It has been a busy year in publishing – and its only July. The good news is that reading has not been hit by the two years of lock downs, in fact the pandemic drove an increase in book sales. But now, after two straight years of solid growth, print book sales fell 6.6% in the first half of 2022. Sure, we are only halfway through the year and there are some MEGA books coming out.
But longer statistics can’t hide the fact that, over time, reading has long been losing ground to other forms of entertainment. YouTube, television (remember that old tech) Netflix, TikTok and other screen-based entertainment grabs more and more of our time. Readers increase as population grows, but book’s share of the market decreases.
Despite this larger trend, books publishing statistics show increases across the board.
Here’s what you need to know if you are writing to be published in 2023 / 2024
Where are you going with all this writing? What is the end game? Do you simply love writing with no real outcome required? Is it profit? Or influence? It may be any of these, but first you have to write the book.
What is your book about?
The dreaded question.
The answer is most likely 'a HELL of a lot - do you have two hours?' People don't, so you need to be able to sum your entire book up in a sentence. And often that sentence - (along with your title, subtitle and your name) is what gets the attention of an agent or publisher.
Below we unpack examples of loglines and how to write them for novels and non-fiction books.
What is a ghost writer and why may you need one? And when should you actually write your own book?
I'm just going to unpack that a little bit in this video. A ghost writer is usually a professional author (that most often come through journalistic training) and they will take your story, all your ideas that are in your head, and they will actually drive them down into what is a written format.
What! You ask. Why trouble? Why would I need anyone to do this in a book?
Have you ever heard that books are driven by conflict? This word conflict means that all books are driven by things that go wrong, not things that go right. If everything went your way it wouldn’t be a very exciting story would it?
Even though you may be the 'main character' in a memoir, this book is not just about you. Even non-fiction needs other characters. And many of them. You can’t stand alone in a book so you are going to need a broader cast of characters to fill the pages, and to fill the world you are building on paper. Giving yourself friends, family and a past is what makes your story come alive.
Who else should have some airtime in your book? How will you write them in? Here are 5 archetypes all memoirs need to build a plot that works hard to carry your story.
I had no name. No attachments. No family. No form. No purpose. I was a floating, formless, light being. Totally at peace in the vast, beautiful space.
In the real world I was dying. I was admitted into hospital with ‘the flu’ at age 34. Within 48 hours I was in an induced coma, on life support and fighting for my life. My big magazine job abandoned, my stylish house empty and my life suddenly vacated.
At the same time my husband at just 41 was dying in another bed just 10kms down the road. He had been fighting brain cancer for four years. He had fought it with surgery and medicine, and alternative medicine. He was deep along the path of becoming a sangoma (shaman).
It’s a romantic idea ... to ‘write a book’. It gives us a purpose and something to do. It gives us somewhere to pour our time into. It is creative and we join a community of writers.
But do we really know what it takes to get to the end? Not until you have done it. I am mentoring a ghost-writer who has written lots of blogs and articles and was commissioned to do a book. We are a year into the process, and the very hard reality of writing such a big thing is hitting hard. A book is simply a massive amount of words to lasso into shape.
I am not telling you this to put you off, but to let you know the reality behind it. Writing a book is no small thing. It is not a poem, a short story, or an article. It is not 10,000 or even 40,000 words. It is going to take you a year at least to write, and another year to get it to market. My first book was published in 2005 and I am still promoting it. I just finished another one this month (for a client) and I swear I nearly lost my mind from the sheer weight of all those words.
Writing a book is such a leap of faith.
It may never get published. It may sell 10 copies. It may also fly, change your life, and open doors to a new future.
But I know that a book is a calling, more than anything else.
Nobody writes to make money.
Zoë Scholtz, June 2020
Early in January 2020, it was a weekday, a day like any other. I was at the office minding my own business, working away at a spreadsheet. My phone vibrated, signaling incoming email. I glanced at it, but since I didn’t recognise the sender (Renate from The Writing Room, something about not mucking about …?) I assumed it was spam and ignored the mail. When I finally got around to checking the many notifications on my phone later that afternoon, I realised that the email seemed to require my attention: Apparently my mom had signed me up for a book writing mentorship and I had to complete and submit forms.
Books are loooooong and so many can be really boring. As an author that is your problem to solve, and it often means you need to engage so many tricks to keep your reader engaged, turning the page and staying 'with you' and 'in the story'. Much of this interest factor comes down to your actual plotting, your story or topic. If they bought the book, they are interested in what you have to say. But there are also a few technical ways you may want to mix up writing styles to give different pace, tone ... or just to slot in some different information that simply needs to be there.
Non fiction is great in that it allows you to cue your reader by using subheadings to mark a change in pace, tone or narrator. In fiction you need to break scene to change viewpoint.
As you edit and improve your book you will be looking to include all of the above styles in scenes or chapters to start adding colour and variety to your writing.
These are some chapters (or scenes or subheadings) you may want to include in your book 👇
Writing about yourself is an exercise in both honesty and storytelling. You are narrating your own life or experience, but you are also the hero of a story. So the question is, how do you create this hero when it is YOU?
How do you elevate yourself above being an ordinary person and into the realm of a literary character that people are inspired to read about?
What if your story is not gripping enough to make you into this ‘hero’?
What if you don’t want to be in your story at all?
How will you hold their attention for 250 pages?
How much of yourself should you really reveal?
If Einstein was right, and a problem cannot be solved using the mindset that created it, perhaps we should be discussing our climate troubles with people who do not share the mindset of the industrial machine…
As we made our way to the house of the old rainmaker in Botswana, we grew excited at the thought of an untapped network of professionals who might know the medicine for climate change. We arrived, greeted and soon learned the rainmakers had long since given up making rain.
When we asked why, the old man laughed as if it was obvious. “Nobody actually makes rain. Rain simply comes when the land is right.” He stared out at the sandy paths between concrete block houses. “And it is not right.”
By Niall Campbell and Nicola Robbins
Writing a non-fiction story is like cracking a safe. It seems impossible at the beginning, but once you're in, you're in.’ Rich Cohen
The difficult thing about planning a book is working out how to break down all the information that is in your head so a reader gets it. Most often it feels as if there is a great mass of great stuff swirling inside your brain but how does it all come out that makes sense to anyone else? It is like untangling a ball of string decades in the making.
All books (even novels) start with the author making a working plan of how the story will unfold for the reader. The task - simply put - is to break down all of this into a series of chapters (or scenes in a novel). A logical and well-organised Table of Contents (TOC) is critical to focus you (as the writer), and it also allows the reader to choose the chapters they want to read, and the ones they may want to skip. I have a few examples below this email.
I call this process "the horribly hard task of having to put all your information into containers". It is about untangling that mass of data and ideas and all those stories, grouping it, and making it clear (and hopefully enticing) for a reader.
Memoirs and biography have a totally different plotting structure to non-fiction books, and are closer to the plot structure of a novel. You need to tell a story, and so you will plot these books using scenes as the building blocks to a story rather than chapters.
We write and write and write, and then someone asks the dreaded question… ‘so what is your book about?’
What happens? You stammer and gush and say something – or anything. This is not an unexpected question, umm right?
"We are all part of the old stories; whether we know the stories or not, the old stories know about us."
Leslie Marmon Silko
Below in this blog post there are some fun things you can join... like our new online writing community, the next six month mentorship or a retreat in Lamu or South Africa or online
As I faced the prospect of retrenchment a year ago, I spent some time with my friend Google, searching his pages for direction to my future. When my fingers accidently tapped out the words, 'writing courses', I was delighted by the returned results of an advert from The Writing Room, the top banner displaying a beautiful silhouette of an octopus drying on a line in a fading Grecian sunset.
My heart skipped a beat at the charm of the picture and my imagination fell in love with the invitation to join a, "Write your book in Greece Retreat". The dates were sadly not doable but the seed was planted so by the time the dates for the next year were advertised, I was poised with credit card in hand and had my ticket bought and the course deposit paid before you could say Kalimera.
By Mandy Collie.
Write your Book' the post read. 'Join us on a writing retreat on the beautiful Greek Island of Lesvos’.
I had in fact written a book, which had been percolating in the bottom drawer of my night table for a few years. Here was the opportunity to expose it to the light, not any light, but the warm sun of Lesvos with beautiful beaches and the gin-clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The hosts Sarah Bullen and Kate Emmerson looked friendly. The bait had been cast. Kim my long-suffering wife was thrilled at the suggestion and immediately commenced with the arrangements before I could re-consider as I am prone to do.
If you have done all the long and hard work writing and polishing your book, it’s time to press play. If you want to get a publishing deal, this is where the rubber hits the road. You are going to be sending your book out to at least 20 traditional publishers or literary agents. The process is the same for both.
Remember, this is ultimately a sales game. Few writers send their proposal to one publisher and magically get picked up by the first one. Yes, it can and does occasionally happen. If you are crystal clear on your genre, have a knockout proposal, know the current publishing climate, your book is highly contemporary/timeless/a great story or you have a big platform and author brand, then maybe the first publisher you approach will sign you up. But in my experience that is HIGHLY unlikely.
Kelly Alder's memoir The Fourteenth Wife is a tale of self-discovery and an insider view of a polygamous tribal 'family'. She wrote it on one of my longer mentorships, and then she did what so many authors don't do.... she took it to the next level. She did.
She edited it, rewrote it, got feedback, rewrote again. And again When it was polished and professional she decided to self-publish it. She did the hard work it takes to become an author, and she learned some stuff about getting your book out there. It has been a two year journey getting her book to market and she is going to share her tips below. .
Francine Beaton writes romance novels. We asked to help us out by sharing some of the lessons she has learned.
As a self-publishing author, I’m often asked whether it’s worthwhile doing everything yourself. Let me tell you, self-publishing is not for everyone. It requires dedication, determination and self-discipline. I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. Some of them were hard lessons, having lost money and valuable time by making stupid mistakes.