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How to Write a Book: A Beginner’s Guide for First-Time Success

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Justin Champion


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How to Write a Book: A Beginner’s Guide for First-Time Success

So you’re ready to learn how write your first book! Take a deep breath. You’ve made it to the right resource.

There is endless information out there on how to write a book; it can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Hi, I’m Justin author of Inbound Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Content Marketing the Inbound Way. I wrote this book in 2018, and once it published it was an immediate bestseller on Amazon for several months.

As a first-time bestselling author, I can tell you that writing my first book was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life.

I experienced a lot of growth and pushed through many hurdles, in my mind and process, to self-publish something I was truly proud of.

write a book

To me, the real reward was seeing how my book was received by those in my industry.

“Justin Champion’s new book is a comprehensive overview of content marketing and a much-needed gift to a field short on actionable guidance that both teaches and inspires. Through engaging storytelling he arms his readers with frameworks and exercises, illustrated with real-life examples.”

— Anke Audenaert, digital marketing nanodegree lead at Udacity and adjunct professor of marketing at the UCLA Anderson School of Management

I achieved my dream of becoming a bestselling author. And I did it on my first try.

This is how to write a book in 8 Steps:

  1. Download your writing toolkit
  2. Develop a writer’s mindset
  3. Determine what you want to write about
  4. Create an outline for your book
  5. Break your writing up into small pieces
  6. Collaborate with others
  7. Finish the rest of the content to complete your book
  8. Edit and configure your book

How to Write a Book Workbook

I’ve distilled the experience of writing my first book to eight essential steps. And to help you get started on writing your first book, I created a free workbook which includes 17 practical exercises to help you through your journey.

how to write a book workbook

Access the Writing your first book [WORKBOOK] and get started on your book today.

Upon clicking through to the page, you’ll be prompted to “Make a copy” of the workbook in Google Drive (if you don’t yet have Google Drive, click here to get it for free).

Section 1: Setting Yourself Up For Success

Ready to start writing your book? Let’s get to it!

#1 Download your writing toolkit

In 1882, Mark Twain sent to a publisher the first manuscript to be written on a piece of technology that would transform the writing industry: the typewriter. We’ve come a long way since Life on the Mississippi.

Nowadays, we have computers with word processing and the internet where you can find an endless assortment of useful writing software and apps that are meant to help you be an efficient and effective writer.

You may be tempted to overload on apps because you think it’ll help elevate your writing. But honestly, less is more. The truth is that the right tools and even self-publishing companies make writing and publishing easier and more enjoyable.

Instead of overwhelming you with all the possible apps in existence, below is a list of four tools I recommend adding to your writing toolkit today (and they’re free).

A) Google Drive

  • You can organize all aspects of your project in folders (research, outline, manuscript drafts, etc.)
  • You can host files for your projects like images, photos, etc.
  • You can use Google Docs as a word processor.
  • You can enable offline access and work on your files even when you don’t have an internet connection, such as when you’re traveling.
  • You can collaborate easily with others, avoiding version control issues.
  • You can access it from just about any device (laptop, smartphone, tablet, you name it).

Google Drive is one of the most versatile cloud storage services available today. But Google Drive is so much more than cloud storage. Here’s a list of ways you can use Google Drive to help you write your book:

Plus, Google will give you 15GB of free storage just for signing up.

If you’re new to Google Drive, here’s a list of resources that can turn you into a pro. (FYI, if you have a Gmail account, you have a Google Drive account.)

B) Grammarly

Grammarly is an editing tool that helps you identify grammatical errors, typos, and incorrect sentence structure in your writing.

Download the web extension and Grammarly will edit most anything you type in a web browser (yes, it will work with Google Docs).

You can check out this Grammarly review if you’re on the fence about this one.

C) Evernote

Inspiration can strike at any time. Capture those thoughts and ideas as they happen in Evernote. You can even sync Google Drive and Evernote. I recommend doing this, especially on your mobile device.

#2 Develop a writer’s mindset

Writing a book takes time, work, and dedication. It’s easy to romanticize being a well-known bestselling author like J.K. Rowling or Octavia Butler. However, every author has a story on how they started out just like you or me and overcame adversity to get where they are today.

For example, Rowling, who had no job and was on welfare at the time, would take her children to a coffee shop and write.

Butler, who was a dishwasher and potato chip inspector at the time, would wake up at two or three in the morning to write and wrote herself mantras to keep her focused on her goals.

Let’s review three things you can do to circumvent roadblocks and crush challenges to keep you focused on your goal — writing your book.

A) Hold yourself accountable for your work.

It’s not good enough to write only when inspiration strikes.

Below are a few ways to establish a consistent writing schedule:

  • Block off chunks of time to write every week. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider one to two hours per day five days per week. The more often you write, the more you’ll develop a habit for it.
  • Set a daily word count goal. Consider how many words you want to write each week. For example, if your goal is 3,000 words per week and you have five chunks of time blocked off to write per week, then you’d need to write 600 words per day to achieve your weekly goal.

I write early in the morning before I do anything else for 1-2 hours. I find that as I go throughout the day and work on other projects my mind isn’t as fresh or sharp by the end of the day. However, sometimes I have ideas throughout the day that I jot down in Evernote to jump-start the next morning with a working outline.

B) Let others know your intention and have them hold you accountable.

The best way to hold yourself accountable for your work is to let others know your goals. Is there someone you trust or a group of people in your network you can appoint to check in on progress?

Perhaps there is someone else you know who is trying to write or someone who is a seasoned writer who can serve as a mentor. If so, try to have regular check-ins with this person.

One way to keep these meetings consistent is to schedule a lunch or coffee date. Talk about your progress and perhaps any challenges you’re facing. They may be able to bring a fresh perspective.

I told my wife, Ariele, and several of my closest teammates from work about my intentions to write my first book. We had regular check-ins to talk about progress. Everyone helped keep me motivated and had different feedback that helped progress the book. Without them, it would have been a lot more difficult to write Inbound Content in the timeframe I did.

C) Find creative spaces where you can produce your best writing.

Where do you work best? What surroundings inspire you most? Identify them and make it a best practice to work there consistently. Here are a few examples.

  • Coffee shops (classic)
  • Library
  • Beautiful park or somewhere in nature
  • A dedicated writing nook at home that is only used for that purpose.

My main writing location is the dinette in my Airstream. I do my best work when traveling; I wrote the manuscript for Inbound Content in six weeks as I traveled the U.S. and worked full time from the road.

Section 2: Writing Your Book

#3 Determine what you want to write about

One of the most common pieces of advice for aspiring first-time authors is “write what you know.” A simple phrase that’s meant to be helpful, yet it begs so many questions.

What sticks out most from what Englander said is, “If you’ve known longing, then you can write longing.” Whether you’re writing a non-fiction how-to guide or a fictional post-apocalyptic thriller, you need to form a connection with your audience and you can do that through emotion. The best way to create emotion with your reader is to understand them.

Let’s review three things that will help you determine what you want to write about and how to write it in a meaningful way.  

A) Who are you writing for?

The key to producing meaningful content is understanding your reader. You can do this by creating a reader persona — a semi-fictional representation of your ideal audience. To get started with your reader persona, consider answering the following questions:

  • What’s the reader’s age?
  • What’s the reader’s education level?
  • Does the reader prefer visuals?
  • What is this reader interested in?

The more you know about your reader, the better experience you can create for them.

My main audience is marketers and business owners at small- to medium-sized businesses. They’re strapped for time and don’t need another theoretical resource. They value real-world examples to help visualize what tips and strategies look like in action.

B) Write about something that intrigues you.

You need to write about something that spikes your curiosity, something that keeps you coming back day after day.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you choose a topic to write about for the wrong reason, don’t expect to create something that people will love. You need to be able to stick with it through dry spells and bouts of non-inspiration. Your own desire to hear the story will be what drives you through.

I’m a practitioner at heart and curious about finding ways to use content marketing to stand out and compete online. It energizes me to explain complex problems in an easy-to-understand way. Inspiration for this project is what kept me coming back to work on it day after day.

C) Perform research online.

Google makes it easy to research just about any topic. Have multiple ideas for your book? Do a search on Google to learn more. Here’s a list of ways to research your book concept on Google:

  • What content already exists? Are there already books written on this topic? If so, which ones performed well? Why did they perform well? Is there anything interesting about their content that enhanced the reader’s experience? Is the market over-saturated on this topic?
  • What influencers exist on the subject? Are there well-known authors on this topic? Who are they? What can you learn from them?
  • What do you need to learn? Are there specific things you need to learn to create a rich, meaningful narrative (ex. geography, culture, time period, etc.)?

I performed extensive research before writing the manuscript for Inbound Content. It was important for me to understand what content was already out there, which content was performing well, and most importantly, how could I make my book unique. This is exactly why I included homework after each chapter to help my readers build an action plan that they could implement immediately, something I noticed wasn’t typical in other marketing books.

#4 Create an outline for your book

Once you know what you want to write about, you’re probably eager to start writing. Keep in mind these words from Mark Twain, “the secret to getting ahead is getting started.

The secret to getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Let’s review four things you can do to create a clear outline for your book that you can use as a roadmap.

A) Write a purpose statement.

In one sentence describe the purpose of your book. A strong purpose statement will explain to readers why they should consider reading your book.

Inbound Content‘s purpose statement: People who read this book will learn a step-by-step process on how to do content marketing the inbound way.

B) Create a working title.

A working title is a temporary title used during the production of your book. Identifying your book by giving it a name can help set the direction. Once you finish your work you can revisit the title and update accordingly.

Inbound Content’s working title was Content Marketing Simplified. Once I completed the content, I updated it to something more fitting based on the content I created.

C) Write an elevator pitch for your book.

An effective elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 30 seconds. For context, 30 seconds equals about 65-70 words.

Inbound Content’s elevator pitch: Content marketing is about your audience, what they value, and how you can help educate and entertain them. Successful content marketing creates a trusting relationship with your audience. It’s no secret that fostering trust leads to business. Content Marketing Simplified offers techniques and strategies to create content that will attract the right people, convert those people into leads, and help engage them to become customers.

Pro tip: Take the time to nail your elevator pitch. You want to be ready to have a clear, confident answer when people ask about your book.

D) Create a BookMap.

If you want to create a solid foundation for your book in just a few hours, consider Self-Publishing School’s BookMap method. It’s a template you can follow to quickly pull together all the subjects you want to write about and organize them into topics that will become chapters of your book.

The BookMap I created for Inbound Content was so extensive, it made my writing process that much easier. I actually dedicated a week to my BookMap, this way I had time to reflect on it and update it. The more time you spend creating a BookMap, the easier it’ll make your writing process.

#5 Break your writing into small pieces

Writing a book can be compared to running a marathon. Most runners don’t go into the 26.2 miles thinking about how long until they make it to the finish line. They focus on every mile, every step, every breath. And many actually enjoy the process!

Like a marathon, your manuscript is essentially a puzzle made up of many smaller like-themed pieces. Your finished book may be 262 pages long, but it’s written one word or thought at a time. Pace yourself and stick to your consistent writing schedule.

Pro tip: Set deadlines to complete the chunks of writing you need to meet your goal. This will help you better prioritize your blocks of writing time and word count goal.  

Because the BookMap I created was very clear, I was able to focus on creating one chapter (aka puzzle piece) at a time as opposed to worrying about and focusing on the project as a whole. I had a goal of writing the first draft of the Inbound Content manuscript in six weeks, so I set a goal to write two chapters per week and gave myself three hours per day (equating to 15 hours per week) to do so.

Additionally, after I finished writing my three-hour writing block, I gave myself 30 minutes to an hour to review the outline for the following day. This helped me prewire and get my mind ready for the next writing goal.

Section 3: Bringing Your Book to the Finish Line

Now it’s time to put on your marketing pants and spread the word about your book!

#6 Collaborate with others

On December 8th, 2016, David Bain brought together 107 leading digital marketing experts as part of a four-hour live show.

During this program, each influencer had three minutes to share their number one, actionable digital marketing strategy for 2017. David then used this video content to write the book, Digital Marketing in 2017.

how to write a book marketing

David’s success was based solely on collaborating with others. And not only did this approach help him write an effective book quickly, but also, and more importantly, each person included in the book helped him promote the book once it published. That was smart, efficient, and effective if you ask me.

Let’s review three things you can do to collaborate with others when writing your book.  

A) Connect with your original accountability partner or group.

As I mentioned earlier, make sure you have someone you trust, like a mentor, to provide feedback on your writing. This is especially important as you wrap up your story.

A great example of finding accountability partners is through a group or self-publishing company much like what Self-Publishing School does with their Mastermind Community on Facebook.

I leaned on my accountability group to help me through my project. To keep things easier I appointed different people for different roles. For example, I had a weekly coffee date with a fellow teammate to brainstorm ideas and another weekly meal with a friend who was willing to read and edit my content.

I picked up the tab for both meetings; If someone is going to go out of their way to help you, do your best to express your appreciation.

B) Collaborate with influencers or thought-leaders on your subject.

**Ideal for non-fiction writers.**

This could mean asking well-known people in your industry to write a quote that brings value to your content.

how to write a book quote

As I mentioned earlier, the goal of Inbound Content was to be practical, not theoretical. In order to do this, I needed to find examples that I could share in my book. I set a goal to find at least 20 unique examples to include in the book.

Additionally, I set another goal to work with at least five industry influencers to help share their stories. I did this two ways: 1) for more authoritative sources I asked for a one- to two-sentence quote, and 2) for those who had a good story I wanted to share in my book, I had them write a chapter or a section within a chapter. This helped me when prioritizing what content I needed to create.

And lastly, I created a promotion kit so upon launch, each source could easily help me spread the word on my book while also promoting their example.

Pro tip: When promoting your book launch on social media, consider creating a buzzworthy piece of content like an engaging blog article and have your audience share it. I did this when Inbound Content published. I created a short satirical video, posted it to YouTube, and asked my network to share it. This helped me increase book sales during the first week of launch.

#7 Finish the rest of the content to complete your book

There are elements outside of your book’s content that you’ll need to write, such as a preface, foreword, notes, etc. I suggest waiting until after you’ve written your book. This way, not only can you better connect them to your story, but you won’t waste time editing them in case you make changes to your manuscript.

Let’s review eight final touches you may or may not need to wrap up your book.

A) Preface or Introduction (**ideal for non-fiction writers**)

Draw in your readers with a compelling story. This could be a personal anecdote related to your topic. Tell them what the book is about and why it is relevant to them (think of your reader persona from earlier).

Give more detail about the industry or topic you’re writing about and some background as to why you are the right person to tell this story. This provides context and validity for the reader.

Lastly, wrap up and give the reader a basic outline of what they’ll read and perhaps learn from your book.

I chose to inspire people with Inbound Content’s introduction. I fed off a lot of energy from others when writing Inbound Content and I wanted my audience to know that.

Additionally, I included and expanded on my purpose statement and elevator pitch. It was important for me to explain why Inbound Content was important and how it was going to help them achieve their goals (differentiating this book from other books they may have read or considered reading).

B) Foreword (**ideal for non-fiction writers**)

A foreword is typically written by another author or thought leader of your particular industry. Getting someone credible to write this can add a lot of value to your readers.

I put a lot of thought into my foreword. I prioritized finding someone that aligned with my goals and vision and was well-respected in the space. Marcus Sheridan, founder of The Sales Lion and author of They Ask You Answer wrote the foreword for Inbound Content. He wrote it in a practical way, which I knew my reader persona would appreciate.

C) Testimonials

Just like with the foreword, try and find respected, well-known people in your space and have them write a review about your book. The best way to promote yourself is to have someone else speak on your behalf.  

I focused on quality over quantity when looking for testimonials for Inbound Content. I had a goal of securing four testimonials, which I included on the back cover.

how to write a book back cover

D) Author Bio

How do you want to be portrayed to your audience? Readers love knowing personal details of an author’s life, such as your hobbies, where you live, or what inspired you to write this book.

I repurposed content from my introduction to write my bio. Again, I wanted to let people know what motivated me to write Inbound Content, why it was an important read, and how it was going to help them.

Pro tip: The author bio on the flap of your book might be one of the first things people read when deciding whether or not to read our book. Keep it short, but make sure it packs a punch (just like your elevator pitch).

E) Glossary (**ideal for non-fiction writers**)

A glossary is an alphabetical list of terms or words relating to a specific subject, text, or dialect with corresponding explanations. If you are writing nonfiction, especially a topic that uses a lot of lingo or uncommon words, make sure to include a glossary to create a better experience for your readers.

I created a glossary for Inbound Content and included every word that I thought would come off as industry jargon. This way I was educating my readers as opposed to confusing them.

F) Notes (**ideal for non-fiction writers**)

If you are writing nonfiction, keep track of your sources as you research and write. A clear bibliography will only add to your value and credibility.

Being nonfiction that was based on a lot of research and experiments, I made sure to include a notes section in Inbound Content. It included citations, stats, image sources, etc.

how to write a book notes

G) Images (**ideal for non-fiction writers**)

Using images is a nice addition to your content. Images can create a more engaging experience for the reader while improving the communication of hard-to-grasp concepts.

I used images throughout Inbound Content to bring a visual component to examples I featured.

how to write a book

Pro tip: Include a figure number on each image. This way you can easily reference it in your text. You can organize images by leading with the chapter number first, then image number after the bullet point. For example, the above image is image 22 in chapter 11 of Inbound Content.

#8 Edit and configure your book

Now that you’ve written your manuscript, it’s time to format it so you can visualize the final product — your book!

If you’ve already decided to go with self-publishing versus traditional publishing, this is all on you.

Here are four steps in finalizing your book.

A) Configure your book

There are many ways to go about pulling your manuscript together.

If you know how to format a book correctly and to fit your book distributor’s specification, you can do so in Word or Google Docs.

Otherwise, we recommend hiring someone to do this professionally, as it’s one of the most important aspects to get right.

B) Create a compelling cover.

Don’t judge a book by its cover? Please. People are definitely judging your book by its cover. The cover design is generally the first thing that will pique a reader’s interest.

Let’s review some tips for creating an effective book cover:

  • Whitespace is your friend. Make it a best practice to choose a design that pops, but doesn’t distract.
  • Make it creative (non-fiction) or emotional (fiction). Do your best to connect the art to the story or use it to enhance the title.
  • Consider a subtitle. Think if this as a one-sentence descriptor on what this book is about.
  • Test two or three designs. Send a few designs to your trusted accountability group to get their honest first impressions and feedback.

Keeping these best practices in mind, I chose a cover for Inbound Content that was simple but made the title pop and let the subtitle provide the promise to the reader.

how to write a book cover

Pro tip: If you need help with your cover design, consider hiring a professional. Reedsy offers cover design services.

C) Find a professional book editor.

As meticulous as you may be, there are bound to be some grammatical or spelling errors that get overlooked. Also, a professional editor should be able to give you feedback on the structure of your writing so you can feel confident in your final published draft.

If you use Reedsy to configure your book, you can leverage their network of experienced book editors to bring your book to the finish line.

Finishing Your Book

And that’s it! Eight steps to writing your first book.

You can and will write your first book if you put forth the effort. Trust the process, create a consistent writing schedule, and use the practical guide to help you through the journey.

You’re going to crush this.

Next Steps

Looking for more support? Attend Self-Publishing School’s free webinar training — The Busy Person’s Guide to Getting Your Book Done. In this training, Chandler Bolt, founder and CEO of Self-Publishing School, reveals the exact tactics and strategies he used to write and publish six bestselling books in a row.

Want to jumpstart your book writing process?

Join Chandler Bolt from self-publishingschool.com at his FREE Webinar Training as he reveals the exact tactics and strategies he used to write and publish 6 bestselling books in a row.

Click here to sign up today

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