Saturday, October 20, 2012

What kind of book will you apply your talents to?

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the more important considerations in learning how to write a book is in deciding on the type of book you want to create.

Which of the two major categories are you interested in?

Fiction, such as a novel; or non-fiction, such as some aspect of business?

If your interest lies in creating a non-fiction book, then in addition to the topic you pick, there is another decision you need to make in terms of the way your book will be constructed.

In a recent interview with Jonathan Fields, book marketing sage Seth Godin made an important distinction in the types of books he created.

In some of his earlier books, which in his view were essentially a compilation approach, Godin said that for these types of books, he considered himself a “book packager.”

When he turned more to creating truly original material based on issues he had thought about a great deal, he started viewing himself as a “real author.”

Which path do you want to take?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The market for your book idea is expanding

By Dennis Mellersh

While you continue to look for ideas on how to write a book, you are probably also wondering if there will be a potential audience for your book’s main idea or concept.

The good news is that the market for books, in particular for e-books,  is expanding, so there is a good chance there will be receptive people interested in what you have to say.

Despite all the talk and news about the decline of book publishing and the closing of a lot of bookstores, a new generation of book readers is emerging from the altered landscape of traditional book publishing.

The reason is that there is now an entire generation of young people that has grown up using the Internet and electronic media as their primary means of gathering information. They are e-oriented.
This is one of the key reasons that e-books have emerged and grown so successfully in the book publishing industry recently.

Today, many young people prefer to read electronic versions of books. They are less attracted to the physicality and tactility of traditional hardcover and paperback books. They prefer to read books on devices such as e-readers, their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops.

In addition, because of the pervasiveness of social media, such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet discussion groups, this new book market segment has no hesitation in experimenting with their choice of reading material in their book reading and purchasing.

Young people today are not afraid to spend money on a relatively unknown self-published e-book author, for example.

So, if you are in the process of writing a book or planning your book you might want to consider self-publishing your work in an e-book format.

You could start by reviewing the e-book self-publishing services available on which will also give you some insights into the self-publishing book market.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On telling a book by its cover

By Dennis Mellersh

There is an old adage: “you can’t tell a book by its cover.”

General translation: Appearances can be deceptive. So, don’t make snap judgements.

Something could have a wondrous, beautiful exterior, but be ugly within; or conversely, there could be an ugly outside appearance, but be beauty within.

For writers, and their books, the example of the ugly outside and the wondrous and beautiful inside can apply to the cover of a book and the writing inside the cover.

Readers do tend to make quick judgements about the quality of a book based on the appearance of its cover.

Using another old adage, first impressions can mean a lot
If you are writing a book and thinking of self-publishing it, it is worth taking the time and going to the expense of having your book cover designed by someone with experience, such as a professional graphic designer who is familiar with the elements of an effective and appealing book cover.

Otherwise you may be in the unfortunate position of spending a lot of time and effort writing an excellent book, only to have it quickly dismissed as amateurish, because of its unappealing appearance.

Learning from the great writers

By Dennis Mellersh

Aspiring authors looking for advice on how to write the  book or books they may feel they have inside their them can gain valuable insights into the creative writing process by not only reading the works of great writers, but also by reading their comments on the art of writing, the purpose of writing, and life in general.

This can include biographies and autobiographies of major novelists, their letters, and articles written about them.

As an example, let’s look at Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), the major early 20th Century novelist, and some comments on writing and the writing life he wrote in one of his letters*. (Note: not to be confused with the contemporary writer Tom Wolfe).

In one of his letters, Thomas Wolfe noted, “I am working from six to ten hours a day…I sleep till noon, go for a walk, buy a book, read for an hour, then back to my room and work from four or five o’clock until ten at night. Then I go out to eat and walk, back at midnight or one o’clock, and then work till three or four.”

“…The best life I can now dream of for myself, the highest hope I have is this: that I believe in my work and know that it is good and that somehow, in my own way, secretly and obscurely, I have power in me to get the books inside me out of me. ..”

“You ask again if I look upon writing as an escape from reality: in no sense of the word does it seem to me to be an escape from reality; I should rather say that it is an attempt to approach and penetrate reality.”

These words about writing and the writing life from Thomas Wolfe are just a minuscule example of the encouragement, guidance, and inspiration that we can find in works by great writers and works written about these writers.

I would urge you however, not to depend only on the Internet for researching this type of material. Better to make the time to go to your local library and get involved with real books. As an aspiring book writer your research universe needs to be much wider than electronic materials.

*This letter by Thomas Wolfe was excerpted from The Letters of Thomas Wolfe, edited by Elizabeth Nowell, and was reproduced in The Creative Writer, published by Writer’s Digest, Copyright 1972.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why do you want to write a book?

By Dennis Mellersh

In addition to learning about how to write a book, you might also want to spend some time answering, to your own satisfaction, the question of why you want to write a book.

Is it: For the money a book might bring? Is it because wring a book is something that might be fun to do?

Or is it because you love writing and a book could enable you to express some of the ideas you consider important and get those ideas out to the wider reading public?

The fact that you are doing research on the concept of writing a book, and that you are reading this article, shows that you are serious about your writing and that your desire to write a book is more than just a vague idea on a wish-list.

Well, what about the financial aspect?

The famous 18th Century writer and literary critic Samuel Johnson once said, “No man, but a blockhead, ever wrote except for money.”

Johnson, however, did not always follow his own advice. Although he depended on writing and editing to earn his living, he nevertheless wrote without payment expected in numerous instances, in order to disseminate his ideas.

There is a saying about living life successfully which advises us that we should “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

In the case of writing a book, this might be stated as a formula: 
Love of writing + writing a book = money

While it is difficult to believe something that specific, it is true that all of us are much more likely to successfully make a living if we do something that we enjoy and take pride in doing.

Writing, particularly writing a book, is too difficult to pursue seriously if the only motive is to make money from it. There are easier ways to earn a living.

However, there are possible financial rewards if your book is successful.

Just make sure you are embarking on this journey for the enjoyment and because you feel passionately about it.

Writing your book will thereby be more invigorating and personally satisfying.

If you try to write a book only for the money it will just seem like a lot of work and might lead you do abandon your project.

When should you start to actually write your book?

By Dennis Mellersh

You have spent a lot of time learning about how to write a book, and now you are deep into the research or information preparation stage.

Planning and research, or information gathering, for your book are essential if you are to write with authority.

This holds true whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.
As writers, however, we have to be careful that we do not spend so much time in preparation and research that we end up putting off for too long the process of actual writing
But, how do you know when you have done enough research or information gathering for your book?

I have found that when I have done a considerable amount of research involving multiple sources for a writing project, that at some point the basic themes of the information I am researching start to repeat themselves fairly consistently.

In other words I start seeing the same ideas and/or facts coming up again and again as I continue in the researching process.

At this point I know that I have enough material to start the writing process.

I could spend even more time on research but that time would not yield much new in terms of insights, ideas, or facts, and my efforts would be better spent on actually writing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to generate ideas for your book project

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the roadblocks in learning how to write a book is the tendency of aspiring book authors to wait for “inspiration” for ideas to stimulate their writing efforts.

There is a misconception that as writers, we need to experience that magical feeling of spiritual excitement, that moment of blinding insight, in order to produce ideas for our book writing efforts.

However, there is an orderly process involved in the production of ideas, and it can be studied, learned, and duplicated.

An example is the idea-generating process outlined by James W. Young, in his little 52-page book, A Technique for Producing Ideas.

The book provides an interesting journey in visiting the subject of how ideas are born and stresses that the process is something that all of us can learn – it is not magic, or inspiration-driven. In fact, the process is relatively simply, but it does involve work.

On the last page of the book Mr. Young summarizes his views on the “process or method by which ideas are produced."

First, the gathering of raw materials – both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.

Second, the working over of those materials in your mind.

Third, the incubating stage, where you let something besides the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.

Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea – the “Eureka, I have it!” stage

And fifth, the final shaping and development of the Idea to practical usefulness.

What is a book?

By Dennis Mellersh

As we look at the many facets of how to write a successful book, it can be helpful to realize that a book can take many forms.

Aspiring authors may tend to think of a book as one unbroken development of a storyline within a book’s covers, such as a novel, but a book of fiction could also be a collection of short stories that you have written and then published as a collection of your work.

In non-fiction, a book does not have to be restricted to a narrow-focus in its content. It could be a grouping of a variety of articles you have written on a broad topic, and then compiled into a single volume as a book on that topic.

If you write poetry, you might think of your poems as an unrelated, but actually, your book could be an anthology or collection of the best poems you have written.
If you enjoy writing essays on various topics, you could put a number of your favorite essays together and thereby create a book.

One way you can begin this book-making process is to start a blog, at no cost, on or and then compile your posts into book form.

A further upside of this approach is that you might find yourself building an audience for your work through the reach of your blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Generating book ideas through research – A brief introduction

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the key aspects of answering the question “How am I going to begin to write this book that I have been thinking about?” is to start with an effective approach or technique for generating ideas.

You may have a vague concept in your mind about what your book will be about, but at this point you may be struggling with find a way to come up with concrete ideas for specific practical content (if it is a non-fiction book) or ideas for characters, a plot, setting for the action and other factors if you are thinking about writing a novel.

Few of us, unless we have had an extraordinarily eventful life, such as being a gold prospector in the jungles of South America, could write a book based solely on our life experiences, or a book related to knowledge we have built up based on our career.

The novelist Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol, had vast experience with an extensive number of different types of people, businesses, infrastructure, and social trends in England, and in particular London, so he could develop ideas based on this knowledge and thereby write his novels chiefly from his life experience.

But for you and me, we would likely need to augment our life experiences with some solid research, even on subjects we are already familiar with.

And fortunately, for the book author of today, the Internet and contemporary e-materials make the job of research somewhat easier than it was for writers of books in throughout history.

This does not mean that the Internet alone can likely be a sole source of researched information for your planned book, but it can furnish a lot of material, including being an excellent source of guidance on books and other materials that you can research through your local library, and other traditional sources.

In doing our book research, we also have to organize it. As Rudolf Flesch, however, observes in his book, The Art of Clear Thinking*, “…reading books, magazines and newspapers is only half the job. The other half is using all this material in place of that wretched memory of ours. This means note-taking, and filing. How you do it is up to you; pick your own system. But note-taking and filing there has to be; practically all the world’s ideas have come out of notes and files.”

*Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Clear Thinking, Collier Books, New York, 1962, 1966.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Are writers by nature unhappy?

By Dennis Mellersh

As we work at our writing today and think about the question of the challenges of how to write our book, here is some food for thought on the emotional makeup of a writer from the mystery and psychological novelist Georges Simenon*:

“Writing is considered a profession, and I don’t think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks they can do something else, out to do something else. Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy. ..If a man has the urge to be an artist, it is because he needs to find himself. Every writer needs to find himself through his characters, through all his writing.”

*Source: Writers at Work The Paris Review Interviews, Edited by Malcolm Cowley, The Viking Press, Viking Compass Edition, New York, 1959

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Learning how to describe emotions and feelings in our writing

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the important abilities we need to acquire in our efforts towards learning how to write a book is that of developing the skill of describing emotion or states of mind by actively showing or demonstrating feelings or emotions.

This will make our writing, and therefore our books, much more vital and alive than simply using non-complex adjectives to describe an emotion, such as sad, dejected, happy or angry.

One aspect of this was discussed in my October 10, 2012 post talking about the need in good writing for showing instead of telling, particularly in fiction.

One of the emotions that many of us experience as we grow older is a sense that the wonder we felt about life and the world in general is less intense and childlike; and is now more tempered and mature.

If we are writing about such a feeling or emotion, it would be rather flat and less evocative to simply say that we have lost our sense of wonder or amazement about the world, compared to when we were younger.

By contrast, here are a few passages showing this feeling from the poem Ode:  Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth.

It is interesting that Wordsworth considered it necessary to tell us in the title what the poem is about. My personal feeling is he could have let the writing speak for itself to deliver the meaning or message. He also wrote an extensive preface to the poem explaining it.

You may recognize some of these words from high school English literature classes:
There was a time when meadow grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore—
Turn whereso’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

But yet, I know, where’er I go,
That there hath passed away a glory from the earth.

Wither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;

The next time you are reading a novel, other fiction, or any kind of book that interests you, consider paying attention to, and perhaps writing out passages, that demonstrate an effective way to convey feelings and emotions.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The importance of writing creatively every day

By Dennis Mellersh

In looking at different methods of how to write the manuscript for your book, it is worth emphasizing the importance of writing something new every day.

In your efforts to write a book, it will be difficult to achieve the success you want if you approach your writing on a sporadic basis.

Writing something every day is much better for keeping the creative juices flowing for your book idea, compared with writing a lot one day, with days going by where nothing is written.

In my own writing I went through a period where because of a variety of personal issues, there was a long period where I wrote little. The result was that I gradually entered a state of having a type of writer’s block where ideas were not forthcoming.

But once I started the practice of writing even a little each day, I found that once again I started to have ideas on other topics to write about. Writing regularly, even a little bit each day, leads to more writing.

Even if you do not work on writing the manuscript for your book every day, you can write daily by contributing comments on blogs that interest you, or by writing your thoughts on various blog posts to the authors of the posts. If you are not comfortable with commenting directly, write down your reactions in your own words to articles on blogs of interest or about stories in the newspaper.

I have also found it fun throughout my writing career to write out passages from books that interest me on file cards, or index cards, usually the three-by-five-inch size. You might consider writing out passages in books, such as novels, that you consider to be good examples of excellent writing. Or, rewrite those passages in your own words for creative writing practice.

I recall one passage I read in a book  by the historian Arnold Toynbee in which he said that he had books planned years in advance and generally governed his note taking in accordance with the history books or papers he was planning to write.

The method you choose in order to make yourself write creatively each day is not as important as making sure you do it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

There are many roads leading to writing a successful book

By Dennis Mellersh

In your desire to learn how to write a book, you might want to expand your thinking beyond the traditional process of slaving away at a single manuscript with a completed book as your destination.

Particularly with the advent of self-publishing through electronic media book publishing platforms such as offered by Amazon, you can create a book as a collection of articles with one theme.

With the strong emergence of highly targeted markets in electronic self-publishing today, a whole new group of potential readers has opened up for topics you can write that could appeal to people who share your interests. And, you can not only write your special interest book, you can publish it yourself.

Moreover, these days, with emergence of electronic book self-publishing, books no longer are restricted to a certain length, or page-count, or word-count. You can write a very short book and price it accordingly, or write a much longer one and charge according to the additional time a longer work will entail.

One concept you could look at for creating your book using this approach is to start a blog on one of the free blogging platforms, such as or on a subject you want to write about. In addition to writing copy for regular or hierarchical/static websites, I also have blogs utilizing with paid hosting, and on both the free platforms offered by blogger and WordPress.

Except for the amount of time available to you for your writing, you will never be limited in the number of books you can write, so for the topic or theme of your blog, pick one of the subjects that you would like to write a book about, starting today.

You can even run your writing parallel with blogs on a number of topics that you would like to publish books about.

A key point to keep in mind in this blog-to-book approach is that the chances of success will be much better if you write the blog with the purpose of turning some or all of your blog posts into a book.

Otherwise, if you write your blog on an ad hoc basis with no overall connecting theme and jump around from reporting news to writing “timeless” pieces, it will be difficult to turn it into a book that you are happy with. And if you aren’t happy, it is not likely that the book would have appeal to the reading public, even if they are interested in the subject you are writing about.

You should start thinking now about how long your planned book will be and give some thought to the various chapters or topics you will cover, all relating to your central theme.
And yes, people will buy such books, even though they could search through all the posts of your blog and read them online. However, readers today will pay for the convenience of you doing the work of a book publisher and presenting them with a fully-formed book on subjects that interest them.

So, why not give this a try right now by going to or and starting your blog-to-be-a book. Don’t announce your book-writing intention on the blog however.

Instead you might want to start a blog as a journal of your day-to day experiences of your journey as an aspiring book writer. It might surprise you to see how your efforts interest people.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stop telling, and start showing in your writing

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the key concepts of learning how to write a book is to practice showing readers situations rather than “telling” about them.

If you are writing about a character in your novel and you want to indicate that he is angry, you need to show or demonstrate that anger, rather than just using the word angry as an adjective.

You don’t even need to use the word anger to convey the emotion. In fact, you are better off not using the word.

Natalie Goldberg makes this point well in her book, Writing Down the Bones: “…don’t tell us about anger (or any of those big words like honesty, truth, hate, love, sorrow, life, justice etc.); show us what made [the character] angry…Don’t tell readers what to feel. Show them the situation and that feeling will awaken in them.”

Let’s see if we can write an example illustrating Goldberg’s point.

Of the following two sentences, which is more effective in showing anger?

“On hearing this deliberately cruel and sarcastic remark, Kyle cursed and threw his coffee cup smashing it against the wall.”


“When he heard this remark Kyle became visibly angry.”

In the first example, we are showing. In the second we are telling.

The reader of your novel will be able to construct much more vivid mental pictures of what you are trying to describe if you focus on showing instead of simply telling.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The importance of editing in creating a professional quality book manuscript

By Dennis Mellersh

In the art of writing a book it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of editing your manuscript as part of the overall creative writing process.

As writers, we are often too close to our work to see its shortcomings during the initial phase of the writing process.

This is particularly the case in writing a fictional work such as a novel where the size and complexity of the manuscript makes it hard for the creator to see repetitions, unnecessary or overblown passages, or inconsistencies, or problems with the plotting.

Ideally the services of a professional book editor should be sought whose experience can quickly identify shortcomings, which go beyond spelling, factual inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

As a start, before you seek the help of a third party, you may find it helpful to put your completed book manuscript aside for a time, say several weeks, and then revisit it with new perspective.

You may be surprised at how many problems you will discover which were not apparent during the excitement of the early creative process.

A book manuscript, particularly the initial iteration, should always be viewed as a work in progress, with a view to spending a lot of time and effort in the refining process.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Writing a book often requires courage

By Dennis Mellersh

Throughout the journey of learning how to write a book, courage is often required in the creative writing process.

Fantasy writer Ray Bradbury, in speaking of the quality of courage, in both writing and life in general, is quoted as saying, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time, and build your wings on the way down.”

I see this as saying, make the creative leap in writing your book and in life, and manage the circumstances that might unfold after taking that big creative step.

Do that, instead of spending large amounts of time trying to anticipate all the possible fearful outcomes and developing mechanisms to deal with those possibilities.

You can see/hear Ray Bradbury discussing the writer’s life on various videos on You Tube.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to write a book: The role of writing materials

By Dennis Mellersh

The choice of specific writing materials seems to help some aspiring writers in their efforts to learn the art of writing a book.

Or put another way, some writers, particularly with fiction and poetry, rely on specific writing materials in order to set the inspirational mood they feel they need for creative writing.

Today with so many electronic devices available you would think that book writers would all be creating their books on tablets, desktop computers, or laptops.

But writing is a creative pursuit steeped in tradition, and throughout literary history writers have often had personal preferences when it comes to the media they choose to write with.

Charles Dickens, for example, who did not have modern writing devices available to him, wrote in longhand with ink and a quill pen, and generally wrote his novels on a specific size of paper which he cut himself from larger sheets of paper.

He could have written his books on regular sized paper with a pencil, but he had his own preferences.

Today many writers still choose to write with pre-electronic materials.  Some writers still prefer the tactility and overall feel of a typewriter.

Others may want to use a fountain pen with a specific color of ink and only write on a certain type and color of paper.

Whatever materials you choose, it is important to feel comfortable and to use the materials that get you “in the mood” for writing your book.

Composing the outline for your book

By Dennis Mellersh

Writing an outline for your book can make the writing process easier.

But if you overdo the amount of detail you put in the outline, and the time you spend on it, particularly if you are writing fiction, you can lose a lot of creative energy that might be better used in the actual book writing process.

The writer Georges Simenon wrote the outlines for his detective stories on a large-size envelope, thus limiting the amount of time, space, and detail, he devoted to the outline process.

Once the book’s outline was complete Simenon virtually locked himself in his study, or writing room, for two to three weeks, writing extensively every day, until the book was completed.