Sunday, 2 May 2010

On Becoming a Bestseller (6)

I want to answer a question recently asked by a member of The Writers' Well: What does it take to write a "good" book let alone a bestseller? A very relevant question indeed. After all, for a book to be a bestseller, it has to be a good seller, and for a book to be a good seller, it has to be a good book.

A lot goes into writing a good book. The first, in my opinion, is vision. Your vision and purpose for the book you want to write should be clear. If it is non-fiction, it will help if you first write an outline, even if it just the chapter titles (which is how I start). If it is fiction, your plot should be clear. How does your story begin? How does it end? Of course, this written roadmap is flexible and subject to adjustment.

A clear vision should translate into a good title (and subtitle where appropriate). Titles make or break books. They give readers a clue about what to expect in the book. Activate your creativity when crafting a title. Don't be too fixated on a title that you cannot change it when it makes sense to do so.

Now, writing. The secret of writing a good book is... writing. Just get down to it. Let your in-built "creator" flow without much interruption for a while before engaging your in-built "editor". If you are analytical of your writing too soon, you are not likely to get too far and may soon become discouraged. Write regularly each day for a week or two before engaging your "editor". You'll be surprised how much you've written.

Engage your "editor". It must get its turn to make the writing better. Writers sometimes are not objective enough when it comes to their own writing - a weakness that affects their ability to edit themselves. Do be open to other people editing your work (and every written work needs some level of editing - "every written work"). Every written work would need some amount of rewriting. Only make sure that the quality of the finished work is improving all the time.

Sharpen your writing gift by learning from those who are good at it. Is there a style you admire? Study it. Your unique style will emerge sooner or later. You can learn a great deal through reading the writing of others, learning from blogs (Cec Murphey's "Writer to writer" is a good one), attend Writers' seminars/workshops (we hope to host one soon).

Write with your readers in mind. It is not enough you like your book. Your book is not good enough if your readers are not excited by it. If your book is intended to provide a solution to a problem, then your readers must feel that their questions were answered by the end of your book. If it is written to entertain, readers should not be bored. If you are writing to inspire, engage your readers from the very first page. Don't just write for yourself; write for your readers.

Finally, please be thorough. By this I mean do your homework and know your subject. Spend time researching. Be creative with words. Be grammatically correct. Use a thesaurus. Be expressive... and believe you can do it!

PS - If it will help, I can give you some feedback on your written work. Contact me via facebook or through


Wednesday, 28 April 2010

On becoming a bestseller (5)

If you thought the process of writing a book was laborious and tiresome, wait until you learn about the process of achieving bestseller status. Nothing just happens; bestsellers require a lot of work and know-how. When I started writing, I was not aware of the know-how of making a book succeed. I know a bit today and I am still learning.

In this article, I want to deal will a few myths that many writers embrace regarding the publishing process. These myths abound in the writing world. They mislead many writers and frustrate their potentials. Below are some of them.

I only need to write very well. Any publisher will be interested in my writing.
Not true. To become a bestseller, you have to write well and do much more than write well. If you cannot demonstrate a ready market for the book you are proposing, you are likely to be rejected by traditional publishers. The identification and generation of a 'ready market' is one of the important steps to becoming a bestselling author.

If a publisher releases my book, it is bound to do well.
Not quite. These days, publishing is a joint venture between publisher and author; and the truth is, publishers are counting on you to make the book succeed. You cannot just write a book and then sit back and expect residual income to come through the door.

Everyone will like my book.
I wish it worked that way! Of course, you should be your number one fan. To expect everyone else to like and spend some money buying your book may be too much to ask. Nonetheless, the work put into getting more and more people to like your book is the real work of becoming a bestseller.

Good covers sell books.
To an extent, yes. But they are not the only factors. Many more determinants abound. I hope to cover them one by one as we proceed.

I can write more myths, some of which I had for many years. But the message is clear: a lot of work is needed to make a book a bestseller. This one thing I am convinced of: it does not matter how much work, you can and are ready to do it!


Thursday, 22 April 2010

On Becoming a Bestseller (4)

Books! Lots of books! Lots of books that people want to buy. That's what these series of writings are about. Have you missed the past lessons? Here are the links (Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3). In this session, I want us to focus on the reason why you want to write a book (quite distinct from the reason why you write at all, as you will soon see).

So, why do you want to write and publish a book? Surely, it is the dream of every writer to have their name on the front of a printed book. This dream happened for me 21 years ago. I wrote Sharing the Word of God at the age of 18 and published before my 20th birthday. However, sooner or later, every writer will acknowledge that having their name (and picture) on the cover of a book is not enough reason for publishing a book. The novelty soon wears out. Good reason, but not enough reason.

Many writers have a burning message in their heart that they want to share with others. Some have an exciting story they want others to read. They then go on to do what many have done before them - write a book. I did too. Two years after my first book, a compelling message about revival in the church stirred in my heart and went on to write two books (Rediscovering God and Revival in the Desert). I wrote other things too, mainly newsletters. And that's a clue right there. With the emergence of internet technology, social networking and modern DIY desktop publishing software, a burning message can be communicated to your target audience without breaking the bank. Do you have a blog like this one? Do you communicate regularly via your FB page? What about starting an e-letter? The point here, one of many, is that a burning message, lessons from personal experience, an inspirational poem - you can share these with people easily and cheaply through others means other than producing a book.

Am I then discouraging writing a book? Far from it! My fourteenth book will soon be released, The Shift of A Lifetime. I help writers all the time. However, I now want to help writers produce bestsellers and not just produce a book. I hope you can see the difference. That a book is produced and placed in shops does not mean it is or will become a bestseller. Even, that a book is published by a 'big' traditional publisher (or nowadays, a print-on-demand publisher) does not mean it will become a bestseller. There are many more factors that contribute to a book becoming a bestseller, factors I've had to learn the hard way. I don't want you to make my mistakes hence the reason for these lessons.

Turning a manuscript into a book is not an inexpensive venture. So, before you dash off to the printers, count your costs very well. Have you done your homework diligently? Is this a potential bestseller? At the end of the day, you want a return on the costs you incur, don't you? And by the way, if one of the reasons why you want to produce a book is to generate another income stream, then you definitely need to learn the few things I have learnt in more than 20 years of producing books. Don't be like some who write something, produce a book and rely heavily on the launching day to recoup some of their 'investment'. Usually, these kind of books do not make an impact beyond the launching day. Writing for some continuous, residual cash return is not a bad idea, but you have to be really good to pull it off - not just in your writing but also in working through the factors that turn writings into bestselling books.

The noble reason for writing a book, in addition to the ones above, is that there is something inside you that others need to know about. A passion. A perspective. A cause. A story. If it is meant for many people in this generation and generations to come, then you should write a book. If it will change lives, even a life, then writing a book is worth the effort. If it is likely to do so well and raise some finance for a cause (and for you too, of course!), then write, write and don't stop writing until the book is complete. However, I beseech you, don't learn the hard way, the way most authors learn, the way I learnt; there is more to a book becoming a bestseller than just sending a manuscript to a printer (or a publisher).

* * * * *
Have any questions? Please write me. I want to help many people become bestselling authors. For now, I will continue to write these articles. In the future, more help will flow out of this well for writers. Keep drinking!


Saturday, 17 April 2010

On Becoming a Bestseller (3)

You now know why you write (lesson 1). You know the kind of writing you produce by default and your target audience (lesson 2). Let us now determine what your core message is, a key factor in becoming a bestselling author. It is also a key motivation for writing a book in the first place.

Do you know what your core message is? What is the one thing you want to tell your target audience every time you put words on paper? Can you summarise it in one paragraph? One sentence? What about a single word? Until you can state the mission of your writing in precise terms, you are not ready to become a bestselling author. Not having a clear mission will not stop you from writing and producing a book, but whether the book will become a bestseller is doubtful.

It is an extension of the premise that you will only be known for one thing in life. Once you apprehend this "one thing", not only will it reflect in your writing, it will also help you stand out from the multitude of writings out there. Assuming you are to write the one hundred and seventy seven thousand, five hundred and ninety fourth book on prayer (from my search), what is going to make it different from its predecessors? That's quite exaggerated, of course, but the point is, the world of books is so condensed, you do not want to enter it ambiguously. You do not want to blend with the crowd and become unnoticeable. By the way, just spending a fortune on promoting an undefined product will not make it a bestseller (somewhere down the line we will come to the subject of promotions; for now, we lay the foundations).

A clearly defined message is the centre point around which everything else revolves. It holds your writing efforts together and gives it substance and direction. It gives it a unique genetic code in the marketplace and multiplies its appeal. Even when you know your purpose in life, spending time on coining a word for it for the writing world will pay off in the end. I am finding this to be true in my writing. Even though I have always known that my purpose is to advance the purposes of God in the Earth and help others find the unique part they have to play in His Kingdom, I finally found a way to translate this into my writing. One word. You guessed it - Well-digging! It goes like this:
  • The land represents God's Kingdom
  • Everyone is given a portion of the land through promise
  • The only way to possess and rule over the land is by digging wells
  • Once you succeed in digging a well, your legacy outlasts you for many generations.
Do you think if I title the 177,594th book on prayer, The prayer-life of a Well-digger, it will stand out in the market? (By the way, if you try to publish a book with that title, it will so be unlike you. Everyone will know where you got the idea from!).

I really hope this is clear. It will require a whole workshop session to demonstrate the power of a crystal-clear message AND how to coin your own mission in a word. It's a bit like product branding. A branded product has more chances to do well in the market than an unbranded one. If you want to become a bestseller, you will need to brand yourself and your message.

The lessons continue. Please write your comments, ask questions or make suggestions on how these lessons can be improved. I'm here to serve you!


Thursday, 8 April 2010

On Becoming a Bestseller (2)

Now that you have established your reason for writing (following the last lesson), your fundamental reason for putting pen to paper, I want us to go a step further and put another building block in place. Two in fact. What kind of writing do you easily produce and To Whom do you write? Again, all these questions are relevant in the quest to becoming a bestseller.

So, what form of writing do you produce (or love to produce)? Is it fiction (stories based on imaginative creation and not facts) or non-fiction (topical, thematic or subject-based writing)? Is it poetry (rhythmic writing, usually with verses) or prose (the ordinary form of written language, without metrical structure)? Is it inspiration (designed to infuse with life and stir the heart towards a particular end) or academic (designed to engage the mind and deliver some educational value)? There is much benefit in knowing the kind of writing you are wired to produce. This will help you define your audience (which I'll come to in a moment).

As a fiction writer, there are a number of genres in which you may write, including mystery, fantasy, crime etc. As a non-fiction writer, you may discuss a subject, solve a problem, give self-help tips etc. It depends on your sense of calling as a writer and what comes naturally to you. I started by writing short inspirational notes. My first book was a collection of thoughts on the Why and How of Sharing the Word of God with others. Later, I began to write prophetic teachings and messages. I even shocked myself by writing a novel (The Greatest Well-digger in the World) after years of saying 'I am not a fiction writer'! The lesson? Don't restrict yourself to a writing box. You may write in a particular genre for a season and uncover some hidden potential to write in other genres later on.

Now, very important in this foundational process is a definition of the people you are writing to. It is not enough to say, 'My writing is for the whole world.' What you have said indirectly is that your writing is not meant for anyone in particular. Whilst the whole world may end up reading what you write, you need to start with an audience in mind. So, are you writing for men, women or children? If your writing is for women, what kind of woman? Single women, married women, career women, nursing mothers, abused women, women who are facing divorce? Who are you writing to? What kind of people will want to read what you write, fiction or non-fiction? When you zero in on a particular kind of person, not only will you be clearer in your communication, you will know where to find the people who would be interested in reading your work. In marketing it's called a niche market or a target audience. Whatever it is called, you need this working definition of potential readership for each of the works you produce. You are not ready to produce a book if you don't. Engage your thoughts and define the people to whom you write.

When I started writing, I was confident everyone needed to read what I wrote. Potentially, yes, but practically... it does not really work that way. It was not enough for someone to endorse my writing and say, 'Every Christian must read this book.' Again, whilst this may happen eventually, it is better to have a kind of person in mind. A very good example is the book of Luke and Acts in the Bible. Doctor Luke had an audience of one in mind, namely Theophilus. Because he wrote to this one audience, his writing was distinct from the other gospels and good enough to gain admission into the Canon of scripture (see Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1,2). He wrote to one and has been read by all. I love that! Another example. John Wesley wrote his journals for himself, but the whole world has read them in part of in full (see this Amazon page for some of the titles on John Wesley's journals).

I have finally learnt this lesson. My new book, The Shift of A Lifetime (to be released soon), is written to Nigerians born between 1960 and 1970 (+/- 2 years), those living in Diaspora and at home in Nigeria. It is that specific. I could write the same book to all Africans living everywhere but have learnt that the narrower the niche, the better the chance of a wide readership.... Don't ignore this lesson. When you define your readership, you are more likely to be read by them.

* * * * *
In the next lesson, we will discuss a very important point: Why do you want to write a book? (Remember I said in the last lesson that this is different from the question, Why do you want to write...) . Until then, remain inspired!


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

On Becoming a Bestseller (1)

Let's get started from the very beginning. And that's from a simple but fundamental question: Why do you write? Or why do you want to write? Have you thought about it before, the reason why you put your thoughts on paper? On the journey to becoming a bestselling author, you need to have a clear and compelling "WHY" that precedes your writing efforts.

Now, this question is different from another question, which we will ask later: Why do write books? Or why do you want to write a book? Related, but different. So, get ready to answer the first question. At the end of this session, I want you to be able to say, I write because...

Before you conclude on the reason why you write, please note that there are no right or wrong answers. There is no universal reason why writers write. You may have your unique reason for writing. And you should. You should also, be conscious of it and be motivated by it - daily.

I know why I write. Because God called me to write. The day after I gave my life to Christ, I was blessed with a gift to write. I had no love for writing or reading prior to this time. Suddenly, I found that I had something inside me that I wanted to put on paper, and I did so for nineteen hours! The grace that was given to me was the ability to capture the flow of inspiration and express it in written words. Two decades later, I still tap into inward inspiration better through writing than I do through speaking. I also believe that the inspiration I receive is not just for me but for the world at large. This is another reason why I write.

I will share yet another reason. More than twenty years ago, not long after I had become a Christian, I used to have bouts with depression. At those times, I even found it difficult to pray. One thing helped me, though. Writing. Through writing, I was able to offload my heart and connect with my inner self. I believed (and still do) that God read what I wrote, so I always wrote the truth from my heart - exactly how I felt. And it worked! It still does.

These are my foundational reasons. What are yours? Do you write because writing is your profession? Do you write because you have a love for writing? Do you write because you want to combat some injustice in the world? Do you write because you have something to say through your writing? Do you write because you have a gift of writing to share with the world? Do you write because you just have to write? Whatever your reason, be convinced of it and inspired by it - daily!

Later, the relevance of this first question will become clear. Those who have a clear and compelling WHY go all the way in pursuit of their writing goals. Because you have a WHY, go on and write some more!

(NEXT: We'll discuss the question, To Whom do you write?)

PS - Please leave comments on the Blog or on the Facebook group, The Writers' Well. Thanks.


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