How a book gets made (this one anyway)

by Scott | 7/7/2009

I’ve only written three books, including this one, but it seems I have a process now that works for me. Every book far has been different and tricky for its own reasons. That’s part of the misery and the fun of writing it seems. But the methods of attack I use falls into predictable patterns.

  1. It takes about two months to write the book proposal, including a sample chapter.  Leading up to the proposal and pitching the book to publishers, I’ve typically thought about the book and made notes on and off, for months, if not years, beforehand.
  2. It takes 5 to 6 months of full time work to write and research the first draft.
  3. Then it’s time for what I call the big read. I sit down and read the entire first draft on paper.
  4. After much whiskey and thoughts of other careers, I get my nerves back together, look at the notes I took as I read the draft.  I make a plan for how to attack draft #2 and get started.
  5. The second draft takes 4-8 weeks.
  6. Along with draft 2, I get plans for promotion, book tour, endorsements/blurbs and the rest of it.

I did the big read for this book two weeks ago.  And I’m half-way through the second draft.

More details on the book to come. But fire away with questions if you’re curious about what goes on in my brain about this project between posts here.

Related: Check out my amazingly popular post, How to write a book – the short honest truth

9 Responses to “How a book gets made (this one anyway)”

  1. Terry Bleizeffer Says:

    I’m guessing that you never really stop researching for a book. Based on your blog posts on innovation, you don’t even stop researching after the book is published! So, bearing that in mind, my question is on #2: “It takes 5 to 6 months of full time work to write and research the first draft.” I was expecting you to write that first you did the research and then you did the writing… but you even listed “write” before “research”. How much research do you need to have under your belt before you feel comfortable writing?

  2. Scott Says:

    Good question. When I start getting an idea for a book the first thing I do is start looking around to see who has answered my questions already and what they had to say. If they do a better job than I think I can (which was the case with Steve Krug’s Don’t make me think) I move on. Or find I have new thoughts and angles I think are strong enough to make for a good book. But otherwise reading other opinions helps refine mine and give confidence I have something valuable/interesting to say. There are a lot of bad, fluffy, poorly executed books out there and I nearly always find researching the field grows my confidence rather than the other way around.

    I take notes on every book I read – sometimes it’s just a few lines, sometimes a few pages, but I’m always refining my ideas for future books well in advance of writing them. I actually have a long list of book ideas, a list much longer than I will ever complete. And when I flesh out an idea from the list I a lot of rough thinking in notes, rough sketches of chapters, or just lists of ideas for chapter titles/major points before I officially start “writing the book”.

    But who knows. The next book might come about very differently than these have, or might demand a different way of writing because of how I want the book to be different than the previous.

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  4. Dwayne Phillips Says:

    Do you go to step 2. without having a contract in hand from step 1.?

  5. Scott Says:

    That has only happened once so far – thinking like my own agent, it’s best to write books you know someone is going to pay for.

    The first book I wrote>when I quit never found a publisher, and the 60% completed draft is still waiting for me to get back to it.

  6. Sean Says:

    A few questions:

    1. Would you ever be willing to share one of your proposals? I’d be very interested to see what they look like. I’m not personally thinking of writing a book any time soon, but I’m fascinated by the process. And I’m sure there are many aspiring authors who would love to see how you’ve done it.

    2. How do you choose which chapter to write as a sample (and how similar does that tend to be to the final version of that chapter)?

    3. Do you feel like you already have a really good handle on the topics of your books before doing your research? In other words, do you feel like your subject matter is limited to subjects you already know really well?

  7. Scott Says:

    1. I’d love to do it, not sure I have the guts. I have looked back at the proposals after the book is finished 12-16 months later and it’s amazing to compare.

    2. Combo of which one best represents the ideas of the book and makes for a good read for someone who doesn’t know anything about me and will give up easily if bored. So far it’s always the first chapter but this might be a mistake.

    3. Sure. I’d say I have strong opinions and I’m confident I can make a go of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve studied the subject much. I’d like to think I can write a good book about anything because of my ability to think and communicate, but I haven’t proven that yet.

    To sell books is helped tremendously by having expertise on the subject – my first book, about architecture, failed to find a publisher in part because I’m not an architect.

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  9. michelle cavalieri Says:


    I’ve read so much of your website in the last two days and I am to say the least, excited and inspired by your writing style and the way in which you communicate. I am and have been for years contemplating writing a book, if not more. I have just recently enrolled in college. However, I’m not sure I can wait two, three or four years to write a book..and so on. I’ve never written a book, but I have a very strong desire to do so, now. Having read “How a book gets made” was very enlightening for me. Thank you for sharing your deep thoughts, it’s as if you carry a pen and paper every spot you go and you just write down your thoughts so methodically, as if journaling your thought in every moment. This is fascinating. Thank you for your inspiring words and thoughts.
    Sincerely, Michelle

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