Every author has a unique writing process—that means there are millions of ways to write a book.
But there are 11 key steps every writer should follow to make the process of writing your book a whole lot faster and easier.
Applying these simple steps will show you how to write a book faster, organize your thoughts with less stress, and ultimately create a better book that’s more likely to get you the publishing deal and sales you want.
For those of you who love to write or want to learn how to write your first book, I’ll share with you the 11 key steps to writing a book that’s ready to be professionally published.
How To Write a Book: A Guide for Beginners
The writing process is a mystery to most people. Even some of the most successful writers I’ve met are unable to really explain how to write a book!
If you ask them for advice on how to become a better writer, they’ll give you vague answers like “just write more” or “find something that inspires you to write.”
And while both of those answers ring true and are indeed powerful suggestions for those who understand and use them, this common advice is far too vague for most writers to get the best results possible.
What stops most writers from finishing their book isn’t a lack of hard work or inspiration; most of us just get stuck at some point in the writing process, and we need help getting unstuck so we can keep making progress.
At the end of the day, most writers just want to learn how to write better and faster with less effort and struggle. Writing can be incredibly challenging and frustrating without a clear plan.
Creating a clearly defined writing process and following these 11 steps will help you stay on track and get unstuck so you can finish your book and get it published.
While I can’t promise that you can create a great book that’s ready to be professionally published without any effort or struggle, I can share with you the detailed guide to getting the work done as effectively and efficiently as possible.
I want you to get the best writing results you possibly can—whether that means getting a book deal from a Big Five publisher or creating a high quality book that you would be proud to self-publish.
1. Find Your Big Idea
Of course, the first step to writing a book is figuring out what you want to write about. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know every sub-topic and detail that you’ll cover at this point, but you should settle on a “big idea” before getting started with anything else.
For nonfiction, it helps to think about why you’re writing a book in the first place. What is the problem you’re going to help readers solve? Why is it important? Why are you the best person to write about it?
For fiction, you may already have the seeds of an idea for a great story. But if not, you may find inspiration through creative writing prompts. These can lead to the birth of a character or a world you want to create and build your story around.
You can also look to real life for inspiration. Check out our list of ideas for writing a book to learn where you can find inspiration for both fiction and nonfiction.
2. Make Time
The next thing you need to do is look at all the things that are holding you back from writing a book. Chances are, you’ve probably thought about writing a book before, but never got around to it.
Maybe you never seemed to have the time, or maybe you just thought your writing wasn’t good enough. Whatever it was, make a plan to work around it.
If you’re concerned about time constraints, work out a schedule and plan time to write for at least an hour every day. This may mean getting up an hour earlier in the morning—but if you’re serious about writing your book, you’ll make it work.
Say goodbye to excuses!
3. Conduct Market Research
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, market research is an essential step toward writing your book.
Before you invest time in writing, you need to understand who your ideal reader is and what they want, so you can be sure to write a book that gives them that.
Study bestselling titles and browse book reviews in your market. This can give you a good feel for what works and what doesn’t, so you know what to do and what to avoid in your book.
4. Pre-Write (Create Your Book Template)
For me, pre-writing is a huge key to my success as an author. Without this step, I would never have been able to write and publish 27 books in the last five years.
Pre-writing is the quick and simple process I go through to create a document for my new manuscript that looks like a book, feels like a book, and almost smells like a book in less than an hour.
So what is pre-writing? It’s basically pre-formatting your book to look like a book in order to prepare it (and you) for success.
Then, I’ll go to the title page and change the title of the book to a new “title placeholder.” I don’t even need to know the title of the book yet. I just need to know what it’s about.
As an example, for my book The Kindle Writing Bible, the title placeholder started out as How to Write More Nonfiction Books. A poor book title, I know, but it served its purpose.
This title placeholder is not meant to be the final title of your book. It’s meant to take the place of your title at the very beginning of the writing process so you can start to see your book taking form and coming to life before you even sit down to write it.
Think of pre-writing like building the frame for a house. Once you have the frame built, you can immediately see the shape of the structure. You can see it take form, and you can easily visualize how it will look when it’s finished.
Pre-writing takes a simple book idea and turns it into a concrete structure that exists in the real world, allowing you to see your dreams come true right before your eyes in a very short period of time.
Something magical happens when you create the template for your book complete with your title page, table of contents, copyright notice, author biography, and chapter headings. Even if there’s no content in the book, it still looks and feels a lot like a book, and it helps you realize that you really can do this.
By looking at a well-designed, carefully formatted template with the provisional title of your book on the first page (instead of staring at a blank screen), you’ll start to feel like a real author. When you feel like a real author, you’re more likely to act like one as well.
After creating the title page, I then go to the back of my book and edit my “About the Author” section, “Other Books by the Author”, the Review Request, and any bonus material I might offer.
When I’m done pre-writing (which usually takes me less than 20 minutes), I’ll often have 800 to 2,000 words in my book already written.
That’s before I’ve even start writing the book!
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel pretty darn good when I look at the word count at the bottom of the page in Microsoft Word and see that I’ve already got a thousand words or more written before I have even started to write the book.
I learned a similar trick many years ago from a source I have long since forgotten. Basically, someone had told me to format my books in Microsoft Word to make it look like a book, complete with page numbers and formatting.
It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I thought, “If I could have my word document designed like a professional book, it might just give me that extra inspiration I need to finally finish my book!”
Well, I tried that but I had no idea what I was doing. I had no clue how to design or layout a professional book, and so I never could get it right.
I fiddled with adding page numbers and changing margins, paragraph spacing, headings, font types, font sizes and more, but it never felt quite right. It didn’t do the trick for me because I had no idea what I was doing at the time.
When I finally figured out how to format and layout a professional manuscript ready for publishing, I created my free Kindle eBook formatting templates and it made a huge difference for me.
I encourage you to use our free Writing a Book Templates or create your own book writing template so you can create a new book document that makes the book come alive even before you start writing the first chapter.
This simple process will help give you that extra motivation to start writing, and to continue writing once your book actually looks like a book instead of a completely blank document that you have to magically fill up with words.
If you create the body of your book first, filling in the pages becomes a lot easier mentally and emotionally.
“Writing a book is a mental and emotional struggle. Do everything you can to maintain control of your thoughts and emotions, and writing your book will be a lot easier.”
It’s a strange little quirk of human nature that it seems so much easier to go from writing 1,000 to 50,000 words in your book than it is to go from 0 to 1,000 words.
My advice: get the 1,000 words down first and then start writing your book.
The truth is that I don’t always pre-write. Sometimes I get an instant flash of inspiration and just start writing. But that doesn’t happen very often.
What happens most of the time is that I pre-write my book, and then I move on to planning my book, and then to writing the first draft.
5. Outline Your Book
Once you’ve created your book template, it’s time to plan your book.
I know planning can be boring, but it doesn’t take very long and it will end up saving you a TON of time in the long run, since you won’t have to worry about:
- Writing a book no one wants to read
- Writing a book that needs to be scrapped or rewritten from scratch because of a fatal flaw
- Rewriting or deleting a huge portion of the book because it doesn’t fit the storyline or organization needed after your plan became clear
- Writing part of a book and then quitting because you don’t know what to do next
It’s tempting to just rush in and start writing your book, but a simple plan can save you an enormous amount of time as a writer.
There’s nothing wrong with being inspired or excited to write your book. If at any point you feel like immediately jumping in and writing your book, then by all means go for it.
These steps are not meant to hold back your creativity, but rather to create a structure that allows you to be more creative and more confident as you go through the writing process.
How to Plan Your Writing Like a Pro
If you want to learn how to write a book, you first need to learn how to plan. Planning is where you outline the basic ideas and points of your book. You can just write out the words to create a “book skeleton.”
Some people spend a lot of time planning their books. They’ll even write out all the chapter titles on index cards and have sections on each index card for major points or subheadings in each chapter. That’s all fine and dandy, but for me simpler is better (and a whole lot faster).
For example, when I started writing The Kindle Writing Bible, I started with this simple book outline:
Topic (passion, knowledge, expertise, experience, market research)
Writing (ghostwriting, interviews, how to write better, etc.)
That was it!
It took me less than 5 minutes to create that list of ideas to include in the book, and this incredibly basic writing plan inspired me enough to start Step 3: creative writing.
For those of you who crave a little more structure and guidance for your writing journey, you can create a much more thorough outline for your book.
Brainstorming Writing Ideas
Sit down with a pen and paper with no distractions and schedule at least 15 quiet minutes to think about the most important ideas, stories, and scenes that should be in your book.
When you brainstorm the big ideas or scenes for your book, your goal is not to filter anything. Instead, you want to be as creative as possible and not hold anything back.
Write down every idea you get during this brainstorming process, no matter how silly, ridiculous, or insignificant it seems.
After this brainstorming session, you can then go through your ideas and filter out the ones that don’t fit what you’re trying to create.
Questions for Brainstorming Nonfiction
- What are the big ideas my reader needs to know?
- What are some stories that help illustrate these big ideas?
- What are some additional supporting ideas my reader might like to know about?
- What other resources, tools, or links would be helpful for my reader to learn even more?
- What action steps or exercises would help my reader understand or apply the material even better?
Questions for Brainstorming Fiction
- Who are the main characters?
- Who are the supporting characters?
- Who is the protagonist/hero?
- Who is the antagonist/villain?
- What does each character want?
- What does each character NOT want to happen?
- Where does the story start?
- Where does the story end?
- How do the characters get from the beginning to the end (scene by scene)?
Creating Your Book Outline
After brainstorming all the main ideas that will be included in your book, you can create an outline for your book.
Your outline is essentially just a tool for organizing all the ideas you came up with during your brainstorming session.
Here are some questions to help you create a great book outline:
- What does my reader need to know first and foremost? What next?
- Is there a logical way to order the ideas for the book that makes the most sense?
- Are any of the chapters interchangeable (does the organization of each chapter matter to the reader?)
Outlines don’t need to be big, fancy, or detailed. The purpose of an outline is to help you get a clear idea of what’s going in your book.
This will help you be more productive when you sit down to write your book, since you’ll know exactly what you need to write about each day.
6. Creative Writing
I call the process of writing the first draft of your book creative writing because it’s all about using your creativity. It’s not about editing. It’s not about research.
It’s not about facts or figures, or charts or pictures, or graphics or references, or footnotes.
It’s about writing your ideas and thoughts on paper and letting your creativity flow unrestricted with no distractions!
Most new writers try to do too many things at the same time when they start writing their first draft.
You get this great idea for your book, write 200 words, and then your mind says, “Oh shoot, I can’t remember if there are 30 or 31 days in November!” And so you minimize your writing document, open up your web browser, and start Googling.
The problem with stopping in the middle of creative writing to research, edit, fact check, or rewrite is that it will DESTROY your writing output and productivity.
It’s like telling a young child to draw a picture and then every 5 minutes you offer them a cookie. The child is not going to be able to get that picture finished anytime soon, and it’s probably going to look like crap with all those crumbs on it.
When you start writing your first draft, just write!
Don’t research. Don’t close your writing document. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t try to edit while you type. Don’t worry about spelling. Don’t look at a dictionary. Don’t do anything that distracts you from writing the ideas down as they flow through your mind.
If you follow these simple rules, you’ll find your writing productivity will increase dramatically. For me, my writing productivity increased several times over just by following this one simple rule: When you write your first draft, do nothing but write new words as you go.
How to Stay in Creative Writing Mode
- Links: Instead of searching for hyperlinks online to refer readers to the correct website, just write (link) and skip a line. Then, when you come back to edit the book, you can remember to insert the correct link.
- Research: Instead of researching a particular statistic or idea online, just write XXX and skip a line. For example, in one of my business books I was writing about the business failure rate in America. I couldn’t remember how many businesses failed in the first 5 years (it’s 55% according to Illusions of Entrepreneurship, while other sources say as high as 80%). But instead of looking up those facts and messing up your creative writing process, just write XXX, skip a line, and do your research during the editing phase.
- Fact Checking: See “Research” above.
- Typos: Fix them only if they are immediately obvious to you and it doesn’t distract you from writing the next sentence. Do NOT search for them during creative writing.
- Grammar: Ignore grammatical errors. You will work on fixing grammatical errors diligently after the first draft is completed.
- Word Usage: If you’re not sure of the right word to use to communicate your idea, just use the closest word that comes to mind and move on. You can update your usage and use a dictionary or thesaurus during the editing process.
7. Revise and Edit Your Manuscript
Learning how to write a book isn’t just about the writing process—how you edit is equally important!
Once you’re “done” with creative writing, you will have a finished first draft of your manuscript.
Congratulations! Finishing your first draft is a huge step in the right direction. Most writers never get this far. Feel free to pop the champagne and celebrate.
Then, the next morning, your real work starts. It’s time to revise and edit your work.
This is where you’ll thoroughly study your manuscript to find and fix any typos, grammatical errors, factual errors, and other mistakes. You’ll research any facts or figures you forgot about and insert any hyperlinks and citations that you need for the book. You’ll also want to insert pictures, graphs or any other media type that you’d like to include in the book.
When I go through my first revision, I often find that I also need to write more. Maybe a section is too brief or unclear for readers, so I’ll need to elaborate on a point or even add ideas and resources that I hadn’t even thought about the first time around.
Sometimes I may add a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or even an entire new chapter. Be open to continuously improving your book and adding important information for your readers throughout the writing process.
I may also need to create new chapters, break up text, move passages around, or even delete sections of the book.
Even once your book has been published, you can continue to make updates to your book, especially if you are self-publishing.
If you tend to write too much or ramble on in your writing, check your manuscript to make sure everything included in the book is relevant, connected, and important to the reader. Longer books are not always better.
I recommend keeping your writing simple, sweet, and to the point. The less unnecessary information in your books, the better reading experience you’ll be able to provide for your readers.
Simplicity Is Key
For nonfiction, you want to make sure everything included in your book is helping your reader get the results they want.
If you’re writing a weight loss book, for example, make sure everything in your book will help your reader achieve their goal. Including irrelevant stories, facts, or information will only make it more likely for your reader to put the book down without the results they wanted.
Many nonfiction writers are insecure about how valuable their information really is. That’s why they’ll write a 350-page book that could have been completed just as well in 50 pages, saving the reader a heck of a lot of time.
For fiction, you want to make sure every sentence in your book is driving the story forward. Don’t mention small details or stories in the book that never connect to the storyline.
If a character tells a story, there better be a reason behind it (such as giving us insight into that character’s motivations or personality).
Your time is valuable. That means your reader’s time is valuable. Don’t waste it with fluff, irrelevant stories, or drivel.
For more on editing your own work, check out our guide to self-editing. Use the tips presented there, and always remember to read a printed version of your manuscript and read it out loud at least once to see mistakes and potential improvements that you would not have discovered otherwise.
8. Get Feedback on Your Manuscript
No matter how great you are at writing, you can always produce better work with a little help and insight from others.
Crowdsourcing and finding beta readers is a great way to get feedback from other people to help you improve your book. Most authors will give their book manuscript to their wife or family or friends, or even a fellow author and have them review it for typos, grammatical errors, fact checking, and other recommendations. That’s a wonderful way to get free advice and help on improving your book.
It’s not the same as hiring a professional editor (unless you happen to know a professional editor who’s willing to help you out for free), but it’s a great start. You can also ask your friends and followers on social media to read the book and give you feedback.
Realize that you’ll get the best feedback from your ideal readers. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, the best feedback you will get is from folks who buy and read lots of science fiction.
If you are brand new and don’t have any fans yet, you can start by connecting with your target readers on online forums, Facebook groups, and by asking for readers to review your work on social media and on your website.
This step isn’t necessary for every writer in every situation, but it can be very helpful, especially if you are inexperienced or working on your first book.
9. Professional Editing
Once you’ve gone through several rounds of revising and rewriting your book and gotten feedback from your target readers, it’s time to hire a professional editor to help improve your manuscript even more.
One of the biggest mistakes new authors make that can end up costing you a lot of money is sending a first draft to a professional editor at this stage.
If you send an unedited first draft to a professional editor, they’re going to end up spending so much time fixing typos, formatting errors, grammatical errors, and common mistakes that they won’t be able to do their best work.
What happens in most of these cases is that the editor has to charge you more—sometimes a LOT more—because they have to spend so much extra time wading through all the simple mistakes you could have easily fixed yourself, if only you had spent a little more time editing.
The other reason to avoid sending an unedited first draft to an editor is because it makes you look like a rookie.
Professional writers don’t send unedited work to editors; they know how important it is to revise their own work before getting a professional editor involved.
If you act like a professional writer, you will find that the best professional editors are more willing to work with you and won’t charge you quite as much.
You may also find that your team will be more willing to go out of their way to help you succeed when they see how much effort and work you have put into your book.
You can learn more about how to find a professional editor here along with more information on how much a good editor charges for their services.
10. Formatting Your Manuscript
Now that you’ve edited your book, it’s time to format it.
Formatting a book manuscript is basically a simple process in which you design your document or book file to be the most attractive and most useful to your readers.
If you plan to get your book traditionally published, you can ask your agent for a checklist or guidelines on how to properly format your book for traditional publishing.
If you plan to self-publish your book on Amazon Kindle, you’ll need to format your book for the Amazon Kindle platform.
If you plan to self publish your book in print using CreateSpace or another printer, I highly recommend hiring a professional book interior designer to help you layout and design your book for print. (We have a free paperback self publishing checklist to help walk you through the process.)
You can also try using the new Reedsy book formatting tool that can help you format your book for eBook and print (it’s free to use).
Whichever publishing route or tools you choose to use, your formatting needs to get done and it needs to be done right before you publish your book. Nothing will turn readers off faster or attract more bad reviews on Amazon than a book that’s hard to read due to poor formatting.
11. Stay Motivated
No matter which stage of writing a book you’re currently in, it’s important to stay motivated. Keep your eye on the prize by reminding yourself why you’re writing the book in the first place.
Embrace feedback (even the negative stuff!). Seek out a mentor who’s already been down this road—talking with someone who’s been through the experience of writing a book can help put things into perspective and help you push forward if you feel stuck.
Keep working on writing the very best book you can, and you’ll see results soon enough.
Write Your Book in 21 Days
If you’re up for a challenge, why not try writing your book in less than a month? I’ve written and published 27 books in the last few years and have several more in progress. At one point, I was consistently producing more than one book every 21 days, so I can tell you that it is possible!
I’ve published books anywhere from 40 to 400 pages (sometimes the shorter ones sell even better). So if you think you have to write a massive 400-page book, you don’t! Your book should be as long as it needs to be to fully tell the story (fiction) or help the reader solve their problem (nonfiction).
Here’s what I recommend to get started with writing your first book:
1. Brainstorm Ideas in 15 Minutes
Lock yourself in a room. No phone, no email, no interruptions for 15 minutes. Only a pen and a notebook. Come up with as many book ideas / topics / niches as you can think of. You should have at least 20. If you think of other ideas afterwards in the shower just add them to your list ASAP.
Write down these questions to spur ideas:
What topics would I love to write about?
What knowledge do I have that could help people?
What do I know now that I wish I knew when I got started with X (a business, relationship, problem, whatever)?
What ideas do I have that could sell well?
Why: It’s important to get all your book ideas out ahead of time. Otherwise, halfway through a book you’ll get an idea for 10 other books and might get distracted. Get distracted with a great idea upfront, not halfway through.
2. Do Research and Get Feedback
Find out what your potential readers are actually looking for. You can follow our book market research process in order to better understand your market and how to make your book stand out from the competition.
You should also ask your marketing and business savvy friends which of your ideas sound most marketable. If you don’t have any marketing or business savvy friends, tune in to our weekly podcast interviews with bestselling authors and try to expand your network of entrepreneurs and creative people so you can get better feedback on your ideas.
Why: Feedback is crucial. Great feedback from smart people can help you confirm that your good ideas are really worth pursuing, and it can help you choose the best book idea for you to start with. The key is getting started. Once you get the first book done and selling well, you’ll be so excited you won’t want to stop writing books.
3. Choose Your Best Book Idea
Based on feedback (10%) and your passion/interest/inspiration (90%), decide which book to write first.
Why: You better be inspired to write your book and share your story. Otherwise, you’re going to need someone else to motivate you to finish it and market it. Feedback should only be used to clarify your own thoughts and ideas and make them better.
Lock yourself in a room again. No phone, no email, no interruptions for 15 minutes. Come up with as many ideas that you want to share in the book as you can think of. If you think of other ideas afterwards in the shower just add them to your list ASAP.
Organize these ideas into a tentative outline (see Step 5 in the main tutorial above). This will help guide your writing process.
Afterwards, you should be so excited that you can’t wait to start writing and/or speaking into a voice recorder (also a good option in lieu of an interview or as a supplemental way of recording info for the book). I use QuickVoice app for my iPhone when on the go.
Publishing: The Next Step After Writing Your Book …
After your book is finished, it’s time to get it published!
There are so many options available for publishing your book, including traditional publishing, indie publishing, self-publishing, and publishing your book with TCK Publishing.
No matter which publishing route you choose, it’s up to you to create a publishing plan for success. To do that, you need to study and focus on what you can control as an author.
Did you find this information helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
Additional Resources for Authors:
- Microsoft Word Styles Tutorial: Learn to Streamline Your Formatting
- How to Get Your Self-Published Book Edited and Formatted and What the CreateSpace Shakeup Means for Indie Authors
- How to Format Your Book for Amazon Kindle Using Microsoft Word in Only 30 Minutes
- The Step-by-Step Guide to Formatting Your Print Book for KDP
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.