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One Thing You Must Do Before Writing Your Book

Staring at a blank sheet of paper or Word document as you start your book is a scary thing. It stops the flow of creativity in even the most talented writer. As for newcomers to the process, it can kill the dream at the start.

Published writers, editors and publishers offer much advice about what you should do before you write your book. Most say you should create an outline or put pressure on yourself by announcing your plan to the world. Today I ran across a sound and easy-to-do piece of advice from a talented writer, coach and speaker, Ofili,  in his article 7 Things You Must Do Before Writing Your Book.

Steal a book.

Ofili doesn’t mean ease out of the bookstore with the unpaid-for-contraband tucked in your bag, of course. Nor does he suggest you should plagiarize.

What he means by “steal a book”  is called market research in some circles. (I require my private clients to study the top books in their genre and report to me what they discovered.)  Ofili suggests you study a writer whose style you admire and is similar to your own.

There are three good reasons for it.

1. Inspiration

The mere fact that a favorite author has successfully shared her ideas in print is encouraging, especially at the start when your first words seem out of reach. Observing the author use words you can understand to unfold concepts before your very eyes will give you encouragement and often call forth your ideas that until now were too shy to reveal themselves.

2. Guidance

It is very instructive to turn an analytical eye to the work of an admired author or even the top authors in your genre, whether you admire them or not. You can learn about writing, structuring and publishing all in one place.

First pay attention to how you approach to the book as a reader:  check out the title, author’s name, quick scan of front cover, flip over to back cover looking for proof that this book will keep the promise of its title and solve your problem or fill your need.

Second, go inside the book to see how the author delivers on his promise. How does he begin, develop and end the chapters? Is the book light-hearted, humorous or serious with lessons and activities? Are there quotes, stories, illustrations, and if so, do they add to the message? Are there examples to make key points clear or does the author pose questions and leave you to reflect?

3. Direction

After you have read, examined and analyzed the “stolen book,” you will begin to see gaps in what and how the author wrote his book and how you want to write yours.

You will notice omissions, ideas she didn’t cover or information glazed over that you’d like to explain in more depth in your book.

You will begin to see missing evidence you would set forth to support ideas in your book that somehow the author in question neglected.

In this phase you will begin to see your book emerge as distinctive. Even  though it may be on the same or similar topic or style and isn’t even written yet, you will begin to see the gap your book will fill in the literature.

You will be able to visualize the books currently on the bookstore shelf  moving closer together making just enough space on the shelf for your upcoming book to join them.

There are two very practical reasons to study another author or authors in your genre.

  • You will be able to return to them when your confidence wanes along the way (and it will.)
  • If you plan to approach a literary agent or submit directly to a traditional publisher, this will be a required part of your proposal, without which they won’t even consider your manuscript.

Are you now convinced to “steal a book?”

Can you see this working for you?

Speak up in the Comments.


Connect with Your Fans If You Want to Sell Books

The following article appeared in Dan Janal’s Irreverent Marketing Memo on 10-17-11

Four young authors are selling lots of books and are inspiring a lot of people at the 21st Century Book Marketing Conference, [including Dan Janal!]

They are selling lots of books and their stories are all different.
Rick German, a coach and author of “Monetize Your Passion” says he networked like mad with other authors in his niche. “No matter what n iche you are in, you can meet the right people.” He did favors for them for two years, always asking, “How can I support you?” When his book came out, he called in the favors and people were happy to help. Now he spends every morning jogging on the beach, taking a dip and meditating – then coaches people on how to live his lifestyle. Sweet.

Kailin Gow has built an empire in the tween market and then the teen market as her readers grew up. She maintains strong ties to her readers by answering their emails (up to 2 hours a day) and responding via Facebook. She has a Facebook page for each book series. “They protect me from people who attack” she said. As to the time commitment she added, “I don’t sleep much.” Her books include the Desire Series, PULSE, Wicked Woods and Frost. A major worldwide game developer is creating games based on each series, she said.

Kevin Hansen collected people&rsq uo;s “regrets” on his website, then self-published a book “Secret Regrets: What If You Had a Second Chance.”  Get this: he contacted the Dr. Phil show and pitched his book – and they said yes, let’s do an entire show around this. That NEVER happens. But it did.

Hannah Dennison has written four books in the Vicky Hill Mysteries series by getting up at 5 a.m. every day and writing for two hours before going to her job.

These young authors serve as an inspiration to all!


Dan Janal helps small businesses get publicity so they can sell more products. My clients get terrific results from my coaching, consulting, done-for-you services and do-it-yourself tools. For info, go to www.prleadsplus.com or call me at 952-380-1554.

Master the First Law of Writing: Create a Compelling Hook

Stop worrying about the thousands of words that will fill your book.

Focus instead on creating a juicy hook that will grab your reader so completely that she will ignore her email, her buzzing cellphone, and that screaming baby down the hall.

A hook is an opening sentence that pulls the reader in. It may not be the first sentence you write when creating the rough draft, but it must eventually appear at the beginning of the proposal to a publisher or the final draft of your self-published book. Without a hook you risk losing readers before they ever get into the heart of your book.

Memorable books throughout history have memorable opening first lines. Do you recognize these?

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  2. If music be the food of love, play on. . .
  3. To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
  4. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is  unhappy in its  own way.
  5. You better not tell nobody but God.

In all fairness to the rest of us writers, these famous lines were etched in our minds not always because we were lured into the books. Some were forced upon us as required reading in high school and college or we remember them because the books were made into movies.

While your book may never be turned into a blockbuster movie, you do want your book read. The challenge, then, is how can you write a hook that compels readers to continue beyond the first page.

How can you create a hook?

Arouse curiosity

All the opening lines cited above have an antecedent, a reference to a previous time, person or event of which we are not yet privy. They make us want to know the conflict, the problem or the situation that lead the author to utter that line. Who is she, it, and what is it we better not tell?

Hint at conflict, a problem or tension in simple language

The hint at conflict is best done with simple words. Even when the first line seems to be just an everyday introduction such as the opening of Moby Dick or telling us that the behavioral science department that deals with serial murder is half-buried in the earth as in the beginning of Silence of the Lambs, we immediately expect and yearn to know more.

Start in the middle

There is no need to start your manuscript at the beginning, but it is important to make the reader care. When a story begins “Once upon a time. . .” we are not just introduced to characters, but are about to witness them walk into danger or conflict. They were already on a course to a problem which we get to see play out and eventually be resolved.

Be patient with yourself

Don’t belabor your opening line, charging it with the duty to carry your whole book. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction your hook just needs to make us want to know more.

Does this opening sentence make you want to know more?

“Until today, Ava had never stolen anything in her life.”

What does it suggest? Does it meet the basics of a good hook?

How about the opening line of your current project?

Check below to see if you correctly guessed the source of the first lines from above.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities~Charles Dickens
  2. The Twelfth Night~William Shakespeare
  3. Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia~Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. Anna Karenina~Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Color Purple~Alice Walker

What opening line from a book or blog has grabbed you? If you’ve written a great hook, share it with us in the comments.