Many people dream of someday writing a book, but without a clear message and plan of action very few will even write the first word. Here are some tips on how to start writing a book from an editor with more than a decade of publishing-industry experience and hundreds of manuscripts under her belt.
An acknowledgment section might initially seem like the simplest part of writing your book, but many authors feel stumped once they reach this part of the publishing process. How long should it be? Who to thank? How to say it? It can get surprisingly complicated surprisingly quickly. Read on for our tips on how to write a great book acknowledgment page.
Who to Thank in Your Acknowledgements
Similar to making a wedding invitation list, the names of people you want to include may seem to pile on top of each other fifty per minute once you start brainstorming, leaving you overwhelmed with who to thank. A good rule of thumb is to stick only to the people who helped you directly in writing and producing the book (ie: not your friend from pre-K who showed you how to tie your shoes, as invaluable that life lesson may be). Common acknowledgment ideas are family members, sources for nonfiction pieces, your editor and designer/illustrator, your publisher, and your book mentor. BPS also has a good piece of advice—“Be parsimonious in your praise of animals, too.” Sorry, Spot.
Trying to sell a book with an uninteresting title is like trying to sell a homely pre-owned car—the buyer is probably going to browse right over the rusted ‘99 Saturn to check out the pristinely waxed Honda parked next door. Although the interior looks great, and the gas tank is full, the Saturn’s dullness holds no ground against the Armor-All tires of its competitor.
Your book’s title serves as the deal breaker for your target consumers. Take a lesson from the used-car analogy and don’t let a dull or overused phrase ruin a book’s selling potential. A title should attract the intended audience, communicate the promise of the book, and differentiate the book in the market. Pick a title with purpose! Here we’ll discuss how to make that purpose come to life with brainstorming techniques, essential titling elements, and some no-no’s to avoid when narrowing down your title.
A book’s title is important. It’s a crucial summary of the essence of the content inside, and one of the key ways a book pitches itself to browsers when it’s all alone on the bookstore shelf. Get the title wrong and a book is crippled from the outset. And there are all sorts of mistakes to be made in titling: genre-inappropriate titles, overly clever titles that don’t reflect what the book’s about, titles with strange formatting or cute intentional misspellings that make the book not show up in online search results.
If you’re trying to title your book and getting frustrated, you’re in good company. For instance, George Orwell almost called his dystopian masterpiece The Last Man in Europe instead of 1984. Bo-ring. And Moby-Dick was named after a real-life whale named “Mocha Dick.” It’s a good think Melville changed it up—can you imagine the cleverly named Starbucks menu items? (Starbucks got its name in part from Captain Ahab’s first mate in the novel.)
A Little Background
You always hear at writers’ conferences to write what you love, or to choose your genre based on what you enjoy writing. If you’re writing purely for pleasure, this is a great idea. But if you’re interested in selling books in a crowded marketplace, you have to write about what you know. Writing a book within a genre where you have either credentials or expertise is one of the best ways to cut through the noise, because consumers have a good reason to put stock in what you’re saying. As a first time author, start writing where you have an audience. Are you a business owner? Write about entrepreneurship, company culture, or how to start a small business. Are you a life coach or speaker? Address a topic that you encounter or speak on frequently. Medical professional? Tackle health topics pertaining to your field. And the list goes on.
So what happens when you’re ready to write your second book, and it’s in a genre divergent from your original book? This happens frequently when an established author decides to write a fiction book after a nonfiction release, or vice versa. Before you put pen to paper, there are a few things you might want to consider to give your new book its best chance of success.
When it comes to writing a self-help book, it's easy to cross the line into memoir writing. After all, the lessons we want to pass on to others often originate with personal experience. Nevertheless, there are a few rules for writing self-help books that can help you avoid the common mistake of blending in elements of memoir.
Make it Specific
DO THIS: Target a specific area of personal improvement. It’s all about focusing your content and providing unique direction to readers. Pick a topic like changing a habit, letting go of anxiety or fear, becoming more confident/organized/patient/etc.
NOT THIS: Speak broadly about happiness, achieving goals, or spirituality. Writing on vague ideas like “life goals” provides no marketing hook and little helpful advice to your readers—plus, the market is saturated with books on these topics.
Share Your Credentials
DO THIS: Use your professional experience and credentials to establish yourself as an expert in the field pertaining to your book. It’s crucial for the retail success of your self-help book that you have a certification, degree, or career in fields like therapy, psychology, or holistic healing. Alternatively, it can be helpful to have significant experience as a life coach or professional mentor or own a successful business that relates to your content.
NOT THIS: Write a book solely based on overcoming a personal struggle. Publishers, retail buyers, and consumers are generally not interested in reading a book by an author whose sole credentials are personal experience.
Keep it Structured
DO THIS: Structure content in a clear progression towards an end goal for the reader. For example, your book may be divided into three sections: 1) Acknowledging the problem and developing a plan 2) Implementing the plan and overcoming the problem 3) Following through and sticking with the plan. There needs to be forward momentum and ideas that build to a solution.
NOT THIS: Write free-form thoughts about self-improvement without a sense of order and advancement. Writing this way provides little help to the reader in solving the problem they bought the book to address.
Give Readers a Game Plan
DO THIS: Offer clear, actionable advice such as bulleted to-do items at the end of each chapter (or interspersed throughout) that build on the content and require reader involvement. This is the imperative for a successful self-help book. People buy self-help books so that they can learn tools to better themselves, so you absolutely must give readers a takeaway. For example, if you ask your readers to answer questions, make sure to give them guidance as to how to interpret their answers or what to do based on the results.
NOT THIS: Offer your readers vague questions and platitudes like: “Think about a time you struggled and how you overcame it” or “The power of positive thinking will help you achieve your dreams.”
Learn the do's and don'ts of memoir writing here.
Memoirs are among the most powerful books on the market in terms of their ability to positively affect their readers. The basis of memoir writing lies in an author with a story worth telling, whether about an accomplishment or struggle. But while memoir authors often have many life lessons to share, it’s important that they don’t stray into the more prescriptive world of self-help writing.
Follow these do’s and don’ts, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a memoir that can compete toe-to-toe with the best on the market.
Tell a Story
DO THIS: Establish a story arc. Even though it’s a story about your life, it still has to have some of the elements and structure of fiction to make it compelling. Consider how you will tell your story based on what elements you’re trying to emphasize. Remember, you still need character development, a compelling struggle, and a resolution.
NOT THIS: Include every detail of your life in your memoir. If you’re focusing on your relationship with your siblings, don’t put unnecessary details in about your college years or your European vacation with friends unless it relates directly to the story.
Show Don't Tell
DO THIS: The inspiration needs to come from the story. If you’re writing an inspirational memoir, it’s the story, the characters, and the action that should incite emotion. When you read an amazing memoir, it’s not uplifting because the author is telling you it is; the inspiring nature of the book is written into the story.
NOT THIS: Tell the reader why the story is inspiring. Don’t say things like, “In overcoming my illness, I finally realized how strong I was.” Show your readers how you felt, and let them infer from your storytelling the lessons you learned. This is an important distinction between self-help and memoir, and a key place where authors unintentionally blend the two.
Highlight What's Unique
DO THIS: Find your hook and emphasize an element of your story that makes it unique and marketable. Telling about your struggle isn’t enough. Research comparable titles and figure out an angle for your book that is new and different from what is already out there.
NOT THIS: Write a very broad book about overcoming a difficult situation. For example, instead of a book about addiction, write a book about beating alcoholism with your supportive, madcap Southern family at your side.
Writing a self-help book? Learn what makes it different than a self-help book here.
“My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure.”
I’ve read many books, ideas, proposals. A small, but shining few are good, and there is a significant trait that define them as such. The authors know who their audience is, and they write for that audience. Knowing your core audience is essential.
I am the first to admit how deeply personal putting words to paper is for me. It has always been subject to my interests, my thoughts, my ideas, my passions. I write because it fulfills me.
Most authors don't write for money or fame (or “fortune and glory,” as pulp fiction screen star Indiana Jones would have put it), but because they have a honest love of what they do.