You may be wondering why a person with only one book under contract would share her “process”. Frankly, I’ve written in some sort of capacity my whole life. I approach every school writing assignment in the same manner I approached writing the college course. And, I happen to have several other books that I’m working on now.
There are some interesting things I learned through this process. If you are planning to pitch to a publishing house vs. self publishing, you will find this tidbit will give you some relief. I’m also speaking into the CHRISTIAN niche of writing, I don’t know if this covers all genres and publishing houses.
Apparently, as a general rule of thumb, if you are writing FICTION the publishers would like a completed work. However if you are writing NON-FICTION, you only need to have a chapter outline and 2-3 completed chapters in order to pitch the book. NON-FICTION writing includes Bible Studies, Devotions, Leadership, Christian Lifestyle, Growth/Discipleship/Development, Histories, etc. It appears the only caveat to this is memoirs, which some like completed and some don’t. Children’s Books also seemed to vary publisher to publisher.
This means that if you have a great idea for a book, you do not have to slave over the keyboard working out 9-12 chapters of content. Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 will be sufficient. This will be included with your proposal (we’ll talk about this in greater detail later). Under no circumstances send a complete manuscript (if you have one) with the proposal. Even if it’s fiction, you still send 2-3 sample chapters.
My Writing Process:
First I flesh out the concept of the book. In this case, the book was going to be about Women’s Ministry. However, I needed to define that. What type of Women’s Ministry book? Is this going to be encouragement for leaders? A how to start a ministry guide? What is the point of my book, or why am I writing it? What information do I want the reader to walk away with? Who is my reader? Knowing who I want to read the book is a huge help in figuring out the overall concept.
Next, I expand the concept into the table of contents. What are 8-12 key points that I want to convey to get the reader from my introduction to the topic through the last chapter. These become my chapter titles. Right now they are just generic titles, that will probably get tightened up or even changed as I write the content. Each of those chapter titles will have three sub points that support the chapter. If this seems a bit confusing to you, just think of an outline for a research or school paper.
Finally, I expand all of those sub points into my paragraphs. Once I’m done stringing all of these points together, I have a completed book.
There are two terms associated with Non-Fiction … Academic and Trade. Academic books have about 100K words, these are college text books or books meant to be used as an educational resource. Trade books are everything else, and those average about 50-60K words. There may be some wiggle room depending on your exact topic.
My book was written, and completed, as an academic work. I had just over 100K words. However the publisher contracted me for a trade book, which meant I had to trim down my original book to nearly half the word count. This is why NOT having a completed book may work in your favor, ha.
If the publisher does not want a completed work, what is the purpose of the 3 sample chapters? These chapters give the publisher an example of your writing style and voice. The content reveals a lot about your writing process or how you think. From a Christian standpoint, it will also identify your theological standings if you are writing on heavier topics. It is a taste of who you are, and what you are trying to say.
The blessing of having to not complete the entire book also gives you an opportunity to work on multiple projects at one time. Then when you do have an opportunity to pitch to a publisher, you may be able to pitch multiple books at one time. Or, if they immediate turn down one idea, you can go right into your next idea. Not only does this give you more chances to connect with the publisher on a project, they are able to see that you are not a one trick pony. Instead of investing in a person who is going to do one book and move on, you become a person who they may have multiple books down the road with. That’s a good investment.