Bill’s Guide to Writing a Book
I have written six books and have three more in the outline stage. However, my sales are dismal. You probably ask, “Why should I read your guide?” Good question. In my experience, it is essential to look at several sources when attempting to understand something. Then, once you know what is going on, jump into the project. So there could be value in my words because I have made many mistakes. Or this could be useless junk. This is a three-part blog; the next two will cover publishing and marketing.
So… You have never written a book and want to write one. Where to start? Before we get into writing, there are some crucial tasks.
1) Get a Goodreads account, an Amazon account, and an Amazon author’s account. Then post book reviews for every book you ever read on both sites. Your goal will be two per day and at least 200 reviews. Important tip. Review only the books you liked. Why? Carma and getting into the mindset of being successful. In addition, this effort will prepare you for a critical task—the book blurb. Your goal will be to get into the mindset that people will read and comment on your work. Also, it would help if you got into the philosophy of creating something people want. And finally, get into the mindset about books getting excellent reviews.
2) Join Facebook/Twitter/popular online sites and write a short bio about yourself. If you already have an account, create a new page dedicated to your author’s activities. Post stuff about your writing, books, stories, and book-related interests. Important tip, post only light-hearted stuff. If you like/hate famous person X, keep it to yourself. Many potential book buyers love X. You want to make many book-buying contacts. Your goal will be to build hype. “Hey, just about to release my book.” “Wow! I will have to buy it!”
3) Join a writer’s forum like the Facebook group Writers Helping Writers. Important tip. Start by reading lots of posts before posting. I recommend at least two weeks. Then post as often as you can, even if it is just a “thumbs up” to somebody else’s comments. Another excellent post is, “That makes sense.” Your goal is to get yourself out there and gain writing tips.
4) READ A LOT. At least two hours a day. Try to read in the same area (like romance) you are thinking of publishing. This will improve your writing ability and develop style/ideas. It will also get you into the mindset you are writing for others. Read a variety of authors, including non-famous authors. Look for mistakes and think about how YOU would fix the problem.
5) Start a blog. I have one on Goodreads, Facebook, Tumblr, and Medium. Talk about how your writing is going, what books you enjoy, and what it means to be a writer. Keep it high level. No politics or other controversial topics unless it is your thing to offend people. If so, tread lightly.
6) Start thinking about marketing and do research in this area. This is a long, laborious, and expensive journey. “Writing a book is 99% self-marketing and 1% other.” -Me
7) Get a computer with Internet access and Microsoft Word. You can pick up an old copy of Microsoft Word (like 2016) for $30 on eBay. Do not use OpenOffice! Despite all the evil that Microsoft is, they make a great product. This choice avoids issues like, “It looks good on the screen, but when I print, the margins do not line up.” All professional writers use Word, which is what editors, print/ebook formatters, and publishers expect. If you do not consider yourself a professional writer (or are at least trying to be one), you must ask yourself why you are undertaking this journey. Trust me, much hard work is ahead of you, and you need the right tools. In addition, you can find the answer if you have a Microsoft Word question.
8) I strongly recommend paying for Grammarly and ProWritingAid. (Ensure you only use the Grammarly Word plug-in, not the Windows application.) These two programs will save you time, money, and adverse publicity. In addition, your blogs and book reviews should all pass through these programs. Side note. These programs may not work at all for non-Microsoft Word.
9) BACK UP YOUR WORK EVERY DAY!! The number of times I read, “My computer got stolen, and I lost five years of work.” Get a memory stick, back up (a distinct copy) ONCE A WEEK, and put the stick in a fire-proof safe. NO EXCUSES! Install a virus checker and keep your computer updated.
Let’s begin the writing process.
First off, you have a BIG decision. Is this for fun or profit? If it is for fun, the pressure is off, and you can write anything you want without consequence. Who cares if you ever make a buck? Who cares about a grammar, plot, or character mistake?! However, once you go down this path, there is no turning back because you will have a trail of shoddy work. On the other hand, if you want to write for profit and fail, you can continue writing for fun with a solid foundation.
If you intend to write for profit, you need to consider yourself a professional with a serious attitude. Also, you will need to spend big for a professional editor, copy editor, cover designer, and formatter. Stop and ask yourself if you have it inside of you.
How much and how long will it take? At least six months and $5K+ (per book). Yes, that is a lot of money. But if you are resourceful, you can find helpers, intelligent tips, and people you can beg, but there are no shortcuts.
Now, let’s say you use a shortcut like not having your work professionally edited. Trust me, the readers will tear you apart no matter how hard you try or how good your grammar/spelling/punctuation (or the friend you asked to check out your work). You will get 1-star reviews and harsh comments like, “A 5-year-old wrote this book.” A 1-star review is CRUSHING to an author. PAYING readers expect polished works. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly.” -Some famous person.
What topic should you write about? Unfortunately, I cannot help in this area. Your story has to come from within you, and you need to be 150% passionate about it. This will be a long road, and you are wasting your time if you have no deep passion.
Now that you have a concept write a brief paragraph about it. Go over this paragraph several times to polish it. Important tip. Keep this paragraph; you will need it later.
Next step, show your paragraph to people and ask them what they think. If people seem apprehensive, ponder the concept. People are good at identifying a lousy concept.
Poor children’s book example, “Wilber the farting bulldozer,” Your friends should say, “I’m not sure about this.” “Parents might not want their kids reading about a farting bulldozer.” “Not a good idea.”
Now, do some research. If somebody has done the concept, start over. Copy concepts only get 1-star reviews, even if they are excellent. “This is just a poor Harry Potter re-write. What a rip-off! Don’t bother reading!”
Remember, your work needs to stand out. How much? 40%. (I have discovered that 40% is an important estimate for books and life.) Another part of your concept must have a solid story foundation that is not too far away from other books you have read. Look at the various categories on and ask yourself, “Which category would my work be in? What books are already there? How does my idea stand up to these books? Would readers of book X like my work?” Readers will have difficulty understanding your work if your idea is too difficult to put into a standard category.
What is your hook? What magic will make people want to “buy it now?” I often read bad book idea posts in Writers Helping Writers. “I had a messed-up life and want to write my story.” I typically reply, “What is your hook?” “My life was so bad that people will naturally want to read about me.” Writers seem to think their lives are unique. Why would I ever want to read about a nobody who had a messed-up life? Where is the hero? Why should I feel sorry for you? Where is the spunk? What did I learn? HOW DOES THIS HELP ME?!
Here is a simple book with a great hook, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. It is an exciting account of a funeral home worker and her life. Lots of info and insight. Did the author have a terrible childhood? Yes, but that was not the focus. Remember, your book must stand out. Side note. I gave the book a positive review on Goodreads and Amazon. More on that later.
Now, you have a hook, and people like your summary paragraph. Next step. Does this concept have marketing potential? My advice for answering this is to post your idea to a writer’s group and ask for their marketing opinion. Even better, pay for the opinion of a professional book person who knows the publishing industry. How do you find such a person? Ask a writer’s group for advice. If your feedback is negative, tweak the concept or start over.
Side note. The book market has radically changed. For example, in the 50-70s, western books were all the rage; now, that market is almost nonexistent. So look up your area of interest and make sure readers are interested.
You are ready to begin when you are at least 40% sure that you have a marketable concept. Start with some basic questions. How do you see the story unfolding? When are you going to introduce your main character? How is the book structured? Get the entire plot clear in your head before picking up a pen.
This next step is my most important piece of advice. When you have the entire plot, write an outline. This outline is for you, so do not get too wrapped up in making it look great. The goal is to develop a simple guide visually showing how the story flows. There are many book outline formats, including the flower method. You can also use post-its, a whiteboard, or 3x5 cards. I have found Visio to be an excellent method of organizing my thoughts.
Another outlining method is a basic description like this bulky example:
They travel around Italy. [Research towns in Italy. Find one near the coast.] X find evil man H, he is in a bad way, not good at making money, confront him, argument, X feels the evil for the first time. [chapter break] Learns H has been killing many people to steal their money. X captured by evil army W, escape. H reveals he did not find the secret and said, “Damn. What would Jake do?”
That mess was AWFUL! However, I wrote it for ME, and now I know the exact plot. And you do, too, which is the point. Notice the sample dialog, notes, and use of X, H, and W for names. Remember, the idea is to get the story’s essence and show flow. When you have completed your outline, go over it several times. Take a high-level view and pay attention to how the plot unfolds. LOOK FOR PLOT ERRORS! How did the killer get the gun? Why didn’t people hear the shot? The killer could have simply taken the subway to escape. Where was the mother during all of this?
At this outline stage, it is easy to make VAST changes, move chapters and alter the whole plot. How about we change the main character’s gender? Should I introduce the main character later? What would happen if there were two main characters? Can a reader follow this? How big is the hook? What will improve the story? What does the reader care about? What distracts the reader? Do I have too many subplots? Is this a fun story? Is this interesting? What is the side plot?
When you are confident, show the outline to somebody. It should be written barely well enough to get feedback. Stand firm, but do not be afraid to make bold changes.
Once you finish your work, a significant change is complex and will have consequences. For example, change the main character from a man to a woman. You can then make a he/she mistake, and readers do not tolerate basic errors. A subtler issue occurs with the character’s mindset. “She drove her pickup truck like a bad-ass boss!!” This sentence is valid dialog, but readers would think, “A woman would not say it that way.” Readers are great at picking up flaws, and their 1-star comments will be brutal.
Next, start a list of the characters and make a simple biography. Add notes and details.

Smith Family
Mom=Karen, Father=Joe, Son=James. Cat=Mr. Tumbles. Live at 1010 East Street. Joe looks like an angry Darth Vader.
As you write, add facts to the biography and periodically check facts. Also, you can copy parts of your book here, like a character description, for later reference. Then, check the fact sheet while writing. Making a mistake like calling the father Joey instead of Joe. Readers HATE basic errors. Important tip, do not have two characters with the same first name. Super confusing for the reader and editor.
To help you with this character effort, use a random name generator (available online) to develop character names. They have them for different countries, medieval times, and science fiction. My advice is to keep hitting the generate button until something pops. “Joey Potter sounds like a good name for my villain.” Do not use your family/friend names. Too confusing and can lead to issues with actual people.
This is my dialog integration format:
Tim was happy and said, “That’s good.”
“Wow, what a great day,” Tim commented. “I will have to go to the market.”
“Wow, what a great day,” he commented. “I will have to go to the market” (Did you see the lowercase “he”)

“Big dialog paragraph ending without a quote.
“Next dialog paragraph begins with a quote.”

Small paragraph. Tim was happy and said, “That’s good.” (Only integrate small amounts of dialog into a paragraph.)

Big paragraph.
Tim was happy and said, “That’s good.” (Start with a new line after a big paragraph.)

Tim was happy and said, “That’s good.”
“Sounds great,” Sally replied.”
“I will work on that.” (No need to mention who is speaking for the following three lines. My rule is one identifier per three lines of dialog.)

For thoughts, use italics instead of quotes, but treat them the same as above. (Except use “thought” in place of “said.”) Do not overuse the word “said.” Instead, use a variety of words. Commented, believed, inferred, questioned, or wondered. English experts may disagree with my format, but if you use this format, you will please 95% of your readers. This format will also make it much easier for editors to polish.
Keep in mind that your dialog has to keep the story moving. Also, remember that the reader is not a mind reader, so the dialog has to make sense in the context of non-dialog. Do not get too caught up in slang, obscure words, made-up words, or inside jokes. Dialog is critical for the story, and this is where the emotions come out. “I’m sad,” Bill said in a hurt voice.
My overall “dialog management” method is to visualize the character and imagine them speaking. Then, assign a personality in your description. For example, Bob is like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. Think about this movie when you write. “That’s a superb idea,” Bob said in an uplifting voice. However, in the film, Tom Hanks’s character would never say, “Golly gee, that’s goody-goody.”
If you get stuck, exercise (I get my best ideas during bike rides), talk to people, post on writing groups, and take time off. A moderate amount of red wine also helps. Top tip. Other alcohol choices do not help. Guess how I know? Another tip is to force yourself to write for a fixed time, say, two hours daily. Big tip, learn to understand when you cannot write because forcing yourself to write leads to terrible results. Also, have some other work ready (like investigating your next book), so you can switch between the two.
Yay, you finished your first draft!
Read over your work and edit. Do this at least five times with no specific goal. Then make a pass for consistency, dialog, punctuation, spelling, flow, and CHECK FACTS. Now, make two read/edit passes. Trust me. This effort will make better work and save heartache. Typically, I do 20-30 editing passes. Also, use Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
What is flow? It is how one sentence leads to the next. It is how one paragraph integrates to the next. The reader should not struggle. They should never have to stop and think about what you are saying. “Which person is talking now?” “I’m confused. Where did the killer come from?” “What does this word mean?”
One more step. You need a title. Start brainstorming and come up with at least 20. First, cross out all the titles that already exist. Then, with a friend’s help, narrow the list to one. It should be edgy, tight, and provocative.
Now, you have the best possible work, so give it to somebody. This is a beta read. You want them to find significant issues and make comments. (You are not looking for grammar/spelling issues. That is the job of the editor.) “This makes little sense.” “I do not think X would do this.” “Seems unrealistic.” “More explanation.” Then another five edits. There should be no plot issues, logic errors, or critical facts at this stage, and the flow is excellent.
Next, find an editor. How? Look for their reviews and ask for a sample document that they have edited. Look at their comments, questions, notes, encouragements, suggestions, (If you do not see these additional thoughts, DO NOT USE THIS EDITOR.) and how the document improved. See if you spot missed errors. Important tip. Do not treat your editor like a garbage collector. If you know your work has errors, fix them. (Like not capitalizing a state name.) You want to give the editor the absolute best possible work so they can concentrate on genuine issues. Otherwise, they will spend time fixing the simple stuff and feel they have accomplished an impressive accomplishment.
After the edit, review their edits, evaluate each one, and then make five more passes. At this stage, you have a polished work, which is the absolute best it can be. But there will be subtle issues that you cannot spot.
Next, find a copy editor. This is an $$ step, but essential. A copy editor looks for the little nitpick grammar mistakes, logic issues, and checks facts. This is the final polish; you need to check their work.
But there is an issue. You must “trust the force” and let the copy editor take control. If they make an edit and you disagree, go with their edit. This hands-off final step is super difficult. Make five more passes, but they should be super light. (On average, one word per three pages.) If you want to improve something, remember that your improvement has not been copy edited. So tread carefully and know that the professional knows better than Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
YAY, you are done! Now for the harder part, publishing your work. Then the impossible: marketing your work.

You’re the best -Bill
January 15, 21, 2018 Updated March 26, 2023


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