This is reposted from the Lulu.com blog where I was a guest blogger. Part 2 is coming soon.
Researchers have estimated that 200 million people have an idea for a book, and yet most aspiring authors never get published. Why is that? That’s because having an idea for a book is easy. Starting to write a book is easy. Finishing the book is a much more difficult task. Not to mention marketing the book once it’s finished. So what does it take to turn a writer into an author? From my personal and professional experience, plus conversations with thousands of aspiring and accomplished authors, I have identified seven key things writers need if they are going to reach their publishing goals.
#1 An idea
Having an idea may seem obvious, but there is a big difference between an idea and a well-thought-out idea. The idea is the foundation for the book, yet many writers don’t take the time to really think about their ideas.
The five key elements of a great story
If you are writing a fiction book, there are five key elements of a great story you need to make sure are part of your book.
- An inciting action—This is the action near the beginning that kicks off the story. A dead body is found or a car chase ensues or two people kiss. Something needs to set the story in motion.
- A protagonist—This is often the main character who you want readers to cheer for and care about.
- An antagonist—This is the person who is working against the protagonist and putting up obstacles or making it difficult for the protagonist to accomplish whatever is set before him or her.
- A conflict or challenge—This is whatever must be overcome for the protagonist to succeed. What happens if your protagonist doesn’t stop the asteroid from hitting the earth? What happens if someone takes over the world and inserts a virus into computers? What happens if the murderer isn’t caught? Too often, writers start out with a really good idea, but they don’t draw the reader in by making it clear what’s at stake. It sounds simple, but surprisingly many writers don’t make this easy to spot when this is what typically propels the story forward and gives context to the characters.
- A resolution—A story without closure isn’t really a story. Readers don’t want to be left hanging. So even if you are writing a series, you want to provide a satisfying ending. All good stories do.
Both traditional publishers and Hollywood executives look for these elements in a story, which is why you will see them in most successful books and movies. However, what I have found is most first-time authors are missing one or more of these key elements in their stories so the book fails to satisfy. I encourage you to take a hard look at your book and ask yourself if you have these elements clearly defined. If not, make sure you add them to your story. It seems like a short list, but it is critical if you are writing a fiction book.
What about a nonfiction book?
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you still need to have a framework, but it is different from a fiction book. One big question you want to ask yourself is how will readers be impacted by reading the book?
- What outcome can I expect after I read your book?—Will I quit smoking? Will I be a better parent? Will I invest my money more wisely? Will I lose weight? Will I have better health? There is any number of outcomes that can come from reading a nonfiction book, but you need to be clear what your book offers.
- Are you going to give me a process that is repeatable?—Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean I will find it interesting if there is nothing I can apply from your experience. So you need to consider how others can use what you have learned. Give readers a process they can implement.
- Are you simply going to inspire me?—If you’re writing a memoir, yours might be a story that inspires and motivates a reader. That can be the power of a true story, but if that is your goal, do consider how you tell the story. A series of facts is not nearly as interesting as a book that includes the five elements of a great story—even if it is a memoir. Just because it happened chronologically doesn’t mean you have to tell the story in that order or even include every detail.
- Serve them PIE—As you start to develop your chapters, think about structuring them around the acronym PIE, which stands for Principal, Illustration, and Example. In other words, as you begin to write, try to include the principal you want to convey, but then couple that with an illustration of how it might work. Finally, offer an example of someone who has applied the principal in a real-world setting. This simple, proven structure can help readers more easily grasp the key points you are trying to make.
With an idea established for your book, you can start doing the real work of creating your book; the writing, editing, and developing.
#2 A deadline
The second thing that every writer needs to become an author is a deadline.
You must pick a date when you want to hold a copy of your book. With no deadline, you will probably never have a book.
If you work with a traditional publisher, they will set a date for you because your publisher or your editor will give you a deadline for when you need to turn in your manuscript. If you are self-publishing, you need to set that date for yourself because, without it, you most likely will never get to your goal. So make sure that you set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book.
And writing that date down makes a difference. Research shows you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals and dreams simply by writing them down on a regular basis. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, studied the art and science of goal-setting, and she concluded those who wrote down their goals achieved them at a significantly higher rate than those who did not.
If you want to increase the odds of becoming an author, set a deadline for finishing your book and write it down.
#3 A plan
You’ve got an idea and you’ve set yourself a deadline to complete that idea. How do you take steps to meet that deadline? A plan of course.
A plan is like GPS. Once you set your destination, you need a path with the steps to get to your goal. It’s also helpful to have milestones along the way to mark your progress. Think of the milestones a mini-deadlines.
If you are a writer and you want to become an author, these are some key milestones you want to mark on your journey.
- manuscript complete
- editing complete
- submission for production
- final revisions
With the proper support and information, you can achieve these interim goals, and most importantly, celebrate success along the way. The key to remember is no date, no book; no plan, no book. In short, without a date and a plan, it is very unlikely you will get your goal.
We’ll be back with the four remaining pieces to transforming yourself into an author, along with Keith’s conclusion!