How to Write a Book: The Ultimate Guide
We all have a great book idea burning inside of us.
In fact, most of us dream about learning how to write a book.
We imagine how writing a bestseller will change our lives. How it will advance our careers. How it will make us an authority on a topic we enjoy.
A 2021 poll conducted for National Novel Writing Month showed that 54% of people would love to write a book about their own life story. But, only 15% have been able to get started and still more struggle to finish.
The truth is many of us don’t actually make it to the writing phase.
The epic ideas, thoughts, and stories we wish to tell don’t come to fruition because of the inability to act on this dream.
This inability to act can manifest as writer’s block, but could also be more deeply rooted in limiting beliefs having to do with readiness or imposter syndrome.
As a New York Times bestselling author with numerous published books, I understand how hard it can be to overcome to take that first step to start writing.
I also know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. When you know how to write a book and have the right tools and support to get through the book writing process, your dreams of writing your first book can come true.
Use the following book writing and publishing guide of the 12 most important steps you can take to plan, produce, and launch your own book.
Find Your Why: Reasons to Write Your Book
If you have a great idea of what to write about for a book, you should write it. It’s as simple as that.
Not only are you doing your future readers a disservice by not sharing your creation, but you are also holding yourself back from reaching your full potential.
You will stay motivated through the writing process as you remind yourself of the reason you are writing a book. What is your why?
Here are just four of my favorite reasons why you should write your first book and how writing will change your life in ways you never even imagined:
- Writing a book provides a great opportunity to share something meaningful with you.
- Writing a book is a way to help others improve their lives.
- Writing a book is one of the best ways to gain lasting credibility.
- Writing a book helps you discover who you are and ignite your passions.
This sounds simple enough, right? So then the real question becomes, “why don’t more people start writing?”
This is a tough question to answer, but I believe much of it has to do with direction…or lack of it.
For most people, writing and publishing a book may seem like an insurmountable task. Figuring out how to stay motivated when writing your book can be challenging, especially if you do not have the right processes and guides in place.
However, just like any other seemingly insurmountable task, the journey from start to finish is best handled one step at a time. Through regular, focused writing practice, you can begin to put pen to paper to compile your piece with a step-by-step process, one page at a time.
Set Up Your Writing Space
One of the most important steps to how to write a book begins before you put any words on paper. Take the time to set up a proper writing space so each writing session can be productive.
As you create a dedicated writing space, your goal is to minimize distractions and maximize inspiration.
If you have a spare room, turn it into your dedicated writing space. If you do not, find a space that is comfortable and as free of distractions as possible.
Some successful writers prefer writing in public spaces like coffee shops, libraries, or parks. The white noise of coffee shops can keep your mind focused on your writing. Writing your book in a library can prevent you from the distractions of your cell phone or being at home. An outdoor area not only gives you healthy natural sunlight but being among nature can also be inspiring.
The best writing location for you is a personal choice, and it does not always have to be the same place if you find you need a break from your normal writing environment.
If you are setting up your dedicated writing space at home, add a desk and supportive chair. A sit-stand desk and an ergonomic chair can counter the effects of sitting for long periods of time and invite you to your writing space.
Small touches like adding plants help you create an inspiring writing environment. Add your favorite artwork, photographs, or books, but keep it simple. You want each of your writing sessions to be productive and free of distractions.
Many successful writers prefer writing at a computer while others always start with pen and paper. You might begin writing in your notebook at a coffee shop and transfer your notes to your laptop. If you are more productive spending all of your writing time at a keyboard, do so.
Book writing software can help you streamline the writing process. It cuts down your writing time with helpful tools like spell checkers, auto-save, grammar tools, plagiarism checkers, and ways to organize your chapters.
Some book writing software has built-in productivity features that help you stay free of distractions. Others can help you publish your book. If you decide to use book writing software, choose one that is user-friendly and meets your needs.
Dedicate the Time to Be a Better Writer
The next step to how to write a book is to set aside time to develop your writing skills.
Writers come from all walks of life, and some of the most successful authors in the world often lived half their life with no real intention of ever writing a book.
Although there is no set formula for how to be a good writer, the difference between average writers and good writers comes down to the way they approach their craft.
Being a good writer requires you to write often, read more, and polish your writing skills
Great writing stems from consistency and regularity. If you can establish a daily writing routine with regular writing sessions, you will be well on your way to making significant strides toward finishing your book.
The best way to get started is to find a structure that works for you.
First, set the scene.
Set up your writing space where you will be able to do your best work, whether that is in your home office, a corner of the living room, your local coffee shop, a coworking space, or your back porch.
Second, choose an ideal time to write. If you have the most unstructured time available to you in the early morning, perhaps that timeframe could be devoted to your craft.
On the flip side, if the idea of putting pen to paper before winding down for the evening seems more appealing, an evening writing schedule might be more suitable.
And, last but not least, set a goal for how much actual writing you’d like to accomplish every day.
It doesn’t have to be a lot. You might also aim to give yourself a target word count to hit, perhaps something between 250-500 words.
Regardless of the structure, you create, make sure that it provides you with the most freedom and flexibility to succeed at writing more often.
The fuel for writing books comes largely from reading good books.
Whether you love horror or hate it, Stephen King is widely recognized as one of the most successful authors in the genre.
With almost 70 novels and hundreds of short stories under his belt, King has built a life on the foundation of sharing spooky stories that have captivated millions.
In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King describes his writing process and offers tips for aspiring novelists. One of the biggest pieces of often-overlooked wisdom he offers focuses on the importance of being an avid reader in order to be a sensational writer.
On this topic, he says, “Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
I honestly couldn’t have said it better myself.
But, if you don’t want to take King’s word for it, here are some other reasons why reading more makes you a better writer:
- It is a learning opportunity to study the works of other professional writers in the same field.
- The more styles of writing you read, the more you’ll be able to recognize and borrow certain strategies and weave them into your own writing process.
- It can help you source ideas for different languages and vocabulary to use.
- It can help you fine-tune your own unique writing style and voice.
And as a final note, walking a mile in a reader’s shoes can also help you feel more connected with your audience.
If you invest your time in reading more of your genre, you will begin to understand firsthand what motivates readers to continue reading.
You’ll discover the answers to questions like:
- What answers are they searching for?
- What problems do they hope to resolve by the end of the book?
- How do specific sections of the story mirror pieces of their own life?
- What makes the information or the characters so relatable?
Take a Writing Class
While you certainly do not need a degree to be a professional writer, learning good writing skills and how to make best use of writing tools will help you tremendously to learn how to write a book.
Whether you are writing fiction or writing nonfiction–or even just starting out with a blog post or short article–learning the tools of the trade will boost your writing career.
And this is not just my opinion. Studies show that being a good writer depends on repeated practice.
Many writing classes are available online for free, so it is easy to fit them into your schedule.
Taking the time to learn effective writing skills will not only help you strengthen your writing muscles, but you will also gain a community of other writers that can inspire you with fresh ideas.
Get to Know Your Target Audience
To be a successful writer, choose a story to tell and learn how and who to tell it to.
First, you need to identify what story you will tell. A lot of great book ideas come from brainstorming what you are interested in. Make a list of things you enjoy doing, things you know how to do, topics you are an authority on or at least know a lot, and things people come to you for advice or help with.
Once you’ve decided on your topic, knowing how to write a book that will reach the people you want to read it depends on getting to know your target audience.
It is important to understand your audience in order to continue to successfully create new pieces of your work they can’t wait to get their hands on.
This is perhaps the most important step in the process of how to write a book. Because when you write, the book is never about you. It’s about what you can share with the audience you wish to serve.
To determine your target audience, it is first important to consider:
- Which genre you’d like to write for
- Which books within that genre you’d like to be compared to
- Who your ideal reader might be
Once you’ve determined your unique answers to these questions, you can begin sourcing information from people within your network.
There is a chance that your personal or professional network could be very closely aligned with the audience you wish to reach. You could even begin with this audience and expand or revise it as you continue to edit and change portions of your soon-to-be bestseller.
All in all, it is a writer’s job to get to know their audience. It takes work, but all of that work is what will make your book great.
Choose the Right Book Topic
My next how-to write a book guideline is to choose your topic wisely.
Once you have committed to being a better writer and have identified your target audience, now it’s time to choose an appropriate topic or a story for the audience you’ve selected.
It is critical that the topic be unique enough to set your book apart but general enough to appeal to a wider group of people that still fall within the same umbrella as your audience.
Take the idea of writing a book on social media marketing, for example. It’s general enough for your audience to understand, but you need to pitch it from a different perspective.
Perhaps your book could be focused on a specific theory on why you should only post to social media on Tuesdays. Now, this is a very unique train of thought, so if you choose this route, be sure that you can back up your ideas in grounded evidence as to why you believe this…but you get my point.
And most importantly, choosing the right book topic for your audience is meaningless unless you are passionate about the topic yourself.
Not only is it much easier and more natural to write a book about something you actively believe in, but it is also more entertaining for your reader because they’ll be able to feel your level of involvement and interest in the topic just by scanning a couple of sentences.
Simply put, your audience won’t believe what you’re saying unless you believe it first.
Know How to Make Your Book a Bestseller
Along with choosing the right topic that you are passionate about and will keep your reader’s interest, knowing how to write a book also involves understanding key concepts that turn good books into bestsellers.
Network With Other Published Authors
Since fellow writers have been through the process of taking a book from ideation to creation numerous times, they are a wealth of knowledge and can offer you expert guidance and tips about any step in the writing process and publishing process.
Assuming they are a talented, successful writer, this is almost always a good thing and will put you on track to becoming a bestseller yourself.
Plus, reading and familiarizing yourself with the works of other bestselling authors that you look up to is one of the best ways to develop your writing skills.
By getting to know the works of authors in your own genre, you’ll develop a knack for understanding different successful writing formulas and be able to begin piecing together engaging stories that readers cannot wait to get their hands on.
On top of that, you’ll also begin to recognize stylistic patterns that specific authors use to define their work and stand out from the crowd.
Best case scenario, you will pick up some of their writing tips and tricks to use in your own works. Worst case scenario, you may be struck with some additional inspiration on how to approach and alter your own writing techniques and style choices.
Either way, you can’t lose.
The more people who know about your book, the greater chances it has of becoming a bestseller. The word will spread when readers find a good book, but there are also things you can do to bring attention to your book.
The best way to get the word out about the great work you have created – or are in the process of creating – is to network with other seasoned authors.
Determine What Bestseller List You Want To Be On
So, you want to be a bestseller. But do you know what kind of bestseller do you want to be?
For example, do you see yourself topping the digital charts on Amazon? What about clinching the top spot on the New York Times list? Or perhaps sitting pretty high up the book list that is put out by the Wall Street Journal?
There are so many bestseller lists that it is impossible to track how many there are. To make matters more confusing, each one also has different criteria for determining which books make the cut and which do not.
Some bestseller lists measure the number of sales of a certain book over a specific period of time, while others are curated by a certain group of people responsible for choosing which titles should make their list.
In any case, if you are trying to be recognized as a bestseller, you should come into the process of book writing with an idea of which list you’d like to be on. From there, you can perform research to better understand the qualifications you will need to meet to be considered for a ranking.
Other Bestseller Considerations
While the above considerations should be the main priority when thinking about ways to make any bestseller list when writing a book, you’ll also want to keep a few other things in the back of your mind while creating.
One of those things is the quality of your writing. To make a book a bestseller, it is essential that your writing is both clear and captivating so your readers do not lose interest. While the story you tell is certainly important, so is the way you tell it.
Your prose doesn’t necessarily have to sing like Shakespeare’s, but it does need to be polished enough that people thoroughly enjoy reading what you write.
You’ll also want to take a look at your marketing strategy. Is there anything you could change in order to get more eyes on your work?
Consider what places your audience usually shops for books of this nature, if your potential buyers are on social media or if they prefer to see most of their ads via billboards, fliers, or in a newspaper.
Create a Book Outline to Begin the Writing Process
A successful journey starts with a good road map. A bestselling book begins with turning a good book idea into an outline you can follow before the actual writing begins.
Finding a way to organize all of your thoughts at the front end of writing a book will guarantee your success later. This sounds like a tedious step, but trust me, knowing how to write a book outline can make or break the direction you take your piece or how much time it will take you to complete.
A book outline is essentially a map that guides authors to the end of their book-writing journey as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. A good outline should help set the stage, organize the scenes, and clarify how the entire story or message comes together. It also will eventually form the table of contents for your book.
How much planning you end up doing is largely up to you. Some authors prefer to have a detailed outline that is well fleshed out from start to finish while others create a basic outline, preferring instead to let the book unfold as they write it but having the foundational structure in place.
Regardless of the outline you choose to create, once you build your outline piece by piece, you will then be ready to write your book page by page, and, eventually, you’ll progress from one sentence to your first drafts to a finished product ready for publication.
How to write a book outline is slightly different when your write fiction versus writing a nonfiction book. Here are some guidelines to follow:
When you write a book on a fictional topic, your outline helps you plan out your characters, scenes, setting, plot, climax, and more. You can approach writing your novel outline in many different ways, but whichever approach you choose, include these essential elements:
- Craft your premise by writing a one-paragraph summary of what the novel will be about.
- Decide on the setting of your book and do your research so your writing will be accurate.
- Determine who your characters are and write detailed profiles about what they look like, who they are, what they are interested in, and what their personality traits are.
- Lay out your plot by creating a timeline of events that includes the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
- Add pivotal scenes into your plot so you will know what needs to happen where. You might add these as you go along as well when the inspiration hits you, including dialogue and other details.
Writing an outline for your non-fiction book involves identifying the purpose of your book and writing down the main ideas, principles, and concepts you want to convey. Nonfiction writers include these elements in their book outlines:
- Identify the main idea or purpose of your book. What problem are you trying to solve that the reader has or what do you want them to know or do?
- Create a structure for your book that will lead to the solution to the problem. You might need to set up background information first, for instance, or you might outline a step-by-step process. This structure will lend itself to forming chapters after you start writing, or you can include your chapters in your outline.
- Revise as needed.
The purpose of your outline is not to write an entire manuscript but to create a structure you can follow to get from your big idea to an entire first draft, all while heading in the right direction that will keep your reader’s attention.
Dedicate Extra Time to Working on Your Book Title
When you pour your heart and soul into writing a book, you want people to read it. Often the first impression readers get of your book is its title. You want to craft a title that will encourage someone to open the cover and read the entire book.
Assume 80% of people will read your title, while only 20% will end up reading your book. That means you should spend extra time working on an emotional and impactful title.
You might have a great title for your book long before your write your rough draft, or you might until you finish writing or are even in the editing process.
Regardless, aim for a title that grabs attention, is easy to say, gives an idea of what the book is about, and is memorable.
Make a list of 20 or so book ideas. If you are writing a book that is fictional, think of the names of your characters, places, memorable phrases, and plot twists in your book for inspiration.
For your nonfiction book title, think of your target audience’s pain points and how you are solving them. Unlike fictional book titles that can be more inventive and imaginative, the title for your non-fiction book should give the reader a clear idea of what the book is about.
While it is usually not against copyright laws for your book to have the same title as another book, you want to avoid this for confusion, especially with popular titles. You can do this with a deep search on the internet. Book titles can be trademarked, however, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Dummies series.
Check the database of the US Patent and Trademark Office online to ensure your book title has not already been trademarked.
Consider adding a subtitle as well. This can help your title stand out by allowing for a short title, but clarifying with a longer subtitle.
Learn How to Fight Writer’s Block
Nearly anyone who tries to write a book knows that writer’s block can hit and put up a roadblock to your progress.
Writer’s block can sometimes come from self-doubt. You might stop writing because you fear no one will want to read your story. That is simply not true. Write it anyway, you have something important to say and there are people who need to hear it.
You might also get writer’s block from not hitting your daily word count goal or being overwhelmed with how many words need to be written to complete your first draft.
Don’t allow discouragement to keep you from doing a great thing. Everything worth doing takes time and effort. Renew your motivation by taking a break, reading motivational quotes, or talking to a trusted, inspirational friend or family member.
You might also lose interest in your book idea. If this happens, whether after just writing the first few pages or deep into your book, you may need to revise your approach.
First, be sure what you are writing about is interesting to you. If not, it will be very difficult to stay motivated when writing a book. Second, determine if there are parts of your outline that should be omitted. If you are bored writing it, chances are your readers will be too.
Head over to my blog post for more tips on overcoming writer’s block.
Create Your First Draft
Use your outline to craft your first draft. Don’t worry about how perfect it is or if you are including everything you need.
As you get into the writing habit, you will find you are inspired with ideas you may want to insert into an earlier or later part of your story. That is what a first draft is for, to allow your book to be a living, thinking, changing document.
Use your personal writing voice for your book. Do not try to write like other authors, although you can learn from their good writing habits as well. But make sure your first draft captures who you are and what you want to convey. Chances are this will not be your only book. You will want your voice to emanate from and be recognizable to your readership.
When you feel you have written the particular story you want to convey in your first draft, you will then focus on editing and revising.
Edit Your Book
When I write a book, I write quickly and leave the editing process for later. This strategy has helped turn my book ideas into over 70 books.
My motto is to write feverishly and edit meticulously.
When you get into your writing routine and first start writing a new page or a new chapter, it should come as an uninterrupted flow of conscience.
Don’t worry about how good it sounds or how many mistakes there are – simply write. Write feverishly until that page or chapter or whatever section you are working on is done. This is also a good way to combat writer’s block.
Later, you can go back and carefully edit your work, pruning away unnecessary content, polishing your writing, and weeding out mistakes. In the beginning, though, it’s getting your thoughts onto paper into a rough draft that is the most important.
Self-editing, hiring an editor, or combining both processes are options to you.
It’s always best to review your work yourself first, to ensure you have addressed all of the ideas you want. If you continue solely with self-editing, use one or more of the many writing tools available to you. These will help you catch spelling, grammar, and technical errors, and some can give you advice on voice and tone.
You can also hire a professional editor to make sure your entire book is polished from cover to cover. This is especially helpful when you are self-publishing.
Publish Your Book
Learning how to write a book will turn your big idea into a bestseller. Once you finish writing, it is time to get it in front of your readers.
In the past, publishing a book meant convincing publishing companies to look at your work and like it enough to publish it under their name.
Of course, this is much easier said than done, and even the world’s most successful authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, and Luisa May Alcott had to deal with countless rejections and years of waiting before they were able to finally publish their book.
In many ways, though, this process is a thing of the past. Today you can self-publish, work with a publishing company, or use a publishing service like Amazon.
Self-publishing is the practice of publishing a book without the help of a traditional publishing company. Choosing this option might sound challenging, but in fact, there are a variety of convenient options that make publishing a book quick and easy.
You can pay for and arrange all aspects of the publishing process on your own, or work with a company that handles some of these tasks for you. Just note that if you work with a non-traditional self-publishing company, you may need to pay for specific services or turn over some rights to your book.
Self-publishing is often the more affordable option for those who are focused on the financial aspect of bringing a book into the world.
The process of self-publishing a book is actually quite simple, and, if you take the time to do it right, the results can be just as effective and spectacular as any book published by one of the major publishing companies.
A publishing company is an entity that is responsible for handling the printing, distribution, and storage of an author’s book.
Within the publishing company, there is typically a publisher who is tasked with finding books that are likely to sell well. They act as the direct line of communication between the author and the publishing company and are responsible for creating contracts with authors they would like to sign.
Once a publisher has signed a contract with an author, the publisher will move forward with the process of printing the book and preparing it for sale.
There are two specific kinds of publishing companies that an author could consider – traditional book publishing companies and self-publishing book companies. Each operates in a different way and offers aspiring authors their own unique set of processes, services, and contracts for the work they are seeking to publish.
Traditional Book Publishing Companies
Traditional book publishing companies have been around for years. They used to be the sole gatekeepers that one would need to impress in order to get a book published. The process involved pitching your creative work to a company or publisher who would then make a final decision on whether or not to take a chance on your book.
Oftentimes, this process was long and tedious, and the author might have to pitch to multiple companies in order to get their book in front of their audience.
Though times have changed, and some of these companies have adapted well to the digital age, their essential roles remain the same.
Some of today’s most well-known traditional book publishing companies include Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.
Self-publishing companies are less established and take a different approach to the publishing process than traditional publishing companies.
Their primary role is to assist authors with the process of publishing books independently. These companies help with printing or digital preparation, as well as the distribution of works.
Some of the best self-publishing companies include Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo, and Xlibris. However, a number of other options are also available.
How to Publish a Book on Amazon
The benefits of Amazon’s book publishing platform have appealed to many authors in recent years.
Amazon’s self-publishing has made it incredibly easy for anyone to market their book on the largest book-selling platform in the world. Through the variety of services that Amazon offers, you can publish your fiction or nonfiction book in digital, print, and even audio format.
Really, the only parts of the process that Amazon doesn’t have a hand in are your book cover design and formatting, although it does have a built-in cover creator.
A few standout perks that set Amazon’s publishing platform apart from the competitors are:
- The ability to easily reach millions of readers
- A free way to publish e-books and paperbacks
- A quick and efficient way to publish books in only a few days
- Self-publish vs. contract with a traditional publishing company
Write Your Next Book
Now that you’ve written and published your first book, why not do it again?
Learning how to write a book makes writing the next book even easier.
Note what worked well in your first draft and throughout the whole process and what needs improvement.
Once you start getting book reviews, it is also very helpful to read these. While some reviewers will not give constructive criticism, the majority of readers will give honest and helpful reviews.
Use their words to analyze what your target audience is looking for. If them mention something they wish your book had, see if you can provide that in your next book. Try also to incorporate the positive things they raved about your first book. It is all about finding needs and meeting them.
Start Writing Your Book Today
My final piece of advice for your book-writing journey is to tell you to go for it!
The main difference between those who are published authors and those who are not is that published authors actually followed through with their dreams, taking it one sentence at a time using a proven book writing strategy.
If you can do that, you’re on the verge of seeing your name on the front of a bestselling book. For step-by-step guidance on how to bring your bestselling book to life, check out my Book Writing Template.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.