Do you want to self-publish a book, but you think you can’t? Is the task of writing an entire manuscript too overwhelming?
I was there too. I’d written long-form creative fiction before, but I thought I’d never be able to write nonfiction longer than your garden variety 1,000-word blog post.
Well, I’m almost done writing my first nonfiction book, and I’m now at 21,000 words—and it took me only 2 months! How did I do it?
I set goals that helped me to take action:
- I decided on a word count goal.
- I created an outline for my book.
- I held myself accountable to a deadline.
If you dream of adding “author” to your resume, use these 3 tips to motivate you! I go into detail about each one below.
1. Decide on a word count goal once you have your topic.
Decide on a word count goal—for a little more flexibility, make it a word count range. If the aim of your book is to spread a message about your personal brand or to teach your readers about a particular topic, I recommend 25,000 to 30,000 words. The word count range gives you something to work towards and an extra parameter when you go to outline your book.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to write a book about how modern ready-to-wear fashion is produced: where the raw materials come from, where and by whom they are assembled, and how they get to market, all while discussing the environmental cost this process creates.
Depending on how much you have to say on those things, you could easily reach your word count goal. You could even go way past it, in which case you might consider editing your writing back down to fall in to your word count goal.
Or you might not get anywhere near your word count goal. Then you have 2 options: either you reconsider your project and scale down, perhaps to create a handbook or guide or series of blog posts, or you could expand slightly on your topic, and instead of focusing on the materials used in ready-to-wear fashion, you also write about home goods such as bedsheets, curtains, rugs, couch covers, and the like.
As the range implies, a word count goal should not be a strict requirement for you. It should just be used as a guide. Remember that once your book is written, the editing stage will add or remove words, sometimes drastically. But if you do not reach your word count goal, or if you surpass it, use that as an opportunity to refocus your project: refine or expand on your topic.
The point is to keep your writing purposeful. Adding fluff just to reach a certain word count will dilute the message in your book and make for poor reading. Word counts are the vanity metrics of authors! But they are still useful to have—if you use them wisely.
My word count goal was 25,000—enough for a short book. Having never written a nonfiction book before, I felt daunted by that number and thought, “How am I ever going to write 25,000 words?!”
The solution was reverse engineering. Enter the outlining stage…
2. Always create an outline before you start writing.
When I started outlining, I divided my book into parts. Of course I needed an introduction and a conclusion, but the bulk of my book, the part that shows readers how to get results, would go in between.
I looked at my word count and realized it was divisible by 5. So I took the opportunity to create 5 major ideas about my topic to explore, and then I broke down each of those 5 ideas into 5 finer points. I specifically chose points which I felt I could write 1,000 words on—since I am already used to that amount for blog posts.
If you are still following me, you’ll have seen that 1,000 words x 5 points x 5 main ideas gives me 25,000 words. Add the introduction and the conclusion, and I’ll surpass that word count goal!
I can’t stress how critical it is to have an outline. Jotting down your main topic with subtopics and even more detailed items will give you a direction when you actually sit down and start writing. No more looking at a blank page (or screen) wondering what to write!
An outline will also help confirm that you chose a topic that you are both knowledgeable and passionate about—if you struggle to get your ideas down in an outline, do you think it will be easy to create an entire book about your topic? Definitely not.
An outline also saves you time in the long run because it’s an easy way to see your overall structure of ideas. In the outlining process, you can decide on your argumentative development (introduction, taking your reader through a transformation, and conclusion). Feel free to make your outline as detailed as possible. When I was doing research in school, I would even pull important quotes from books that I knew I wanted to cite and put them right in the outline.
Then, once you have a solid outline, you can start writing—and it will be like plug-and-play. You won’t waste time writing your first words (often the hardest part) because you already have a plan for your book from start to finish. You’ll also save time in the editing process because you’ve already taken the time to consider a proper development for your ideas, which leaves you less at risk for a major rewrite.
3. Set a deadline and hold yourself accountable.
If you truly want to publish your book, you must set a deadline.
Remember in school how you would procrastinate and blow off essays because they weren’t due for a while, then a couple of days before the due date (when the “pain threshold” got too high), you would somehow summon the motivation to just get it all done at once? That was the pressure of a deadline working for you.
If you don’t know how to set a deadline, reverse engineer the process like you did for your outline. Write down all the tasks you need to do associated with creating and publishing your book. Here are a few of the major ones:
- Market research
- Graphic design
- Uploading the book to distributor
Now think about approximately how many days you need to accomplish each one. Can you write 1,000 words per day? Then you’ll need 25-30 days (based on our word count goal of 25,000-30,000) to write the entire book. Use this thought process for each item above. It’s okay to make an approximation, and it’s always a good idea to build in some extra time for contingency.
Then the next step is to hold yourself accountable with your calendar. Maybe you need 3 days for market research. Mark them in your calendar. Maybe you need only 30 minutes for market research. Put them in your calendar anyway. That’s the only way to come up with a reasonable deadline you can work toward.
It’s easy to say, “Only 25 to 30 days to write an entire book, wow!” and think you’ll be done in a month. But are you really working on the writing part for 25 days straight? Or are you taking weekends off? Actually looking at your schedule and planning around your other obligations will help you get a good idea of when you can complete work on your entire project, because when we say, “I’m going to write a book”, what we really mean is, “I’m going to plan, write, edit, market, and sell a book”, and it’s best to budget your time based on your real life, not your dream life.
Get Started On Your Book Now
I thought I was crazy to write and publish my first book this summer. But to paraphrase everyone’s favorite pirate: “Thank goodness I’m crazy, because if I wasn’t, this’d probably never work!”
It takes more than just a crazy desire to accomplish your goals to actually bring them to fruition. You need an actionable plan. There are lots of moving parts to creating a book, but a word count goal, an outline, and a deadline are all essential. Hopefully my tips will help you if you’re in the same boat (erm, ship?) and are about to launch your own book! And if you need help with the editing part of your book, or if you simply want to outsource that so you can focus on things like setting up the tech on your landing page, send me a note and I can give you a quote! Happy writing!