Read on for six winning tips to prepare and draft your manuscript, in Part 5 of “10 Simple Steps to becoming a successful published author” blog series by Maureen Shelley.
1.How many words are enough?
Authors often ask how long their book should be; and it is true that once 52,000 words was a de facto standard. However, these days with self-publishing the norm rather than the exception what ever you write that covers your topic comprehensively and cohesively will work.
Remember your spine width may be the first thing your audience sees, so a book with a spine width the size of the first joint of your thumb will present a nice wide ‘canvas’.
There are plenty of self-publishing websites that can help you calculate spine width, so enter a few numbers and work out what a realistic length would be to achieve your goals for your book.
2. Size matters
Remember the number needs to be divisible by 16 if you are going to print and the last page should be blank. Aim for 300 or so pages for a Trade paperback B+ size, if you are writing a self-help or business book. This size also works well for novels.
Say your aim is to write 300 pages on your topic. If you write 10 chapters of 30 pages, then you have a good basis for your book. An A4 page of type may equate to up to three pages in a book, depending on spacing, margins and font.
3. A word on fonts
I would recommend you go old school and use Times New Roman. Use the same font for your title, chapter headings, any footnotes, page numbers, headers or footers, table of contents, glossary or indices. This will make life a lot easier when it comes to file preparation for your printer and preparation of your digital file.
4. Use a custom template
If you are using a standard word processing program use the book manuscript template. However, you will need to adjust the style to use the same font throughout. Once you have ensured you have used a single font for everything, save it as a quick style (in Word).
5. A beginning, middle and end
Many authors ask how to write their manuscript. If you are really unsure, then a writing course would help. However, if you have a reasonable idea of what you want to say then start with a plan. If you are going with my suggestion of 300 pages in 10 chapters, then start outlining your chapter headings. What are the 10 essential messages, key points or events that you want to explore?
If yours is a cook book, then starters, entrees, main courses and desserts are obvious choices for chapter headings. You can divide up main courses into meat and vegetarian or beef, lamb and poultry – work out a plan and write to that.
If you are writing a business book, then what is the solution you are providing for the reader? In your introduction, outline the issue, your proposed solution and the steps to get there. Then sketch the conclusion. Chapter 1 sets up the issue; Chapter 2 addresses your proposed solution. Chapters 3 to Chapter 9 then cover each step, and Chapter 10 provides the conclusion and summarises recommendations.
If you are writing a fictional work, then think about the dramatic arc that your storyline will take. Plan your plot points and where they will fall in the narrative. Writer Blanche d’Alpuget says to tell the story to just one reader. Picture that person clearly and tell them the story so that it is engaging. This creates a virtuous circle between the author and the reader, she says.
If you are tackling a family memoir you have choices of periods – pre-war, war, inter-war, post war; ages – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, children, old age; or you can go with themes such as hope and joy, loss and grief. Whatever framework you choose, map it out, write your chapter headings and then write to each chapter heading.
6. The art of writing is to write
Treat writing like a job. Decide how many hours a day/week/month you are going to devote, set up a deadline before you start – you want it on sale by Mothers’ Day, by October to capture Christmas sales, by Anzac Day if it is a war memoir – and work out the rate and frequency of your writing. DO NOT spend a decade writing a book – or two years if you are a child – because you will only need to rewrite it.
I used to own a block of polished wood that had chamfered corners that I called my writer’s block. When I sat down to write, I would have it next to me. Then I would move it away as the writing started to flow, I would toss it on the floor and ignore it when things were going well; only to pick it up and cart it around when I was stuck.
Two years ago, I moved from a house to an apartment and I gave my writer’s block away. Now, I don’t worry about writer’s block. If I sit down and can’t write I will literally start with “The cat sat on the mat”.
As long as you are writing, it doesn’t matter if it is a laundry list – the art of writing is to write. Write. Start now.
June is Author’s Month to celebrate the launch of Red Raven Books. Red Raven Books is the publishing and imprint arm of The Copy Collective. Find out how we can help you today.