So, you think you’ve got a book in you. Congratulations. Now to the hard bit of writing it.
This idea we have of writers sitting around in an inspirational woodland (like this picture) or beach setting is not really realistic. I’m sitting at my desk writing this facing a wall. No distractions there (unless I look ahead to see the birds outside).
Inspiration is a small part of writing, perspiration is the massive part, so be ready to sweat. Just like you won’t get fit without working out, you won’t write a book without some discipline and slog. To start, ask yourself a few questions. These are the first hurdles you need to jump in the race to start and finish your book.
- WHY am I doing it? WHY does this book need to be written? WHY does it have to be by me? WHY can’t someone else do it?
It is the WHY that will give you your authentic writing voice. ‘I need to write about life as a soldier because I’ve shot people’ seems pretty much the business, rather than ‘I imagine it must be a challenge to shoot someone’.
Or ‘I need to write because this person will not get out of my head. I am fascinated and intrigued by her’ (this was my rationale for writing my forthcoming book on Pamela Colman Smith, tarot artist. Not only was I fascinated by this woman, but there were also specifics about her no-one knew: why did she convert to Catholicism? Why did she move to Cornwall? What was her life in Bude like? Therefore, it HAD to be me telling her story).
Your fascination could be with a story, a plot, a situation, some characters, a real person or animal (or thing) or may involve a serious view on something, but it sure needs to exist.
Most books make their authors little money. You are unlikely to become famous or quit the day job. Therefore, it is the motivation for the book that matters, not your personal aspirations to be ‘an author’. A little note here: not everyone can write (at least not without a hellish amount of work) so it is not an easy task. If you know what you want to say, then your book will more confidently evolve with clarity, so much so that you will be prepared to let others read it.
2. WHO is it for? WHO will read it?
One of the key things you will need to convince an agent or publisher of is that your book has an audience, people who will buy it. It is a truism that if your book is meant to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one in particular. J.K.Rowling is unusual in her Harry Potter books appealing across the spectrum but usually, books appealing to young teenagers do not appeal to adults and so on. Define who your audience is and how you reach your reader.
If your book is a work of fiction about sexual fantasy like E. L. James managed with Fifty Shades of Grey, then you need to decide whether the audience is women, couples, younger people older people or who? You need a very clear idea of the audience for your publisher or agent to make a decision about how saleable your idea is.
3. WHAT are you saying? WHAT is it about?
A book, be it fiction or non-fiction needs to say something different. Few books are totally new, but the authentic voice of the writer is vital. This ties in strongly with no 1 – WHY?
There are very few books, very few stories which are totally original, so a slightly different twist on a story can make your book different enough to sell. What is the main thrust of your story? How does it begin and where will it end? What hurdles will the main character (protagonist) meet along the way? Perhaps the reason Fifty Shades of Grey sold so well was that there was a variation on female fantasy to include low-level sado-masochism which, at the time, was rare in books aimed at women.