Writing a book isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely rewarding.
I’ve published two books (one with the Naval Institute Press), have one coming out this year, and have just finished my fourth book. I am also the director of a book development service for executives, influencers, and thought leaders, and I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs, politicians, actors, athletes, and veterans to create content.
One thing I’ve learned is that if you serve or have served in the military, you have an important story to tell. Not only does military service teach lessons that you absolutely cannot learn anywhere else, but the American public is very, very interested in it. It’s one of the reasons there are so many movies about war.
That doesn’t mean writing or publishing a book is easy, or guaranteed. But if you have something to say, start writing. Even if it’s just something you will give to your children, it’s important. A friend of mine, whose father was a pilot in World War II, wrote a memoir that he never intended to publish. He bound copies for each of his children, and when he passed away, became their most cherished possession. That book will live on through generations.
Here are six things to think about before you get started writing a book:
- Know that having doubt and fear is normal.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t know how to do this,” or “I’m not a writer – I’m a pilot/crew chief/infantryman/sailor/etc.” But if you feel like you have a story to tell, stop dwelling on the million reasons you have not to write a book and start thinking about the one or a million reasons you have to write. Every single person who writes a book – whether they’ve written no books or ten books – feels doubt and fear. That’s just a part of writing. Once you know it’s normal, it stops being as scary.
2. Decide what kind of book you want to write.
Is it a memoir? A leadership book? A novel? If it’s a nonfiction book, decide on your main message, and make sure you sum it up in one sentence (your “elevator pitch” for why someone should read your book).
3. Plan, plan, plan.
When I first started writing, I never planned ahead – I wanted to “let my creativity flow.” But planning ahead doesn’t have to inhibit creativity; actually, knowing the structure of what you’re writing can help you be more creative, because you’re not so worried about figuring out what comes next. Before you write the first word of your book, put together an outline. Start with a basic outline – just a few key phrases to describe each section – and then expand this to a chapter outline.
4. Tell stories – in detail.
The best content is always told through stories. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, after you outline your content, come up with at least two stories per chapter to illustrate the point you’re making. If you’re writing a memoir or novel, include as much sensory detail as possible.
5. Set up a writing schedule.
It doesn’t have to be long. Maybe you get up thirty minutes earlier each day and write then; or maybe you write every Saturday and Sunday for an hour. Keeping to a schedule will keep you motivated and accountable. Don’t worry about word count – I’ve found it’s better to stick to a time limit instead of trying to reach a word count (because some days the words don’t come as easily). Books typically range between 40,000-80,000 words, depending on how they are published and what type of book they are.
6. You don’t (always) need a literary agent.
If you decide to go the traditional publishing route, you will need to get an agent (in which case it’s best to purchase a guide to literary agents). But self-publishing has grown leaps and bounds in the past five years, and many CEOs and other influential people are deciding to self-publish. There are benefits and drawbacks to both paths (mainly, the difference is that you will pay the upfront publishing costs yourself if you self-publish), but if you decide to self-publish, there are amazing platforms (like Amazon’s CreateSpace) that will help you every step of the way.
If you would like to publish with an established publisher, check out these publishers that specialize in military themes (not an exhaustive list):
- Naval Institute Press
- Army University Press
- Barnwell Publishing
- Pen & Sword Books
- Warriors Publishing Group
- Graybeard Publishing
- Battle Flag Books (Köehler Books)
- Kensington Publishing
- Turner Publishing
- Fireship Press
Feature image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force