You should write a book. Yes, you. Whether you’re a young 18-year-old off to college with little free time or a 60-year-old corporate executive with even less bandwidth, you could boost your career and skills by publishing a book. I asked for tips from the novelist Laura Hatton (pen name Josin McQuein) and from Dave Marcus, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist.
First, having a published book (whether in your field or not) increases credibility and visibility. People who Google you will find something tangible and you will pop up higher in search results. People who read your work may buy your products, connect to you on LinkedIn, or hire you. Second, for job-seekers, having a surprising “fun-fact” that shows you have hidden skills is a great way to be remembered. Third, publishing a book takes time, energy, writing prowess, marketing skills, and endless persistence, all important assets to have.
Don’t have time? William Faulkner, Stephen King, John Green, Khalid Hosseini, and even J.K. Rowling had other work while they wrote. Here’s how you can get started:
Decide what you want to write about. It doesn’t have to be nonfiction in your field of work. Everyone expects you to do that, and writing is a good escape from your day job. Try writing fiction instead. Maybe make your character an alter-ego from your day job, like a struggling college student or an immigrant defense lawyer. Write what you know, because it requires the least amount of research, and write what you love, because Marcus says it will occupy most of your free thoughts every day.
Plan your book. Your first book should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Plan out what will happen in each chapter: the subjects you will cover, the characters you will develop, and the plots you will follow. Hatton daydreams stories beforehand. For nonfiction, work really hard on this, because you will pitch agents with a developed plan, not the finished book. For fiction, be more open, because your story will change along the way. Also, if you’re writing a novel, create a separate document with at least a page-worth of backstory and traits on every single character.
Write. It is very easy to start writing and then get derailed by work, school, or the rest of your life. It’s important to realize that writing is a job. Write when you feel like it, always. And schedule time to write even when you don’t feel like it. Your goal could be a chapter a week — or even a chapter a month — but stick to it. Depending on how detailed your plan was, this shouldn’t be that hard. If you’re still in school, try writing a chapter a day over vacations or sign up for authors’ challenges online to keep yourself motivated. Marcus started at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday with a break to make breakfast for his kids. He was working two jobs at the time.
Read. While you’re working on your book, try to read other authors who write in the same style as you do. Try to go to author’s conventions and meet other people who will read your drafts if you read theirs. Check out Absolute Write Water Cooler to meet other authors.
Edit. Edit. Edit. Just keep editing. My novella was published on Edit Number One Hundred-And-Something. Post some of your chapters online and get feedback. If you’re interviewing people for a work of nonfiction, send them your chapters. Think about cutting the first three chapters of your novel and book report your own nonfiction. How much unnecessary stuff is in there? Can the plot move along without that extra scene? Are you missing character development?
Query. Sure, it’s the age of publishing things online and building niche fan bases. But unless you are already a popular blogger and are writing for a very small audience you’re sure you can fully tap into, agents will do the marketing and publishing a lot better than you will. Use a dedicated e-mail address, rather than your work or school one, so agents think you’re serious. Hatton and I suggest Query Tracker, a great website for tracking queries and finding receptive agents in your genre. Come up with a catchy pitch letter and explain who you are and how your current social media presence and work life helped you write the book. Expect to get hundreds of rejections at first. That’s okay. You just need one agent who believes in your work. Query Shark has great suggestions for fiction queries. Hatton suggests commenting on agent’s blogs as well, so they know who you are.
Keep writing. Most authors don’t get their first book published or agented. That’s okay. Work on your next piece.
Publish! Don’t expect to make money off your first book — or first three. Writing books on the side is a great way to continue making money at your day job, while getting better at a creative skill. Publishing, marketing, and social media building will probably take more time and energy than writing in the first place; Hatton suggests it’s a one-to-two year process; Marcus says his books took three years from start to finish. But the difference between a real author and everyone else on the planet “writing a book” is this step. So do it. And even if you don’t become the next New York Times -bestseller, writing is a ton of fun and a very rewarding experience. Happy writing!Isvari Mohan, author of “The Eyes of Mikra,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.