Why are you writing? Is it to share your story with others? Is it to make money? Are you seeking personal growth? Most of my books sell wholesale. I make 22 cents-$1.50 a copy partly because I co-author most of my books. I carpeted my house with one of my checks. I’ve discovered that I’m not in this business for the money. I feel that writing is a ministry. I need to make enough with my consulting, writing, editing, and teaching to live, so for me it has become a business. But my main reason for writing is that I want to change lives. I want to share something with others that will benefit them.
How do you know that God has called you to a writing ministry? Pray about it. Practice patience. Don’t rush God, your editors, or yourself. It will probably take you at least a year to get your book contracted, a year to write it, and a year for it to come out in print, perhaps longer. It has been my experience that book editors and agents do not respond before two to three months, at least not if they are interested in your book. They can hold it six months or a year or two before making a final decision.
Creating a One-sheet
When you verbally pitching your book idea to editors, you will probably have only 15 minutes to sell them on your idea. Thus I suggest you leave something in their hands so they will remember you after the conference is over. Editors and agents will have talked to many people, and you want to stand out. You can accomplish this with a “One-sheet.” Also, there may be some editors you cannot get an appointment with. You can find a moment when they are free and hand them your “One-sheet.”
A “One-sheet” is one sheet of paper to hand out to editors that shows a book proposal project—thus the name. I would suggest printing it on your letterhead stationery so it will look professional. It should be single-spaced and done in block format.
It basically includes the same things that a cover/query letter would include and should basically answer five questions:
- Why are you qualified to write this book?
- What is it about (told in one paragraph)?
- Who is your audience?
- Why will this book be marketable?
- What is your marketing plan?
An important part of pitching your book is what we call the “Thirty-second Pitch.” This can be used in a 15-minute appointment with an editor at a conference. If you pique an editor’s attention, he or she will want to hear more.
Here is my Thirty-second Pitch for one of my books. Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse offers hope and healing through Christ from these unseen hurts. Women who have grown up with the harsh reality of verbal abuse understand the pain and suffering it causes. The results of this kind of mistreatment may not cause bruises and other visible injuries, but nevertheless, the scars are there. These scars remain in the heart and mind, causing fear, powerlessness, and dependency.
It’s important to be able provide focus for your book in one paragraph. This can also go on your cover letter or one-sheet, which we will discuss in later blogs. Plus if you get an opportunity to walk to dinner with an editor or sit with him at a conference, but you weren’t able to sign up to have an appointment with him, you can pitch that editor or agent on the run, so to speak.
Now look at the opening sentence and paragraph of the chapter you are working on, or at the section of that chapter. Do you have a strong hook? Does the reader want to keep reading? Many publishing houses and agents receive 5,000 to 10,000 proposals a year. If the editors aren’t impressed by the first paragraph, they may not continue reading.
For many authors, beginnings are the most difficult part of the manuscript to write. After reading thousands of book proposals that come through our manuscript critique service, I see that it often takes the author two to three pages to reach the meat of his or her message. You will probably spend more time rewriting your lead paragraph and your first chapter than any other part of your book. Beginnings, for me, are the most difficult part of a manuscript to write.
Don’t keep working on the beginning of a chapter, editing the material over and over again. Go onto another chapter and come back later with fresh eyes to the previous material. Writing requires a great deal of editing, but it helps not to dwell on one section for too long at a time.
Now read through your chapter straight through for flow and focus. Make marks in the margin wherever you see a problem. Read it uninterrupted. You will see things on the overview that you might miss when you are going through your manuscript line by line.
Ask yourself these twelve evaluation questions.
- Do I have a good lead?
- Is my chapter interesting?
- Is it significant?
- Is my story or book marketable?
- Does it have continuity?
- Does it make sense?
- Have I left out any important points?
- Did I say what I wanted to say?
- Are my transitions adequate?
- Did I repeat my thoughts?
- Did I use complete sentences?
- Does my ending tie into my beginning?
Now let’s talk about the third step in my Three-Step Writing Process:
- Self-editing. Allow each chapter to cool before beginning to self-edit. This is the longest stage of writing and requires both sides of the brain.
Did you go where you intended? If not, you either need to change your manuscript or change your outline. Sometimes you even need to change your premise, because you didn’t go where you thought you were going.
Go back and look at your outline and theme sentence. Do they need revision? Does your chapter support your outline and theme for that chapter? If not, you need to change either your paragraph description or your first rough draft. Remember that neither is set in concrete.
What I’m saying is it’s all right to change your mind. Your manuscript doesn’t flow from your computer and settle in concrete. Sometimes the most basic parts of it eventually need to be changed. Be flexible and prayerful as you edit your work.
Writing the first rough draft is probably the most emotional birthing phase of the entire process of writing a nonfiction book. Once the words are on paper, you need to emotionally detach yourself from your baby. Lay it aside for a week and let it cool.
Go on to another chapter or on to another writing project. I suggest you go through this same writing process for each chapter of your book. Develop a focus, an outline, and then write the first rough draft. It might be a good idea to write the easiest chapters first if you are organized enough to determine those you can write quickly, or do them chronologically.
God inspires us to write, but He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. God never promised us that life would be easy, and He never said that writing would be easy. After 38 years I still struggle with my writing.
Step 2 of my Three-Step Writing Process is writing the First Rough Draft. To write your first rough draft, you use the creative (right) side of your brain.
Find a large block of uninterrupted time and write all the information you can think of regarding your book. Don’t get hung up in grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Write whatever comes to mind. Some of your chapters will be briefly outlined on this first rough draft, others may be in detail, and some won’t exist at all.
You may choose to write a synopsis of the entire book, or you may want to take smaller chunks of your “elephant” so you don’t get indigestion. On the first sitting, I write a brief overview of the book. After that, I usually write a chapter at a time, so I’m usually dealing with 15-20 pages at a time. I follow the same steps for each chapter. If there are personal stories within the chapter, I use the same process for each story.
Next create a preliminary outline before you begin the actual writing of your book. This may change as the writing progresses, but you need a guideline to start with. Your outline should be built around your chapter titles. Perhaps you have 10, 12, or more.
Then write a paragraph about each chapter. Be aware that this may change drastically, but it is important to get down as much information as you can.
Each point must support the main theme. Each chapter, though self-contained, needs to promote the main idea of your book.
Example from Wounded by Words:
Chapter 1: Hurtful Words – Caustic words and demeaning statements can be as dangerous to our wellbeing as any weapon. People often use words that dominate and control when they feel insecure themselves. Unfortunately these words are often directed at close family members, often children, and the outcome is much pain and suffering. The tension resulting from these heated words often leads to the telling of lies by both parties.
This concludes Step 1 of the Three-Step Writing Process. Lay your work aside before continuing.
Now let’s talk about my Three-Step Writing Process regarding nonfictionbooks.
Step 1: Theme and Outline: First, decide what your main purpose is in writing this particular book. Where are you going? State your theme in one word. State it in one sentence. Know what you want to say, and say it. Keep to one subject. You are using the analytical (left) side of your brain to write your focus sentence. You will probably start with something general and refine it as you develop your book.
For an example, I am going to use my book, Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse.
One word: abuse.
Sentence: Now is your chance to break the cycle of emotional and verbal abuse and set yourself and your loved ones free.
The major problem with most book manuscripts that are rejected is they deviate from their premises. The writer tries to tell too many stories or attempts to make too many points in one book.
Step 2 and 3 will be covered in future blogs.