Five Lessons I’ve Learned

From my first nonfiction commissioned book project, these are some of the key lessons I’ve learned. May this advice help you on your writing projects.

#1 Planning Is Crucial:

An outline is necessary as part of the contract, but also to help you figure out what you’re going to do for the book. If you’re on a tight deadline to write an entire book, such as a short 12 weeks, you should plan out what you need to have done daily.

Remember that your daily agenda/goals need to be realistic and pliable. Some days you’re going to surpass your word count and get ahead. Other days your creative juices are just not going to flow no matter how long you stare at that blank screen.

Include extra days in your plan as mess up/make up time, but don’t depend on those days to complete your project. Furthermore, record how well you do every day so that you can see your realistic progress in relationship to your planning projections. Readjust your schedule accordingly.

 #2 Get Your Research Out Of the Way:

After you make an outline for your book, you should know all of the main topics that will be covered. Figure out how much time you have to complete the project, and dedicate a solid block of time to obtaining and reading through your research.

You do not need to read every book, article, or interview on the topic. Nevertheless try to get at least 80% of your research completed before you start writing. Completing that much research ahead of time will make it easier for you to write out your thoughts and get your book finished by deadline.

Make sure to take notes while you’re reading so that you can properly cite your sources. Plagiarism is illegal and you will lose your contract.

Creating some sort of color coding/tabbing format can help with keeping your research organized. A nonfiction book of 65K+ words requires a lot of sources, so find an organizational system that works well for you. Don’t forget to bookmark all that information you find on the Web, and keep those bookmarks together in a labeled project folder file on your computer.

#3 Query like Crazy

Most nonfiction books require that writers include several case studies. In reality, a case study is a fancy term for an interview. Most people love talking about themselves personally and professionally, so don’t feel nervous about asking for an interview. That being said, getting people to agree to an interview that will be published takes time and planning.

Since you will be e-mailing out queries for possible interview candidates, it’s a good proportional rule to send out at least five times more queries then you need. For example, if you need a minimum of 10 case studies, send out 50 queries to possible candidates. Sure, it does sound like overkill, but most professionals lead very busy lives and may not have extra time to participate. Plus, just like everyone else, it’s easy to ignore e-mails from people you don’t know.

As you are trying to obtain case study participants, send out your queries as early as possible. Even in our fast-paced world of Internet communications, people still need at least one business week to respond positively or negatively to your query, if they respond at all.

Depending on the type of case study interview you wish to use, such as a questionnaire, some of your candidates could send back their responses within 24 hours, but others could take up to four weeks due to their busy work schedules.

Always include a deadline in your query letter for when you will need participants to return their case study answers. Doing so will get their answers back to you in a reasonable time for you to process everything into the desired case study format. Furthermore, a deadline can help candidates decide if they will have time to participate.

#4 Keep on Writing

Nonfiction literature can be formulaic and broken down into various parts, which may or may not be amusing to you as a writer. It’s good because if you get stuck at one part you can always move on to the next portion and come back later. That being said, it’s easy as a writer to get obsessed with a portion and be unable to move forward.

When you’re under the gun of a short deadline, you have to keep writing no matter what. Make some quick notes about your current thoughts if you get stuck on something, but move on to the next section. You will eventually have to come back and finish the part that stumped you, but having some time away can help your mind refocus.

Some publishing houses require that your book not include certain words, and only include other words sparingly. Don’t obsess over which words you can and cannot include in your book. It will just serve to block your writing. Write whatever it is you’re going to write and get everything out of your head and onto the page. Worry about editing when you’re editing.

#5 Editing Takes Serious TIME

Give yourself plenty of time to edit. A whole week is a good time slot to work with for 20-40K words at a time. You need to do a complete read through for typos and grammatical errors, and you also need to verify that all of your thoughts and ideas are flowing in a logical pattern.

Additionally, you will have to adhere to the editing rules and guidelines of your publishing house. Even if you don’t agree with those rules, if the book has been commissioned through a publisher, you have to make the project specifically to the orders you are given. Realize that you can make some negotiations with how the book is going to flow, but ultimately they are paying you to produce a project they will then own, publish, and distribute. In other words, they have the final say on the matter.


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