At least a few times a week I receive messages from people asking me how to write a book. Some of them have a book written but they don’t know what to do next. Others are sure they have a good story inside of them but they don’t know how to get started.

As a therapist turned “accidental author,” I understand the confusion. In 2013, I wrote an article that went viral and before I knew it, a literary agent was suggesting I write a book. But, I knew nothing about how to write a book, let alone sell one.

But five years and three books later, I have a much better understanding of what it takes to write and publish a book.

Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is whether you’re going to self-publish or try to obtain a traditional publisher. Many people think this is the last step-;but this is something you should consider first.

There are pros and cons to each approach. A traditionally published book will normally land you an advance-;a sum of money the publisher will pay you before you even begin writing the book. Then, if you “earn out” your advance, you’ll receive royalties on every copy sold.

A self-published book means you’ll have more control over what goes in the book and how it’s designed. While that can be positive, it also means you have to make more decisions and it’s up to you to hire people to assist you along the way.

A traditionally published book is also likely to have better distribution. It’s tougher to get self-published books into big box stores (and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to get them into any brick-and-mortar stores at all).

Self-publishing can be much faster, however. If you’ve got an idea you want to get into the world now, you can get your book done fast. Traditional publishing will probably take a year or longer.

If you want to traditionally publish a non-fiction book, you need to start with a proposal-;not the book itself. You may also want to get a literary agent who can submit your proposal to publishing houses (some smaller publishers allow direct submissions from authors but the bigger publishing houses only accept manuscripts from agents).

Writing Your Book

If you decide to self-publish, you can jump into creating your manuscript. You’ll need to start searching for a team of people who can assist you-;editors, designers, and any other professionals you might need to assist you along the way.

If you are traditionally publishing, write a proposal that outlines the book. Include a few sample chapters, comparable titles, and plans for marketing the book. A traditional publisher buys books based on proposals, not entire manuscripts.

While there’s a lot of advice out there about the “best” writing process, you’ll need to figure out what works best for you.

Some authors go to a coffee shop a few times a week and attempt to hit a certain word count. Others use notecards and sticky notes to outline their chapters and do nothing but write for days on end.

Experiment with different strategies to figure out what works for you. Writing is tough-;and you’ll be tempted to put it off or to throw away your early draft before you finish. That’s all part of the process.

Selling Your Book

As soon I was finished writing my first book, I breathed a sigh of relief because I thought the hard work was over. Then, a much more seasoned author said to me, “You know it’s not called the best writer’s list. It’s called the best seller’s list for a reason.”

He was right. Selling a book is hard work. You need to develop a clear plan for marketing your work so you can attract sales.

If you traditionally publish, you’ll likely be assigned a publicist who will help you attract media attention (but you’ll still need to do a fair amount of work). If you self-publish, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to hire someone to help you get media attention or if you are going to try and handle it by yourself.

Writing articles, pitching media outlets, and being a guest on podcasts are just a few things you can do to sell your book. If you’re a speaker, you can also sell books to audiences who are hiring you to speak.

It’s important to develop your marketing plan early on. Don’t wait until your book is available to begin thinking about how you’re going to sell it.

How to Get Help

If you’re feeling stuck, hire someone to help you with your book. You might consult with an established author, hire a writing coach, or take an online course in publishing.

Before you hire anyone, however, ask to speak to other students or past clients so you can learn about their experience. Be leery about any programs that seem too good to be true-;no one can guarantee you’ll get rich or become a bestselling author.

Published on: Jun 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.