You’ve dreamed up a brilliant idea for a book. But you have no idea where to start. Here’s how to organise your thoughts, create a structure on which to hang your masterpiece and write an ebook.
7 tips – Write an ebook
- come up with a working title, something that’ll serve as a constant reminder of the book’s focus. You can always change it later
- create a list of chapters, in logical order, at the same time structuring them into an overall pattern: beginning, middle and end
- under each chapter heading, add subheadings describing what you want to talk about in that chapter – an excellent aide memoir
- Add a bullet list of points to cover under each subheader. Keep them as short and sweet as possible, including everything you want to cover in the order in which you want to cover it. You might find, as you go along, that you want to put chapters, or the information in them, into a different order. Because you’ve already built a list of the points to cover, it’s easy to stay organised. This works equally well whether you’re writing a factual ‘how to’ guide or a piece of fiction
- start the writing process off by crafting a short introduction. Summarising the book’s message and contents up front is another good way to keep it under control. It acts as a mini-brief and helps prevents things drifting off in weird and random directions
- every time something occurs to you, add it to the bullet list under the right chapter heading
- write each chapter in chronological order to give yourself the best chance of avoiding inconsistencies
George Orwell’s six rules for authors
In 1946 George Orwell set down six rules for writers. They ring as true today as they did back then, and they’re the same rules I stick to when writing content of any kind, creative or commercial, online or offline. Here’s what he recommended:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you often see in print – in other words, be original
- Never use a long word when a short one will do the job – plain English is perfect, there’s no need to be verbose or overly-clever. Even the most complex message can and should be expressed simply and elegantly
- If you can cut a word out, cut it out – keep things crystal clear
- Never, ever write passively when you can express yourself actively – passive is cold and distancing
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or jargon when there’s an everyday alternative
- Break all of the above rules rather than saying something “outright barbarous”
Want help constructing a plot? Try Lester Dent’s famous formula
Lester Dent, the remarkably successful US pulp fiction author, formalised the way he created plots in his Master Fiction Plot, AKA the Lester Dent formula. It was created to help others write best-selling 6,000 word stories, but it translates pretty well into any length of story. It’s quite long but to give you the basic idea Michael Moorcock, the sci-fi writer, summarised it as follows:
- split your six-thousand-word story up into four fifteen hundred word parts
- part one, hit your hero with a heap of trouble
- part two, double it
- part three, put him in so much trouble there’s no way he could ever possibly get out of it
- all your main characters have to be in the first third
- all your main themes and everything else has to be established in the first third, developed in the second third, and resolved in the last third
If you want to read the whole thing in all its splendour, here’s a link.
Grab someone who loves reading
Once it’s finished and you’ve beaten it into the best possible shape yourself, get a bunch of people whose judgement you trust to read your book and report back on anything that doesn’t sit right. It might have inconsistencies, be prone to repetition, wander off down blind alleyways, express weak arguments or contradict itself. This is a useful interim stage if you want to save money on a professional editor.
Get a professional editor on the case
Once you’ve buffed the finished item to a high sheen and taken trustworthy people’s opinions into account, it’s time to find a proper editor to make your book it the best it can be. A good editor will look at:
- How suitable your content and style is for the intended audience
- Whether it’s the right length, too short or too long
- If anything is either missing or superfluous
- Whether the order is logical
- If you need an appendix, bibliography or glossary
- If your sentence and paragraph length is suitable
- Whether the illustrations and tables, if there are any, agree with the text and captions
- Whether the chapter headings and subheads / subsections accurately represent the content
Copy editing is rule-based, looking at grammar, spelling, punctuation and various other aspects of style and consistency.
Substantive editing (also known as developmental editing and comprehensive editing) is different. The editor considers the concept, intended use, content, organisation and style in an effort to make the book work perfectly for the reader. It’s more analytical than copy editing and the decisions are less rule-based, more influenced by judgement and experience.
A substantive edit often includes restructuring and rewriting, covering all this:
- Does everything fit together in a coherent whole?
- Is the presentation order logical from the target audience’s perspective?
- Is all the necessary information included?
- Is all the unnecessary information removed?
Language editing looks at:
- Sentence complexity
- The use of active or passive verbs
- The tense
- Clear, logical idea development
- Jargon and technical terms, compared to the needs of the target audience
As you can see, there are some overlaps. As a rule all three types of editing are vital. Unless you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll probably need the lot.
What about ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting is where you get someone else to write an ebook for you, to your brief. If you have a best-selling idea but can’t write for toffee, here’s what you need to give your ghostwriter:
- A working title
- A list of chapters
- A basic list of the facts/ideas/recipes / research / tips / whatever it is you want to cover in each chapter
- A rough idea about the length of the finished book – 50, 100, 250 pages?
- All the research, notes, reference material and information you can possibly provide
- An idea of the style you want it written in
- Information about the target audience
Some ghostwriters can work from recorded interviews. Some are happy to meet with the ‘author’, take notes and even record what’s said. It’s horses for courses, but I always work from a written brief. I can even transform a rough manuscript into something that’s the best it can be, a job that falls somewhere in between editing and ghostwriting.