The Process in Writing a Best-selling Book by Wayne Neely

The process in writing a best-selling book

By Wayne Neely

If it's your first time writing a book, it may seem daunting. However, with good organization and clarity of focus, you can make the process easier on yourself. It won't write itself, but you can plan and prepare well so that the writing falls into place.

When writing a book you need to ask yourself some important questions. Although you may be limited by specific subject-related guidelines, choosing your book title is the first and most important step in the process of writing your book, because in most cases it will determine whether the book sells or not. Regardless of whether your topic can be anything you want or has a more rigid rubric, it is important to keep a few questions in mind: 

"Is there enough research available on this topic?" 

"Is the topic new and unique enough that I can offer fresh opinions?" 

"Is it pertinent to my occupation?"

The first thing you must do is to pick something you love. Whenever possible, choose a topic that you feel passionate about. Writing about something you enjoy certainly shows in the final product, making it more likely that you will be successful writing a book about something you enjoy. For me it was the subject of hurricanes, because I am a professional meteorologist and hurricanes come as second nature to me. 

Second, stay original. If you are writing a book for a targeted audience, consider them and ask yourself if they would enjoy the book. You must also ask yourself how you can keep your book unique and interesting, even if everyone else is writing about the same thing. For me it was the subject of hurricanes, so I had to approach writing my books in a way that no other hurricane author had done in the past to make them bestsellers. One of the ways I did that was by adding a chapter on the history of hurricanes and personal recollections from storm victims of past major hurricanes.

Third, don’t be afraid to get advice. If you are struggling to come up with a topic that feels “just right,” ask your old college professor or teacher or coworkers/former classmates for advice. They will likely have great ideas that, even if there aren’t options for you to choose, they can inspire you with new ideas. Asking a former professor or teacher for help may seem frightening, but they in most cases want you to be successful with your work, and will do what they can to make that happen.

Don’t be afraid to change your topic. If you choose a topic, begin researching, and realize that it isn’t the right decision for you for some reason, don’t fret! Although it requires a bit more time, you have the ability to change your topic even after you begin researching others.

Begin your research. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so with a topic selected, the next step is to begin research. Research comes in numerous forms including web pages, journal articles, books, encyclopedias, interviews, and blog posts, among others. Take your time to look for professional resources which offer valid research and insight into your topic. Try to use a minimum of five sources to vary your information; never rely on only 1-2 sources as it will show in the end product of the book. Look for empirical research. Whenever possible, look for peer reviewed empirical research. These are articles or books written by experts in your field of interest, whose work has been read and vouched for by other experts in the same field. These can be found in scientific journals or via an online search.

One piece of advice for upcoming authors to do is to visit the local library. Take a trip to your local public library or college or university libraries. Although it may seem old-fashioned, libraries are chock full of helpful research materials from books to newspapers and magazines to journals. Don’t be afraid to ask the librarian for help either - they are trained in research and know where everything about your topic is located.

Look online. Using a search engine and picking the top three results isn’t necessarily the best method of researching; use critical thinking to thoroughly read every source and determine if it is legitimate. Websites, blogs, and forums online aren’t required to publish facts only, so make sure that the information you find is trustworthy.
  • Typically, websites that end with .edu, .gov, or .org contain safe to use information. That is because these websites belong to schools, the government, or organizations dealing with your topic.
  • Try changing your search query often to find different search results for your topic. If nothing seems to be coming up, it could just be that your search query isn’t matched well with the titles of most articles dealing with your subject.
Use academic databases. There are special search engines and academic databases available that search through thousands of peer-reviewed or scientifically published journals, magazines, and books. Look for databases that cover your subject only. For example, PsycInfo is an academic database that holds nothing but works done by authors in the field of psychology and sociology. This will help you to get more tailored results than a very general search would.
  • Most academic databases give you the ability to ask for very specific information by presenting multiple search query boxes as well as archives containing only a single type of resource (such as only journal articles or only newspapers). Take advantage of this ability to ask for specific information by using as many of the query boxes as you can.
  • Visit your school library and ask the librarian for a full list of the academic databases they subscribe to, as well as the passwords for each.
Get creative with your research. If you find one really great book, magazine or journal that fits your topic perfectly, try looking in the works cited/bibliography/reference list at the end of it. This should contain many more books and journals about your topic as well.

Annotate your research. Once you’ve gathered and compiled all of your research materials, print them out (if it is an online source) and gather post-its or anything you need to mark notes in the books/magazines you are using. This step is very important: read through your research, take notes on what you think is important, and highlight key facts and phrases. Write directly on copies you’ve made, or use slips of paper tucked into pages to mark places of importance.
  • Do a thorough job annotating to make your outlining and book-writing process easier in the end. Make marks on anything that you think might be remotely important or that could be put to use in your book.
  • As you mark off important pieces in the research, add your own commentary and notes explaining to yourself where you might use it in your book. Writing down your ideas as you have them will make writing your notes much easier to come back to.
Organize your notes. Annotating your research can take quite a bit of time, but needs to be taken one step further in order to add a bit more clarity for the outlining process. Organize your notes by collecting all of your highlighted phrases and ideas into categories based on the topic. For example, if you are writing a paper analyzing a famous work of science or literature, you could organize your research into a list of notes on the characters or plots, a list of references to certain points in the plot.
  • Try writing each quote or item that you marked onto an individual note card. That way, you can rearrange and lay out your cards however you would like.
  • Color code your notes to make it easier. Write down a list of all the notes you are using from each individual resource, and then highlight each category of information in a different color. For example, write everything from a particular book or journal on a single sheet of paper in order to consolidate the notes, and then everything that is related to characters highlight in yellow, everything related to the plot mark in green and so on.
Construct a preliminary bibliography/references page. As you go through your notes, mark down the author, page number, title, and publishing information for each resource. This will come in handy when you craft your bibliography or works cited page later in the process.

One of the most important aspects in writing a good book is to identify the goal of the book and determine your audience. Who would be reading this book, what age and should it be published? Although you want to write a book to please yourself, it is important that the tone and focus of your book reflect the audience who will be reading it. If you’re writing for academic peers, then the information you include should reflect the information you already know; you don’t need to explain basic ideas or theories. On the other hand, if you are writing for an audience who doesn’t know much about your subject, it will be important to include explanations and examples of more fundamental ideas and theories related to your book.

Determine your main points. The body of your book manuscript will revolve around the ideas that you judge to be most important. Go through your research and annotations to determine what points are the most pivotal in your argument or presentation of information. What ideas can you write whole paragraphs about? Which ideas do you have plenty of firm facts and research to back up with evidence? Write your main points down on paper, and then organize the related research under each.
  • When you outline your main ideas, putting them in a specific order is important. Place your strongest points at the beginning and end of the chapter, with more mediocre points placed in the middle or near the end of the chapter.
  • A single main point doesn’t have to be kept to a single paragraph, especially if you are writing a relatively long book. Main ideas can be spread out over as many paragraphs as you deem necessary.
Finalize your outline. With the aforementioned tips taken into consideration, organize your entire outline. Justify main points to the left, and indent subsections and notes from your research below each. The outline should be an overview of your entire book in bullet points. Make sure to include in-text citations at the end of each point, so that you don’t have to constantly refer back to your research when writing your final manuscript.

Write your body paragraphs. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, writing your introduction first may be more difficult to accomplish than starting with the meat of your manuscript. In my bestselling books on hurricanes, I typically started with the body of the book first and then after I was finished with that section, I then wrote the introduction and conclusion last. Starting by writing the body allows you to slightly change and manipulate your ideas and commentary. Your book should flow well, rather than stopping and starting in a blunt fashion. Make sure that each of your body paragraphs flows nicely into the one after it.

Write the conclusion. Now that you have carefully worked through the body of your manuscript, write a conclusion that briefly summarizes your findings for the reader and provides a sense of closure. Start by briefly restating the objective or goal of the book, then remind the reader of the points you covered over the course of the book. Slowly zoom out of the topic as you write, ending on a broad note by emphasizing the larger implication of your findings. 

·       The goal of the conclusion, in very simplified terms, is to answer the question, “So what?” Make sure the reader feels like (s)he has come away with something.
·       It’s a good idea to write the conclusion before the introduction for several reasons. First of all, the conclusion is easier to write when the evidence is still fresh in your mind. On top of that, it’s recommended that you use up your most choice language in the conclusion and then re-word these ideas less strongly in the introduction, not the other way around; this will leave a more lasting impression on the reader.

Write the introduction. The introduction is, in many respects, the conclusion written in reverse: start by generally introducing the larger topic, then orient the reader in the area you’ve focused on, and avoid repeating exact phrases that you already used in the conclusion. 

Edit your rough draft. Although it is tempting to simply read over your work or manuscript and use the spell-check tool, editing your manuscript should be a bit more in-depth. Have at least one person, but preferably two or more people, look over your work. Have them edit for basic grammatical and spelling errors as well as the persuasiveness of your work and the flow and form of your manuscript. 

·       If you edit your own paper, wait at least three days before returning to it. Studies show that your writing is still fresh in your mind for 2-3 days after finishing, and so you are more likely to skim over basic mistakes that you would otherwise catch.
·       Don’t ignore edits by others just because they require a bit more work. If they suggest that you rewrite a section of your manuscript, there is probably a valid reason for their request. Take the time to edit your paper thoroughly. 

  Finally create the final draft. When you have edited and re-edited your manuscript, formatted your work according to the subject matter, and finalized all the main points, you are ready to create the final draft. Go through your manuscript and fix all mistakes, rearranging information if necessary. If necessary, create an introduction page and a works cited or references page to bookend your manuscript. The completion of these tasks finalizes your manuscript. Make sure to save the manuscript (in multiple places, for extra security) and print out your final draft and have it submitted to your publisher.

Thank you, Wayne!  These are all great points for writers of non-fiction as well as fiction!

Guest Blogger Bio

Wayne Neely is an international speaker, best-selling author, lecturer on hurricanes, and a meteorologist. Traveling extensively, Wayne addresses critical issues affecting all aspects of hurricanes, especially Bahamian and Caribbean hurricanes which are two of his central areas of expertise. He travels often to speak to colleges and universities on the impact of hurricanes on the region and worldwide, global warming and climate change. Locally he speaks quite regularly to schools on hurricanes. He held two major hurricane exhibitions on Bahamian hurricanes in the past. Wayne Neely is a certified Bahamian Meteorologist working at the Department of Meteorology in Nassau, Bahamas for the last 24 years. He studied at the College of the Bahamas and majored in Geography and History. He then attended the Caribbean Meteorological Institute in Barbados and earned his Forecaster's Degree. He has written and published eight books on hurricanes and his ninth book due out next month "The Great Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928". 

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  1. Thanks for the great post. A lot of good ideas. It is nice to know I was doing several things right. I see there are several other avenues for me to consider to improve my writing. This one's a keeper.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

  2. Thanks Maria for posting your projects and for helping other writers and beginning authors on the APAW site. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. Kharis Macey


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