Don’t write dumb: read five more books very similar to yours

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Here are seven very important things to do before you write (and publish) your own book.

(1) Find and read all five of these books that are very similar to yours. In fact, read each book twice. (If you can’t read, don’t write a book. If you can, do.) Get reading now and write your own book simultaneously. (This isn’t a free pass to stop writing while you curl up at the town library!)

(2) I know, your book is unique, singular, unmatched…so why are you reading somebody else’s book(s)? So you don’t reinvent the literary wheel. And so you have successful, published models to show you structure, format, plot, purpose, flow, scope, and dialog that works.

(3) You’re going to read those books like yours because you’re going to steal anything of applicable worth from them. They are your opposition, your worth balance, the standard that others will hold you to. You’re not going to just mimic and replicate them, you’re going to learn how another writer found a plot, created characters, gave them words, moved them around, and built from the very same words we all use to tell our story. You’re not stealing the words, they’re already yours to use. You’re stealing a short walk, polished and proofed, in another writer’s mind. Don’t worry, if they have any sense those writers did the very same thing too.

(4) Put the book most like yours on top and start there. The first time through you are going to see what working question that book answers. It will almost always be stated in the book’s introduction or first chapter. Then clarify how the table of contents (or a plot sheet you will put together as you read) define and lead you down that book’s path. Write down everything that you wish was on your pages. Why is it there? What does it do? How long are the sentences, the chapters, the sections? Summarize all of the stories the book tells, prioritize them. How are characters successively referred to (Dr. Tom Jones, Dr. Jones, Jones, Tom, etc.)?

(5) the second time you read it, read from start to finish, to feel the style of writing, the flow, the amount and kind of humor, who is speaking, how does the story move forward—anything that will enrich your sense of how this kind of book is skillfully composed.

(6) Continue with the other books, in order. What are you doing with all of this accumulated wisdom? You’re writing down anything that will work for you. Scan or copy long passages or short phrases; snag anything extraordinary that works.

(7) Finish that first draft you have been prepping while you were reading. Then go back, rethink your book, tighten its structure, give your key characters more presence, make the prose sing. You’ll probably rewrite the book around the skeleton of your initial text.

By the time you have read five (or three or eight) books like yours and put your starter words on paper, you will know what you must do in the second pass to write a book that will shout to be printed. Soon a thousand new fans will tell their friends that there is this new “great read” they must buy.

Congratulations.

And best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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