From How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days

Opening remarks from the best-selling How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days

I wrote this book because I kept on running into budding authors who could tell me about their great book ideas but somehow were not able to actually write their books. When I told them that I had written 11 books and major reports and two comprehensive university courses (Copywriting that Works and The Business Approach to Writing) in under five years, and had written the first draft of each project in about two months, they thought I was telling tall tales. So I set out to show potential authors how they could do what I have done several times over.

You are looking at the result of my workHow to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days, written in… well, 60 days. If I can do it, you can too. I have no super powers; however, I have a method that helps me get organized before I write, and that helps me write efficiently and, I would like to believe, effectively. If you want to find out how to do it, read on… 

What does it take to write a book in 60 days?

It takes an idea. How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days spells out in detail the process required to move from your idea to a solid first draft of your book—in 60 days.

It takes purpose. How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days will help you clearly define your purpose so you can focus on achieving what you set out to do.

It takes knowledge of your reader. How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days will help you ascertain what your readers know, and what they need to know, so you can logically present the information required to meet their expectations.

It takes time. How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days will show you how to use your time productively to brainstorm all you need to know about your subject matter, to organize your thoughts and to outline your book before you write. And it will show you how to write effectively and efficiently from outline point to outline point, until you complete a solid first draft of your book—in 60 working days.

From the best-selling How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days, by Paul Lima, author, freelance writer and business-writing trainer.

Why “AIAA” when business writing

Excerpt from Harness the Business Writing Process

AIAA: attention, interest, attitude, action

You may not think you are selling when you write but if you want your reader to take a specific action, you need to sell the reader. To do that, you need to do what advertisers do:

Attention: capture the attention of your reader and set expectations
Interest: hold reader’s interest by demonstrating how you will meet relevant expectations
Attitude: change or influence your reader’s attitude
Action: call for specific action

Depending on what you are writing, you AIAA, so to speak, by doing the following:

Capture your reader’s attention by using appropriate subject lines, titles and sub-titles, opening paragraphs and/or executive summaries.

Hold your reader’s interest with clear, concise, focused writing that reinforces the reader’s beliefs and expectations or enlightens the reader through the presentation of relevant information.

Influence or change your reader’s attitude by overcoming any objections your reader might have, informing the reader of the benefits of your position, by stating your case in a logical, persuasive manner—supporting your arguments with relevant facts and/or by building trust in you, your position, your company.

Achieve your purpose by, if required, defining the action you want your reader to take and asking your reader to take it by a specific date.

In other words, to be an effective business writer, you must AIAA so you can sell your purpose—the reason you are writing. Again, you may not believe that you are in sales, however, if you want somebody to do something, you have to sell that person on the action you want taken.

The action might be as complex as recommending that a new highway be built through an ecologically sensitive area or it might be something as simple as asking the reader to attend a meeting or send you a document. The point is, if you don’t catch the person’s attention, he will not read your message. If you don’t hold the reader’s interest, he will stop reading and not understand what you want done. If you don’t influence attitude, the reader will not be motivated to do what you’ve requested. In addition, if you do not clearly ask for the sale—or the action—you might not get what you want, when or where you want it.

Paul Lima is a freelance writer and business writing trainer. You can read more about him online.

 

Let your business vision drive who you become

I’ve been a freelancer for over 20 years. I didn’t say ‘freelance writer’ because I do several things to earn a living. I do several things because I want to. How do I know that I want to? Each year I create my business vision. I then expend my energy making it real. For instance, I wrote almost full time for several newspapers and magazines for about a decade. That’s what I wanted to do. But I still taught a night school course one night a week. To me, teaching is like writing: I conduct my research and then deliver my words–in person, not on the page.

I’m not saying every writer should teach. If you can’t envision yourself standing in front a group of inquiring minds, then you might — emphasis on might — not want to.

I now earn my living writing and editing for corporate clients, conducting business-writing training , teaching online courses for the University of Toronto, teaching private online courses and selling my books. It is what my business vision says I want to do, so it’s what I do. In other words, having a business vision helps me focus. It helps me prioritise my time and create my website to ensure it reflects who I want to be.

What’s your business vision say you should be doing?

If you are like most freelancers, you don’t have one. You just do. Nothing wrong with that, if you like what you are doing and are making enough money doing it. But if you have a nagging feeling you’d like to be doing something different, it’s time you asked yourself the W5 questions: who, what, where, when and why.

Who do you want to be? If you don’t know, how can you become that person? I want to be a writer, trainer and teacher who writes books on the side. Go to my website, paullima.com, and you will see that is who I am.

Who do you want to do it for? There is a big difference between writing for periodicals and corporate clients. There is a big difference between teaching night school and conducting corporate training gigs. At minimum, for the latter, you need a jacket and tie!

What do you want to do? Let’s say you want to be a writer. That’s cool. But do you want to write for newspapers and magazines or corporate clients? Do you want to write books? If so, fiction or non-fiction? Do you want to write a bit of several things? You need to know what you want to do so that you can devote your energy to doing it.

Where do you want to do it? I’ve worked from home, other than short teaching and training gigs for over 20 years. That’s what I want to do. That means I do not apply for contract positions or gigs that would have me commuting to an office most days of the week. I want to work from home.

When do you want to do it? If you want to teach or train, but you want to take most of the summer off, you would not be promoting yourself as a teacher or trainer in May or June, because you might land gigs that take place over the summer. In short, having a business vision in place helps you do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

Why do you want to do it? It helps to know what motivate us to do the various things we want to do. Sometimes the going gets tough, and knowing why you want to do something can help keep you on track.

How do you do that? Having a business vision doesn’t automatically mean you will be who you want to be. It means you can work on becoming that person. If you want to teach or train, for instance, but have never done it, you don’t start pitching yourself as a trainer or applying for teaching jobs. Perhaps you start by taking some courses that help you become a more confident teacher or trainer. Then you start looking to do what you want to do. If you want to write for periodicals, you spend most of your working day researching markets and pitching query letters.

In short, who you are is up to you. Create a business vision, and then work on making it real. Visit your vision once a year, and consciously decide if you want to keep on the path you’ve envisioned or if you want evolve. You don’t have to make changes every year;  however, think about who you want to be, and work on becoming that person.

[ If you want to be a writer or freelance writer, you may be interested in Paul’s books on writing and the business of freelance writing. ]

 

[ Paul Lima is exactly who he wants to be: a freelance writer, business-writing trainer, writing instructor and the author of books on business writing, promotional writing and the business of freelance writing. Read more about him online at www.paullima.com. ]

The first draft of anything is not so good

From Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it – with over 70 writing exercises to get you started and keep you writing

As Ernest Hemmingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

So you don’t have writer’s block if your writing isn’t as good as you want it to be or if it is not flowing smoothly and eloquently. Smooth and eloquent writing is as much a part of the editing process as it is of the writing process. And if you stop writing because your first drafts are not perfect, you inflict writer’s block upon yourself.

Again, I would never deny that some writers who want to write don’t write. And I know writers who have indeed stopped writing. But I know many people who don’t do a lot of things, or have stopped doing things they liked doing. When it comes to writing (or pretty much any other activity you are able to do), you only lose the ability to produce new work (or engage in the activity), if you stop. That doesn’t mean you have lost the ability. It means you’ve stopped.

As someone who has been writing his own stuff for over 40 years, has been paid to write stuff for over 35 years, and has taught writing for over 25 years, I know that it can take work to start writing, to restart writing and to keep on writing.

Are you willing to do the work required to break through the block? That is the question.

This book is full of work you can do to start writing, but only you can choose to do the work.

And if that sounds a bit daunting, feel free to rephrase the above, two sentences: This book is full of play you can do to start writing, but only you can choose to play.

Play. Doesn’t that feel better? Because that is what we are going to do here to help you overcome writer’s block. We are going to play—play with words, situations, characters and stories—and make writing fun.

But allow me to digress for a moment and differentiate between writer’s block and writer’s procrastination.

Writers are famous for procrastinating. Or as the saying goes, “I’ve never met a deadline I couldn’t ignore.” Give writers deadlines, and watch them post thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, surf the web, update iPod playlists, check repeatedly for email, even check repeatedly for snail mail.

The writers may say they are blocked. They are not. They are procrastinating. Why? It might take a Dr. Phil or a therapist to answer that simple question. But if you have something to write about and you are frittering away your time, you are procrastinating, not blocked.

Just so you know, though, sometimes a bit of procrastination can be what you have to do to distract your conscious mind from the task at hand so your unconscious mind can process the work you have to do before you plunge in and start to write. So allow yourself a little procrastination time.

Having said that, sometimes you have deadlines to meet. Deadlines can be motivating, especially if missing one means you won’t get paid for an article or won’t receive an advance for a book. But if you have problems meeting deadlines, then you might be able to apply some of the writing exercises in this book (especially freefall and clustering) to do the work you have to do when a deadline is looming. There will be a bit more on this later.

Many writers, however, often work on projects—a novel, autobiography or work of non-fiction, for instance—that has not been sold to a publisher. Such writers lack deadlines. Where is the deadline motivation supposed to come from? In other words, you have to be self-motivated when you don’t have a deadline. It can take a fair degree of self-discipline to motivate yourself. Look at all the published books out there that started as figments of the imaginations of writers who had no deadlines. It can be done.

Without a deadline, you may find yourself feeling blocked when you are, in fact, procrastinating. With that in mind, we’ll also look at how you can impose deadlines on yourself to help you combat the lack of motivation and the procrastination that might accompany the lack of a deadline. For now, though, let us not confuse writer’s procrastination, something a self-imposed kick in the butt or the fear of losing a pay check can cure, with writer’s block.

[View introduction to Unblock Writer’s Block]

[View Create your own deadlines and get writing]

From Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it – with over 70 writing exercises to get you started and keep you writing

Introduction to Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it

Introduction to Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it – with over 70 writing exercises to get you started and keep you writing

There is no such thing as writer’s block. How do I know? I know that there is no such thing as writer’s block because I have a dog.

If you are feeling a tad quizzical right now, please stick with me.

As a writer, I live a sedentary life. I don’t jog, lift weights or workout. Basically, I don’t exercise. I do try to walk thirty minutes a day. Notice the word try. I am a fair weather walker. I walk when the weather is pleasant, not when it rains, sleets, hails or snows, or when it’s too hot or too cold. If the weather is not fair, I have what might be described as walker’s block.

Then my wife got a dog, a Giant Schnauzer named Kohl. We don’t have a fenced in backyard and Kohl has to be walked twice a day. My wife walks him in the morning; I walk him in the afternoon. No matter the weather, I’ve walked my dog every afternoon for the last twelve years. In short, we have a dog and I no longer have walker’s block.

The same principle applies to writer’s block. You might think you have writer’s block. What you lack is the writer’s equivalent of a dog.
I am not playing down what one feels when one wants to write and can’t write. In addition, I am not dismissing severe bouts of depression or anxiety that may inflict some writers (or anyone pursuing any art, craft or profession). But in the vast majority of cases, most of us who want to write are able to write—if we have a dog, or the writer’s equivalent. This book is filled with dogs—writing exercises that will get you started and keep you writing.

With that in mind, welcome to Unblock Writer’s Block. I hope the book helps you kick-start your writing and overcome whatever it is that may be keeping you feeling blocked.

[Stay tuned for several more excerpts from the book.]

Different types of “W” leads

Excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content 

In a previous post, we looked at the W5 lead.

There are times journalists find multiple W5 elements, or need more than the basic W5 points, before they can write stories. There are times when they do not use all the W5 points they find. Either way, W5 is the place to start. Again, it doesn’t mean you will always use every W element, but know what they are before you write and make using them, or not, a conscious decision.

Let’s look at some other W leads.

Sample W4 News Lead
You don’t always have to use every W in your lead. However, you should be conscious of why you use the ones you use and why you leave out any of them.

Headline: Home prices to tumble in ‘09
Sub-head: Average decline to be nine percent
Lead: House prices are expected to fall eight percent across Canada this year and sales are predicted to slip nearly 17 percent, according to a new report from The Canadian Real Estate Association.

Deconstructing the W4, we see:

Who: Canadian Real Estate Association
What: house prices expected to fall eight percent
Where: across Canada
When: this year
Why: there was no reference to the economic downturn; however, with the spate of articles on the recession, including others on the same page, the why is apparent, so it was left out of the lead.

Summary Lead
Summary leads summarize the most important idea in the story. It is often preferred for breaking-news and issue-oriented stories. Here is a sample summary lead that contains little more than the who and what:

Lead: The University of Oregon must move more women into higher-level faculty jobs or face federal sanctions.

Blind Lead
A blind lead is a summary lead that leaves out potentially confusing detail(s), as in this example:

Lead: The state’s land-use planning agency on Friday chose a former city planner from New York to be its new director.

This lead omits the name of the planning agency (the Department of Land Conservation and Development) and the name of the city planner, who was relatively unknown. A catch-all paragraph (or nut ‘graph—the story in a nutshell) immediately follows a blind lead and would include specific details omitted from the lead.

Wrap Lead
To “wrap” a lead, you combine, refer to or wrap several items in a lead.

Lead: Thursday’s storm caused the deaths of a Hamilton woman who broke her neck in a fall, a Niagara Falls man who had a heart attack while shovelling snow and a Fort Erie teenager struck by a skidding car.

Shirttail Lead
Shirttails include a summary lead focusing on the most newsworthy elements, followed by the remaining items (or shirttails), each with its own lead. Shirttails are often used for meeting stories. The first lead targets the most important item on the agenda; remaining items are introduced with an “in-other-business” transition in the second paragraph.

Lead: A man taking photographs of Portland’s skyline about 2:15 a.m. Sunday was struck by a car and knocked into the Willamette River off the Interstate 5 ramp to Interstate 84. Another accident later that morning, this one involving a hit-and-run driver in Southwest Washington, left a Lynnwood, Wash., man in serious condition.

Complex Shirttail Lead
Similar to the Shirttail lead, the Complex Shirttail lead includes a summary lead focusing on the most newsworthy elements. But that lead is followed by a number of related elements.

Lead: The federal government has provided nearly $400 million for desperately needed affordable housing in Ontario—but the money may not be spent any time soon.
The province has stashed the money in a contingency fund pending the outcome of a fiscal battle with Ottawa.
Now, housing groups are wondering whether the province will ever spend the money on housing.

Notice the multiple who’s and related what’s in the above lead. Each source has equal weight. Each who is given its own paragraph and its own what to make it clear there are three sides to the story; the conflict makes this topic newsworthy.

Deconstructing the who and what from the above lead we find:

Who: federal government
What: provided nearly $400 million for desperately needed affordable housing
Who: The province
What: has stashed the money in a contingency fund
Who: housing groups
What: are wondering whether the province will ever spend the money on housing

You should be able to find the multiple where’s, when’s and why’s in the lead as well.

W5 Lead from Corporate Article
W5 leads are not just used in news articles in newspapers and magazines. The lead (and second paragraph) below was taken from the website of Statistics Canada, a government agency. This article is presented as news as it is reporting on the release of a new statistic.

Article: The top 1% of Canada’s 25.5 million tax filers accounted for 10.6% of the nation’s total income in 2010, down from a peak of 12.1% in 2006.
In the early 1980s, the top 1% of tax filers held 7.0% of the total income reported by all tax filers. This proportion edged up to 8.0% in the early 1990s and reached 11.0% by the early 2000s.

Who: The top 1% of Canada’s 25.5 million tax filers
What: accounted for 10.6% of the nation’s total income; down from a peak of 12.1% in 2006
Where: Canada
When: 2010

Notice that the why is not there; it could be argued that it is not the agency’s responsibility to speculate as to why the change occurred. That is best left up to politicians, commentators and news outlets. But the primary point to pick up on here is that this W style of lead writing is not the exclusive domain of news articles that appear in newspapers and magazines. It is a style that appears in periodical and business writing because it conveys the most pertinent information—the information that readers want. That does not mean you can’t have an article that, in the above instance, focuses on the why or takes an editorial stance. But you, the writer, need to know what you are writing about and the publication you are writing for—the kind of person who will be reading the article and what are they primarily interested in.

[This has been an excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content ]

Answer W5 before you write your next email

An excerpt on email writing from Harness the Business Writing Process and from Harness the Email Writing Process:

I know those who primarily write short messages sometimes feel that following the writing process will add significantly to the time they spend writing email messages. With that in mind, I want to show you the W5 email-writing shortcut.

When you take the short-cut, you will still follow the writing process — that’s crucial to becoming an effective writer. However, by answering the W5—who, what, where, when and why (and sometimes how or hoW, making it a W6)—you will shortcut the full and formal process.

W5 preparation, research and organization

When writing short documents, such as email messages, you can reduce the first three steps of the writing process — preparation, research and organization — to a few minutes using the W5 shortcut. You then write your message, edit it and click send.

W5 is the foundation of journalism. Answers to the W5 are used to outline the lead or opening paragraphs of any news article. Journalists, in fact, will tell you they do not start writing any article until they have answers to the W5 in place. There are times journalists find multiple W5 elements or need more than the basic W5 points before they write. There are times when they do not use all the W5 points they find. Either way, W5 is the place where they start. I am suggesting that W5 should be the foundation of all business writing as well — especially short email messages.

At minimum, answering the W5 questions allows you to think about these points:

– Who: your audience and your relationship to the audience (reader)
– What: your topic or subject
– Why: your purpose
– What: details reader requires to understand your topic and purpose
– How: you got to the current state; you can solve or take advantage of the issue or opportunity
– What, when, where and how: any action, feedback or reply that should take place

Once you’ve answered the W5 questions, you can take these steps:
– review your answers and decide what you will include and what you will exclude when writing your message
– arrange points in the order in which you will address them—outline
– write from point to point
– revise as may be required
– hit send

In short, answering the W5 questions lets you prepare, conduct internal research and organize your thoughts before you write.

What are readers looking for?

As you answer the W5, I suggest that you do it in a reader-centric manner. Think about what your readers are looking for and expecting. This would probably be the same thing you are looking for when you receive an email:
– subject line that captures attention
– purpose, clearly stated in the opening paragraph: what the message is about and why it is being written
– well-organized, clear, concise, focused writing that maintains interest (is related to your purpose)
– message length that is appropriate for the topic and purpose of the message; in email, most messages are one to five paragraphs in length
– closing paragraph that lets readers know if any action is required; if so, who takes it, by when, where and possibly how
– proper tone in relation to the message and your audience

With that in mind, let’s go through the W5 process for several email messages and do some writing. There are some sample email messages in Appendix One [of the books]; however, try the exercises below before you read the sample messages.

Thank-you note

I’d like you to think of someone to whom you owe a thank-you note or whom you would like to thank for a personal or business kindness. Before you do the exercise, make sure you have the name of the person in mind and that you know what that person did to earn your thanks.

Once you are ready, write point-form answers to the questions below on a sheet of paper or in a word processing file. I’ve included multiple W5 questions, most likely more than you’d ask if you were to do this on your own. However, I want to take you through the full writing process, including what to leave in and what to leave out (when organizing the points you want to make), before you write. To begin, answer the following questions:
– Whom do you want to thank? (Name the person and note that person’s relationship to you.)
– Why do you want to thank him or her?
– What did that person do; what action did that person take?
– Where did it take place? When did it take place? How did it take place?
– What benefit did you derive from the action?
– What was your primary feeling or emotion?
– What overt action, if any, do you want the recipient to take? When and where should it take place? How should it take place?
– How should the recipient let you know she is taking action?
– What, if any, is your covert agenda (also known as your hidden agenda)?

Once you have answered the W5 questions, continue to read.

You probably think that you can write a simple thank-you note without answering the W5 questions first. You most likely can. This is just an exercise to take you through the W5 process. At the same time, I want you to know that your brain is going to try to answer the questions, with or without your active participation. It is ineffective, however, to have your brain thinking about answers to those questions as you are writing and editing. That is why we answer the questions before we write.

What you did when answering the W5

When you answered the above W5 questions, you went through the writing process. Specifically, here is what you did:

– established your primary purpose: why you were writing
– assessed audience: who they are, what they did, where/when they did it
– determined details you might include: how you felt, what benefit you derived, what action you want the reader to take
– conducted internal research: used memory as the source of information

After jotting down point-form notes in answer to the questions, you are almost organized. In fact, you probably have more information than you want to use in your final email message. Part of getting organized, however, is deciding what to include and what to exclude. Many writers will tell you that having more information than needed is a good place to be because it lets you think about what you need to say and don’t need to say. This helps you focus your message.

If you are working on paper, highlight the points you want to address in your thank-you note. Once you have completed your highlighting, transfer your points to a word processing document. If you are working on your computer, copy and paste your research into a new file. Delete any points you don’t have to express. (Save your original research in case you delete material that you later decide you need. This way, you will have it handy rather than having to recreate it.) 

Decide where you are going to start, but keep in mind that readers want to know why (your purpose) you are writing. In other words, get to your purpose—“thank you”—in that first paragraph. Don’t wait until the end of your message to achieve your purpose.
Once you jot down a purpose point, jot down all the other points you want to make in the order you feel you should make them. Remember, you get to decide what to leave in and what to leave out. With that, you have prepared an outline so that your writing will unfold in a focused, logical manner.

Write and then revise
Since this is a short thank-you note, you don’t have to consider layout or design. You can simply write from outline point to outline point, expanding each point into sentences and paragraphs, as required. Write with spell check and grammar check turned off so that you can focus on writing your email message instead of editing it (the last part of the writing process) as you write.
When you have your outline ready, write your thank-you note.

Once you have completed the first draft of your thank-you note, review your work. Ensure that each paragraph contains no more than one significant point or ensure that the points contained in each paragraph are directly related. (See Creating Paragraphs in either book.)

Revise your draft keeping your reader, topic and purpose in mind. Ensure that the tone is appropriate to the subject and that your document is clear, concise and focused, and supports your purpose. Then check spelling and grammar. Finally, add a subject line. Think of your subject line as an attention-grabbing headline. The subject line does not have to be in-your-face to grab attention. It should be tone-appropriate and allude to your purpose.

It is possible, even probable, that the entire process took longer than it would have taken you to just sit down and write the thank-you note off the top of your head. I hope, though, that the note you have written is as effective as, if not more effective than, the note you would have written had you just started with a blank screen. This process will help you write much more effective business email. In addition, the more you practice this process, the less time it will take to prepare, research and outline short messages before writing them.

You will spend less time writing if you are prepared, have completed your research and have a detailed outline in front of you. That makes you more efficient. The more prepared you are, the more complete your research is, the more detailed the outline is, the more effective your writing will be. The more effective (concise and focused) your writing is, the less time you will spend revising. But none of this will happen magically. It will only happen if you practice the five-step writing process—in the case of email, if you practice the W5 process.

 [Note: the books take you through several more writing exercises and include sample email messages that have followed the W5 process.]

This excerpt on email writing is from Harness the Business Writing Process and Harness the Email Writing Process

 

 

5 Questions to ask before you start to write your non-fiction book

A friend of mine told me he was starting to write a non-fiction book. I congratulated him and asked, “Have you answered your who, what, where, when and why yet?”

“I’m writing a book,” he said, “not a news article. I don’t need to answer the W5.”

I suggested that he take a look at the W5, from the perspective of thinking about and planning his book, before he started to write. Since I have written a dozen non-fiction books, he cut me some slack. “So tell me how to answer the W5 before I start my book.”

“How is a good point,” I said. “It wouldn’t hurt to add hoW to the mix and make it the W6.”

And here, in a nutshell, is what I told him.

Before you start to write any non-fiction book, ask yourself who. Who is my target audience? Who am I writing for? Who would be most interested in this book? Knowing your reader helps you determine the tone and style of your book and how accessible your material should be.

For instance, I have a book called Copywriting that Sells. While I’d like to think any copywriter might learn something from the book, my target readers are continuing education students taking copywriting courses. Most of them have limited copywriting experience and have been thrust into positions at work where they are required to write copy. A few students may be freelance writers who want to expand the writing services they offer corporate clients.

With my audience in mind, I know I have to cover the rudimentary elements of copywriting (not dumb it down, but start at the ground floor) before I get to examples and exercises that will help them become better copywriters.

The next question to ask is what. What is this book about? What will this book cover? There are many types of ads, each requiring a different approach to copywriting. Print (newspaper, magazine, billboards and so on), direct response marketing (a form of print), opt-in email advertising, online (Google, Facebook and other social media ads, banner ads, multimedia ads), radio and television, and so on. I need to define what I will cover in my book before I start to write it. Since the textbook is for an introductory copywriting course, I focused on print ads and online ads that use text, not multimedia.

 In my Harness the Business Writing Process book, I focus on is the process of going from blank page to polished email, letters and reports, not on spelling and grammar. That’s a whole other book. So it’s important to know what you are writing about – the breadth, depth and scope – before you put fingers to keyboard.

The next question is where, as in where are your readers located. If you are targeting an American audience, you will want to use American spelling, even if you are not an American writer. Also, you might want to use American examples and references and only use other references and examples only if they transcend boarders. If your audience is primarily Canadian, by all means use Canadian “colour” (examples and references). While the audience for my copywriting book could be international, it is primarily Canadian because I use it for an online copywriting course I teach for the University of Toronto (as well as to private students). I can, however, refer to American ads because Canadians read American publications and watch American TV. Plus many ads that run in the US are used in Canadian publications and on Canadian TV too.

I would be happy to sell Everything You Want to Know About Freelance Writing to the US market, and I do generate some US and even UK sales, but my primary audience is Canadian and I use mostly, but not exclusively, Canadian examples. Working in my favour is the fact that the examples in the book are relevant no matter where the reader is located. Still, before I started to write, I thought about where my primary audience would be located and wrote for that audience.

And then there is when. When will you book be published? Are there trends, factors, situations that you will be covering that might change dramatically by time the book is published? Or will your references and examples stand the test of time? It may not seem like a huge question, but it is something you should ponder before you begin to write. When Harness the Business Writing Process was being edited, the editor picked up on an old reference. It was an early example of online writing that helped me nail down a particular point. He suggested that I find a more current example. Students and professors would think the book was dated, he pointed out, if I was using an old online example. He was right. I found something more current.

Then there is why. Why are you writing your book? To entertain, educate, inform, persuade your reader? If you don’t know, how will you write in a way, and write content, that meets your purpose? And why would your reader be interested in your topic? You have to know that so that you can meet or exceed your reader’s expectations.

In fact, I’d say that why your reader would want to read the book is more important than why you are writing the book. If you want to sell books (people are not obligated to buy, after all), you should have a sense of why readers want to read and you should work to fulfill the reader’s reason for reading.

And finally we come to how. How will you structure your book? How will you begin and how will you end the book. How will you structure each chapter? Will each chapter have a similar structure, or will each one flow freely?

While all of the W questions are important, I feel how is crucial. I don’t start writing a book until I have the beginning, middle and end figured out. I don’t start writing a book until I have the number of chapters, the working title for each chapter, and the subject matter of each chapter figured out. I don’t start writing a book until I have a detailed outline of each chapter written down.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with authors who choose to write without an outline, figuring out where they are going and how they are going to get there as they write. I just find that knowing how I am going to write my book – having a detailed chapter by chapter outline before I start to write – helps me write in a focused, efficient and effective manner.

If you want to be a focused, efficient, effective writer, I suggest you answer the W5, and how, before you start to write. And if you feel you need help with that, especially constructing a detailed chapter by chapter outline, then you are the who I wrote How to Write A Non-fiction Book in 60 Days for.

Answering the W5, you will find, will make the book-writing journey a little easier and a little more fun. It should help make you a more efficient and productive writer. And it should help make your final product as focused and effective as you can make it – a book that meets and exceeds the expectations of your reader and fulfills your purpose or reason for writing the book in the first place.

(Paul Lima is a freelance writer, business-writing trainer and the author of a dozen books on copywriting, business writing and the business of freelance writing. You can learn more about him and his books at www.paullima.com.)

How to write a query letter to pitch article ideas to editors

I have created a short (12 minute) YouTube video on how to write a query letter. You can find it here: http://youtu.be/uCt1I20Bdyc

This is not a slick video of me speaking to the camera. It’s more like a PowerPoint with voice over so, other than the commercial announcement at the end, I’ve tried to make it as similar to a seminar as possible — complete with two example query letters. Do take a look, if interested. Hope you find it useful.

If you have any comments, you can leave them here or contact me through my website, http://www.paullima.com.

Introduction to Unblock Writer’s Block

“Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” – Jerry Seinfeld

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Introduction to Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it 
 http://www.paullima.com/books/wb.html

There is no such thing as writer’s block. How do I know? I know that there is no such thing as writer’s block because I have a dog.
If you are feeling a tad quizzical right now, please stick with me.

As a writer, I live a sedentary life. I don’t jog, lift weights or workout. Basically, I don’t exercise. I do try to walk thirty minutes a day. Notice the word try. I am a fair weather walker. I walk when the weather is pleasant, not when it rains, sleets, hails or snows, or when it’s too hot or too cold. If the weather is not fair, I have what might be described as walker’s block.

Then my wife got a dog, a Giant Schnauzer named Kohl. We don’t have a fenced in backyard and Kohl has to be walked twice a day. My wife walks him in the morning; I walk him in the afternoon. No matter the weather, I’ve walked my dog every afternoon for the last twelve years. In short, we have a dog and I no longer have walker’s block.

The same principle applies to writer’s block. You might think you have writer’s block. What you lack is the writer’s equivalent of a dog.
I am not playing down what one feels when one wants to write and can’t write. In addition, I am not dismissing severe bouts of depression or anxiety that may inflict some writers (or anyone pursuing any art, craft or profession). But in the vast majority of cases, most of us who want to write are able to write—if we have a dog, or the writer’s equivalent. This book is filled with dogs—writing exercises that will get you started and keep you writing.

With that in mind, welcome to Unblock Writer’s Block. I hope the book helps you kick-start your writing and overcome whatever it is that may be keeping you feeling blocked.

Thanks to Heather Wright (http://wrightwriter.com), freelance writer and author of the book Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens (http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com) for proofreading this book. She did an excellent job. Any typos you may see are all mine, made after the fact!

Paul Lima

Read more about Unblock Writer’s Block online: http://www.paullima.com/books/wb.html