This past week I spoke with two different people who were interested in writing their book. One had been considering writing a book for years based on her life and had a good idea of what she wanted to say, just not how to say it. The second person hadn’t considered writing her story until friends told her that she should put her thoughts down on paper. Both stories are very different, but when we had our initial discussions the unknowns were the same – as they often are.
In this post I would like to take us away from the writing process a little and talk about what is helpful to know before contacting or hiring a writer to write your book. These tips aren’t required, but will provide you perspective into what a writer is looking at when offering a cost and timeline for your project.
I don’t want you to take these tips as the only information you will need, nor do I want you to hesitate in contacting a writer (me) if you don’t know all of this information. Some of these tips will be difficult to know or understand. Plus, your book will evolve over time.
What I do want you to pull away from this post are useful information to help the writer understand your project and help you understand the writing process and a deeper understanding of your book.
In addition to the questions I’ll provide the type of answers I enjoy hearing. These shouldn’t be your answers, but give you a guide as to a possible answer.
What type of book do you want to write?
Simple enough. When I speak with someone for the first time I do not expect to have a detailed account of your book. Though, it is important to understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
Fiction is “…literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.”
Non-fiction is, “…prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history.” memoirs, as-told-to books, business books, autobiographies all fit into this category.
Most books I write are as-told-to memoirs, second are novels, and third are business or motivational books. One thing I see often is someone says I have a fictional novel. I don’t care as much, but if you are approaching a publisher or literary agent, that’s a habit you’ll want to get rid of. All novels are fiction.
If you’re not certain if you want to write a memoir, autobiography, biography or any variation of a life story that is fine, a writer can help guide you.
Lastly, it is important to let the writer know if you are writing your life story or a fictionalized version of your life story. Both are acceptable and equally important for the writer to know if asked.
Type of answer I like to hear: I’d like to write a book focused on a dramatic incident that occurred when I was thirteen”
I don’t expect you to know the length of your book. Most people tell me 200 pages. But, writers work in word count rather than pages. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I try to talk to you in word count.
The reason writers use word count is because pages can be affected by page margins, font, text size, etc. It use to be that pages were how writers spoke because across the industry a page equaled 250 words. Now, though, it seems that has been thrown out the door. I came across this in 2004 when someone hired me to write a 3 page article. I was thinking 750 words, so you can imagine my surprise when the client called me to tell me I was cheating him because he wanted .5 inch margins, single-spaced, with a tiny font at 8 pt. text. It was the equivalent of 900 words per page; almost four times as many words.
So, word count is how writer’s talk. To give you an idea of approximate word count, 100 pages is equivalent to about 27,000 words. While word count will not be exact, I tend to offer books within a word count range such as 50,000 +/- 5,000 words. If we go over the 55,000 words I charge a per word fee.
Type of answer I like to hear: I’m open to your suggestion as long as the book hits my objectives.
What is your current budget?
It is important to know what your budget is before starting. Some people have a large budget and the cost of a book isn’t a concern. But, if you are like most people it is important to know that most writers will charge a deposit to start the book, and the remaining payments can be split up several ways.
It’s one thing to not understand how much it will cost to write a book and it is another thing to shop for the cheapest price. Most writers who have made a career out of writing will not provide the cheapest rate for your book.
Type of answer I like to hear: I’m not sure how much it will cost to write the book, but so far I have X-amount and know I may need to come up with more.
If you don’t have money put aside, how do you plan on paying for the project?
This is something to consider when you don’t have the budget already put aside. I’ve had one client who took a part-time job at McDonald’s so they could afford to hire me to write a book. It took five years, but he did it. One client worked overtime every week at their job and another client pre-paid incremental hours until their book was done. Lastly, I have several clients who take advantage of my referral program to add credit to their future projects. Multiple books have been written this way without the client paying a cent to me.
Type of answer I like to hear: I didn’t realize how much it would cost to write a book, but I knew it would be more than what I currently have available, so I plan on… to finish the book. What would our payment options be like?
How would you like to participate?
Participation depends on you. I have clients who hire me to write novels and novellas and all they say is, “I want an adventure involving someone who’s depressed.” A single sentence. They don’t care what I write about as long as that sentence is satisfied. Other people give me an outline, character descriptions, or detailed information.
When it comes to as-told-to memoirs or personal histories, collaboration is key. From they interviews to final edits, it is important your story has all of the information you want, and at times keeps information you don’t want away.
Whether you participate in the writing and telling of your story or not, it is important to realize the writer must control the process. That is why you hire a writer.
Type of answer I like to hear: I’m really interested in writing this book and want to play a role. You are the writer, so I will take ques from you on how I can participate as we go.
How would you like to publish your book?
Traditional publishing, self-publishing, eBook, hiring a book printer; there are a lot of ways to publish. It is helpful to know this because this is a process I recommend starting earlier than later.
In fact, when I am writing and have an antsy client, I will assign homework of which some is related to publishing.
Type of answer I like to hear: I am looking to self-publish my book as an eBook and softcover, though I’ll depend on your suggestions.
Do you have research material available?
From the outline to notes, character descriptions, pictures, newspapers, and articles, it is helpful to have research materials if research will be involved. This isn’t necessary, but can save you a little money if we are working on an hourly project.
Type of answer I like to hear: I really don’t have much, but can do research for you if that is helpful.
How much have you written? Now how much have you really written?
I don’t know how many times someone contacts me and says they’ve written about fifty pages, only to find out they’ve written about five. I don’t know why this happens. Maybe it seems like they wrote that many pages years ago and haven’t looked at their writing in years. Maybe the person is trying to lower the overall cost by saying they’ve done a brunt of work. I’m sure there are several reasons, however, in the end it’s helpful to know what’s been written.
Another thing to consider is that even if you have written something that doesn’t always mean that what you wrote will be used unless you are insistent.
Type of answer I like to hear: I haven’t written anything. I just have ideas right now.
How would you like to work together?
Do you want a hands off approach, or do you want to have regular check ins? I had one client who told me to just finish and when I’m done send it over. He didn’t want to be influenced by the back and forth. Another client wanted to talk every day to update where I was at (not recommended). I’d say the most common is a weekly or bi-weekly update.
Type of answer I like to hear: I’d really like to be a part of the process, but know that I may not always be able to contribute. I am okay with weekly updates and then adjusting as we go forward.
Do you have a deadline, if so, why is that your deadline?
If you have a deadline there should be a reason. I’ve had people who say they need the book by a certain date. I press to get it done by then, only to find out they didn’t need it by that date, that was just a day they pulled out of thin air.
Having a deadline is helpful, but generally not that important unless you run a traditional publishing company and not hitting a deadline can cost thousands of dollars. Most people do not fall under this category.
Type of answer I like to hear: I just want to write a good book. I’ll need your help determining this.