How to Write a Great Book - article

No one wants to write a mediocre book, but a quick look at many of the books on the shelves of your local bookstore finds that many are just that, average. What elements move books from the run–of-the-mill-garden variety and rocket them into the stratosphere of greatness? What can authors do to ensure that their books engage readers? The best books in any genre share three major elements being focused, substantive and organized. Let’s tackle each of these elements to help you create master works.

Many authors write works that wander for hundreds of pages and in the end say very little. Books with focus appeal to readers because focus serves as a hook to keep audiences engaged. A book must not be too broad or too narrow. Some authors want to write in almost every kind of genre. Some choose a topic that is so thin it is unable to support an entire book and instead is just an article with a ton of filler. Here’s some advice to help you focus. Think about what you read and topics in which you are expert. Think about what you want to know and what you find provocative. Look for correlations in these interests and the books you like. Choose to “write what you know” is simple and sage advice.

The more research you do, the more substance your book will have.

Once you have chosen a focus for your work is it important to add substance. This step in the process will include copious research. You should familiarize yourself with your local library and learn how to use the databases, e-books, and online resources available to you. Also check out The Library of Congress site, a vast resource with expansive digital collections. Google Scholar is another site that may help you on your information-gathering journey; it’s a search engine that only searches scholarly material such as abstracts, online repositories, and universities. Another great resource is The Open Library, a huge repository of classical literature. The more research you do, the more substance your book will have. Put in research time to create master works.

Finally, great books are well organized. Writers employ a number of methods to organize materials, but there is no one way to organize. Some use an organic free-writing approach popularized by Peter Elbow in his book Writing Without Teachers. Others like a traditional outlining approach. The Purdue Online Writing Lab offers excellent guidance on how to create various types of classical outlines. Another popular method of organizing material is mind-mapping. Mind-mapping involves a visual method of structuring material. is a popular site that shares insight into this non-linear way to organize material. Regardless of an author’s chosen method, organization will help bring relevance to your work.

Bring focus, substance and organization to your work and you will lay a strong foundation on which to create a book that will last and enrich the lives of others.

You may want to create a book that has a lasting impact, but you have no idea how to do it. The best books have a personality all their own. They compel readers to buy them in droves. Gripping books exist in every genre. It’s easy to say that those authors simply have superior talent and to add “There is no way I could create a book like that. “ This attitude keeps you in a safe place of mediocrity. If you want more, it’s achievable, though you will have your work cut out for you.

Writing is a craft. This craft is exacting and requires careful attention to detail. Great books are entertaining and engaging with lively scenes and believable characters. Writers who invest time in learning their craft make the creation of their books seem effortless. Don’t be fooled. It takes great effort. The good news is you are reading this, so you are already well on your way to success. Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours of invested time to be an expert.

Great books are created by authors who have full tool boxes. They delve into the nuances of grammar and word choice. They study plot and characterization. They read all the time. All successful books are created by readers. One author, Francine Prose, in her book Reading Like a Writer offers guidance to writers. She suggests that writers not read just for pleasure but that they also study books to inform your own work. You must be a dedicated reader to create great books. This is true for all successful authors.

The best books are about throwing caution to the wind and taking big risks.

One distinct trait that is present in great books is an engaging style. Style is an elusive quality and difficult to pin down. It’s the personality with which an author has infused her book. Style arises out of the way authors leverage the poetry of language. This element also includes specific decisions that an author makes to spice his work with humor, irony and poignancy. Most importantly, style is born out of practice. Author Stephen King in his book On Writing offers a sage observation -- the first million words an author writes are practice. Great books are created by writers willing to invest the necessary time.

Beyond style, the best books have something to say. They dig into the mythic questions of who we are and what we want. These books reveal the connections between us all, sometimes by exploring the mysteries of the everyday and at other times revealing the vast stage of human struggle. The best books are about throwing caution to the wind and taking big risks. These authors have managed to move past their internal critics and allowed themselves to say what needs to be said.

Take a deep breath. You can do this work. You can bring the best elements of writing to your work and create your masterpiece.

Share this story
Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn