Writing a book: process and pitfalls


Elsewhere, we’ve talked about how existing content may provide material for a book. But a book is not simply a compilation of social media posts or a collection of marketing texts, and there are a number of things to bear in mind when planning a book based on repurposed content.

Repurposed material combined with snippets collected from social media and business collateral may provide the bulk of the content needed for a book, and blog posts in particular can be a really useful source of re-usable content. But what makes a book readable and useful is the way the content is organised; once gathered, the raw content will all need to be rationalised and structured, and a change of platform and format will probably make other changes necessary.

Although blogs usually have an overarching theme, they work more like magazines than books, with the posts comparable to a series of disconnected articles. At an extreme, posts may vary in length from as few as 100 words to several thousand, while, for a book, it makes sense for different sections to be more or less the same length. Blog posts may also vary somewhat in voice and style, and tend to be relatively informal, which may not be the most appropriate style for a professional published book.

For a non-fiction or technical reference book, a good place to start organising is with the Table of Contents, which provides an at-a-glance schema of the “shape” or structure of the book. You can then expand each section or chapter in turn, keeping the lengths more or less balanced.

But even when you have developed the full-length manuscript, it’s important to realise that this is still only a first draft: it’s only a beginning, not the end.

For a professional book, it will probably be necessary to work with an editor, who will be able to give objective feedback and help you write the very best book possible. But “editor” can mean various things, and it’s important that both you and the expert you are working with are clear about where in the process you are and what kind of editing your manuscript needs – structural, copy editing, proofreading…

Even when the manuscript is complete, there is still work to be done, as professional design will add to the book’s readability. The design of the interiors of a non-fiction book is a map that guides the reader. It isn’t a simple street map, though: it’s a full ordnance survey-style map, with a clearly defined legend that explains the terrain.

The designer will define styles for all the different text elements – text body, chapter and section headings, subtitles, lede paragraphs, pull quotes, tables, lists etc. – and make sure that they are all clear, consistent and coherent. In addition, there are page elements – running header, footer, page numbers etc. – that help orient and guide the reader.

And, of course, the cover is another vital element of design, as it tempts the reader to pick up the book and discover what’s inside. There may need to be different designs for digital and print covers as the reader sees and experiences these differently.

Finally, a word of warning about re-using content. If you are using research, ideas, photos or other content from social media, you need to be aware of potential copyright issues: just because something is posted on the Internet, it does not mean it is in the public domain and available to be re-used.

You should always try and find the owner of any information you reference – not least to verify its validity – and make it clear if you are citing someone else’s work or ideas.

If you are using more than short quotations, or more than a small amount of someone else’s work, particularly for a commercial purpose such as a book you intend to sell, it may not be enough to attribute the quotes; you may need to contact the original author and ask for permission. After all, the last thing you want is to be accused of plagiarism when you are trying to raise your professional profile.

Don't take anyone's writing advice too seriously.
― Lev Grossman

Tantamount offer a full range of editorial services to help indie authors and professionals make their books as good as can be. Why not email us on hello@tantamount.com or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 to talk about your publishing project?