8 Steps to Write a Book That Sells

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Do you have words, thoughts, ideas, or stories inside your head waiting to be released? Have you experienced something that would benefit others? Do you process your thoughts best through writing? Then you are most likely a writer, and you should not ignore this gift. As with anything, you have to educate yourself and hone your skill to accomplish your goal. If you desire to write a book but feel overwhelmed at the prospect, here are eight simple steps to take to write a book that will sell.

1. Decide if You Want to Self-Publish or Publish Traditionally

It's wonderful that we have a choice today. Not too many years ago, you had to be chosen by a publisher before you could publish a book. Not anymore. Anyone can publish a book, but if you choose the self-publishing route, be sure to do your homework so your book doesn't scream SELF-PUBLISHED! Look at some of the bestsellers and study their book covers, the layout inside, the content, and the accuracy. This is your competition, so compete. Imitate, don't steal. Strive for excellence.

If you decide to go the route of traditional publishing, which many do because self-publishing seems overwhelming at first, then you will be advised to get an agent. You will have to share your profit with your publisher and your agent, so very little will be left over for you. But if you are accepted and if your book sells well, then you will gain a large audience and do quite nicely. However, you will have to do your own promotion. That means that whatever your publisher pays you up front—if he pays you upfront—will basically go toward promotion. If you use this money wisely, you might be able to sell a lot of books.

If you choose to self-publish, it helps to already have a large audience. Well-known people have a big advantage over those of us who are...well...unknown. If you only have a handful of friends, family, and acquaintances, you might not see many immediate sales after you first publish your book. One thing that will help you when you release your first book is to do a book launch. Learn how to develop a great book launch, then advertise, network with other authors, and build your readership, which will help you to become a successful self-published author. Chandler Bolt's book, Book Launch, is one I have in my library.

I admit that I already had an impressive audience when I self-published my first book because of my husband's connections through his work as a pastor, former global worker, and district official through our church organization. However, not even that was enough to carry me through an entire year of sales if I didn't promote beyond that circle. It has been almost six years since I published my first novel, and I'm still making a profit from it, not just in the US, but also in other English-speaking countries. The reason for this continual profit is the fact that I published additional books and I continued to do paid advertising. The old saying is true, "You have to spend money to make money."

My husband and I paid for the publication and some of the initial advertising of my first novel. The money I made from that first book paid for the first year of advertising costs, books to help developed my writing, and also for the publishing cost of my first and second books. Yes, I got back the money we had invested. The second novel helped me to build my business further. Each book you publish becomes another source of income. Admittedly, unless you become a New York Times bestseller, it will take you a long time to earn a living off your writing. I'm not there yet either. But think like an entrepreneur and keep learning and growing. Remember the story, The Little Red Caboose, who had to make it up the hill. He kept saying, "I think I can, I think I can..." until he made it to the top. You can do it too.

If you decide to self-publish, I recommend Joanna Penn's Author 2.0 Blueprint which you will find on The Creative Penn website. This is a free download, so it's a great place to begin your research toward self-publishing. That's what I did, and I'm about to self-publish my fourth book. I am also in the process of traditionally publishing a book as a ghostwriter, which will be released this summer. Working as a ghostwriter and publishing traditionally was a fascinating process, which helped me to learn even more about writing.

2. Know Yourself

You have to know yourself and how you accomplish your best work. Are you organized and follow a to-do list, or do you dive right in and figure things out as you go along? Do you like order or do you thrive in chaos? Do you like to get tasks done right away, or do you procrastinate and work best under pressure? If you understand yourself, you can decide if you need a detailed outline before you begin to write, or if you will start writing right away and then develop a sort-of outline as you go along. Basically, you must decide if you are a plotter or a pantser.

A plotter is the organized one who has an outline, has completed the research, knows all the characters and their backgrounds, has names for all of them, has mapped out the setting, and is now ready to begin writing.

The pantser has an idea, sits at the computer, and begins to type the story. He does his research as needed and decides about all the necessary details as the story develops.

There is no right or wrong way to do this as long as the finished product is perfect. How you reach that end goal is completely up to you.

3. Begin to Write

Now that you have your outline ready, or not if you are the pantser, it's time to begin your rough draft. Type whatever thoughts come to mind about the story or the subject you are writing about. Write your thoughts down or you will lose them. Don't worry that your writing is terrible. Everyone's rough draft stinks. I would never want you to see my rough draft. You would think I'm an amateur, and I certainly wouldn't blame you. But remember, an accomplished pianist would not want you to hear him play a piece of music he never had the change to practice. An artist would not want you to see his unfinished painting. A chef would not want you to sample his meal before it has finished cooking. For the author, the rough draft is his unfinished masterpiece. So give yourself time to develop and fine tune your book.

Decide in whose point of view (POV) you will write. If your book is a nonfiction, you will probably write from your point of view and in first person. If you are writing a fiction, you must decide who the main character is. Maybe you'll have two main characters. If so, you can switch the POV from one section or chapter to the next. Just be certain the reader clearly understands whose POV it is so they don't become confused.

Again, this is your rough draft. No need to go back and make sure you are clear about the POV. This will be corrected during the editing process. Continue writing to the end.

4. It's Time to Self-Edit

Your rough draft is done, now what? It's time to self-edit. First, you will probably re-write every sentence. If it doesn't flow well, change it. Adjust anything that isn't perfectly clear. If it sounds awkward to you, it will sound awkward to your readers. Be careful not to use the same word over and over again. For instance, if you used the word "dog" too often. Change it up sometimes to the dog's name or "furry friend" or "canine" or a pronoun. Whatever works but doesn't sound like you tried too hard. Again, it has to flow well.

There are more writing rules than you can imagine. Each one will tighten your manuscript and make it more enjoyable to read, so learn the rules.

The better you can self-edit, the less your editor will need to correct. This will reduce the cost of editing since most editors charge according to the amount of time they must spend editing your book.

There are wonderful instructional books that can help you become a good writer. I recommend Writer to Writer by Cecil Murphy. The chapters are sort of like short writing devotionals. It's a great book to keep in the bathroom near the toilet. This will allow you to read a few chapters every day. Another one I recommend is The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. There are so many other excellent books on writing, so explore, read, and learn.

5. Build a Network

You probably heard the old proverb that has been attributed to African culture, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it also takes a village to publish a book, so gather your troops. There are many ways you can do this, but I will share with you what has worked for me.

Aspiring authors usually have to be careful with expenses, so spend your money on what really matters: your editor. However, before you send your book to your editor, there are things you can do to make your book better.

Find a critique group. These groups are free. I participate in a group through American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), but there might be local group of authors near you. Although you have to pay for an ACFW membership, the critique group is free. The reason it costs you nothing is because while others are critiquing your book, you must also critique theirs. Sounds fair, right? But let me caution you that not everyone in your critique group knows what they are talking about, so read the critique, thank the person for their advice, and then do what you think is best. This is your work—your calling—so be careful about what advice you accept. I have found critique groups to be very helpful because they often see things I've missed and detect what may cause confusion for my readers.

After the critique group, I have a group of 4 to 6 friends who have experience in proofreading or editing and enjoy reading. They are my proofreaders. I asked them if they are willing to read my manuscripts and let me know anything that doesn't sound right while searching for typos or missed punctuation. I can't stress enough now helpful these friends are to my writing process. Each one will receive a free, signed copy of my book once it's published, and I never fail to mention them in the Acknowledgment section of my books.

At this point, the book is well edited and I'm ready to pay an editor to add their final touch. Believe it or not, your book isn't perfect yet. Not all editors charge the same, so if you are on a tight budget, search around. Talk to other writers, and find out who their editors are. Usually, an editor is willing to edit a few pages for you without charge, so you can see their work. If you like how accurate and helpful they are and the price is within your budget, you've got yourself an editor you can trust. Remember, your editor is giving you professional advice, but her advice is still a suggestion. You are the one who has the final say about what you will accept or reject. Listen carefully. Accept critique with humility and grace. Pray that you will make wise decisions.

6. Find a Book Cover

This section applies to self-published authors only. If you plan to traditionally publish, the publisher will help you with book-cover design. Be choosy. I have seen traditionally published books that cannot compete with bestsellers. The cover is the first thing readers will see. Yes, readers do judge a book by its cover, so make sure you are completely satisfied with the finished product.

If you plan to self-publish, then while your book is in the proofreading and editing process, that is the time to begin searching for a book cover. Start by going on Amazon or any other bookstore and look at other authors' book covers in your genre. Which ones have the most reviews? Which ones seem to be selling the most books? This will give you an idea of what types of covers sell well. Do something similar. Fiverr.com is a great place to begin your search for a cover designer that will create a book cover that is right for you. Many designers offer excellent service at affordable prices on Fiverr.com.

7. Publishing Decisions

After you have made all the edits to your manuscript and you have your book cover, it's time to publish your book. If you choose to traditionally publish, you will either search for an agent to help you find a publisher, or you will seek out a publisher directly.

If you choose to self-publish, you need to decide if you will be exclusive to Amazon or if you want to publish broadly. If you choose broad, do your research. This podcast on The Creative Penn, Publishing Wide for the Win, with Erin Wright will help you in making this decision. Also on The Creative Penn, Exclusivity vs Publishing Wide, podcast with Joanna Penn will give you both sides of the spectrum so you can make an informed decision that's right for you.

I have only self-published exclusively to Amazon. This allows my book to be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU), which is a great source of income for authors.

How do I publish to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)? The writing program I use is Scrivener. It's an amazing software for writers, with a tutorial that's easy to understand. You can compile your work from Scrivener to Microsoft Word, which seems to be the preferred editing tool for editors. Scrivener will also compile your manuscript for KDP. If you choose to publish to Amazon, you will find helpful advice on the KDP website. There are also lots of helpful videos on YouTube. Scrivener Tutorial & KDP by Daniel Smith is one YouTube video that is worth viewing.

There is definitely a learning curve to self-publishing, but if I can do it, I'd venture to say that you can too. It takes work, but I don't mind working. The biggest benefit to self-publishing is that the author maintains full control of her work from beginning to end.

8. Promote Your Book

Whether you publish with a traditional publisher or you decide to self-publish, you are the one responsible to sell and promote your book. Your publisher will not do this for you. There are many ways to promote your book, but I will share with you what has worked for me.

First, you will need a website. This is your landing page. It's where you want to direct traffic as much as possible since building an email list or subscriber list is crucial to your future as a writer. Check out other well-known authors in your genre and do something similar. Do not copy exactly since that would be stealing. But if you research websites by other authors, it will help you better understand the direction in which you need to go. If necessary, get a professional to help you with your website. Once your website is set up, maintain it. Keep it current.

Second, pay for Facebook ads. These have been my most successful ads and have contributed to continuous sales from month to month for the past six years. Mark Dawson is one of the experts in creating Facebook ads for authors. His book, Mastering Simple Facebook Ads for Authors: Find Readers and Build Your Mailing List is a book you may want to add to your library. You can also take advantage of promoting your book at no cost to you by joining Facebook groups that allow you to promote your book in their groups. Some already have thousands of followers, so your book will get the attention you need. Just be careful to read their requirements and restrictions, so you can follow their rules for promotion. Another thing that is helpful is a Facebook party to promote your new release. These can be a lot of fun. Talk with other writers and see how they have managed a Facebook party for their books.

Third, pay for Amazon ads. This is another advertising site that has brought in continual sales from month to month. At first, I wasted a lot of money advertising on Amazon because I took the plunge before doing the research. Big mistake. However, after I took the free 5-Day Amazon Ad Challenge by Bryan Cohen, the cost of my ads went down immensely and my sales increased. Bryan Cohen introduces you to tools that will help you promote and keep track of your earnings.

Fourth, once you have a subscriber list through your website, you need to send out regular newsletters. Stay in touch with your readers and let them know about your current work in progress. Subscribe to some of your favorite authors and see what their newsletters look like. What content do they share? Pick and choose what fits your personality and genre, and do something similar. Take time to research online for ideas of what content to include in a newsletter such as, 50 Ideas for Author Newsletter Content by Zoe M. McCarthy. So much information is at your fingertips today, so do your research.

In Conclusion

If you have a story you want to share or if you have experienced something that will benefit others, and you have been given the skill to write, then you should consider publishing a book. Once you begin, you might find there are more books inside of you waiting to be written. However, if you want to be a good writer, you must never stop learning. If you stop learning about writing, you may as well stop writing. I hope you will find the courage to take the plunge into the world of writing because your books have the ability to reach places your voice can't be heard and your feet will never travel.


Anneliese Dalaba

February 16, 2023