8 Questions to Answer Before You Start Writing Your First Book

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“Start writing, no matter what,” novelist Louis L’Amour once said. “The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” And while no one would argue with L’Amour, who wrote more than 100 well-known books, there’s nothing wrong with creating a little method to the madness. Or better yet, you should develop one.

Don’t worry. Pondering strategy won’t hamper your creativity. Here’s a few questions you can consider before getting started:

  1. Why is this book important to you?

Yes, you have a “why.” Every great author starts with the why. Really think about this question. Dig deep, without fear, to unveil your inspiration and drive. It’s equivalent to a company’s mission and values statement. How honestly you answer this question will roadmap and guide you through your writing journey. It will affect the type of book you will write, publishing plans, and even how’ll market and create buzz.

For example, it’s common for people to write books with the sole purpose of generating new prospects and leads for their business. Take Hubspot, for example. It is well-known for releasing comprehensive books on marketing best practices. However, their end goal is to eventually snag the reader as a new customer. If content marketing is your goal, you may even choose to go for a non-traditional form of publishing, such as releasing the book as a downloadable PDF.

Some aspiring authors want sustainable income through book advances and royalties. This goal also could heavily influence your publishing process. You’ll probably spend a great amount of time soliciting the assistance of an agent, and certainly aim to work with an established publisher.

And others are inspired by the story that’s burning inside of them.

Find out your why and clearly outline your motivations. Then, as you embark on this journey, you can refer to your underlying motivation to help you make decisions along the way.

  1. What is your book’s structure?

Many authors, especially first-timers, jump straight into the writing process, expecting their free-flow of ideas to float them to the finish line. But structuring and formatting will play a major role in your finished work, whether you like it or not. And if it’s not prioritized in your writing process, it certainly will be tackled by your editor in preparation for publishing.

Get in front of it. Think about your book’s structure and any major content you know up front will be included in it. You don’t need to try to outline the book’s flow, just broad parameters to give your writing process a bit of definition. Is it a collection of short pieces, such as recipes or essays? Are you the sole author or will you be collecting stories from others? What other forms of media do you want included, like photos or illustrations? Just think about it.

  1. Who is your ideal reader?

Keeping the reader’s experience in mind is also a debatable point among artists. Do you write for your audience, or do you write for your narrative’s sake? It truly depends on the goal of your book. However, it can’t hurt to know your reader so you can truly spark their interest, connect with them, meet their needs and provoke their emotions. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” advised Robert Frost. “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Of course, your emotional connection to your story is unshakeable — especially if you’ve dreamt of writing your book for years. But your book is not about you. It’s about your story. It’s about your readers.

Tell a story they want to hear. Share facts and advice that they’re searching for. Make them feel or think what they want to feel and think. Unless you’re already Kardashian-level famous, no one will read your book because of you.

To do this well, create a profile for your reader. Imagine what their life looks like. What motivates them? How long will it take them to finish your book? What are their hobbies and interests? What challenges are your readers trying to solve?

Keep this profile in mind as you jot your outline. This will affect your voice and tone, your structure, and how you communicate your story.

  1. What’s your budget?

Your budget will depend on your answers to the previous three questions. For example, every author needs an editor and proofreader. However, depending on your motivation for writing and the book’s structure, you might also need an illustrator, a fact checker, even an attorney. Whether you have an agent or you’re going it alone, plan out your costs and begin building your budget so you don’t panic at the amount of money spent at the end of your writing process.

  1. Do you have competition?

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. In the modern era of Amazon, savvy authors know they need to research their niche to confirm that the story they want to write hasn’t been written already.

Competitor research can be easy. Browse Amazon or head to a local bookstore. Check out the top titles in your genre or field. Look at what other best sellers are positioned near them. Check out the authors of these top books and scan their bio to see what else they’ve written. Scan Amazon reviews to see readers’ praise or criticism of these top books.

Be prepared. You might find that what you want to write has already been extensively covered. If so, pivot.  Think of a new approach to the topic. Often times, competitive research can be inspirational in and of itself, broadening your approach to a topic beyond the boundaries of your own ideas. And if that doesn’t work, think of a new topic.

  1. How will you prove your book’s value?

Never judge a book by its cover. But that’s literally what all of us do when deciding what book to buy from the store or borrow from a friend. The title could attract us, or the endorsements, or the quirky descriptions on the inside of the book jacket. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and come up with a plan to visually convey your book’s value.

  1. What’s your deadline (realistically)?

Even if this is simply a passion project, you need to have a clear timeline to hold yourself accountable. Don’t be that author who takes their manuscript to their grave. The world wants your story. The readers need your passion. So, set a timeline and stick with it.

  1. What tools will you need?

Every author is different, but writers have often identified several key tools that have helped them to be successful at the craft:

  • A physical notebook: Jot down quick ideas and inspiration on the go.
  • A smart word processing tool or app: Get one that’s specifically for writers. This saves you time, headache, and helps you write more efficiently. If you’re writing on a Mac, Mellel may be just what you need.
  • A printer: In this digital age, more and more people, opt out of buying a printer. But it’s one of the best ways to proofread your work.

These 8 steps are only the beginning, but they certainly set you in the right direction towards contributing your masterpiece to the world of ideas.

Amber Massey is a wordsmith and communications enthusiast with over 10 years of experience. Editing is her passion. New media is her medium. She is currently the CEO of Mellel, a powerful app redefining word processing for Mac.