Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Nov 21, 2008
This is the first part of my series on writing and publishing a book. I want to make a few things clear, if I may. One, not all of these concepts are specific to writing “print” books. Many of these concepts can be used in writing ebooks, magazine articles, short stories, or pretty much anything else one wishes to write. Two, all of these steps aren’t concrete; these are my opinions on the steps one should take, or things one should think about.
This may seem like the most basic step to most people, but it’s actually the one that keeps a lot of people from starting. Every person has to first decide what they want to write about, but it has to be more detailed than what they think.
For instance, you may say you want to write a detective story. Okay, what kind of detective story do you want to write? Do you want your main character to be a male or a female? Is it an agency or an individual? What kind of detective agency; serious crimes, following around people cheating on each other, finding lost children? Is there a particular area of the world your detectives are living in, and do you know enough about that area to write plausibly? What race is your main character; weight, height, background? Are they funny, serious, brooding, good looking, ugly, troubled, perfect, educated, rich, poor, sexual? Are they well known, well liked, well traveled, or are they the opposite? Are they more like James Bond or Easy Rollins or Kinsey Milhone? Or are they actually something else entirely, but end up doing detective like stuff, such as Dirk Pitt or Stone Barrington?
Or maybe you want to write a book about travel. Are you going to try to cover the entire world, or just a specific segment? Are you going to talk about places you’ve been, or places you’ve researched? Will there be images? Will there be history? Are you going to talk about the foods, the demographics, the politics?
Perspective is always key when you decide you want to write something. Almost no one gets away with writing about something they really don’t know anything about. Many years ago a friend and I decided to write a short story about a guy who ran a mining company on the planet Mercury, and how, on his return flight back to Earth, settings on his ship had been altered and, instead of flying back towards Earth, he was heading towards the sun, and had to try to figure out a way to get things changed before he was killed. Sounded like a plausible thing for us, as I wrote the storyline part and my friend dug into a little bit of the science. We submitted the story and got rejected soundly, saying our science wasn’t close to being legitimate enough to make the story plausible. Though the storyline was a pretty good one, we were way out of our realm in trying to write a science fiction story to pull it off.
I told you about my book, which I’m not going to mention here, but expect it in the next post; hey, I get to plug also, right? 🙂 Anyway, it’s a book on leadership and management. I had been thinking about writing that book for years before I started. I had always been the leader of my group as a kid, and when I got my first real job, I worked as a regular employee for 8 months before I was promoted to management, and I’d been in a leadership position ever since until I went into consulting, and even now, I always go into a consulting assignment in a leadership or independent role. While I was a director, twice the place I was working brought in survey companies to question the employees on management, and both times I came out as either the top ranked leader or tied for the top ranked leader. I always had other managers and directors and supervisors coming to me to ask how I would handle situations involving their employees. I felt that this was a subject that I was imminently qualified to write about. And even with that, I still did a little bit of research, because I wanted to have some statistics behind me while I was giving my tips.
Every book written doesn’t necessarily need to have research done, but if facts are put into a book they need to be somewhat accurate. For instance, if you mention the name of a song and the group that sang the song, it had better be correct, unless you’re writing an alternate universe story. If you’re a male and writing the story from a female perspective, you’d better be sure you’ve captured how women think and act correctly, and not just your impression of how women are.
Anyway, this all leads to what all the preparation and concept of what you’re going to write is all about. No one sits down one day and starts writing a book. Most probably, you’ve been thinking about something for a long time. Hopefully it’s become a passion for you, but it’s possible that you’re a hired gun; the process is the same.
What I recommend is to create an outline or a fact sheet, or both. An outline helps you determine in which order you want things to happen in your book. It also allows you to group common themes together if it’s a nonfiction book, or keep the flow of your book together if it’s fiction. A fact sheet allows you to put down facts that you garner from research, or write more detailed biographies of characters you introduce in your story. I know one guy who actually writes mini diaries of all the characters in his books, even if they only appear in one chapter, if he gives them a name. That way, he feels he has a better chance of capturing their personality properly as his story goes along, in case that character gets introduced again. But that’s for another time.
This gets us started on our series. I hope you’ve picked up at least one or two tips, if you needed them. Be looking out for part two of this series.