Have people told you, “You should write a book?” It’s time to start listening to them.
Consultants, public speakers and other professionals have long understood that writing a book both helps establish their credibility as experts and sells well to readers interested in their area of expertise. But you don’t have to be a lawyer, financial advisor, or talking head to write a book targeted to a niche audience.
Most authors in today’s marketplace don’t know how to write books that will sell, nor do they know how to effectively promote. Profitable Authors Institute was created to change that. We are profitable authors. We want to show you how to be one, too (without wasting time spinning your wheels and still not selling books.)
12 industry professionals, including Stories To Tell founder Nancy Barnes, offer forty-eight video courses online in three tracks:
- Book Promotion
Nonfiction, whatever form it may take, is built on a foundation of facts. Whether they present an account of actual events, as in family history or biography, seek to prove the validity of an argument, or demonstrate the correctness of a method of doing something, as in a how-to book, an author’s words are judged by the quality of the facts on which they are based. A nonfiction reader is likely to ask, “What’s the evidence for this?” Generally that evidence is based on documents, research, or accounts written by others and used by the author. So it behooves the nonfiction author to include references to allow the reader to know and evaluate the quality of the sources from which that evidence is drawn.
Let's look at how to do it.
Writing a book is often a process of discovery. When you create a collection of short stories, non-fiction anecdotes, personal essays, reflections or poems, you often face a critical question: How do they fit together? One of the most important tasks in turning them into a book is organizing the collection with a logical progression which gives coherence to the development of your ideas. Stories To Tell editor and book designer Sarah Hoggatt discusses the way grappled with the problem of how to bring effective order to her latest poetry collection.
If you spend any time in the tech world you have no doubt bumped into discussions about the importance of the user experience. If you are writing a nonfiction book you would benefit from some similar thinking about the kind of reader experience your book will produce.
Begin by thinking about the audience you want to reach.
Planning a family history book is all about making choices. Having done many years of research and accumulated mountains of information, you may feel a bit overwhelmed when you begin to think about turning it into a book.
One of the first realizations most of us have is that research is nearly infinite (You’ll probably continue to research for the rest of your life.) A book, however, is finite, subject to limitations of both physical size and reader interest. You realize that not everything you have learned about your ancestors will fit in a single volume. The question is, “What gets into the book?”
One of the best things about attending a genealogy conference is getting the opportunity to talk with people about their interests and the projects they are working on. We are at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this weekend and I have had a chance to listen to people talk about family history books they are writing.
Often people describe how they are documenting generations of ancestors by creating a fully-sourced book tracing the family chronologically through the generations. But at Jamboree several family historians wanted to break out of that traditional mode. They had embraced the advice know your audience. The result was some very unique approaches to creating a family history book. Let’s look at some.
Are you ready to turn your family history research into a family history book? The key to creating the book you dream of passing on to the next generation is organization. Taking the time to plan the structure of the book before you begin banging away at the keyboard will save you time in the long run and help you write a much better book. Here’s a simple, time-tested process to help you plan and organize your book.
Did you hate it when they taught outlining in school? The teacher went on and on about where the Roman numerals went and whether this line should have a capital letter, a lower case letter or an Arabic number. I hated it. I think a lot of other people did too.
I was speaking to a group of people this weekend who were in the process of writing family history books. I asked how many had an outline for their book. Only about a third did. Too bad!
What they were doing was letting straight chronology lock them into the way they told their story. More importantly, by being guided solely by chronology they were risking taking only a superficial look at the events they were describing. Deeper insights that reflection on those events might have produced went by the boards. The result was almost sure to be strictly reportorial rather than dramatic.
Developing a good outline (not the one you learned in school, but a well thought out plan of major topics and subpoints) before you begin to write allows you to discover ways to engage your readers that aren’t immediately apparent when looking at the facts you know. Experimenting with different ways of telling your story can help you to discover new insights into what happened and to show them to your audience in a more interesting way than a plodding chronology can ever do. Let’s look at some.
We’ve been offline for a bit. We really enjoyed attending the Genealogy Event in New York City last weekend, but it put us in town for the arrival of Hurricane Sally. Squarespace, which hosts our website, is in Lower Manhattan. They have backup generators, but they are located in the basement which flooded during the storm. We got a message that everything would be down for a while. Obviously a small inconvenience in light of the magnitude of the damage the East Coast has suffered. We’re glad to be back online. So back to our blog
The Genealogy Event was an excellent conference. We met a lot of enthusiastic people who want to create family histories. Today’s post will highlight some of the frequently asked questions from the event.
Writing a book is hard work, and it is even harder to go back and correct a mistake when you are far into the project. Sometimes an ill-conceived idea at the outset of a book project means that a writer has to completely rework their manuscript.
Just in the past few weeks, we have had three clients with problems that were inherent in their book idea. Perhaps you can learn from their mistakes.
If you’re not a full time writer, you have probably found that life often gets in the way of finding time to work on your book. Recently a client dropped us a note:
I've been working on a chapter here and there as much as time allows, but in the process of selling my home, a lot of my research materials were minimally packed. I am trying to find a way to make a writing schedule even if it's short. Any thoughts?
We understand. We have some ideas on ways to make productive use of limited writing time.
I remember high school chemistry (not all that fondly, I must admit.) where maintaining an up to date lab journal seemed the whole point of the class. I didn’t get it then, the journal seemed an onerous waste of time. But, now I do. The journal was supposed to produce some thinking about the experiments we were performing. As the great physicist, Max Planck explained, “An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer.” A writer often confronts questions about the nature of the world she is creating in a book. As you work on a particular piece of writing you might want to keep your own Lab Journal.
Wells might have gone on to advise writers of both fiction and nonfiction that exposition and narrative summary are neither.
If you want to tell a compelling story you need to do it with dramatic scenes. If your scene is going to provide both intense action and high emotion the outcome of the situation your scene portrays must alter the plans, hopes or dreams of one of your major characters.
To create the kind of high intensity scenes that will draw your reader into the story you need to begin, as Wells suggests, with conflict. Your character must be pursuing some specific purpose and be confronted with challenges that present obstacles that may seem, at least in the short run, insurmountable.( Let’s face it, if your character achieved her goal in every scene, you wouldn’t have a very long, or interesting story.)
Are there working men and women in your family tree or in the book you are working on? In honor of Labor Day 2012, let’s look at a couple of excellent places to find out what the experiences of the people you are writing about might have been like. Both offer the kind of social history to add interest and detail to bring family history and historical fiction or nonfiction to life.
Stories are “…one of the primary sculpting forces of individuals and societies,” says Jonathan Gottschall in his new book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.
What gives stories their power lies below the surface. There is the surface level involving what the characters do and say as the events of the story’s plot unfolds. But the deeper thematic level that poses the question, “So what?” explores the insights about life and the human condition a reader may draw from what’s happening on the surface. Whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, developing your its theme is at least as important as planning its storyline.
In fiction you may create events to demonstrate a particular lesson to be learned or truth to be understood. Genre fiction often dictates the book’s theme. A mystery must present the quest for justice. A romance must explore the search for true love. But what elevates a book to a more level is the nature of the themes their authors choose to explore.
In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sings, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” That may be good advice for the Von Trapp Family children, but a writer might want to think twice about it.
Many writers tell stories in a perfectly chronological sequence. This happened. Then that happened. Then the next thing happened. This method of telling a story is called linear narrative. Events are presented in the exact sequence in which they occurred. That’s a very effective way to tell some stories.
Sometimes, however, the drama of a story can be heightened by breaking out of strict chronology and employing a nonlinear narrative. I Am Born might have been a fine title for the opening chapter of Dickens’ David Copperfield, but few contemporary readers of fiction or nonfiction will cut an author the slack to begin a book that way. Your book must engage its reader in the first page or two. To do that you need to begin with a dramatic scene. That may mean starting your story at its chronological end or in the middle to begin on the high note you are seeking.
As we sat around a campfire in the Trinity Alps on the other side of the Central Valley from the worst of the wild fires, Nancy’s nephew, who just graduated from high school mentioned that he had written his senior thesis on The Hero’s Journey. He enthusiastically took us through the great mythologist Joseph Campbell’s description of the universal elements of heroism in his classic, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. As Cam spoke, I wished some of the authors with whom we work were listening.
We’re visiting family this week and as things always do the conversation came around to books. My sister-in-law told us about a friend who had recently self published a novel. He chose not to use an editor. Since the book appeared on Amazon he’s gotten a lot of attention from reviewers, all of it negative. Some have focused on points of style that interfered with their reading experience others bemoaned errors that a good copy edit would have picked up and corrected.
The author, like many first time authors, failed to understand that self publishing is about access to publication which eliminates the need for a traditional publishing house, but it doesn’t eliminate all of the steps a publisher fulfilled in the process of producing a book. Quality books need quality editing, good design and an effective cover. Not many authors possess the skills to do all of these things themselves
Many people who set out to write a memoir or family historian see themselves as reporters. Their duty is to recount things exactly as they happened. What’s important is getting the facts right so that their account is correct. Unfortunately the result is often boring.
Even nonfiction needs drama if it is to appeal to readers. Making sure your story has it means plotting it well. Certainly when one hears the word plotting one thinks of fiction. But in truth plotting is developing a dramatic way of telling any story.
One element of creating a dramatic arc for your memoir or family history is to avoid a rigidly chronological approach. Begin with a dramatic moment in your life or the life of an ancestor to create interest which will draw your reader into the story: