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Tips for first time book writers, from a first time book writer

Helen Hill

Unlikely Genius Ltd

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Learn from the things I learnt the hard way.

What a journey!

The highs, the lows. The elation, the fear. Feeling empowered, feeling like an imposter. Writing my book, Falling off the ladder: revamp your mindset and thrive in self-employment, was a true rollercoaster of ideas, emotion, and experiences.

Writing a book is a popular ambition. They say everyone has a book in them (though I am not sure I agree with this after actually doing it).

If you want to do it properly, to produce a professional outcome that reflects your business and your values, you need to invest time and money and enlist help from others.

Throughout my journey, there are some things I wish I had done, and other things I am so bloody grateful I did do. So I’ve condensed them into a series of tips for you.

1 . Get yourself a book mentor

If it wasn’t for having signed up to the INKubator programme, run by book mentor and editor, Erin Chamberlain, I would have been writing the wrong book. I would have quit partway through for sure if it were not for the cheerleading and encouragement of Erin and the other mentees.

The book I started first was about content design and eLearning, and though I haven’t totally abandoned this idea, it was not the book I WANTED to write. It was the one I felt I SHOULD, just because that is the focus of my business.

Additionally, it cannot be underestimated how much time I have saved in not having to research everything from ISBNs to design and layout, to editing, as Erin can advise me on all that. Plus, as with everything, there is so much conflicting advice out there, I wouldn’t have known which advice to follow.

2 . Enlist a book designer

Though I’m a designer, I’m not designing my book. Because I want to make sure my book is the best it can be, and my perfectionism and ambition in regards to it will not rest, I’ve made sure I hire people who know about margins, typesetting, book design, converting to ePub and all the other intricacies involved in book design.

A designer will help make your book look credible, professional, increase your authority, and reflect the dazzling content you have written. Also – book them in early, plenty in advance, I have learnt the hard way that they get booked up quickly.

3 . Accountability and blocking time out

Being the master of taking too much client work on, this was a fairly impossible thing to do, and obviously, I still needed to make money.

It wasn’t too difficult with producing the shitty first draft of the book which I did during the weekly WriteNow accountability sessions with Erin. The accountability sessions meant that I had un-negotiable time to write each week, and I soon found that I was in flow and wanted to write more and more.

But when it’s come to editing, I would have found it particularly useful to have a chunk of time. It’s really hard to do a good job of editing and amending when you leave large gaps in between sessions, as it becomes a game of moving things to realise you have moved it back.

It’s hard to remember what you have already gone through, making it difficult to spot things like repetition or gaps in your story. As a result, I ended up trying to block out a day a week plus work furiously at weekends and evenings just to keep the momentum and keep the flow of the editing and make it easier for myself.

4 . Enlist beta readers early and choose wisely

I was quite last-minute with organising my beta readers because I was so bloody terrified of anyone looking at my writing and so I kept putting it off. Make sure you get people who can commit the time, are willing to give constructive feedback (not just “yeah it’s great” or “what is this trash?” and are able to distance themselves from the topic, and you.

Having friends do it can feel very personal and make it difficult to take feedback. Ideally, they should be your ideal readers so they can advise you where there are gaps, where something doesn’t relate, and how to increase your impact for them. And you aren’t just looking for any areas that need work, it is as important to know where the great bits are so you can make more of them (and make sure you don’t remove them).

5 . Set a schedule and writing times

I wrote the majority of the book in just one 2 hour session a week with the Write Now group. Then editing became a whole other ball game and took over my life.

Having a vague schedule during the initial writing stages gave me some momentum, and then setting a full schedule to publication gave a hell of a rocket up the backside.

On reflection, having a proper schedule with all the stages defined from the start and giving myself a more defined plan would have helped me to balance the timing out more evenly so it wouldn’t have taken over my life in the final stages.

But it’s difficult with your first book, you have no idea of the reality of how long different phases will take you to do. Plus, as I’m a freelancer I don’t always know how much time I will have to commit in advance, as projects can change by the week and deadlines are ever-shifting.

Again, this is something that Erin was a huge help with when she set me a schedule. Her knowledge of publishing, how long each step should take, what the steps even are, and just the overall view of the process was not something I could have put together myself. I dread to think of the chaos that would have happened…

Bonus tip: get yourself a printer

I find it difficult to read on-screen anyway, but having a printer meant I could lay all my chapters out on the floor and rearrange the order much easier than trying to sort the jigsaw on screen.

I could scribble all over the pages and stick post-it notes on, mostly with abusive notes to myself along the lines of “WTF are you on about?”, or “AGAIN? You’ve said this a thousand times”. Being able to do this definitely made the process of editing at least a little easier.

I hope this helps your process. If you are indeed writing a book, comment below. I’d love to know what you are writing about and how you are finding it.

First published on unlikelygenius.com

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