Non-fiction writing guide: So You Want to Sell a Million Copies? by @moha_doha


So You Want to Sell a Million Copies?

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar


You're trying to write a book; and you're not the next Shakespeare - not yet, anyway. You could be. But no one will ever know if you don't get those marvelous words out on the page (or screen). In easy to do, daily steps and exercises, Mohana breaks down the steps of getting started as a creative writer. From getting past writer's block (excuse of the weak!) to putting that blog to work (every body's got one), the tools of the trade are revealed.

If you've had a story idea in your head for a day, year, (or longer) that it doesn't seem to be writing itself, you may want to take a closer look at this book. Designed as a concise guide for aspiring writers, you'll find here the key principles of how to get started, keep going, and finish a manuscript, all told by a fellow accidental writer who took the long way developing a writer's formula.


Don’t Make these Mistakes (Make New Ones)

You have a story to tell. Your friends encourage you to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) to share the hilarious, triumphant, and tragic moments that have entertained them for years. You set out with the necessary implements: a messenger bag draped across the shoulder containing a laptop, notebook, and sharpened pencils. But after buying your first cup of coffee, checking your email, tweeting about all the writing you’re going to do and updating your Facebook status -- the blank page taunts you. The blinking cursor is a one-eyed monster daring you to find something, anything, meaningful to say.

Instead of pouring out the spirited, engaging voice that is your own, you visit a few more social networking sites to see what your soon to be fans are up to. Hours have evaporated; the hours you designated for writing. Nothing left to do but throw away your now cold coffee, stretch, and try again another day. But that day doesn’t come because the writing time begins to compete with other daily necessities: groceries, laundry, and work. The writing doesn’t happen. Each time someone mentions your book project, you mumble you’re working on it, (but you aren’t—remember the laundry?) and so it recedes a litter farther, even further from seeing the light of day. After all, if you don’t believe in it, who will?

Okay, okay, perhaps this isn’t fair. You do believe in your book. And you do want people to download it to their e-readers or wander into a bookshop to discover it. But how? How do you know if you have what it takes? What are the steps from laughs at the dining table to sales on We will spend most of our time talking about the traditional model of publishing, commercial publishing, as that is generally what most people are interested in when they think of publishing. (There is a whole, wide world of self-publishing out there, both in print and digital formats, but that’s a different process and hence a different book, not this one, though the principles on writing are more or less the same.)

Most publishers want an author, not just a writer, and this is where aspiring wordsmiths are short-sighted. Whether an agent or editor, from when they sign your first book, to the moment you’re at your latest author talk, they’re already thinking about:

Who are the target audiences likely to buy your book?
In what ways will you promote your book?
What may your next book be?

Because of the low barrier to entry in finding readers through blogs, self-publishing, or Facebook notes, it is much easier to enter into writing as a field than it was even five years ago. However, it’s still as hard to produce quality work as it was for Shakespeare.

With this dichotomy in mind – cheap, even free access to readership, but high standards, I offer two cautions as a prelude to any advice on the ins and outs of publishing, writing, agent seeking, and procrastination avoiding. We’ll focus on the top two mistakes most people learning about the industry make. Keeping the list to two (instead of the usual ten) means that you’re likely to pay more attention and also retain this information when next sitting at your desk. Or so I hope.

Sending out unfinished work. This is by far the most common mistake of aspiring writers. In a rush for fame and fortune, or to see their name in print, many people send their work out well before it’s ready to be reviewed by professional eyes. By the time a book hits the shelf or gets downloaded onto e-readers, a lot of money and hands have been put to work over it. This means that the publisher has to be 100% sure that it is the best work they can put in front of readers. And the people who convince publishing houses are editors and sub-editors, who get thousands of requests a year. Take the time to craft, create, revise, edit. Your work deserves it and is unlikely to get shelf space digital or otherwise without it.

Being focused on the product, not the process. Slightly related to number one, this point further emphasizes that writers are people who make meaning through words. You may have one book in you, you may have dozens. Beware of asking yourself too early if the idea you have is actually a single title, a series, or adaptation for multimedia. While we all want to be genre-bending creatives, the bone crushing work of sitting in a chair and putting words across the page is first on the path to success. Some people take months between drafts and or even years. Let your story breathe before imposing form, word count, genre, and marketplace. While these are all important aspects to consider (see again how expensive books are to produce in point one), they aren’t necessarily part of the creative process. You’re better off if the marketing or industry specific questions simmer on the backburner. If you try to answer them as you write a first draft, you could run into the dreaded writer’s block.

Storytelling is one of the most creative, engaging, and pleasurable past times of the human experience. From the early days of cave paintings, to the calligraphic books of the Middle Ages, and now to e-books in the digital age, writing is something we use for reflection, communication, and evocation. There has never been a better time to write a story:: writing is now a multi-faceted activity and with the advent of social media, writers can reach readers in ever widening circles. But be clear with yourself why you’re writing the particular piece you are at a particular moment – are you chasing fame, fortune, or fellowship? If you can, you’ll be starting well. And by doing so, avoiding two of the most common mistakes of aspiring writers: being hasty or too market focused. Instead you can make new ones and share your lessons with the rest of us.

This book isn’t going to do all the work for you. But it will show you how to get started. At the end of each entry are two or more questions for reflection. If you are beginning your writing practice (which is what it is, much like Zen or yoga mastery), take some time daily to answer them. If you are renewing your commitment to writing (like any other important relationship) be honest with your answers; don’t just go through the motions.