serious?
I was an English major, and I spent my high school and college career, and even after, studying serious books. However, none of the books I studied in school end up on this list.
It’s not that serious literature isn’t important. It’s just that it doesn’t have large enough of an audience to sell 100 million copies or more.
5 “Rules” to Write a Book that Can Sell 100 Million Copies
How do you write a bestseller — no, a mega-bestseller? What do these nine books have in common?
As I looked closer at the nine books on the list of top bestsellers, I realized there are five criteria they have in common:
1. Write in English
Five of the nine books were originally written in English. Each of the other four were written in a different language: Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Mandarin Chinese, making English by far the most popular language for mega-best-selling books.
This isn’t fair, of course.
In a fair world, a book would have the same chance of becoming popular whether it was written in Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, or any other language. But that’s not what’s happened on this list.
Unfortunately, if you don’t speak English, or if you write in another language, following this “rule” requires a tremendous amount of effort. Some people were born into this advantage, but others have to work harder to achieve it.
That being said, this is the most tenuous of the five “rules,” and it probably won’t last very long. English is only the third most spoken language in the world, behind Chinese and Spanish. I believe someday soon, there will be more mega-best-selling books by non-English speakers than English ones.
2. Write for Children or Young Adults
Five of the nine mega-bestsellers were written for children or young adults (and you could make an argument that six are, since the protagonist of Dream of a Red Chamber begins the story as a young adult).
Alice is seven. The little prince is a young boy. The protagonist of The Alchemist, Santiago, is repeatedly called “the boy.” Harry Potter is eleven in The Philosopher’s Stone. Bilbo Baggins, in the The Hobbit, is fifty years old, but first, he’s a young fifty, and second, Tolkien intentionally wrote The Hobbit as a bedtime story for his three young sons.
If you want to sell 100 million copies of your book, write for kids.
3. Set Your Story in Two Worlds
This was the most surprising and important realization I had as I researched this list. Here’s why:
Nine of nine novels have two different worlds.
This is most apparent in Alice in Wonderland, which invented a whole vocabulary to talk about alternate dimensions. Going “down the rabbit hole” has become cliché for entering a second world, and it all started with Lewis Carroll.
Many of the others have equally obvious second worlds:
Harry Potter‘s wizarding world and the Muggle world
The Little Prince‘s planet B612
Dream of the Red Chamber‘s heavenly world
A Tale of Two Cities‘ stable London versus the revolutionary Paris
And Then There Were None‘s strange island where killers are brought to justice
Some of the others are less obvious, though still present:
Don Quixote lives in a fantasy world of his own imagination, even as the rest of the characters live in the real world.
The boy in The Alchemist is a normal shepherd, until he travels to Egypt and enters the alchemist’s mystical world.
The Hobbit exists entirely in a fantasy world. However, there is still a huge contrast between the world of the hobbits versus the world of the dwarves, the former comfortable and very normal and the latter filled with treasure, dragons, and adventure.
Great books have a high contrast between two different worlds.
Moreover, if you look at the books further down the list of top-selling books of all time, you’ll see that a huge majority of them have the same contrast.
4. Use a Whimsical Tone
Six of nine of the best-selling books of all time have a whimsical tone.
And it makes sense, right? Because books that take themselves too seriously exclude people. Serious books are important, just as books for adults are important. However, if you want to sell a lot of copies, you’ll be much more successful if you don’t take yourself too seriously.
5. Write in the Bildungsroman genre
Up to seven of these nine books are bildungsroman (depending on how you interpret them).
Bildungsroman is a literary genre that basically means “coming of age” story. They are almost always stories about a hero going from innocence to experience.
A few other features of the genre:
It usually begins with a loss (often the death of parents).
The protagonist gets to maturity and acceptance from society but only after going through a lot of conflict.
There is often some kind of mentor to help guide the protagonist on his journey.
Note that most fantasy novels are bildungsroman, but this genre also includes books outside of the fantasy genre.
It’s Not About Selling a 100 Million Copies
Yeah, it would be nice to sell 100 million copies of your book. Of course it would.
The point isn’t to sell 100 million copies, though. It’s to write a book that brings meaning to the lives of your readers.
And if I’ve learned anything from studying these nine books, it’s that these five guidelines will help you write a book that connects with readers.
Now, go get writing!
Can you apply these to your own novels? Let me know in the comments.
Begin a story about two worlds. Is one full of magic and the other mundane and everyday? Is one on Earth and the other on another planet? Is one in North America and the other in Asia? Is one in someone’s mind and the other the reality around them?
Often times when writers dream of becoming bestselling authors, we picture worldwide success, with our novels translated into dozens of different languages and adapted into major motion pictures. One of the most important things to keep in mind, though, is that learning how to sell books is a process that starts small and, usually, starts locally.
Your Book Marketing Depends on You
Learning how to sell books is an extremely important skill as an author.
If you are a traditionally published author, you may have a team of people who will help you with marketing, but even then, it is mostly up to you to sell your work. If you are a self-published author, it is completely left to you.
Selling locally is a great way to start because it gives you an in-person advantage. You can be far more personal with people than you can ever be online, which gives a greater sense of who you are and what your books are like.
Your book marketing depends on you. Be bold, reach out, and tell your community about your book.
4 Ways to Sell Books in Your Community
Not sure how to sell books to the people in your local community? Here are four things you can do to get started.
1. Set up an event at your local bookstore
As scary as it can be, you have to take the first step when it comes to promoting yourself. If you wait around for someone else to invite you to an event or ask you to do a signing, you may be waiting around forever.
Take the initiative to send an e-mail or walk into your local bookstore and ask if they would consider hosting a book signing or a presentation/Q&A.
Whatever event you have in mind, make sure you have a clear idea of what it will be so you can properly pitch it. Remember to always be polite and offer the suggestion in a way that will show the bookstore how it will benefit them, as well.
Especially if it is an indie bookstore, talk about how you can promote the location and urge your readers to purchase books through them. The event should be mutually beneficial.
2. Create promotional material
There are a variety of websites you can use to create catchy posters and business cards for a relatively inexpensive price. If you are not comfortable with doing the graphic design yourself, consider asking an artistic friend for some help (make sure you pay them for their time, return the favor however you can, or at least take them out for a cup of coffee afterwards).
Once you have said posters, go to your local library and coffee shop and ask if it would be all right to hang them on their community boards. Wherever you can, put one up.
It might be a good idea to include a QR code on the post that goes to your blog or someplace where readers can easily purchase your book.
Business cards are a must, as well. Make sure they have your name, headshot, and links to your website and social media pages. Whenever you meet someone new in your community, give them a business card. It’s a great and easy way to keep in touch with new friends and let them know about your books.
3. Go to events in your community
One of the best ways to get your community connected with your book is for you to connect with your community.
Whenever there is a local, bookish event, try to attend it (and take your business cards with you!). Authors love to chat with other writers and going to a signing or release party is a great way to start networking.
Others who are attending the event are likely to be big readers, too. Talk to them! Ask them what kinds of books they like, if they’re long-time or recent fans of the author hosting the event, and so on. Once you get into a conversation, you can mention your own book and maybe even swap contact information.
Events at bookstores are not the only ones you should attend, either. Go to classes at your local library or an open mic at a coffee shop. You never know who you’ll end up talking to or who might be interested in buying your book.
4. Write an elevator pitch
These are a must for any book. Any person advising you on how to sell books will eventually tell you to write an elevator pitch.
Simply put, an elevator pitch is, as the name suggests, a pitch for your book that you can relay in the time it would take to ride an elevator with someone. It should be short and snappy, no more than a few lines.
Not sure how to get started writing your elevator pitch? Condensing your book into a one- or two-line premise is a great place to start.
After you’ve written your pitch, rehearse it until you can repeat it in your sleep. This way, when you chat with a fellow reader/writer at an author signing and they ask the inevitable question, “What’s your book about?” you won’t have to stammer and desperately search for the right words.
Writing a glowing description of your book can take days and endless revisions. You don’t have to think of it on the spot.
With an in-person pitch, though, you have to think on your feet. If you’re like me and you don’t like coming up with something on the fly, it would be a good idea to write and revise an elevator pitch you can easily memorize and repeat with a smile.
For an example of what this should look like, here is a pitch I wrote recently for one of my novels:
Lila, an immortal witch, falls for Melody, a mortal witch hunter. The two end up on the run when the demon Angelique decides Lila would be the perfect addition to her team in the upcoming apocalyptic war against humanity.
The pitch should introduce your main character(s) and the antagonist/conflict.
How to Sell Books in Person
Selling books locally is a lot different from networking online, but it comes with several advantages. People are more likely to buy your product if they feel like they have connected with you on a personal level. Plus, getting to know your readers (or potential readers) is such an important part of being an author.
And remember, it isn’t a big deal if you don’t make a sale right away. Sometimes you make a friend first, and maybe later that friend will become a customer, and a long-time fan.
How do you promote your work in your community? Do you have any other tips for how to sell books in your local community, or strategies that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments.
Write an elevator pitch for your most recent book. Make sure it is only a few lines long and focuses on your protagonist and the conflict standing in their way. Write and rewrite for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, share your work in the comments, if you’d like. Make sure you give your fellow writers some love, too. Have fun!
Sometimes we know exactly how our story is going to end. And other times, we have no idea how to end a story.
Let’s be honest: most of the time, we have no clue. Perhaps there’s a general idea or sense of the finale in our minds, yet when we sit down to write the conclusion the words don’t come. We’re stuck. We don’t know how to find our story’s ending.
Despite all the troubles with writing the final moments of your story, it is possible to conquer this particular writing obstacle and learn how to find your story’s ending!
The Problem With Endings
Perhaps the biggest problem with writing an ending is the pressure we put on ourselves to “get it right.” Endings are usually the most memorable part of a story, leaving the greatest impression on the reader. We want to figure out how to end a story right, to fulfill every possible expectation of us and our story, leaving no one disappointed.
Another logical reason you might be stuck is that the characters’ problems seem insurmountable. You’re stuck because your characters are stuck, and they don’t know how to get out of the mess they’re in. And while insurmountable odds are a necessary part of a satisfying conclusion, they are often the very thing that stops you in your narrative tracks.
Finally, I often find myself stuck because I’ll have a specific “happily ever after” (or “dreary ever after”) ending picked out, but don’t know the way there. The destination seems clear, but the path to it is shrouded in the fog of creative war.
All of these situations lead to immense frustration and, sometimes, failure to fight the good fight. You stare into the horizon, praying that the ending would miraculous appear on the page. Then, if you’re like me, you slam the laptop shut and give up.
These disappointed reactions don’t solve the problem, though. While it’s a good idea to give yourself some time and space to let the story evolve in your mind is a healthy thing, it’s not a good idea to let frustration consume you and hijack your writing.
3 Steps to Find Your Story’s Ending
A successful story ending has three essential components. If you’re stuck, or don’t know what to do, you can begin sketching and drafting rough ideas for each of these and see how they work together. Then, with something resembling a pirate’s treasure map, start looking for that elusive ending.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Crush With Consequences
Every major story choice is fraught with risk. One of your jobs is to pay that risk off, bringing your protagonist face-to-face with the worst possible outcome of his or her choices.
Pixar does this brilliantly. In Inside Out, Joy actually falls into the “memory dump” pit where everything is forgotten. All hope, it seems, is lost.
Or take Ratatouille, my favorite of Pixar’s works, where all of Remy and Linguini’s fellow chefs abandon them as the food critic waits for an impossibly perfect dish. All hope, again, is lost.
If your protagonist’s choices aren’t burdened with tremendous risk, or if his choices haven’t “earned” some kind of punishment, then your problem isn’t the end, but the middle. The protagonist’s journey must be marked with trials, mistakes, and paradigm-shifting choices.
And the spark that ignites your ending is crushing your protagonist, and often other characters, with the consequences of his or her choices.
2. Surprise With the Protagonist’s Reaction
The next element of a winning ending requires the protagonist to emerge victorious (physically or morally) from the consequences he or she has suffered. And for this step to work, it needs one powerful element: Surprising Action.
First, the protagonist must take some kind of action to get out of the mess he or she is in, or a “reaction” to the consequences. But it can’t be the logical or obvious choice (if there is one). It also can’t involve a magical “get out of jail free card,” known as deus ex machina. It must be an action that truly resolves the crisis through his or her own agency.
Second, it must be a surprising choice. It must be surprising first to the audience, and second to the protagonist. This is where careful planning pays off. When you draft your ending, it allows you to go back and plant the seeds for an authentic-but-surprising reaction to the consequences the protagonist must suffer.
By planning and rewriting, you will deliver a choice that surprises the reader because he or she only sees the doom and gloom of the pit (Inside Out) or the empty kitchen (Ratatouille).
But it must also surprise the protagonist. If he or she knows ahead of time how to get out of the mess then all suspense is lost. The climax of your story because a chemical formula, not a thrilling drama.
When you combine the deep despair of punishment with the shocking joy of a clever, redemptive action, you tell a story that takes your readers on a rollercoaster ride.
That’s exactly what you want!
The perfect ending will surprise your reader — and your protagonist — with the choice your protagonist makes.
3. Conclude With a Denouement
Once you’ve taken your reader on the ride of his or her life, the story needs to properly end. And there’s actually one last thing that most readers will want: A denouement, or the point in the story when all the plot threads are tied up.
To hearken back to our Pixar examples, the denouement of Inside Out occurs when we see Riley settling into San Francisco life while her five emotions get a new control board. In Ratatouille, the denouement is when Remy narrates that the restaurant, Gusteau’s was closed, but the food critic invested in a new café where the protagonist is now a real gourmet chef.
To define the denouement for your purposes, think of it this way: It answers the question, “How?”
If you say, “They lived happily ever after,” a denouement briefly shows how that is happening. It gives enough detail to satisfy the reader.
Out of these three elements, this is the least important. When you plan, be ready to change the details of any denouement you have in your mind. It has the smallest impact on reader experience and satisfaction. It is the bow tied around the present. If the gift stinks, but the bow is nice, the gift still stinks.
The Process of Finding
Writing is an art, not a science. We authors operate under principles, not rules or laws.
So there are no rules when it comes to figuring out how to end a story. Yet principles can help you navigate the murky and frustrating waters of storytelling when you don’t know where to go, or how to get your characters out of trouble without cheating.
Remember that this is a process. Even if you have a detailed outline, putting it into prose will be difficult at times. You’re still allowed to slam your laptop shut.
But plan to come back. Cool off for a few minutes while devoting yourself to return to the task and try something new. It’s the only way to survive the war of art.
Do you have any tips for how to end a story, or how to find that perfect ending? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to journal about the end of your current work-in-progress.
What consequences can or should the protagonist suffer for his or her risks, choices, or mistakes? How can he or she react to those consequences in a surprising way and authentically get out of trouble? How will he or she live out a “happily ever after,” or “miserably ever after”?
When you’re done, share your reflection in the . And be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers’ ideas!
If you’ve ever had the middle of a manuscript sag and feel flabby, congrats. You’re a writer! One of the questions I ask when get stuck writing the middle of a story is this: “How can I make this worse for this character?”
One of the key elements you might use is the very thing we try so hard to avoid on a daily basis: abrasive people.
How can an abrasive character push your character’s arc, keep the plot moving, and deepen the theme? Read on to find out.
Characters who don’t face significant challenges won’t act in bold ways to get what they want. Instead of making it easier for our characters, we’ve got to make conditions worse for them.
One of the ways you can make it worse for your character is to add or bring to the forefront a character who grates on the protagonist. It’s even better if it isn’t the antagonist, because the character expects tension from the antagonist. Let’s take a look at how adding an abrasive character can rev up the middle of your story and heighten your character’s arc.
Defining an abrasive character
The word abrasive makes me think of sandpaper — something that causes friction. When I think of an abrasive person, I picture the kinds of people who make me most uncomfortable: people who cut at the coffee shop when there’s a long line, or those who sit behind me while driving telling me all the better ways to get where I’m going.
Abrasive characters don’t have to be evil, loudmouthed, or even rude. They just have to speak and act in ways that complicate my day and make it harder or more frustrating to accomplish my goal. As you begin to think of abrasive characters, here are a couple key ways to find and use such a character when you’re writing the middle of a story.
Undermine your character’s strength
In the middle of a story, a protagonist tries and fails to solve his problem. He’s drawing from his strengths and usually walking the easiest route he can to get what he wants. One way to complicate his journey is to look at your character’s strength and add a character who is stronger in those particular traits or skills.
In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is trying to avenge his father’s death, while supporting himself as a mercenary swordsman. When ordered to kill the man in black, he begins the sword fight using his non-dominant hand. The man in black bests him, even once they both fight with their dominant hand. This complicates Inigo’s journey.
Find your character’s strength and use a secondary character or new character to undermine his strength and outdo or defeat him.
As a part of the character arc, defeat or frustration related to a strength is demoralizing and unsettling. The character learns he has to depend on more than his strengths to get what he wants.
Prey on your character’s weakness
We generally try to hide and avoid our weaknesses, especially when we’re under pressure. To find an abrasive character related to a protagonist’s weakness, it can be tricky to limit yourself to one area. I’m terrible at any number of things on any given day. Choose a weakness that the character needs to improve in order to solve their problem.
For example, let’s say I have a character named Chloe who needs to land and keep a job to pay off a dubious loan she took out under bad advice. Chloe’s weakness is making decisions, and she’s overly dependent on others’ input, something that obviously got her into trouble.
To add an abrasive character, I could give Chloe a co-worker she’s dependent on for success. Then I could make that co-worker more indecisive than Chloe, frustrating her at every turn. Alternately, I could introduce a demanding boss who assumes her indecision is incompetence, which threatens her position in the company.
In either situation, the abrasive character is preying on her weakness (even if unknowingly), forcing her to face it. When she makes small decisions, the character arc rises because she’s forced to act and change in pursuit of the goal.
Complicate a situation
Sometimes an abrasive person challenges a character’s deeply held beliefs. This is especially effective if done on theme, meaning the interaction with the abrasive character is parallel to the larger conflict.
Let’s say I have a doctor who loses the love of his life in a murder. He wants to bring the killer to justice, but in the end will be tempted to exact revenge instead. Through this character arc, the doctor discovers his ethical boundaries and questions how strongly he believes in “do no harm.”
In the middle of the story, I might introduce an abrasive character who offers to help locate the killer using less than ethical means. Or the doctor could discover one of his beloved terminal patients killed someone and wants forgiveness.
Writing the middle of a story — and avoiding a sagging plot — plagues every writer. Abrasive people might not be fun to hang out with in real life, but in your stories, they can give your protagonist the perfect push to make tough choices and grow as a character.
Conflict may not be fun, but it sure is interesting. Why not keep your readers turning the pages with some abrasive characters?
Who irritates you on a personal or professional level and why? Can you think of any protagonists in stories who have to deal with abrasive characters? Share in the comments.
For today’s practice, you have two choices.
If you have a work in progress, take a look at your protagonist. What are their weaknesses? What are their strengths? Create an abrasive character who will frustrate them, and write a scene in which they interact.
Don’t have a work in progress? No problem. Here’s your prompt: an artist is preparing a piece she hopes will win an upcoming competition. She’s a creative genius, but she’s not very organized and she struggles to meet deadlines. Create an abrasive character to complicate her story and write the scene.
Here at The Write Practice we just finished up the latest semester of our Story Cartel Course, a class on how to sell books geared around building relationships in the writing community and beyond.
Part of building relationships these days is engaging on social media. (I can just hear the groans now.)
How to sell books on social media
For some of us, engaging on social media is tricky. Writers tend to be introverts by nature, so putting ourselves out there can be intimidating or seem like a useless waste of time. (It’s neither, and you need to be on social media in this industry. It’s just how it works now.)
Then there’s the other side of the coin, those writers that are on social constantly, using it as a procrastination technique to keep from writing. (Don’t do that.)
Most of us probably flounder somewhere in the middle. You might be on Twitter, but you don’t really know what to do or how to build followers for your writing career.
As a little starter pack, I’m going to give you a few Twitter hints and a list of hashtags that will help you connect with other writers, agents, publishers, and, most importantly, your readers.
If you want to reach readers (and sell your book!), you need to be on Twitter. This Twitter starter pack will show you how.
Using the @mention tool
The best thing about Twitter is getting to bug people you don’t already know but would like to. That sounds disturbing, but it’s kind of the point of the @mention tool and you’ll want to use said tool as much as possible.
You’ll be surprised at the number of famous people who respond to their fans or retweet because they’re mentioned in a tweet. Not to mention the tons of useful writing connections like agents and publishers. Mention them and they might respond.
But don’t stalk them. Don’t be creepy. A general rule of thumb for this industry (and life): be professional at all times.
Here’s how it works:
If you’re sharing an article, book, blog post, etc. @mention the person who wrote it. Example:
(That happens to be my Twitter handle. #ShamelessSelfPromotion)
If you’re tweeting about an interaction with other writers (or people in general) @mention them. Example:
Wow, what an amazing writing chat with @sarahstypos today! Can’t wait to pick up her new anthology!
If you’re sitting in on a lecture at a conference, getting psyched about a book turned into a movie, really anything that involves another person, mention them. This strategy helps you make connections with the people you’re mentioning as well as with other Twitter users who might be interested in the same person.
You may already know what a hashtag is from them being shoved down our throats at every turn for the past decade, but I’m going to explain them anyway for those of us who’ve retreated from Twitter like a vampire from sunlight.
A hashtag is simply # followed by some words. You’ve probably seen them everywhere already. On social media profiles, in the corner of your TV screen, in ads.
Hashtags help people find your tweets. It’s like an indexing system. There are a million established hashtags for writers already. Here’s a partial list of some of the more popular ones:
Genre hashtags such as: #YA, #Crime #LitFic, #SFF, etc.
And then there’s #PitMad. This one is used to pitch agents. It’s scheduled four times a year. There are variations to this hashtag based on genre, so be sure to check those out as well. And make sure to hashtag all relevant genres!
How #PitMad works is an agent will favorite your tweet if they’re interested in getting a pitch package from you. Each agent will tweet out what they want in that package, so be sure to read and follow directions. You’re only allowed three tweets per manuscript, so spread them out throughout the day and make them count!
You can also make up your own hashtags, but I only recommend this if you’re launching something. Otherwise people won’t find your tweet. Definitely give your launch its own hashtag, but make sure you also include popular hashtags such as #WhatToRead so your tweet is found. Using the right hashtags is a vital part of how to sell books on Twitter.
My latest #shortstory just launched! In TITLE, a mother is forced to choose between her biological son and her adopted son. Which one lives? You can find TITLE in @anthologyname. LINK TO SALES PAGE #whattoread #amreading #fridayreads #shortreads #bookrecommendations
Generosity is one of the basic tenets Joe Bunting teaches in his Story Cartel course, and the idea is definitely something you can apply to your Twitter page.
Don’t just self-promote; promote your writing friends as well. Retweet them. Give links to your online reviews when you’ve enjoyed a book. (I had a successful author follow me and hunt me down on Facebook to friend me after she saw my review of her book linked on Twitter.)
Link to interesting articles about your genre to give your readers something to look at and engage with. Ask questions of your readers. Provide writing prompts. Anything you can do to engage your followers is a good thing, as long as you’re not baiting them into an argument. (Don’t be a Twitter troll.)
In short, think of your author Twitter profile as a personal profile for your author persona. You’re trying to build a brand, so keep on point. You can give your readers a little glimpse into your personal life, but don’t overdo it. This isn’t your personal page; this is a business page.
Get on Twitter—and use it!
I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes at this entire article and I don’t blame you. I loathe social media the majority of the time. Especially Twitter.
But the fact is you need to be on social media in this industry. It’s not just how you connect, it’s how you sell your writing. Most agents want you to have an established social platform, as it’s easier to sell your book that way. Social media is the new “word of mouth.”
Don’t worry, you don’t have to become attached at the hip to the Twitter app, but don’t go over a week without posting a thing. People have short memories and will forget you if you don’t stay engaged. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of favorites or retweets at the outset. Keep at it. Building a platform doesn’t happen overnight.
Twitter has become a necessary tool in a writer’s book marketing arsenal, so make an author account and get to building your platform!
How’s your relationship with Twitter? Love it? Hate it? Do you have an author account? Any more tips for how to sell books using Twitter? Let me know in the comments!
For your fifteen-minute practice today, I want you to craft a tweet for your latest finished piece. It can be a book, story, or blog post. Write a tweet that promotes the piece. Don’t forget to add relevant hashtags!
When you’re done, share your tweet in the comments. Don’t forget to give feedback!
So, you’ve got a great idea for a book. You have a clear picture of the opening scenes and the climactic scene, and maybe some scenes in between, so you jump in and start writing. You’re not interested in how to write a book using an outline.
But once you’ve knocked out the scenes in your head, the well runs dry, or you find yourself galloping down a series of dead-end roads.
If you’ve ever gotten stuck during the writing process, you might feel like you don’t know where to turn. How do you connect the beginning to the end? Is your epic novel idea nothing more than a character sketch, a piece of world-building, or a loosely related set of scenes?
Don’t despair! If nothing else, you put in some good practice and laid the groundwork for something more solid. And if you’re wondering how to develop your book into something more solid by using an outline, read on.
Writing a Book With an Outline Doesn’t Mean You’re Caged
Outline sounds so English class, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t have to be. I prefer to think of an outline as a plan, a structural support for my organically growing story. Like a trellis supports a tomato plant, allowing it to expand, reaching out its tendrils, while providing a basic shape and encouraging the plant to bear fruit.
The plan for your story should never be a confining box. It gives you the chance to stretch out and explore even more avenues than you would in forging ahead without a plan. If you’re not convinced, I hope you’ll come to see that an outline can encourage creative freedom, rather than curtail it.
Creating an outline may even be my favorite part of the process.
To Outline Your Book or Not to Outline Your Book?
You’ll hear the debate shouted loudly from both camps.
Here’s my belief: story is deeply ingrained in us, and some writers have internalized the elements of story so well, that their outline is automatic and unseen. Doesn’t mean it’s not there — just that it’s become instinctive. Wonderful for them.
Most of us, however, should be using a written plan, and there’s no shame in that. I’m proud to be an outliner.
Remember the old soup commercial: “So chunky, you’ll be tempted to eat it with a fork, but use a spoon to get every drop.” Can you imagine if you ate soup with a fork? You’d miss a lot of the good stuff.
An outline is like a spoon for book writing.
The beauty of having an outline is that you can make sure to include all the necessary bits and — even more importantly — you can leave leave out everything that shouldn’t be in there.
Let’s go back to the soup analogy. The cook didn’t just throw all the contents of the refrigerator in a pot. Everything in the soup was there for a reason, and your story must be the same.
Without a plan, it’s hit and miss. Stories wander off track, leaving loose ends flapping and violating the rules of cause and effect.
How to Write a Book Outline
The essential elements vary according to genre. It’s important to include the conventions and obligatory scenes for the type of story you’re writing because this is what helps you keep your promise to the reader.
When you sit down and start tapping at the keyboard, you should realize that writing is communicating, and communication is two-way. It consists of a sender and a receiver. When you send your stories out into the world, please be aware that there are real, live individuals at the other end of your words.
When they pick up your book, it is with certain expectations, and if you want your book to be successful — and by that I mean read and enjoyed by people outside your immediate family — you need to meet those expectations.
The best resource I know for determining the conventions and obligatory scenes by genre is Shawn Coyne. Read his book, The Story Grid, listen to the podcasts, visit his website.
A major problem with writing sans outline is that there’s a lot of trial and error involved as you try to work out where the story’s going and what’s important. When you eventually get it figured out, it’s downright dispiriting to go back and cut out so many words that you poured your heart into but don’t belong in the story.
You begin to rationalize to fit stuff in that really shouldn’t be there.
You’ve heard the phrase “kill your darlings.” This is what it’s referring to. And slicing up your baby is difficult and unpleasant. Most of us do a lousy job.
What’s more, it can be largely prevented by planning your story before you begin writing.
Outline before you start writing, and there will be less to cut in the second draft. You’ll put the important bits in the book and leave the boring things out.
How to Make Your Plan
I’ve been teaching piano for twenty years. I’ve had hundreds of students, and when I sit down at the bench with someone new, I need to determine a curriculum that will work best for that student. It’s much the same with stories and outlines. It’s not one size fits all.
There are dozens of methods for outlining, and I invite you to explore and discover what works best for you, and for each story you want to write.
I’m going to share the two methods that I use most often. But before I do, let’s discuss a few elements you must have a handle on before a coherent outline is possible.
Goals and Desires
Story is always about someone striving toward something. You must have a pretty clear idea what your protagonist wants before you begin the story. Inside and out.
In other words, she’ll have an external goal and an internal goal that are often at odds. And to pour on even more conflict, you must know your antagonist’s goals and desires as well, as they will oppose your protagonist’s.
Know Your Characters
I do not advocate writing out detailed sketches for each character. They often do more harm than good because, again, after investing so much time and work into the project, you’re tempted to use the especially clever parts even if they have no place in the story.
But there are important things you need to know. In his superb book Voice, The Secret Power of Great Writing, James Scott Bell puts forth these five key questions for developing your character.
1. What is my character’s dominant impression?
The great writing teacher Dwight V. Swain put it like this: adjective of manner + noun of vocation. Sloppy waitress. Drunken doctor. Meticulous showgirl. You get the point.
2. What is my character’s physical appearance?
You don’t have to take five pages doing this. A paragraph or two will do.
3. What is my character’s basic background?
Where did he grow up? Family life and conditions at home? Education level? Anything pertinent to the story.
4. What life-altering event happened to my character at age sixteen?
Put a star by this one — it is key. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be age sixteen. Something happened, at some formative point, to change this character’s life and make them think and behave the way they do. Very often, the story is about overcoming the long-reaching effects of that event.
5. What does my character yearn for?
Check. We covered that above.
How to Write a Book Outline: 2 Ways
And now, without further ado, my two favorite methods for outlining.
1. The Nine Checkpoints
Hook: A compelling event that opens the story.
Backstory: A bridge that introduces us to the main characters, establishes the setting, and preps for the next parts of the story.
Trigger: An event that propels your protagonist into the crisis.
Crisis: A decision point involving your protagonist’s key emotional dilemma that may include physical perils, as well.
Struggle: A series of escalating try/fail cycles as your character works to resolve the dilemma.
Epiphany: Your character’s aha! moment, the emotional realization of what’s preventing them from reaching their goal.
Plan: Armed with newfound insight, your character formulates a plan of action.
Climax: The ultimate confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist.
Resolution: The dilemma is resolved and we feel the catharsis and tie up loose ends.
2. The Five Commandments
This is from The Story Grid, and applies to the story as a whole, as well as each component of the story, such as scene, sequence, and beat. I especially love how it helps shape each scene and ensures everything relevant is included. I use it to plan my overall story and each scene within the story.
Inciting Incident: The big event that kicks off the story, upsetting the life balance of your protagonist. On the scene level, it is the event that opens your scene and presents something that needs to be resolved within that scene.
Complications: The escalating degrees of conflict the protagonist faces. On a scene level, it’s what stands in the way of the scene’s main character reaching the goal of the scene.
Crisis: A dilemma that offers a choice between two options — the best bad choice, or irreconcilable goods. In other words, the character is forced to make a difficult decision.
Climax: This is when the character acts on the choice they’ve made. Choices and actions define the character. They may be unable to follow through, change their mind, try to dodge, or stand up and fight. This is the moment of truth.
Resolution: The crucial opportunity for the reader to metabolize what’s just happened. On the story level, you wrap up any loose ends and sign off. On the scene level, you take score and ride the impetus into the next scene.
Find Your Perfect Fit
Planning your story is just as much a free and creative process as actually writing it.
There is no one way to do it. Mix and match methods, try different structures. Find what works for you and tailor the process to each individual story.
Above all, have fun. This is like being let loose in a room full of Legos and Lincoln Logs, with an endless supply of all the best accessories. Start putting stuff together, build a structure, change it up, tear it down. Ask, what if I did this? Or this? Try it on and see if it fits, without investing days, weeks, or even years into something that doesn’t work.
Make a plan, and have a blast!
How about you? Are you a pantser or a planner? If you despise outlining, have I convinced you to give it another try? If you love plotting, what’s your favorite method? Let us know in the comments section.
Choose the Nine Checkpoints or the Five Commandments, and use it as a springboard for planning a story.
Brainstorm different ways to fill in the parts of the plan. Ask yourself what would happen if you changed something about the plan. Try it one way, then try it another way. Stretch your brain. Think outside the box. Above all, have fun.
Don’t have a story to plan? Plan a new one based on this prompt: A sassy model ignores her friends’ advice and . . .
You have a book inside of you. Perhaps you have a great story idea. Maybe people have told you, “Your life should be made into a book!” Or maybe you feel like you have an idea that’s important to share with the world. Whatever your motivations, it’s not enough to want to write, you need to know how to write a book.
In this post, we’re talking about how to write a book, including the ways not to write a book, plus the 10 steps that I’ve led hundreds of now-authors through as they finished their first books.
My Journey to Learn How to Write a Book
In 2011, I had one of the best years of my life. That year, I wrote my first book, became a full-time writer, got my first book published, and had 80,000 people read my writing.
But it didn’t happen over night. I had dreamed about and had been working toward those goals for eight years before that: eight years of failure, of trying to write books and not being able to finish them, eight years of wanting to be a writer but not knowing how to actually do it.
It took me eight years, nearly a decade, to learn how to write a book, but I did it. And it changed my life.
Since then, I’ve written seven books. My eighth, which I’m co-writing with a bestselling author, was just picked up by one of the big 5 publishers.
You might be thinking, “That’s cool, Joe. But you’re a natural. I’m not. Writing doesn’t come easy to me.”
To be honest, it didn’t come easy to me. In fact, if I told my high school English teachers I’m a writer, they would probably be surprised.
You don’t have to be a natural to write a book. You just need the right process.
Don’t Believe You Can Write a Book?
As someone who has coached writers for 7+ years, I talk to a lot of people who want to write books but don’t feel like they can.
I used to believe that, too.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I even studied writing in high school and then at an expensive private college. The problem was, I couldn’t finish a book.
I had tried, many times. Every time I tried, I would start out excited, disciplined, and ready to finally see my name on the cover of a NY Times Bestselling book.
But then a few days or a few weeks later, I would lose steam, cave in, and give up.
I kept trying, though. I kept practicing and learning the craft.
I became a freelance journalist. Then a travel writer. Then I got a job as a book editor.
But I still couldn’t finish a book.
It took me eight years before I finally figured it out. (And I wouldn’t have done it without a lot of help along the way.)
And the truth is that you can write a book too.
How to Write a Book: The 5 Step Process (Hint: Writing Is Just One of Them!)
Here’s the process I finally learned after that decade of trying to learn how to write a book and failing, the same five steps that have helped me write seven books (I’m working on my eighth now).
1. Build a Team
Step one is to build a team.
Most people think they can do this alone, that they can write a book without support, encouragement, or accountability.
And that’s why most people fail to finish writing a book.
I used to believe this too. In fact, I bought in to the whole myth of the solitary, genius writer, working on their book in some attic apartment in Paris or some cabin in upstate New York, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece.
I used to believe that you had to write a book without support, encouragement, or accountability if you wanted it to be any good.
But as I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve found that they all had a team. None of them did it all on their own. They all had people who supported and encouraged them along the way.
A team can look like:
An editor with a publishing house
A writing group
An author mentor or coach
An online writing course or community
Whatever you find, if you want to finish your book, don’t make the mistake of believing you can do it all on your own (or that you have to do it all on your own).
Find a writing group. Take an online writing class. Or hire a developmental editor. Whatever you do, don’t keep trying to do it on your own.
Writing a book is a team sport. Who will support you through your writing process?
When I was writing my seventh book, I was stuck. I had been working on it off-and-on for two years, but I just couldn’t finish.
One day, my friend Tim Grahl asked me, “Do you really want to finish your book?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Then here’s what you need to do. Write a check for $1,000 to the political candidate you hate most (this was during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections). Then give the check to a friend with instructions to send it if you meet your deadline.”
“Nah,” I said. “I don’t need that. I’ve written six books. I have discipline.”
But a month later, when my book was still at the same place it used to be, I realized I actually need to set a consequence that I could keep.
So I set a deadline, and then I wrote a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I disliked the most (who shall remain nameless).
Sixty-three days later, I had finished my book. It was the most focused writing experience I’ve ever had.
How to Use Consequences to Finish a Book
How can you use this in your writing? Here’s what you do:
Write a check to an organization or nonprofit you hate (for example, The Society for Euthanasia of Puppies).
Then think of two other, minor consequences (like giving up your favorite TV show for a month or having to buy ice cream for everyone at work)
Give it to a friend you trust with firm instructions to send it if you don’t meet your deadlines.
Set a final deadline that you need to have your book finished by. Make it achievable, but not too long. As Stephen King said, “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
Set smaller, weekly deadlines, e.g. 5,000 words per week.
If you miss a small, weekly deadline, you get one of your minor consequences (giving up your favorite TV show).
If you miss THREE weekly deadlines OR if you miss the final deadline, your check gets sent to the organization you hate.
Finally, write! I promise you, if you do steps 1-7 you will be incredibly focused!
Before you write your first sentence, you should make a plan.
A plan isn’t just an outline (although an outline can really help). It’s about thinking through each step of the writing process, from the initial idea to how much you’ll write every day to the editing and even publishing process.
Here’s What Every Book Plan Should Contain
A single-sentence premise. The entire plot or idea behind your book boiled down to one sentence.
Onliness statement. One paragraph about what will be unique about your book.
Intention. When, where, and how much will you write each day?
Deadline and Consequences (see above!). When will you finish your book? What happens if you don’t?
Feedback and Editing. Who will give you feedback during the writing process? Who will give you feedback when the book is finished?
Comparable Books. At least three comparable books and how yours is similar and different.
Reader Avatar. Who will be attracted to this book? What groups are they already a part of? What other books/films/tv shows/magazines/etc?
Personal Marketing. What are you doing now to create a market for your book? What will you do when your book launches? Be specific and use numbers.
Synopsis/Overview. 500-600 words that tell the story/illustrate the principles of your book.
Outline with Chapter-By-Chapter Summaries. As detailed or brief as you want (if you’re not a planner, just share as much about the book as you know).
In our 100 Day Book Program, we’ve found that people who create a book plan are fifty-two percent more likely to finish their books.
People ask me all the time, “What if I don’t have time to write?”
The reality is most people don’t have a time problem. They have a focus problem.
When you’re focused, you can probably write 1,000 words in an hour or two.
The problem is that most of the time, when we sit down to write, we’re not focused. We find ourselves scrolling through Facebook or getting up to do the dishes or finding news articles that need to be read NOW or any of the other distractions that fill up our days.
But the first three steps in this process create the focus you need to write. You won’t want to scroll through Facebook if it means your $1,000 check gets sent to that organization that you hate.
Instead, you’ll write. You’ll meet your word count. And after a few weeks, you’ll find that you’ve done more writing than you have in years.
5. Don’t Stop
Most people want to write a book. I hear from people all the time that think they have a book in them, who believe that they have a story that needs to be shared.
I very rarely talk to people who have finished a book.
Writing a book is hard.
It’s SO easy to quit. You get a new idea. Or you read your writing and think, “This really isn’t very good.” Or you decide, “I’d rather be catching up on Netflix, not spending my nights writing.” And you quit.
If you don’t quit, if you just keep writing, keep following the process, you’ll finish a book.
It might not be a great book. But that’s what editing is for.
It will be a first draft, and what first drafts are for is being finished. You can’t write a second draft and start to make your book actually good, actually publishable, until you write the first draft.
So write. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. If you follow these steps and don’t stop, you’ll finish. I promise.
More Resources on How to Write a Book
Still feeling stuck? Have more questions about how to write a book? We’ve put together a library of book-writing resources. Take a look at the articles below.
How to Write a Book Fast
I shared above why I believe that first drafts should be written quickly, in just a few weeks. Still not sure? In the articles below, dozens of other writers share how they wrote fast first drafts, plus all the tips and strategies they learned along the way.
Okay, no, Stephen King isn’t a genre. But he’s well worth learning from!
How to Write a Book When Writing Is Hard
Let’s face it: writing is hard. Every single writer struggles at some point in their book. The important thing is not to quit. In the following articles, writers share how they persevered through the hard parts, and how you can too.
Your book comes with its own unique quirks and challenges, especially if the story you’re telling is a series, or is told from multiple perspectives. Here’s how other writers have navigated these choices.
In March, we hosted the Spring Writing Contest in partnership with Story Grid and Short Fiction Break literary magazine. Entering this writing contest was a huge accomplishment for all our writers, and we want to celebrate the winners here on The Write Practice.
We received over 300 entries to this contest from so many talented writers. The judges thoroughly enjoyed reading all your stories, and with such an amazing selection, you made their job of choosing just a handful of winners very difficult.
The thing about writing contests is, when you select one—or even several—winners, you create a lot of not-winners. (That’s different from being a loser, I think.) I’ve been there many times. Rejection is simply a part of writing.
I believe that if you’re measuring your success as a writer by how many times you’ve been published, you’re using the wrong metric. Instead, count how many times you’ve been rejected. That’s a much more accurate indicator of your effort, discipline, and seriousness as a writer.
Rather than trying to get everyone to like your stories, get as much feedback about how to improve as you can. Rather than trying to justify how good you are, work to get better.
If you do this for long enough, you won’t need anyone to tell you you’re a success. You’ll be a success all on your own.
Before I announce the winners, I want to say an enormous THANK YOU to the terrific judges who have worked tirelessly over the past month to read and consider our hundreds of entries. Without their immeasurable effort, this contest would not have been possible.
All our judges for this contest are Story Grid Certified Editors. If you’re looking for a professional editor to help you take your writing to the next level, we can’t recommend them highly enough. Take a look at their websites and see if they might be a good fit for your stories.
And now, a huge thank you to these incredible editors:
Julie Blair is a Story Grid editor who works with aspiring and established writers to produce their best art through effective plot and character development. She loves talking about how Story Grid and other structural methods can be used to make a good story better. Visit her at RagsToWritten.com.
Jarie Bolander is an engineering by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is a certified Story Grid editor, blogs at TheDailyMBA.com and has published four books — The Entrepreneur Ethos, Frustration Free Technical Management, #ENDURANCE tweet, and Business Basics for Entrepreneurs. He loves good stories and even better whisky.
Valerie Francis is a Certified Story Grid Editor and best-selling author of both women’s and children’s fiction. Until she discovered Story Grid in 2015, she struggled with manuscripts that didn’t work. Now she helps fellow authors, in all genres, apply these editing principles so they can become better storytellers. You can find her at valeriefrancis.ca.
Savannah Gilbo is a writer and certified Story Grid editor based in Southern California. Her mission is to help writers sharpen their skills, strengthen their craft and write better stories. To learn more about Savannah, visit her website, www.savannahgilbo.com.
Kim Kessler is a Certified Story Grid Editor and creator of Trench Coach, an all-in developmental editing service for the whole person. TEDx speaker and member of the Story Grid Editor Roundtable Podcast, Kim weaves expertise with infectious enthusiasm — to help you write, and live, your best story.
Shelley Sperry runs a writing, editing, and research shop called Sperry Editorial. She edits historical fiction and narrative and “big idea” nonfiction and scribbles her own short stories in the margins of the day. Want to chat about your story? Contact her here or say hello on Twitter.
Alice Sudlow is a Story Grid certified editor who works on our team here at The Write Practice and edits Short Fiction Break literary magazine. She has a deep love for young adult novels and a talent for scouring dirty countertops and comma-spliced prose. You can find her at alicesudlow.com.
We were supported in this contest by some pretty amazing sponsors who have provided incredible prizes. They’re definitely worth checking out:
Story Grid: Story Grid Editors is the editing service arm of Story Grid. If you need an editor who fully understands your story and where it needs to go to be successful, working with a Story Grid Certified Editor is your best option. You can learn more and get matched with your editor here.
Becoming Writer is the premier workshopping community from The Write Practice. Come share your writing, get feedback, and join a community of writers excited to help you grow and achieve your writing goals. You can join the community here.
Just to recap: The grand prize winning story has been featured on the front page of Short Fiction Break. The winner was invited to become a monthly contributor to the literary magazine. They’ve received one year of free membership to Becoming Writer, normally $180, as well as a cash prize of $300.
Two runners-up have had their stories featured on the front page of Short Fiction Break. They’ve also received one year of free membership to Becoming Writer, normally $180, and a $100 cash prize each.
Ready to hear the winners?
Here we go.
The judges were faced with a slew of excellent stories to choose from. I’m not exaggerating when I say your great writing made their job very difficult.
One Final Leap by Jennifer Chance. The judges kept thinking about this poignant and harrowing story long after they finished reading it. Werner’s dear friends seek freedom, and he’s promised to help. But as time runs out, will he be willing to pay the price to save them?
I Am Not A Crook by Joslyn Chase. The judges loved this tense tale of a heist gone wrong. Ted didn’t want to get involved in the first place — and when Pluto shoots the store owner’s wife, the situation goes from bad to worse.
The winner of our Spring Writing Contest and recipient of the Grand Prize is . . .
Happy and You Know It by James Whittaker. This powerful tale of a tiny choice with seismic results garnered universal praise from the judges. Evan feels stifled by his fiancée’s circle of friends. Will he keep the peace?
Congratulations to James, and to everyone who entered this writing contest! This was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to reading the stories from the next one.
Congratulations to the winners of the Spring Writing Contest!
In America, today is a time for celebration. While no living Americans have ever felt the sting of King George’s cruel taxes, they still partake in the annual celebration of independence by grilling hot dogs and shooting off fireworks.
We all long for independence. It’s hard-wired into the human spirit.
Perhaps this is because we all know what it feels like to be trapped. Have your circumstances ever penned you in? Have you ever been forced to look to something or someone else for sustenance, when you would rather be standing on your own feet?
That’s what today’s writing prompt is all about.
Let’s tell a story about finding independence!
Writing Prompt: Find Independence
For today’s writing prompt, choose from one of the scenarios below in which a protagonist will have to fight for his or her independence from something or someone else. Feel free to make it personal or completely fictional.
It’ll be more fun than a pair of sparklers!
Independence from a Relationship
Often we surrender independence for the sake of relationships, hoping and trusting that the sacrifice will be worth it. Write a story in which the protagonist is stuck in a negative, neglectful, or abusive relationship, and chooses to escape from it.
Challenge: Think outside the box here – don’t settle for cliche forms of negativity. How can that relational dependence be a problem without being soap operatic?
Independence from a Job
Americans love the idea of working for themselves. Write a story in which a protagonist is able to successfully extricate him or herself from a bad job.
Challenge: Make the departure bittersweet. Show how independence can come with the weight of responsibility and the pang of loneliness.
Independence from Money
There’s a big difference between enjoying money and needing it. Most of us need it. Write a story in which the protagonist strives to free him or herself entirely from the need of money.
Challenge: Consider all the ways we can “pay” for things. How can we grow “rich” without ever getting a raise or winning the lottery?
Independence from Addiction
Often we run to food, alcohol, shopping, gambling, social media, and other worldly pleasures to ease the ache and pain of life. Write a story in which the protagonist begins making the difficult choices necessary to overcome an addiction.
Challenge: Put a relationship in your story, where the addicted character is not the protagonist, but the process of “helping” exposes character flaws in the protagonist!
Independence from Religious Rules
Americans are very fond of religious freedom. Write a story in which the protagonist chooses to find god in his or her own way despite strong bonds to a particular religious background or lifestyle.
Challenge: Since faith and religion are different things, explore the possibilities of being deeply religious and faithful, or being deeply faithful but not-at-all religious.
Independence from Technology
When I woke up this morning, the very first thing I did was check my phone. Clearly I’m far from independent!
Write a story in which the protagonist chooses to remove technology from a certain section of his or her life, and explore why.
Challenge: Avoid stranding your character on a desert island. Rather, force him/her to choose independence and fight for it when convenience, and social norms, demand that the technology be used.
Independence from Self
Perhaps the greatest force of antagonism in your life is locked inside your head, a little voice that demands perfection. Write a story in which the protagonist finds a way to separate himself from the false ideas, beliefs, and personalities within, and finds independence from the “false self.”
Challenge: Write the scene with no dialogue.
Independence from Nation
As an American, I often wonder what my life would be like if I had been born elsewhere. In what nation, or nationality, would I put my pride then? Write a story in which the protagonist must find a new identity after losing, or surrendering, his or her old national one.
Challenge: While a “refugee” story would be both appropriate and timely, avoid this temptation and stretch your imagination. For what other reasons would we willingly give up our national heritage? Why would we do this, and what would the consequences be? Note that this isn’t an “American” writing prompt, though it can be if that’s how you choose to read it.
The Cost of Independence
Just like many other nations, America won its independence at a great cost. Thousands of men and women died who never got to see the nation they fought for, hoping that their sacrifice was worth the loss. And sure enough, a new nation was born that sought to build a form of representative government.
Yet just a century into the life of that “independent” nation, another war ripped it in half, this time over the independence of millions of men and women: Slaves, who would be free and fully American. It took yet another century for laws to be passed, and enforced, that would protect their right to be such fully free citizens.
Independence has a cost. One man’s bondage indicts another man’s comfort, power, or wealth. To win freedom, to gain independence, there must be a sundering, tearing, or divorce.
Independence also isn’t equally perceived by all interested parties. It isn’t as black-and-white, or perhaps red-white-and-blue, as we always wish. I may see your independence as foolishness and slavery. You may see mine as entitlement and privilege.
Independence is both beautiful and messy. That’s why I hope your writing can explore it in honest and deeply human ways. I hope you can celebrate this day, whether as an American or one of the 6.7 billion non-Americans on July 4th, by telling your own story of independence in a way that lights the fireworks of your imagination.
Independence is hard-wired into the human spirit, but it’s not easy to achieve. What story of independence will you write?
Happy Fourth of July, and Happy Writing!
Choose one of the eight writing prompts above. For fifteen minutes, freewrite a response to it. Share your response in the comments below!
We live in an amazing time. If you have a story to tell or an idea to share, you can write a book and publish it for free, making it accessible to billions of people. This moment is unique to human history, and I think everyone who has a story to tell should take advantage of it. To help get you started, in this post I’m going to give you ten simple steps on how to write and publish a book yourself.
There are a lot of different ways to go about this. In the past three years, I’ve published six novels and two novellas. What I’m going to share today are the steps I followed to publish my work.
Disclaimer: Following these steps will not make you the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I’m not discussing in this post how to market your book, build an audience, or get an agent that will help you sell your work.
This post is a simple outline of how to take your book from your head and put it into the world where people can read it.
Also, if you plan to take your book to a traditional publisher, you should not publish it on your own first. This post is for people like me who have stories they want to share with the world.
How to Write and Publish a Book: 10 Steps
Ready to learn how to write and publish your book? Here’s what you’ll need to do.
1. Capture the Idea
Every book starts with a raw idea. For some authors, this may be a character or two and a general idea of the journey those characters will take. If you’re a planner like me, you’ll have the entire story plotted out beat by beat in an Excel spreadsheet.
Either way, you need to capture the idea of the book so you know what you are writing.
2. Write the Book
Arguably, this may be the most difficult step. Not because the tools aren’t available and easily accessible; but rather because this is the step that requires an investment of time and energy. Writing a book takes dedication and discipline.
This month, after my family went to bed, I spent two hours writing. Thirty days later, I have a completed first draft I’m ready to take to step three. Writing a book takes sacrifice, but it is possible.
Any writing program will do to write your book in. I use Microsoft Word because it is what I’m familiar with. Google Docs is a free word processing program that will save your work in the cloud.
If you have money to invest in this the production of your book, this would be the first place I’d invest it in. A great editor can move a book from an “I did this in my basement alone” project to a “this is a professionally produced book and you should all revel in its glory” novel.
If you are like me (a working stiff with five kids to feed), then there isn’t any money to invest in things that won’t guarantee a financial return. When I edit a book I first read the entire book twice.
They I run the entire novel through Grammarly. There is a free version of this program that will catch basic errors.
I then trade editing services with other authors and ask readers to read the book for me (it’s taken me three years to build up this network). This process will catch 90% of the grammatical errors in my books.
4. Ask Readers to Read the Book
Before you put your book in the world, have someone else read it and give you their thoughts. I promise, there will be things in your book that make total sense to you that feel like gibberish to a reader. You won’t be able to see these things on your own. Someone else needs to find them for you.
Ideally, this reader will be someone who enjoys the genre you are writing in. For example, if you are writing science fiction, you need a reader who enjoys science fiction. A reader who hates science fiction will read your book and politely say, “It’s okay, but I didn’t really get it.” That kind of feedback is an unhelpful waste of your time.
5. Decide on the Formats
Are you publishing an ebook, a paperback, or both? Do you want to stick with Amazon (the largest distributor in the world) and take advantage of things they offer to authors who publish exclusively to them, or do you want to go “wide” and publish your book on multiple platforms so it is more widely accessible?
These decisions may sound intimidating, but don’t let them scare you.
Each additional place you add and form you chose to put your book in will add formatting in step seven because each publishing platform requires a little different type of manuscript. An ebook is formatted a little differently than a paperback. A Microsoft Word document uploaded to Amazon will look a little different than one uploaded to Draft to Digital.
If this scares you, keep it simple. If this is your first time publishing a book, I’d recommend starting with a simple ebook on Amazon. Once that is done, you can expand to a paperback and to other channels like Kobo and Draft to Digital.
If you know up front that you want to get the book in as many places as possible, but you only want to format it once, I’d recommend Draft to Digital. They’ll take the book you upload and put it everywhere (even Amazon).
Here are links to the top three different publishing platforms I’ve used (note: these are US links; if you are outside the United States you will need to google your country’s links to these sites):
These three places are all free and they will allow readers anywhere in the world to access your book.
6. Get a Cover
If you have money, this is the other place I would spend it. Every reader in the world judges a book by its cover. That’s why books have covers. A great cover will help your book get noticed and start readers on an optimistic foot when they begin reading the first page.
For my first novel, I made the cover myself. I got a free image from unsplash.com. I then added text that image using Microsoft PowerPoint. To be clear, it is a bad cover and no one but my close friends and family read that book. At the same time, I was new at this and trying to figure everything out.
For my last five novels, I’ve used a professional cover designer. Again, if you have the money, I’d recommend you go this route.
7. Format the Book
This is easier than you think. Every publishing platform has its own tutorial on how to upload a book. On most of them, you can upload your Microsoft Word file directly.
Formatting a book becomes complicated if your book contains images. As long as you stick to text, this process will be easier than you expect it to be.
The key to formatting the book is reading (not skimming) the instructions on the site. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating this thing. Don’t short sell it now because you can’t be bothered to read the instruction manual. Watch and read all the tutorials the site has to offer before you start uploading your documents to it.
8. Upload and Publish Your Book
Once you’ve got it looking like you want, it’s time to hit that publish button and send your book out into the world.
9. Tell Everyone
Publishing your book to a site makes it available, but unless you tell people where it is, they aren’t going to organically find it. After you’ve published it, you have to let people know it exists.
Sometimes the hardest thing about writing and publishing a book is that once it is done, you want a parade. Instead, you get a “cool” from your friends and family.
I recommend planning your own celebration.
After I publish a book, I cook a really nice dinner for my family. We eat something together we don’t usually eat. It’s my way of having a mini party to celebrate what I’ve done.
It’s Your Turn to Publish
We live in an amazing time. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You don’t need anyone’s approval. You can write and publish a book for free. All you have to do is put in the work.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to share your writing with the world. It’s your turn. Publish!
Have you ever published your writing? What was that experience like? Let us know in the comments.
For today’s practice, you have two choices.
1. Celebrate someone you know who has published a book. (Maybe you!) Share the link to their book in the comments.
2. Get started writing your book right now. If you’re at step one above, free write about your book idea to help you figure out what your book is about. Or, if you’re ready for step two, write a scene from your book.
Take fifteen minutes to write. Then, share your writing practice in the comments below so we can celebrate with you. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!