How to Write a Book: How Does Publishing Work?, Part One 

Every book passes through many hands before arriving at your local bookstore or library. We’ve developed a six-part series, How Does Publishing Work?, to shed light on a book’s journey to publication. From developing stories and characters, to editing and illustration, through to the publishing and marketing stage, this series takes a look at all the different people and processes involved in bringing your favourite stories to life.

Do you have a story to tell? Making the leap from an idea to writing and publishing a book might seem intimidating, but here’s the truth—you can do it! Writing your first book is an exciting, rewarding project, but one that requires patience, planning, and commitment. 

Think of your favourite book—the one you didn’t want to end, that you couldn’t put down even after re-reading it a second or third time. If you’ve ever wanted to capture others’ imaginations with a book of your own, or if you’re just curious about the many jobs and steps involved in creating your favourite books, this six-part series is for you, starting with today’s topic: how to write a book!

Developing Your Story

If you’re an aspiring writer, you might wonder how authors manage to write so many pages and bring them all together so neatly. In order to create a well-structured story, the plotting process is every great writer’s best friend. The Reckoner trilogy author David A. Robertson recorded this mini-workshop for the Eden Mills Writers Festival to give his perspective on developing plot and character, and how the two intertwine. Watch below to hear his take on these key aspects of story writing.

To give you a closer look at character development, Richard Van Camp produced this informative video for the Alberta Summer Reading Camp to help writers of all levels!

David A. Robertson

David A. Robertson (he/him/his) is an award-winning writer and member of Norway House Cree Nation. His books include When We Were Alone (winner Governor General’s Literary Award), Will I See? (winner Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award), Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story (listed In The Margins), and the YA trilogy The Reckoner (winner Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People). David educates as well as entertains through his writings about Indigenous peoples in Canada, reflecting their cultures, histories, and communities, as well as illuminating many contemporary issues. He lives in Winnipeg.

Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Tlicho Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. He is the author of 22 books including The Lesser Blessed (also a feature film), the Eisner Award–nominated graphic novel, A Blanket of Butterflies (with Scott B. Henderson), and Three Feathers (also a feature film). He is a contributor to the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. Richard is also the author of four collections of short stories, including Night Moves, and five baby books, including the award-winning Little You (with Julie Flett).

Finding Your Process

Once you’ve got your plot and characters mapped out, the next step is to put in the work to write your book from start to finish. However, there’s no one “right” way to write your book. Every author approaches their craft a little differently—that’s what makes an author an artist! To help you get a feel for how professional authors work, we asked authors Dallas Hunt and Tasha Spillett to share their experiences and advice for aspiring authors.

Dallas Hunt

Dallas Hunt (he/him/his) is a teacher, writer, and member of Wapisewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, Canada. His children’s book, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, contains Cree words to support the revitalization of the language. Dallas teaches at the University of British Columbia and enjoys reading great books to his nieces and nephews.

PMP: Can you describe your process for writing a manuscript?

DH: Great question! I think it depends on the type of manuscript you’re writing, and who you imagine the audience to be. For me, while writing Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, I knew I wanted the book to be as accessible as possible, so I made a point of not trying to “dress up” or polish the language too much. Often, when we hear stories, they’re not polished in the way an academic or poetic work can be. I thought about how the characters would converse, kept it simple, and wanted there to be enough repetition so little ones reading it might remember some of the words. That said, I don’t think the book itself is simple, since it’s dealing not only with the Cree language (a hard language to learn), but also Cree ideas of kinship and reciprocity.

PMP: What advice would you give a first-time author?

DH: Be gentle with yourself. Putting together a manuscript can be hard, but if you have an idea, and you’re confident in it, then I would just sit down and write. Sometimes sitting down at a desk and writing can be the hardest, most daunting process of writing any book, but I promise it will feel much better once you start writing. Trust yourself, that those ideas are there, and that they’re worth sharing—because I promise they are.

PMP: What helps you keep your momentum when creating a manuscript?

DH: I have a mantra I say quietly to myself: “just get started.” Sure, you may have wasted most of your morning watching YouTube videos, or being on Twitter, or playing video games, but there’s nothing stopping you from writing at 7PM, even if it’s just for 45 minutes to an hour. In all honesty, that mantra was the only way I was able to finish my dissertation.

“I firmly believe that other people’s criticisms should not prohibit you from writing what you want to write.”

PMP: How has your perspective on writing books changed now that you’ve done it?

DH: While I do write books, I’m also an academic who reads books for a living and engages with them critically. One thing I try to do now, especially when going through the process of writing critically, is to try to cultivate a mode of generosity when engaging with a text—even if it is a text I don’t like. 

I know how hard and isolating the writing process can be, so now when I’m reviewing a book or someone else’s manuscript, I try to think about what I would like or dislike someone else saying about my writing. I firmly believe that other people’s criticisms should not prohibit you from writing what you want to write (unless what you’re writing is harmful or hateful). 

With that said, I do try to think about how writers are people and are human and make mistakes. We all have complex personhoods, with varying experiences and capacities, and so I just try to take everyone’s “personhood” and “writing” on their own terms. All of this has allowed me to be more generous and forgiving with myself, and to really admire a staggering piece of writing when I encounter it. Sometimes I’ll read something and just be in awe.

Tasha Spillett

Tasha Spillett (she/her/hers) draws her strength from both her Nehiyaw and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is the author of the Surviving the City series, as well as a celebrated educator, poet, and emerging scholar. Tasha is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centres on land and water defence, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls. Tasha is currently working on her PhD in Education through the University of Saskatchewan, where she holds a Vanier Canada Award. The second volume of the Surviving the City series, From the Roots Up, will be released on October 27th, 2020.

PMP: Can you describe your process for writing a manuscript?
TS: I find it really hard to sit down and write if the story isn’t ready to come out yet. My writing process always begins way before I sit down at my computer. Usually, before I can even put the first sentences together, I have to have the story come to life in my mind.
I’ll have an experience, a conversation, or even a dream that will deliver the story and then it grows from there. If that hasn’t happened yet, I really struggle to get started with the manuscript.
Timing really is everything when it comes to my relationship with writing.

“You are the expert in your own experience; tell your story.”

PMP: What advice would you give a first-time author?
TS: You are the expert in your own experience; tell your story.
Read as much as you can.
Where the story ends up might surprise you and that’s okay, extra special even.
Not everyone will get what you have to offer, but for someone, it might be everything they need, and that’s even better.

PMP: What helps you keep your momentum when creating a manuscript?
TS: A great editor! I say that kind of jokingly, but I really do appreciate my editors; they are incredible.
I also think that the story deserves to go live its life, so once I’ve started writing, I try not to make it wait too long.

PMP: How has your perspective on writing books changed now that you’ve done it?
TS: I know now that getting a book from your mind to the readers’ hands is a community effort. So many people pour their minds and hearts into the process. I didn’t realize that before, but I’m so grateful to have formed such trusting and caring friendships with the people who have worked on my books with me.

Taking the Next Step

So you’ve written your first manuscript—congratulations! But what comes next?

As Tasha mentioned, there’s so much more that goes into the process of publishing a book than writing your first draft. Check back in two weeks to read the next instalment of our publishing series: “I Wrote a Book, Now What?” We’ll give you a glimpse into the next stage all manuscripts go through on their journey to traditional publication, along with tips to help you as you query your manuscript.

Make sure to follow our biweekly How Does Publishing Work? series for a detailed look into the people and processes that bring your favourite books to life!

Tags: , , , ,