Saturday, November 26, 2011

If You Think You Want to Write a Book

I get a lot of emails from people in the vein of “I’m thinking of writing a book about my experiences as a ______________.” Also, people at cocktail parties apparently all want to write books. In the spirit of helping others and being supportive, I decided to take the things I usually tell them and make a blog post out of it:
  1. Do you really want to write a book? When people say, “You should write a book,” does that idea fill you with excitement or horror? If the latter, stop reading now. Why on earth would you write a book if you don’t really, really want to? Better to go into the garage and hit yourself on the head with a hammer a few times. Sooo much easier.
  2. Why do you want to write a book? If the answer is, “To become famous and make money,” stop reading now. Go get the hammer. The book business is not very profitable, especially for people like you. And me. If the answer includes phrases like “fun” and “love to write” and “I already have 2/3 of it written,” as well as “I don’t care about money,” you are all set.
  3. Who would buy your book? Be specific. “People” is not a good answer. “Moms who want to do triathlons while still taking care of their kids” is a pretty good answer.
  4. Where would your book go in the bookstore? What section? How would people search for it on Amazon?
  5. Who else has written books about what you want to write about? Search to see if your “South Pacific travel memoir” idea is crazy overused already. Hint – probably.
  6. Why is your book different and/or better than their book? If the answer is “Because it’s my story,” stop reading now. Give me the hammer and let me hit you over the head with it. Thank you. If your book includes a gripping description of completing the Iditarod using hamsters instead of sled dogs, that’s different.
  7. Do you know exactly how your book is structured, from beginning to end? If not, put the cocktail down, go home and write a detailed outline. How many chapters are they? What are they about? If you can’t think of a detailed outline because you need to actually write to know what you will be writing about, write the book before you go any further down this road. If you can’t write an outline or write the book, then that should tell you something.
  8. If you haven’t yet done the stuff you’re thinking of writing the book about, go do it. Take extensive notes while you’re doing it, and then find me at next year’s party.
  9. Why are you the person to write this particular story? Have you spent 15 years training hamsters to pull sleds in the Arctic? Are you a regular mom from Sioux City with a dream of hamster sledding? Why you?
  10. Go online and Google “how to write a book proposal.” There’s a pretty standard way to do a nonfiction book proposal. If you’ve seriously answered questions 1-9, you will have made a pretty good start at putting your proposal together.
  11. You will most likely need a literary agent. If you have gotten this far and you still want to write a book, find me again as that’s a whole nuther post.
  12. Are you sure you don’t want to write a blog instead? Look how easy it is.
I realize that this came out sounding kind of snarky, which I actually don't mean it to be. I really want people to write books. But only if they really want to, and only if they really want to after doing the research and thinking seriously about the current market for books. If you are good and persistent, you may well get an agent and sell your book to a publisher. You may decide you want to self-publish, or publish in electronic format, or any number of things. You may have a riveting story and be a scintillating writer and you might change the world. So go do it!


  1. I will always be grateful to you for writing your book, you changed my life. Sorry you didn't make a million, you totally should have. Everyone should read it.

  2. OMG.. I laughed. SO hard. My best friend is an author. Very recognized one, and people think she rolls in cash. HA ! She could have written this. We have had these discussions. Over wine. After long training walks and runs discussing... well, your book!

  3. I have to tell you that I think you read my mind! I am reading your book and this is my first visit to your blog. I love the book but keep thinking to myself, "when I finish this triathlon I am going to have to write a book for fat slow Moms that want to run a triathlon in cold weather locations!" Thanks for the post it is great advice!

  4. There ya go! Triathlon training for moms in cold climates - I like that. And @bunnysue67 - so glad to think of my book being discussed after all these years!