I receive several letters a week from readers who are interested in writing a book and getting it published. I’m often asked for tips and I always respond. However, as I am writing two books this year, I am having difficulty these days writing an original note for each person. Therefore, I decided to write a brief post giving the best advice that I know, something I can pass along to anyone who is interested in writing and needs a little guidance I believe that there can never be enough books in our lives, so anyone who wants to write a book, I like to offer encouragement.
First of all, you must have a passion for books. If you don’t love to read, then I can’t imagine how on earth you will make a good writer. Secondly, you must be curious about the world, about people you don’t know, about cultures you have not yet experienced, and about countries you have not visited. Additionally, you must have a passion for your topic. And, you must strive to learn a lot about the topic. Don’t attempt to write about something you are not very familiar with. I think it would be very difficult to write about Africa if you had never been there.
For example: From the time I was about fourteen years old, I knew that I would one day write. I nearly always had a book in my hand. Those books took me around the world, creating enormous curiosity about other cultures and countries. Once while reading a book by that great author, Herman Wouk (I can’t recall if the book was Marjorie Morningstar or Youngblood Hawk) I was nudged by a little voice telling me, “One day I’ll write stories about others. I know that I will.”
Here’s another important point: IF you are going to write non-fiction, then you must have empathy for others. From my first memories, I can remember noticing when others were hurt, mentally or physically, and I was always distressed for them. And from an early age I jumped in and took strong action when I saw a situation where an animal or a person was being harmed. I never hesitated. That’s what empathy will do for you — create action!
So, if you love books, have curiosity about others, and have empathy for others, then I believe that you have the makings of a good writer.
After gaining your education, it’s very important to also gain personal knowledge of the world. That’s why I highly recommend that you travel, to take off from your safe perch and travel around the world. Take a job in a foreign country, or volunteer for an organization who needs people who are free to travel. You’ll gain so much knowledge of other lands and other countries and meet so many great people who will inspire you to take pen in hand get to writing!
Although I knew I would one day write, I also felt that I should travel and learn about cultures so different from my own small town southern background. That’s why I leapt at the chance to live and work in Saudi Arabia, a very exotic and unique country. I’ve never regretted my twelve years of living in the kingdom, which was a education all to itself!
Once you feel the passion for a certain topic or story or individual story, then you do your research. You can’t just write without knowing about the background of the person you are writing about, or the history of a country. I always love the research part of writing, because that’s your excuse for travel or reading. For example, although I knew a lot about World War II and the ongoing issues in Palestine and Israel, when I was inspired to write a story about families who came together because of WWII and the Middle East wars over Palestine & Israel, I enjoyed a full year of researching and reading about that time, to make sure I really had a feel for it all. Then I was ready to write Ester’s Child (soon to be retitled: Lost in Jerusalem).
After gaining knowledge and perhaps after travel, you can channel your passion in a very postive way. “Now is the time to write this book!” Once you feel fully prepared, make a schedule for writing your book. I always take a calendar and mark each month how many pages I must get per month. Then I break it down to page output per day. Generally my goal is to write five good pages a day.
Then, I sit down and I do it. Other than emergencies, I don’t let anything interfere with my writing schedule. I generally must work from 9 in the morning to 10 at night (with two breaks — one at lunch and one at dinner time) to get five GOOD pages that someone else would want to read.
It’s important that you only think of that day’s output! Don’t think, “On my! I must write 500 pages to have this book!” That is overwhelming. Instead, think of each day: “I must have five new pages before I go to bed.” Although it is more difficult to get five GOOD pages a day than you would ever imagine, it is doable… But remember: Keep your mind off the total page count!
Every book is unique in that you really don’t know how long it will take to finish it. Every book has a life of its own. My own schedule for the various books I wrote follow:
1) I spent two months researching The Rape of Kuwait and eight weeks writing it — a very quick turnaround, but that book was basically a news report so it was easier to write than most.
2, 3 & 4) The Princess Triology: PRINCESS took six months to write. DAUGHTERS took 8 months to write. CIRCLE took a year to write.
5) Ester’s Child (Lost in Jerusalem) took THREE YEARS to write! It’s a very complicated book with several ongoing plots and is my only work of historical fiction. (Non-fiction is a story already set, so you follow the true life story of someone; thus, you really can’t be making up plots, etc., that take up so much time. Fiction can go many ways; thus, your time writing a book of fiction will take longer, at least that is what I predict!)
6) Mayada, Daughter of Iraq took 6 months to write.
7) Love in a Torn Land took 18 months to write.
8) Growing up Bin Laden took 13 months to write.
9) For the Love of a Son took 6 months to write.
10) American Chick in Saudi Arabia: I worked on the three stories in this “short” on and off for several years — in spare time — so I really don’t know exactly long it took me to write CHICK.
11) My 11th book and current project is taking a long time — I’ll tell about that soon enough!
Once you finish your book, you’ll need an editor. You can hire an editor to go over your work OR if you feel you have done a good job of it, perhaps you’ll only need the editor at the publishing house. (Editors generally advertise in writing magazines — check out your local newstand.)
NOW: TO GET PUBLISHED: The statistics are very daunting. There are 50,000 books published in America every year. That huge number might make you think: “Well, obviously everyone who writes a book gets published.” WRONG. There are hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers who never get published. It’s very difficult to have a book published. And, it is getting more challenging by the day because the publishing world is in crisis. With e-books capturing most of the sales at low prices, and with so many people believing that they should have free what it takes another person years to write, authors and publishers are suffering. (NEVER EVER DOWNLOAD a copyrighted book for free. You are breaking the law and that makes you a criminal. Plus, it’s just plain unfair to the writer who worked so hard on their book.) Hopefully they’ll figure it out soon so that professional writers can continue to write and to make a decent living working their trade.
You must have a literary agent IF you are going the traditional route of having a publisher purchase the rights and publish your book. The only way to get a literary agent is to submit proposals to literary agents. There are many books out there that tell you exactly how to go about submitting proposals/manuscripts to literary agents. So, I won’t go into detail. I will tell you that you can look online, or you can ask around if you know anyone in the business, or there are books that list literary agents and list the genres they generally represent.
Once you get a literary agent, your agent will work with you to whip your manuscript into proper shape for submission. Then your literary agent will approach editors at publishing houses on your behalf. (The usual commission for literary agents is 15% for sales in North America and 20% for international sales, or, sales to the foreign markets.) Believe me, it is well worth the percentage to have a professional taking care of the details and talking to publishers. It’s their business so leave it to them.
IF you are fortunate in that more than one publishing house is interested in your work, then your literary agent will have an auction for your book. That’s when the fun begans and you feel that all the hard work was worth it.
IF you don’t want an agent, and would rather self-publish, there’s no shame in self-publishing. I hear that Amazon and other outlets have made it very simple to self-publish.
What I have written is very brief, but I hope it inspires those of you who want to write to GET WRITING and WRITE EVERY DAY!
From the bottom of my heart, this author wishes you a lot of luck and huge success!