Writing a book – Part 1 – The overview

December 8th, 2005

Quite a number of you seem to be interested in the process behind extracting the words and pictures for a book from the author's brain and getting them down on sheets of paper that are then bound up and shipped to the bookstore. 

I have to say that I'm surprised that so many people are interested in this but who am I to argue so what I'll do in this and a few posts in the future is give you a little insight into the wonderful world of publishing!

To kick off, I'll briefly take you through the stages involved.  In later posts I'll expand on some of these and also pass on a few tips/tricks/suggestions to any would-be authors and writers out there.  Bear in mind that my experience is with technical books and training materials but I imagine that much of this is applicable to publishing as a whole.

Anyways, here goes.  I'll start by quickly taking you through the process.

  • The idea
    While this seems like the simplest part it's actually the most important.  If you are starting out, expect to have to come up with the idea yourself.  Later on, after you've established a relationship with a publisher they may come to you with ideas - which can be cool!
  • The proposal
    No matter whether it's an idea that you came up with or one that a publisher approached you with, you will need to draw up a proposal.  The proposal is partly to convince the publisher that the idea is a good one and to persuade them to publish but it's also a great way to organize your thoughts on the topic.  A good publishing house should give you lots of support at this stage - expect to put in a lot of work into the proposal and expect it to go back and forth a few times
  • Accept or reject!
    At some point the publisher you are dealing with will either think that the idea you have is a good one and fits in with their publishing plans and they accept it or that it doesn't and they reject it.  If they accept the proposal you move on to the next stage.  If they reject it, you go back to the start and try again (or look for a different publisher - remember that there are plenty more fish in the sea!).
  • Contract
    If the proposal is a success then you will be signed up.  This is when you get the contract.  The contract is a legal document that covers a few key areas of the relationship between you and the publisher.  Specifically:
    - What you are going to deliver
    - When you will deliver it
    - What happens if you don't!
    - How much you get paid up front
    - When you get paid
    - Royalties
  • The writing stage!
    This is when your ideas have to be turned into words and images.  I'll have a lot more to say about this later!
  • Editing and technical review
    The publisher will have editors that will clean up the manuscript that you produce and make sure it makes sense.  They will also sign up a technical reviewer or technical editor (called a tech reviewer or editor) who will go through the work with an eye for mistakes, steps you've left out, suggestions and so on.  Again, I'll have a LOT more to say about this!
  • Proofs
    This is when you are sent a draft copy of the book to look at.  You will check for any and all issues to do with layout and spelling (never try to add anything at this stage or the editors will hate you!).  This will be the first time that you will have seen your book actually resemble a book and I still get a thrill from this!
  • Printing
    The electronic book is turned into an actual book!
  • In the shops!
    After printing the books will hit the shops and you should hopefully start earning some royalties!

That's the book writing process summarized into a few bullet points.  Just to give you a guide, this process can take anything from 6 - 8 months to well over a year (it varies from publisher to publisher, how desperate they are for the book, how quickly you can write it and a whole host of other variable).  There's a lot of fine detail to fill in and I'll do that over a few posts in the next few weeks.

Before I close this post, let me leave you with a few tips for those who think they might have a book waiting to burst out!

  • Get used to writing - Lots!  Get a blog or a website and get in loads of writing!  Learn how much you can get done in a day - this will be useful when it comes to planing out how long the writing phase will take.  It will also help you develop a writing style that you are comfortable with.
  • Publishers will expect you to be able to use Microsoft Word or OpenOffice (mostly they use Microsoft Word).  Get used to using it and working with templates!
  • If you have an idea, document it!  Ideas are transient things and something that's crystal clear now might fade away if you don't capture it!  If you are a writer or aspiring writer, never be more than three feet away from some way of recording down your thoughts (PDA, pan and paper, tape recorder ...). 
  • Become your own researcher!  As a writer you are going to need to be a good researcher.  Learn your way around search engines and libraries.
  • Take your ideas and shape them.  Raw ideas rarely sell (although I've pretty much sold a book to publishers based on a single email - but this was to people I already had a good relationship with).  No doubt that publishers will have their own idea of what a proposal should look like but at the early stages you should develop your ideas in a way that feels good to you (later I'll give you a template for a proposal that you can use).  What you are trying to do is come up with a chapter listing for the book, a good idea of what goes into each of the chapters and get an idea for the overall length and scope of the book.
  • A lot of authors spend a lot of time worrying about things like titles and so on.  Don't!  What I do is just give my work a working title and then collaborate with the publisher to come up with something better.
  • Get used to feedback on your work!  Publishers will give you a varying amount of feedback and it's no time to get too hung up on critique.  Learn to take it on the chin or learn to fight your corner if you think you are right (you'll have to do this in spades when it comes to tech review!).
  • A publisher will want to shape your ideas - not because they don't like your idea but because they want to shape it to fit in with their plans.
  • Remember not to take rejections personally - they're not meant that way!

Stay tuned for more!

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 8th, 2005 at 14:35 and is filed under Book Talk!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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