First, an explanation of what’s to come…
For some reason, I am the guy that my friends come to when they are at a career crossroads and need a sounding board. What always comes up during these conversations is this question, “Chris, how did you go about writing your books?”
The answer is not as long-winded as you might think. In 1998, I began writing two books, one about film festivals for Lone Eagle Publishing and another about unproduced screenplays for St. Martin’s Press. I wrote both in one year (which was a big mistake, never attempt to do that yourself) but had never written a book before. I learned on the job that I created for myself and made up my own rules about how to go about tackling what seemed impossible at the time. The success of those two books led to three new editions festival book as well as other titles.
In response to my friends, and as a way to avoid repeating myself to each person who asked, I wrote this short piece.
Now, when someone asks me, I just email them this… well, I would describe what you’re reading at this moment as a “constantly evolving” essay. Up until now, I have only shared this advice with friends who I know will not only benefit from taking on this challenge, but are capable of doing the work required of an author. Thus far, six people who have read this have had their books published. These also happen to be friends who have either first expressed an interest in writing a book and/or I made the observation myself and said to them, “Hey, you should write a book.”
So, if after being initially intrigued by the headline, you saw fit to read further, then I’m telling you, reader, “Hey, YOU should write a book!”
It shouldn’t surprise you to know that there are books available that detail the many steps involved in writing a book and getting it published. What I will impart to you is the very basic information which could probably fit into a pamphlet. And, frankly, it’s all you really need to know because if you’ve written something unique and wonderful, my advice is only going to help you connect the dots. I can’t really tell you how to write a book. (In the Zen sense, that is.)
As the author of several titles in the film category, let me tell you that nothing increases your stock value more than writing a book. It’s great publicity too. In fact, Time magazine recently did a story about film festivals and they quoted me while mentioning my book. I’ve also been on radio, TV, quoted in a load of movie magazines, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, all from achieving that elusive title of “author.”
Aside from getting some press, many amazing opportunities have come my way because I wrote a book that ended up gaining respect within its category — The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Without putting forth much effort, I am offered other writing jobs, speaking gigs, consulting work, trips to festivals — all from writing that one book.
Another benefit to becoming a published author is that your rate increases. I can justify getting paid better when I write since, I’m an “expert.” Sure there are plenty of pundits who call themselves “experts” on television. But being a “published author” puts you in a whole new category — it means you have proof that you know something about the subject you’re discussing.
In the interests of passing along this simple knowledge to anyone who has ever thought about writing a book, I typed up the following essay. The advice is practical and useful mainly for works of non-fiction, though you could apply some of the same methods to fiction writing as well. It’s written in a conversational way to instruct and, more importantly, to inspire. I’ve titled this minor masterpiece… “How to Write a Book.”
Okay. I know. It’s a lame title. I need to work on that. Please don’t judge my scrawlings here too harshly, this is meant to inspire, not be written good.
Note: That last part, I specifically wrote poorly on purpose. Just so you know. Some attempts to be clever will invariably fail, so learn from my very recent mistake as you forge ahead to read something that could very well change your life… right… now.
How to Write a Book
by Chris Gore
Let me start by exposing a secret — writing a book is not that difficult. It only seems like an impossible task because you’ve never done it. So, don’t be intimidated, let’s begin.
I am going to assume that you already have some talent, expertise and writing skill. Accomplishing the task of completing a book, one that people will actually want to buy, requires another quality — consistency. I bet you can put together an essay of, say, 500 words on any topic fairly easily. A book is kind of like that 500 word essay, but with much more depth and a higher word count. In fact, the average book is about 50,000 to 60,000 words. So, in some ways, it’s all about math — get that word count to 50,000+ on said subject, and you’re done. However, it’s not all that easy — ending up with a finished work of a particular length is a matter of committing oneself to being consistent, often at the expense of other things in your life.
You have to write every day.
Without an excuse, you have to write.
If you write just 1,000 words a day (about four type-written, double-spaced pages) for two months and you do it consistently every day, you will eventually create enough content to amount to the length of the average book.
When I get in the zone, I can write about 3,000 words in three or four hours. I’ve found it’s best to schedule a regular time to write, either in the morning or late at night when there are fewer distractions. It’s really important that you set aside the time (it helps to make it the same period of time each day) to get in that zone where writing becomes almost hypnotic… the words escaping your fingers like notes on a piano. You’re not thinking, you’re letting the words flow.
Where to write is an important choice. Some people think they will go to some special place, a vacation hotspot, and spend a few relaxing months writing their great book. Good luck with that. I don’t believe that is the best way. I don’t believe you need to go “somewhere” to write a book — I don’t know anyone who returned from a vacation with a decent novel or book, there are just too many distractions and too much pressure. Wherever you write, make it a place that allows you to focus.
The truth is, most decent books are written under circumstances that are less than ideal, often while working a full-time job like you probably are right now. Just ask your local bank teller if he is working on a book. You might consider doing what many first-timers find works, write in the morning before you go to work. Morning, not night. Get up at 4 AM, sit in front of that computer and grind out those words. No excuses. Write 10,000 words a week.
The final step is polishing and editing what you have churned out while taking a more critical eye to the words. If you’ve done well in school, this can be accomplished with ease.
When you finish the heavy lifting required of a first draft, reward yourself. Plan something, in fact, write it down. Smoke a Cuban cigar. Eat an expensive steak. Share a bottle of the best champagne. I didn’t drink beer for two months (and I love beer) until I completed the first draft of My Big Fat Independent Movie. I rewarded myself by going to a bar and drinking a cold one with pals. No beer I ever drank in my life tasted better than that one.
More challenging than writing a book, is selling it to a publisher. Who you are factors into the marketing itself and can help sell the book. So, there’s a question you need to ask yourself, before the publisher does:
What real-life experiences make you qualified to write a book about this topic? (Meaning, are you yourself a promotable aspect?)
You’ll need a very good answer as the response plays into your ability to help sell the title to the book-buying public at large. Can you do print interviews, radio, mount a book-signing tour or appear on television and remain clever and all-smiles in spite of lousy hotels, quick meals, little sleep and a fast-paced life on the road for weeks usually requiring you to answer the same questions over and over and over. Before you approach a publisher, consider all of these questions carefully.
There are also things that are important to a publisher that are probably not very important to you. They’re not putting out books for charity, they expect to make money, so you have to be sensitive to the publisher’s needs respond to the things that matters to them. Publishers consider a book’s title to be a major part of the marketing. You’ll have to deliver a solid and focused concept along with a catchy title — a book you can explain in a sentence, so you tell someone the title and they get it quickly. Start with a decent, catchy title, otherwise, the publisher will think of one for you. For example, “American Smartass” is a satirical novel about a scientist who uses ancient DNA from the shroud of Turin to clone a teenage Jesus who then becomes a stand-up comic mocking his dad (God) in his meteoric rise to fame and fortune. Okay, that book sounds terrible, it’s more like a movie pitch, but you get the idea. Most book titles run 1.2 words, so think short and concise. However, there are no rules when it comes to titles, so you’ll know a good one when you hear it.
I’ve always wanted to write a book in the style of one of those in the “For Dummies” series, with the title Filmmaking for A******s. The book would recount all the classic a*****e stories from Hollywood in a humorous and how-to style, so that the reader could aspire to be an a*****e filmmaker themselves. It would be satirical, but actually lay out by example that being an a*****e is rewarded and often leads to success. Unfortunate, but true. (I went so far as to pitch this with a mock cover, but no publisher wanted an expletive as part of the title.)
If you’ve never written a book before, no matter how good your writing samples are, the publisher will want the following:
– A catchy title. In fact, I should know what the book is by hearing the title. Expect the title to go through tweaks and changes as it is tested with buyers.
– An outline or table of contents. The publisher wants to know what’s in the book chapter by chapter.
– The pitch, basically 1-2 pages essay explaining the genre, short summary, similar books in the marketplace, why someone would buy this book, who is the reader, etc… Think of this as the copy you would read on the inside jacket of a hardcover. What would best describe your book?
– A sample chapter or two.
– Foreword – For non-fiction, including a famous person to approach to write the foreword is a great tool in selling the title. I have written the forewords for many film-related books. One Film Threat writer is currently writing a book about movies and drinking (the title is brilliant, but I can’t give it away here) and plans to get Artie Lang of the Howard Stern show to pen the foreword. It’s a perfect match. It doesn’t have to be written, you don’t have to know them, you just need an idea of who you might approach.
– Quotes – A list of potential people and/or outlets to approach for quotes for the back cover. I don’t know why, but publishers love this.
– Your bio. Again, who you are plays into the marketing and selling of the book, so a book about a stripper written by an actual stripper is more interesting than one written by a non-stripper. Make sense? Which means that I could not write a book about a stripper. Well, not a very good one.
If you are writing your first book, the reality is that you’ll have to write nearly the entire thing in order to get a publisher’s attention. And then you have to get them to read it. If you have no previous experience, it’s nearly impossible to sell a book based on a pitch or a sample chapter. That is, unless you are well-established or famous or have committed a sensational crime. It’s sad, but true.
I begin each book project by writing a well-planned outline or a detailed table of contents. This may sound odd, but I spend more time on the outline than writing the book itself. I usually have thought through this outline so carefully, that writing is just about getting the ideas out of my head. I go about this by penning a headline for each 250-500 word portion. I will often include additional notes to break down each section so that I can recall details I plan to include. I can’t stress the importance of this outline. On my first film festival book, I spent six months on the outline, then only two months writing the actual book. On the updates to later editions, it takes about a month of working exclusively on the book and nothing else.
Now, there are a few things you need to ask yourself–
Do you have the ambition, the drive and the time to write a book?
Can you spend three hours or more daily and then sustain that pace for months, maybe even a year or more to get it done?
That’s up to you. Get it published before life makes it too difficult and you dream to publish a book remains a dream forever.
Outline. Write. Plan.
And, most importantly… think.
How many of us take the time, actually spend time “thinking”? You need the time to think, you need a schedule, you need a goal and you need a deadline. That is what is required to achieve any creative goal.
So, stop waiting and write it.
P.S. If my words have helped you in some way get your book done, please toss a mention in the special thanks. I’d appreciate it. And, if you forget, that’s cool. I’m just happy to have helped in some small way.