Checklist for writers: ten things to do when you are serious about writing a book

2015-11-15

Many writers believe that they have to write a complete manuscript before contacting publishers. That’s usually the case with fiction books, but a non-fiction book publishing process typically starts from an overall concept and book proposal.
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Here is a ten step checklist for preparing yourself to writing a non-fiction book.

1. Devise a concept for your book.
This is the most important step that defines whether you should sit down and start writing or continue crystallizing your concept (or think of a whole new topic). If you can establish a credible and appealing concept for your book that also other people love, proceed. If you can’t formulate a brief description what the book is about and why it is valuable, you have to rethink your concept.
In some cases, publishers may have a concept and the table of contents ready for your book – if your book idea happens to fall into a series they are publishing. For example, Klaava Travel Guide is a series for travel writers.

2. What new information or new angle your book provides to readers?
It is highly likely that your idea for a book is not unique, but books already have been published about the same topic. Does your book bring anything new on the table, or does it approach the problem from a fresh angle that talks to readers in a new way? Above all, who are the readers of your book?

3. Identify three or five books that are similar to your idea.
In most cases, it is beneficial for your book that other books have already been published about similar topics you are thinking about. It proves there is a market for your book. Analyze the competing books and think what you can do better or do in a different, more interesting way.

4. Write an outline and table of contents for your book.
Table of contents and a brief outline are hugely important because they are the first documents you may present to potential publishers. This is the minimum publishers want to see if you approach them with your idea (often, they want more, but this is enough for many publishers to tell if they are interested, or don’t want to hear about you anymore).
Check out tips for creating a table of contents in this article.

5. Write a few sample chapters.
Write one, two or even three chapters – it doesn’t matter if they are from the beginning or from the end of your planned book. Writing actual chapters proves two things:

First, if you haven’t written a book before, you get a feel how it goes. It is important to think and develop your personal working process right from the start: how and when you do your research, when do you work, for how long, how you edit?

Second, publishers usually want to see sample chapters because it shows them what to expect from you.

6. Put together a proposal for your book.
Your book proposal must specify the following, at least:
– The book concept and outline
– The market for the book
– Competing titles
– Who are you and why you are the perfect person to write the book
– Table of contents
– Sample chapter(s)
– Your possibilities to market the book

7. Prepare to market the book yourself.
Usually, it is the publisher’s job to market the book, but they need and want the author to help. In many cases, especially in non-fiction books, the author is the best marketing tool for the product. Do you have a blog, what is your social media following, who do know among the potential audience of your book, do you have media contacts, can you tap on networks that relate to the book?

8. Not everyone needs a literary agent.
In some countries, publishers expect writers to have agents and won’t touch book proposals if they haven’t been evaluated by agents. In most countries, however, publishers receive and evaluate book proposals submitted by authors.

For instance, Klaava Media reviews non-fiction book proposals (and especially travel guidebook proposals) sent by writers themselves.

If you can get an agent, the benefit is that you get access to publishers who will listen to you agent. The agent also helps you with contract issues. Of course, you’ll have to pay the agent. Usually, it is a percentage of the income you get from the book.

9. Prepare yourself for rejections and waiting.
Do your research when you look for a publisher. If the publisher says that they only publish textbooks, don’t submit your culture-guide proposal there. Try to identify a publisher that covers the book genre and audience you are after.
Still, rejections are inevitable, and waiting for answers. The old school rule in publishing used to be that you should submit your proposal to one publisher at a time. Since some publishers don’t respond at all and it may take months from some publishers to respond, we don’t recommend following the old school rule anymore.

10. Writing a book is unlikely to make you rich.
Movies, music, and books are hit businesses. Only few products turn out to be hits that generate a lot of money for authors and other copyright owners. The rest of the products belong to the Long Tail category where products slowly sell a number of copies over time. Fortunately, ebooks – and digital media in general – has made the Long Tail possible, because a published ebook can be made available across the world for as long as you like.

Mack Collier’s article 10 Things You Need to Know to Get Published was the inspiration for this article.


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