How to write your first book and FINISH it

Advice on how to start writing a book is quite different from tips on how to finish a book. What genre your novel will fall in, how long it should be and what writing style should you follow are questions that the author is best qualified to address. The bigger challenge for most first time writers working on their novel or non-fiction books is about putting the lid on the project and completing the book.

I have a friend who is a voracious reader, has an excellent grasp on the English language and has dissected almost all genres. She’s tried her hand at writing as well. Her style is unique (I’m guessing, as I don’t have statistics to compare). She just starts off on a thought process that catches her fantasy. It could be a personality trait, a plot or just a bunch of unlinked ideas. She then lets the characters ‘tell’ her how the story should unfold. Her biggest hurdle has been completing the story.

After completing a few chapters, the characters take over and the author becomes more of a ringmaster trying to discipline and coerce them into completing the performance. I thought that was a very interesting approach with a challenge that I was only able to partially appreciate.

My approach for my MBA book has been very different. It was non-fiction to begin with, but it still had ‘fictional’ characters tackling ‘real’ issues. Then there was the additional complexity of weaving the ‘real’ content with the ‘fictional’ part in a seamless manner. Not too easy. I couldn’t afford the characters to run riot and mess up the real focus of my book. But for USP reasons, it couldn’t be like a regular serious, high-brow business book.

I used a customised ‘fishbone’ approach. Basically, the way it worked was as follows. I had a high level theme in place about what I wanted the primary message in the book to be. That was the backbone. Then I worked out the individual chapters again at a high level. Each chapter in turn was broken up into sections and sub-sections. Sounds very logical, but it wasn’t. I still had to make significant structural changes as I went along. But there was never a feeling of being completely lost at any point in time.

The books got a lot of book reviews from readers, but I’m also keen to see what other writers think about it. If you have already read it, let me know how successful I was in meshing the fiction and non-fiction elements. Also, keen to know what you would have done to make it better. I’d love some creative inputs to make the second edition more intriguing.

Btw, what’s your writing style? Are you the my-characters-are-free-birds types or would you rather have them on a tight leash? How do you ensure that the book gets completed as planned? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

13 Comments

  1. I am writing a book for the first time so I need valuable tips from your side

  2. Sameer says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Prafulla. Hope find the tips you are looking for on this blog.

    If you don’t find them in any of the published articles, post your specific queries as a comment and I’d be happy to address them.

  3. Ashutosh says:

    Sameer, If one plans to write a non-fiction book what are the guidelines for research? There’s a fine line between referring or copying information from other sources. Does one need to reach out to every author/publisher to seek their approval before using their content.

    btw – really enjoyed reading your blog..very informative and well written posts!

    regards,
    Ashutosh

  4. Sameer says:

    Ashutosh,

    Thanks for your kind words about the blog.
    In most cases, an attribution specifying the source should work.

    In case, you want to use substantial chunks from the source, then you’d need to approach the author for permission. Depending on how and what you are using it for, they may ask you to pay them for the usage.

  5. Someoneontheinternet says:

    Hello Sameer.

    There are a few questions I want to ask. I have just completed my first manuscript. It’s a self-help book with a word count of around 40100. I mailed it to Writer’s Side two days back. I have several questions here:

    1. Do they send back an acknowledgement e-mail? If not, how much time do they take to respond?

    2. Should I email my proposals to other literary agents too? Which agents respond to first time authors?

    3. Which publishers are more interested in self-help/motivational books than fiction? And which publishers respond the fastest to first time authors?

    4. Do small self help books with a word count like mine work in Indian market? I can, but I don’t want to fluff it up with more words.

    And yeah, you’re doing an amazing job, man. Thanks.

    • Plenty of very (agent / publisher) specific questions in there which I won’t be able to address. So I’ll keep my responses general:

      – Most publishers / literary agencies don’t bother responding to every single query letter they get. Some get back with template rejections with vague wording (“these are subjective decisions”, “it’s not your fault, don’t take it personally”, “this doesn’t fit into our list” etc).

      The technically savvy ones would have an auto-response setting that’ll send a standard acknowledgement to query letters, hate mails, marriage proposals and everything else that you send to them. Basically, a pointless gesture.

      – Nobody wouldn’t mention that they don’t accept new authors. However, a credible and successful track record does make a big difference in whether you’d get some tender care and loving from them.

      – Self-help and motivational books appeal more to Indian publishers. So you are in a good position, compared to all the Indian fiction writers.

      – The word count doesn’t matter as much as the relevance and saleability of the book. Most of the fluff would get edited out anyway, if it gets into the hands of a good editor.

      I hope you’ve been working on building your author platform that attracts your target readers.

  6. Kush Srivastava says:

    Respected Sir Sameer,
    I am a 14-years-old and currently working upon my first novel. It is substantially a fantasy novel and somewhere a science fiction also. i would like to ask you that who are publishers who can publish my novel? Secondly is it important to hire a literary agent?
    I would conclude by requesting you to read my comment and help me. And please tell me the problems I may face while publishing my novel.
    Thanking You,
    Your’s faithfully,
    Kush Srivastava
    Email Address: kushsrivastava655@gmail.com

  7. sandeep says:

    Hi Sameer,

    My question to you is about the ISBN for a book. I’m self publishing my 1st book and am little worried about the ISBN number. one can obtain isbn for free in india but it takes around 3 to 4 months. My questions is, can I buy is online from an US website and use it to sell it in India?

    Hope you will help me with this query !

    Thanks
    Sandeep singh

  8. @Kush: Good to see that you’ve started so early. There are a lot of writing and publishing tips on this site. Hope you find them useful.

    @Sandeep: ISBN numbers have to be acquired from the authority for the specific region. Indian authors can’t use the ones sold by American sites. It’s quite a painful process.

    Several vanity publishers have a range of ISBN numbers that they procure in bulk and assign it to new books. However, the credibility of your book will get linked to those publishers.

    Amazon and Flipkart have their own alternative number system that identifies individual books.

  9. Ashok Sah says:

    Hi Sameer ,

    I have a deep urge of writing and obviously getting it published . However , I don’t know all these ins and outs of this cumbersome process.

    Could you please tell me from writing the first page and ending up with getting it published ?

  10. Prashant says:

    Hello, Mr. Sameer…………I have written a Play very similar to the style that of William Shakespeare. I am unemployed and want to make money through that and also want to copy write the manuscript first before passing it to anybody. So ,let me know The process of copywrite and earning through a book.
    Thanks

  11. Rajagopalan Iyengar says:

    Dear Sameer,
    I am an ardent fan of History as a subject, and I desire to write a historical non-fiction through research.
    I have also zeroed in on a historical event to research on. Please kindly guide me as to how the process of historical research works in India.
    How does an independent research get access to historical archives (which is not classified) in the possession of the Govt of India

    Please advise

    Rajagopalan Iyengar

  12. Kratika Sharma says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I want to write my first novel and the genre & idea are clear to me but I don’t know how to start writing..

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