Author Archives: Garry Rodgers

About Garry Rodgers

After three decades as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner, AMAZON Top 10 Best Selling author Garry Rodgers has an expertise in death and the craft of writing on it. Now retired, he wants to provoke your thoughts about death and help authors give life to their words.

RACHEL AMPHLETT—A CRIME THRILLER/INDIE AUTHOR GOLDEN GEM

Every so often, golden writing skills shine through to the surface. Raw storytelling rocks become polished gems. They combine memorable words into unforgettable stories of espionage tales and detective adventures that captivate our imagination. Page by page, we follow twists as they totally tanglethen shock us with stunning solutions. And today, no crime thriller writer shines brighter at this than internationally acclaimed author, Rachel Amphlett.

Rachel Amphlett isn’t one to watch for. She’s already here. Rachel is the creative mind behind her Dan Taylor espionage and Kay Hunter detective series. Both are wildly successful as indie publications. Rachel Amphlett is also an amazing example of entrepreneurship. She’s both writer and promoter—a true hybrid business person who knows what truly works in today’s hyper-competitive indie writing and publishing worlds.

Rachel also has a great sense of humor. Otherwise, we’d never be friends and she wouldn’t be silly enough exposing her busy self in a DyingWords chat.

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Hi Rachel! Why do you write crime thrillers… what do you see in the genre?

That’s an easy one—it’s what I grew up reading! I started reading before I began school, so I was devouring the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton by the time I was five or six years old.  By the time I was about 12, I’d outgrown what was available for that age group, and so my parents and my grandparents let me loose with their bookshelves. Before long, I was discovering books by Jack Higgins, Dick Francis, Ed McBain, PD James, Elizabeth George and the like. I haven’t stopped reading crime thrillers since!

Why do crime thrillers affect so many people? Is it like why ordinary people can’t resist gawking at gory accident scenes? I just read something that people only pay attention to 3 things—food, attractive people, and danger.

Personally, I think crime fiction is a good way of exploring social issues, and for me as a reader, I like to see the bad guy caught in the end – of course, that doesn’t always happen in real life!

I always liked catching bad guys, too. Back then it was job security and some got away… Setting that asidewhat are the basic crime thriller craft elements?

I studied screenwriting a couple of years ago, and that’s definitely helped me hone my craft. Essentially, I divide up any story into a five Act structure rather than three – that helps me keep the pace moving rather than worrying about that huge middle part otherwise.

I read an interview with author Peter James a year or so ago, and he recommends having what he calls a “gosh, wow!” moment at the end of each of those points in the story – something happens that keeps the reader turning the pages. It might not necessarily be another murder, but the detective might discover something that turns the story on its head and hooks the reader.

Research is important, but story must come first – if I don’t know something, I’ll put a marker on the page (simply, “XXX” or “[find out more about decapitated heads and post mortems]”), and get on with hitting my word count. Then, I’ll find out as much as possible about the subject, and return to fill in that detail.  Not too much, though. You don’t want your readers getting bored. I reckon about 90% of what I know doesn’t go into a book, but it does inform my writing better.

So why are some crime thriller writers are so successful?

They don’t give up 😉

Ah-haa… *suddenly gets it, nods & winks* Okay. What are your writing skills? I mean your writing process and quirks. Also your writing tools. Like, why are you so…freaking… good?

My skills are improving all the time – I’m constantly reading interviews with my writing heroes to learn more about the craft and how they sustain their writing careers. It’s like going back to school. My own writing process in a nutshell is that I’ll have an idea going round and round in my head for a few days, then I’ll start to flesh out the initial scenes. I guess I’m lucky, in that when I get an idea it appears to me as if I’m remembering a scene from a movie, so all I have to do is write it down.

I’ll spend a few days developing a basic framework around that five Act structure, and this includes a few bullet points for about 30% of the book before I dive in and start writing. That basic outline keeps me on track against any deadline, while allowing organic growth from my characters and a few surprises along the way.

I’m an advocate of Scrivener for writing rather than MS Word – for the first draft, at least because it’s so easy to organise scenes. If I can’t get into one particular scene of a morning, then I can simply start working on another one to get my word count target smashed. I’ll export the first draft into MS Word though, and work in that until the manuscript is finalized, and sent off to my editor.

Why’d you choose to go indie? How does your indie process go and how does your writing/editing/publishing team operate?

I got rejected by a number of agents and publishers who, although they provided some fantastic feedback about the original m/s for WHITE GOLD told me that “there wasn’t a market” for that sort of book. Reading between the lines, what they meant was that vampires were big that year, and they weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t in that particular genre!  However, the great feedback about the story gave me the confidence to try another route, and when an Australian mystery author emailed me suggesting I try indie publishing, I jumped at the chance.

It was a very steep learning curve though, and that’s why I like to do these sorts of seminars, because there’s so much bad advice out there, and I want to help people avoid the sort of mistakes I made when I started out.

Currently, my indie publishing process operates as a proper business— once the writing is done, I become the project manager. I hand over the editing, cover design, and blog tour organising to others while I take on the marketing effort required to successfully launch a book. That’s why I detest the term “self-publishing”. None of us does this on our own.

My PR person contacts book reviewers/bloggers to sort out a blog tour a week either side of the book’s publication date and she also arranges for them to do a cover reveal about 6 weeks out from publication to drum up interest. She also organises a Facebook online party on publication day and between us we write to other authors seeking prizes to give away to readers during the hour the party runs.

I manage all the advertising, including paid ads and social media for my business, as well as doing the book-keeping (although I use a chartered accountant to manage all the tax stuff).

On top of that, I work with distributors and aggregators to ensure my books are reaching as many people as possible worldwide, and also work with them to promote my novels through their platforms, such as Kobo and iBooks.

Wow! No wonder you’re killing it! Your marketing plan—what works in indie book marketing & what’s a waste of time?

I recommend that people find a template business and marketing plan online and tailor it to their book business needs – there are plenty available if you Google them, and it’s what I did when I took the decision to make this work for me two years ago. I also recommend that writers don’t simply make that plan for the next 12 months and then forget about it – you need to be constantly reviewing and updating what you’re doing to make this work.

My own business and marketing plan runs for each calendar quarter, as well as providing me with an overview of where I want my business to be in 1, 3, 5, and 10 years.

As for what works in marketing and what doesn’t, that’s an ever-changing beast. I’d recommend signing up for free updates from online publishing news sites such as Publishing Perspectives, and listen to podcasts such as Author Biz and The Creative Penn to find out the latest trends.

At the moment, it’s all about advertising through Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads, but that could all change in six months. The important thing as an indie author is to be agile and open to change.

Hmmm… Your views on social media platforms…

A must for writers – it’s the only way to get visibility for your work. My own strategy is to have a website and Facebook page (not a personal profile) as my mainstays and then use Twitter and Instagram as “outposts”. However, a writer of YA fiction might find that something like Snapchat and Instagram works better for them. You have to be prepared to spend time experimenting.

Best publishing outlets? AZ, Kobo, iTunes, etc?

This comes down to the individual author. Some writers prefer to lock into KDP Select (Kindle Unlimited), whereas others like me prefer to “go wide”. Something like 30% of my sales come through Kobo Canada; another 20% through iBooks Australia, so there’s no way I’m going to lock something like my Kay Hunter series into KDP Select!

If you’re just starting out though, go for KDP Select to find your feet, and then expand using an aggregator like Draft2Digital to reach a wider audience. Again, test, test, test!

Is there a place for print/audio/foreign?

Absolutely! I have audiobooks for both my series, and print for every book I’ve published. Foreign rights are another pillar to your business, and I have sold rights to publishers in Italy and Germany so far for my Dan Taylor series – all without an agent!

Rachel, what you see in book sales/genre/marketing trends?

This goes back to what I was saying with regard to marketing plans—it changes all the time, but I would say take what you see in the press regarding eBook sales declining with a pinch of salt. A lot of indies who are making six figure salaries don’t use ISBN codes, so their sales aren’t factored into a lot of the reports, which skews the data of course.

Romance is always going to be a popular genre to write in, but crime thrillers have an attentive audience, too – it’s about finding a niche you like writing in (and that you read in) and checking out what those successful indie authors are doing that you can emulate.

Getting personal… What’s your dream where you want to be in 5/10/20 years? Yes, this means sticking your neck out.

I’m a traveller at heart, so I want to be in a position where my writing enables me to work anywhere in the world. That’s the five year plan. I expect to have at least 20 books out by then, and to keep learning the craft so I don’t become stagnant in my writing.

Advice for new and old writers?

Don’t be afraid to experiment, but DO analyse the results – whether that be a Facebook ad you’re testing, or a new genre you’re writing in. Don’t spend more than you can afford to, either. And, be easy on yourself. We’re all guilty of comparison-itis, but you must enjoy this to make a career out of it.

And some advice from now to give the future Rachel Amphlett?

Remember to come up for air every now and again!

What stops writers from being superstars like you’re becoming?

They refuse to learn and/or give up.

If you could start over, what would you do differently?

Well, when I started I only wrote for myself so becoming a full-time writer hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point – I just needed to get the stories out of my head. It was only when I was approached in 2014 for the Italian foreign rights to WHITE GOLD that I realised I might be onto something and immediately took a long hard look at what I needed to do to make this work for me. I don’t think I’d do anything differently – you’ve got to remember that back in 2012, indie publishing as it is now was very much in its infancy.

Who are the best crime thriller/indie authors today? Besides you and me. What were their journeys? What did they do right and wrong

Ooh, I wouldn’t like to comment on what they did right/wrong – we all make mistakes, after all. Some of the people I look up to though are writers such as Mel Sherratt, Caroline Mitchell, and Louise Ross—all very smart cookies when it comes to their writing businesses.

Your takeaway for DyingWords followers?

Find out by attending our FREE thriller writing and indie publishing seminar at Literary Central Vancouver Island. It’s at 2 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017 in beautiful, historic, downtown Nanaimo, British Columbia across from the Van Isle Conference Centre. Seating is limited so make sure you pre-register at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca.

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Rachel Amphlett is the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel’s novels appeal to a worldwide audience, and have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

She is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold, being sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint in 2014, and the Dan Taylor series sold to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag in 2017.

Get access to exclusive competitions and giveaways by signing up to the author’s Readers Group at rachelamphlett.com or keep in touch through:

Facebook (on.fb.me/TN7rpu)

Twitter (@RachelAmphlett)

Instagram (@rachelamphlett).

And Buy Rachel Amphlett’s Books at:

Amazon.com

Amazon.uk

Kobo

WAS PRINCESS DIANA REALLY A HOMICIDE VICTIM?

It’s been 20 years since Diana, the Princess of Wales, was killed in a horrific car crash. This tragic event ended of one of the world’s most famous people’s life. It shocked everyone. Millions lined London streets paying respect to her funeral procession. Over 2 billion watched her funeral on TV. But Princess Diana’s death was far more than a loss to the world. It left her two young boys without a mother.

Circumstances surrounding Diana’s death are exhaustively investigated. Everyone knows basic facts that Diana and her new boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, were leaving a Paris hotel for a private apartment and trying to avoid the ever-present Paparazzi. They got in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan driven by Henri Paul—a hotel security agent. Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, rode shotgun in the passenger front.

But exactly what happened next is still cloudy. To escape prying eyes and cameras out front of the Ritz Hotel, the four used a rear escape route—sneaking away to the apartment. Several Paparazzi members clued in. They raced to follow. As the Mercedes entered the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel along the Seine River in central Paris, Henri Paul somehow lost control and smashed head-on into a solid concrete column.

The car was destroyed. Henri Paul and Dodi al-Fayed were dead at the scene. Princess Diana passed away from massive internal injuries two hours later. Only Rees-Jones survived. However, he had no recollection of what happened.

Those are the bare case facts. There were two extensive investigations. One by the French police and one by the British authorities who held a public inquest. Both inquiries concluded Diana’s death was from her fatal injuries—the result of a drunk-driving, motor vehicle incident with excessive speed a contributing factor. So was Diana’s neglect to wear her seat belt.

And both inquiries viewed the pursuing Paparazzi as a non-direct, contributing factor despite five photographers charged with manslaughter and three others prosecuted for obstructing justice and violating human rights. No one was convicted. But that didn’t end speculation that Princess Diana was murdered. In fact, Lord Stevens who oversaw the British inquest stated, “This case is substantially more complicated than once thought.”

Rumors ran rampant. There were stories of Paparazzi intentionally overtaking the Mercedes and cutting it off into the column. There’s an unresolved issue of a notorious white Fiat that’s never been found. The Royal Family were accused of masterminding Diana’s murder because she’d been impregnated by a Muslim foreigner. Even the British SAS and MI6 were implicated. And most accusatory was Dodi’s father, Egyptian billionaire Mohammed al-Fayed.

But where was proof the Peoples’ Princess was really a homicide victim? Well, two decades later it turns out that the homicide declaration was right all along. And the evidence—the undisputed truth that Princess Diana really was a homicide victim—is absolutely clear.

Facts Surrounding Diana’s Car Crash

Although Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed were officially an item, they’d only been seeing each other just over a month. That’s hardly enough time to get engaged let alone planning a pregnancy. Diana was far too smart than getting accidentally knocked-up never mind rashly getting married. Both of those stories are blatantly false.

They rendezvoused on Mohammed al-Fayed’s yacht before arriving by private jet into Paris on August 31, 1997. Then dined at a popular restaurant before dropping by the Ritz Hotel where the Paparazzi laid in wait. Diana and Dodi had a nightcap. Rees-Jones was nearby. Henri Paul made a plan to bring the staff Mercedes around to the rear door where the celebrity couple could quietly slip out. Then, Paul would chauffeur the group to a private apartment that Mohammed al-Fayed kept in the heart of Paris.

The plan almost worked. Unfortunately, the Paparazzi were crafty. They set several sentries out back. Diana and her entourage were spotted as they sped away. The time was approximately 12:20 am Paris time. Three minutes later, at 12:23, the Mercedes entered the Alma tunnel. Henri lost control and the Mercedes swerved to the left or driver’s side. It hit a concrete column support with such force the engine was shattered and the radiator shoved through to the front seat.

The Mercedes rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise and rocketed backward into the right tunnel wall. It came to rest but was so severely damaged that emergency responders had to cut off the roof in order to extract the crash victims. It was 20 minutes before Diana was freed.

By this time, the Paparazzi were present in full force. Some were arrested. Some had their cameras confiscated after taking gruesome victim death photos. The scene was nearly impossible to control, especially as word spread about who the famous victims were.

Emergency personnel reported that Princess Diana was semi-conscious when they arrived. She softly cried “Oh my God”—repeatedly—and said, “Leave me alone.” By the time Diana was pulled from the wreckage, she’d gone unconscious. Then she suffered acute cardiac arrest when laid on a stretcher. Her heart was restarted by manual resuscitation however her blood pressure severely dropped on route to the hospital.

Diana arrived at the emergency department approximately 2:06 am. That was an hour and a half after impact. She was still breathing and displayed a weak pulse. X-rays immediately determined she had massive internal bleeding. A thoracic surgeon incised her interior to drain the blood then found her heart’s left ventricle was lacerated. While suturing this main blood vessel, Diana went into full cardiac arrest. Extensive resuscitation efforts by the trauma team failed to revive her.

Diana—the Peoples’ Princess—was Declared Dead at 4:00 am.

The bodies of Henri Paul and Dodi al-Fayed were taken to the city morgue. It was a separate building adjacent to Diana’s emergency ward. Because of the massive crowd now assembling outside the hospital, the Paris coroner felt disrespectful removing Diana’s body past the crowd. He conducted an external examination in a private hospital room but didn’t order a full autopsy. The medical cause of Diana’s death was abundantly clear.

This left the problem of keeping Diana’s now-decomposing body in a warm room. The ER had no cooler. Pursuant to French law, the coroner legally authorized Diana’s embalming to retard decomposition while transportation arrangements were made to take her body to England. This was the right thing to do but led to fuel conspiracy theories, some which abound today.

Full autopsies were conducted on Dodi al-Fayed and Henri Paul. Both clearly died of internal injuries—both suffering severed aortic arteries which are immediately fatal. They had both been on the driver’s side which absorbed more of the impact. This explains why Diana was not killed instantly and why Rees-Jones walked away. His front airbag deployed but there was none in the back to protect the Princess.

Toxicology Testing on Henri Paul Found Interesting Results.

These are Henri Paul’s official and reliable toxicology results. They were later confirmed to be his through DNA testing to dispell accusations of evidence tampering.

Blood Alcohol Count (BAC) — 174 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood or commonly termed a BAC of 0.174% (This was corroborated by his vitreous humor or eye fluid count being 0.173%, his urine being 0.218% and his stomach BAC being 0.191%.)

The legal BAC limit for impaired driving in France is 0.05% making Henri Paul 3 times over the drunk driving tolerance limit.

Small traces of the anti-anxiety medication fluoxetine were noted but were well within the therapeutic range. So was the medication tiapride. Carboxyhemoglobin and nicotine levels proved Paul was a heavy smoker.

Examination of the Wrecked Mercedes

Although the Mercedes was a total write-off, it was sufficiently sound to inspect. There were no mechanical defects found mechanically contributing to the crash. One tire was punctured but wasn’t a blowout. It happened because of impact. The brakes and steering were sound and the car was only two years old with low mileage.

Thorough testing was done on the seatbelts. All were in perfect operation. It was obvious none of the occupants were wearing their restraints, however, it’s questionable if Paul or al-Fayed would have been saved given the massive force of the left side impact. Overall, there was nothing mechanically wrong with this vehicle that made it veer hard so hard to the left.

So what caused the Mercedes to spin out of control? Did the Paparazzi cut it off? Did the mysterious white Fiat force it into the column? Why did a perfectly good car fail and, by the way, just how fast was the Mercedes traveling?

Totally fraudulent information circulated for years about the Mercedes traveling at 120 mph (190 kph) when it hit the column. Proof of this—they said—was the car’s speedometer sticking at that measurement. That’s rubbish. Total bullshit, like so many myths surrounding Princess Diana’s death. Truth is the Mercedes was doing 65 mph (120 kph), +/- 5 mph, when it hit the column. This was established by a meticulous accident reconstruction conducted by the French police.

Still, this is a significant velocity given the Mercedes’ gross vehicle weight with 4 passengers being over 4,000 lbs (1815 kg). The kinetic energy transfer of this weight multiplied by high speed resulted in Diana’s heart being—literally—ripped inside her chest. It’s surprising Diana lived as long as she did.

The real reason Henri Paul lost control is hidden in the details of the accident reconstruction report. It’s written in technical jargon but clearly understandable. There were no skid marks indicating pre-braking. No out of control swerve. One moment the car was going fast and straight. The next it cut sideways.

The Answer is in Tunnel Design and Vehicle Dynamics.

The Alma tunnel has a posted speed of 20 mph (30 kph). That’s for a good reason. The tunnel is low and narrow. It also sharply dips at the entry and is protected by a perpendicular drainage grate to keep the flat area from flooding with water.

The collision reconstruction analyst deduced when Paul declined the entry ramp and struck the bumpy metal grate at 65 mph, the Mercedes reacted by going slightly airborne. This reduced the road surface friction adhered by the tires, effectively causing a dry hydroplane incident. The analyst surmised that Paul, in his impaired state, never braked but misjudged an overcorrection and simply steered the fast-moving Mercedes into the column.

The Operation Paget Report

Many people who followed Princess Diana’s death story don’t know about Operation Paget and its incredibly detailed 871-page report. Operation Paget was a London Metropolitan Police special task force detailed to investigate conspiracy and murder allegations involving the Princess’ tragic end. They also addressed cover-ups. You can download it here.

The British inquest overseen by Lord Stevens relied heavily on the brilliant work uncovered in Project Paget. The police went to amazing lengths dealing with every listed allegation. They fairly answered with truth. They dispelled insinuations of government plots and sinister cover ups.

They established a fact—there were no credible eye witnesses to the crash and pursuing Paparazzi were nowhere in sight when the impact occurred. They even dealt with the white Fiat nonsense by pointing out white paint on the Mercedes door was probably from a previous parking lot incident.

As much as everyone wants to blame the Paparazzi for killing Princess Diana—well, that’s just plain wrong. Certainly, Paparazzi presence was a contributing factor as Paul was no doubt driving this speed to evade them. One can’t blame the Spencer family and Diana’s two sons, Princes William and Harry, holding the Paparazzi responsible for essentially murdering their beloved Diana. That’s a natural emotional response. But the Paparazzi, as individuals or as a  group, are innocent.

The truth is Diana, the Princess of Wales, was no accident victim. Her death was clearly a homicide. Let me explain.

On April 7, 2008 Lord Stevens’ inquest returned a verdict. They ruled Princess Diana was the “victim of an unlawful killing by the grossly negligent chauffeur, Henri Paul, who’s driving ability and judgment were severely impaired by alcohol”. The secondary contributor to Diana’s death was her failure to buckle up. Not the Paparazzi.

The jury made no mention of Diana’s death being an accident. That’s because they couldn’t rule it an accident. Death classifications are universal throughout the civilized world. Coroners and their juries have only five classifications to choose from: Natural, Accidental, Suicide, Homicide and Undetermined.

You can immediately rule out Princess Diana’s death as natural, suicide and undetermined. The cause and means of Diana’s death are clear. She died because of internal bleeding and hypovolemic shock resulting from injuries received in her car crash. That’s clear. What’s not clear to most people is why this can’t be classified as an accidental death. It’s because of the legal definition of homicide.

Homicide means a person dies because of direct actions by another person. A homicide classification doesn’t necessarily mean a culpable or intentional killing of one person by another. It includes lesser degrees of acts like manslaughter and criminal negligence that cause death. Homicide also includes deaths that result from any form of a criminal act including impaired driving. Henri Paul was criminally drunk and grossly negligent. He directly caused Princess Diana’s death.

That makes the Peoples’ Princess a homicide victim.

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HOW TO WRITE A BOOK: JERRY B. JENKINS TELLS EVERYTHING IN 20 STEPS

Great stories—well told—really change the world. No one understands this better than Jerry B. Jenkins. Over 40 years, he’s authored story art. Jerry Jenkins’ messages have life-shifted millions because he speaks the truth—in fact and in fiction. An insatiable learner, Jerry’s passion for prose astonishingly rendered 186 books (and counting) including the best-selling Left Behind series. 21 of Jerry Jenkins’ books hit the New York Times bestseller list. 7 debuted at number one. Here, Jerry B. Jenkins tells you how to write a book in 20 steps.

Jerry Jenkins is a prolific writer—right across the spectrum. He’s written stand-alones, biographies, adult and children’s fiction as well as Christian education, devotion and documentary works. Jerry’s even penned mysteries and thrillers. Jerry Jenkins now devotes time to helping others improve their craft and realize full potential. He’s a mentor to many—a role model to all.

I was flattered—actually astonished—getting a recent unsolicited email from Jerry Jenkins’ marketing team. They recognized DyingWords as a credible blog and writing resource. We had a great exchange. This led to a mentoring inclusion in Jerry’s Writers Guild. It’s a phenomenal club with sound writing guidance and top resource people including personal online time with Jerry Jenkins. And Jerry graciously shared his newly-published writing guide as a DyingWords guest post.

Here’s Jerry B. Jenkins’ fascinating guide originally published on JerryJenkins.com. It’s called How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

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So you want to write a book.

Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people. However, writing a book is no cakewalk. As a 21-time New York Times Bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than to finish. When you run out of ideas, when your own message bores you, or when you become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task, you’re going to be tempted give up.

But what if you knew exactly:

  • Where to start…
  • What each step entails…
  • How to overcome fear, procrastination, and writer’s block…
  • And how to keep from feeling overwhelmed?

You can do this—and more quickly than you might think, because these days you have access to more writing tools than ever. The key is to follow a proven, straightforward, step-by-step plan. My goal here is to offer you that plan.

I’ve used the techniques I outline below to write more than 180 books (including the Left Behind series) over the past 40 years. Yes, I realize averaging over four books per year is more than you may have thought humanly possible. But trust me—with a reliable blueprint, you can get unstuck and finish your book. This is my personal approach to how to write a book. I’m confident you’ll find something here that can change the game for you. So, let’s jump in.

Part One: Before You Begin

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later—for investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task. You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with just an axe. You’d need a chain saw, perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running. You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

1. Establish your writing space

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career on my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do. And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career. Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine my cave), the better. (If you dedicate a room solely to your writing, you can even write off a portion of your home mortgage, taxes, and insurance proportionate to that space.)

Real writers can write anywhere. Some write in restaurants and coffee shops. My first fulltime job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering. Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else seems glorious.

2. Assemble your writing tools.

In the newspaper business, there was no time to handwrite our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard. Most authors do, though some handwrite their first drafts and then keyboard them onto a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting. The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kinds of files you need.

And if you’re looking for a muscle-bound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener. It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files.

Just remember, Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing. Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

So, what else do you need? If you are one who handwrites your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers. Don’t shortchange yourself on a computer either. Even if someone else is keyboarding for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, publishers. Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find things like:

  • Staplers
  • Paper clips
  • Rulers
  • Pencil holders
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Note pads
  • Printing paper
  • Paperweight
  • Tape dispensers
  • Cork or bulletin boards
  • Clocks
  • Bookends
  • Reference works
  • Space heaters
  • Fans
  • Lamps
  • Beverage mugs
  • Napkins
  • Tissues
  • You name it

Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford. If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine. There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony. The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped. As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space. Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

3. Break the project into small pieces.

Writing a book feels like a colossal project because it is! But your manuscript will be made up of many small parts. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity. It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant could be eaten in a single sitting.

See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages. So keep it simple.

Start by distilling your big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then be expanded to an outline, you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.

4. Settle on your BIG idea.

To be book-worthy, your idea has to be killer. You need to write something about which you’re passionate, something that gets you up in the morning, draws you to the keyboard, and keeps you there. It should excite not only you but also anyone you tell about it. I can’t overstate the importance of this.

If you’ve tried and failed to finish your book before—maybe more than once—it could be that the basic premise was flawed. Maybe it was worth a blog post or an article but couldn’t carry an entire book.

Think The Hunger GamesHarry Potter, or How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleThe market is crowded, the competition fierce. There’s no more room for run-of-the-mill ideas. Your premise alone should make readers salivate.

Go for the big concept book. How do you know you’ve got a winner? Does it have legs? In other words, does it stay in your mind, growing and developing every time you think of it? Run it past loved ones and others you trust. Does it raise eyebrows? Elicit Wows? Or does it result in awkward silences?

The right concept simply works, and you’ll know it when you land on it. Most importantly, your idea must capture you in such a way that you’re compelled to write it. Otherwise, you’ll lose interest halfway through and never finish.

5. Construct your outline.

Starting your writing without a clear vision of where you’re going will usually end in disaster. Even if you’re writing fiction and consider yourself a Pantser* as opposed to an Outliner, you need at least a basic structure. [*Those of us who write by the seat of our pants and, as Stephen King advises, put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens]

You don’t have to call it an outline if that offends your sensibilities. But fashion some sort of a directional document that provides structure and also serves as a safety net. If you get out on that Pantser highwire and lose your balance, you’ll thank me for advising you to have this in place.

Now if you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s no substitute for an outline. Potential agents or publishers require this in your proposal. They want to know where you’re going, and they want to know that you know. What do you want your reader to learn from your book, and how will you ensure they learn it?

Fiction or nonfiction, if you commonly lose interest in your book somewhere in what I call the Marathon of the Middle, you likely didn’t start with enough exciting ideas.

That’s why an outline (or a basic framework) is essential. Don’t even start writing until you’re confident your structure will hold up through the end. You may recognize this novel structure illustration.

Did you know it holds up—with only slight adaptations—for nonfiction books too? It’s self-explanatory for novelists; they list their plot twists and developments and arrange them in an order that best serves to increase tension.

What separates great nonfiction from mediocre? The same structure! Arrange your points and evidence in the same way so you’re setting your reader up for a huge payoff, and then make sure you deliver.

If your nonfiction book is a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography, structure it like a novel and you can’t go wrong. But even if it’s a straightforward how-to book, stay as close to this structure as possible, and you’ll see your manuscript come alive.

Make promises early, triggering your reader to anticipate fresh ideas, secrets, inside information, something major that will make him thrilled with the finished product. While you may not have as much action or dialogue or character development as your novelist counterpart, your crises and tension can come from showing where people have failed before and how you’re going to ensure your reader will succeed. You can even make the how-to project look impossible until you pay off that setup with your unique solution.

Keep your outline to a single page for now. But make sure every major point is represented, so you’ll always know where you’re going. And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the basics of classic outlining or have never felt comfortable with the concept. Your outline must serve you. If that means Roman numerals and capital and lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals, you can certainly fashion it that way. But if you just want a list of sentences that synopsize your idea, that’s fine too.

Simply start with your working title, then your premise, then—for fiction, list all the major scenes that fit into the rough structure above. For nonfiction, try to come up with chapter titles and a sentence or two of what each chapter will cover. Once you have your one-page outline, remember it is a fluid document meant to serve you and your book. Expand it, change it, play with it as you see fit—even during the writing process.

6. Set a firm writing schedule.

Ideally, you want to schedule at least six hours per week to write. That may consist of three sessions of two hours each, two sessions of three hours, or six one-hour sessions—whatever works for you. I recommend a regular pattern (same times, same days) that can most easily become a habit. But if that’s impossible, just make sure you carve out at least six hours so you can see real progress.

Having trouble finding the time to write a book? News flash—you won’t find the time. You have to make it.

I used the phrase carve out above for a reason. That’s what it takes. Something in your calendar will likely have to be sacrificed in the interest of writing time. Make sure it’s not your family—they should always be your top priority. Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your writing career. But beyond that, the truth is that we all find time for what we really want to do.

Many writers insist they have no time to write, but they always seem to catch the latest Netflix original series or go to the next big Hollywood feature. They enjoy concerts, parties, ball games, whatever.

How important is it to you to finally write your book? What will you cut from your calendar each week to ensure you give it the time it deserves?

  • A favorite TV show?
  • An hour of sleep per night? (Be careful with this one; rest is crucial to a writer.)
  • A movie?
  • A concert?
  • A party?

Successful writers make time to write. When writing becomes a habit, you’ll be on your way.

7. Establish a sacred deadline.

Without deadlines, I rarely get anything done. I need that motivation. Admittedly, my deadlines are now established in my contracts from publishers. If you’re writing your first book, you probably don’t have a contract yet. To ensure you finish your book, set your own deadline—then consider it sacred.

Tell your spouse or loved one or trusted friend. Ask that they hold you accountable. Now determine—and enter in your calendar—the number of pages you need to produce per writing session to meet your deadline. If it proves unrealistic, change the deadline now.

If you have no idea how many pages or words you typically produce per session, you may have to experiment before you finalize those figures. Say you want to finish a 400-page manuscript by this time next year. Divide 400 by 50 weeks (accounting for two off-weeks), and you get eight pages per week. Divide that by your typical number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you should finish per session. Now is the time to adjust these numbers while setting your deadline and determining your pages per session.

Maybe you’d rather schedule four off weeks over the next year. Or you know your book will be unusually long. Change the numbers to make it realistic and doable, and then lock it in. Remember, your deadline is sacred.

8. Embrace procrastination (Really!)

You read that right. Don’t fight it; embrace it. You wouldn’t guess it from my 190+ published books, but I’m the king of procrastinators. Surprised? Don’t be. So many authors are procrastinators that I’ve come to wonder if it’s a prerequisite. The secret is to accept it and, in fact, schedule it.

I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive. Sound like rationalization? Maybe it was at first. But I learned that while I’m putting off the writing, my subconscious is working on my book. It’s a part of the process. When you do start writing again, you’ll enjoy the surprises your subconscious reveals to you.

So, knowing procrastination is coming, book it on your calendar. Take it into account when you’re determining your page quotas. If you have to go back in and increase the number of pages you need to produce per session, do that (I still do it all the time). But—and here’s the key—you must never let things get to where that number of pages per day exceeds your capacity.

It’s one thing to ratchet up your output from two pages per session to three. But if you let it get out of hand, you’ve violated the sacredness of your deadline. How can I procrastinate and still meet more than 190 deadlines? Because I keep the deadlines sacred.

9. Eliminate distractions to stay focused.

Are you as easily distracted as I am? Have you found yourself writing a sentence and then checking your email? Writing another and checking Facebook? Getting caught up in the come-ons for pictures of the 10 Sea Monsters You Wouldn’t Believe Actually Exist? Then you just have to check out that precious video from a talk show where the dad surprises the family by returning from the war. That leads to more and more of the same. Once I’m in, my writing is forgotten, and all of a sudden the day has gotten away from me.

The answer to these insidious time wasters? Look into these apps that allow you to block your email, social media, browsers, game apps, whatever you wish during the hours you want to write. Some carry a modest fee, others are free.

10. Conduct your research.

Yes, research is a vital part of the process, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

Fiction means more than just making up a story. Your details and logic and technical and historical details must be right for your novel to be believable. And for nonfiction, even if you’re writing about a subject in which you’re an expert—as I’m doing here—you’ll be surprised how ensuring you get all the facts right will polish your finished product.

In fact, you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve researched a fact or two while writing this blog post alone. The last thing you want is even a small mistake due to your lack of proper research.

Regardless the detail, trust me, you’ll hear from readers about it. Your credibility as an author and an expert hinges on creating trust with your reader. That dissolves in a hurry if you commit an error.

My favorite research resources are:

  • World Almanacs: These alone list almost everything you need for accurate prose: facts, data, government information, and more. For my novels, I often use these to come up with ethnically accurate character names.
  • The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus: The online version is great because it’s lightning fast. You couldn’t turn the pages of a hard copy as quickly as you can get where you want to onscreen. One caution: Never let it be obvious you’ve consulted a thesaurus. You’re not looking for the exotic word that jumps off the page. You’re looking for that common word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
  • WorldAtlas.com: Here you’ll find nearly limitless information about any continent, country, region, city, town, or village. Names, monetary units, weather patterns, tourism info, and even facts you wouldn’t have thought to search for. I get ideas when I’m digging here, for both my novels and my nonfiction books.

11. Start calling yourself a writer.

Your inner voice may tell you, “You’re no writer and you never will be. What do you think you’re doing, trying to write a book?That may be why you’ve stalled at writing your book in the past. But if you’re working at writing, studying writing, practicing writing, that makes you a writer. Don’t wait till you reach some artificial level of accomplishment before calling yourself a writer.

A cop in uniform and on duty is a cop whether he’s actively enforced the law yet or not. A carpenter is a carpenter whether he’s ever built a house. Self-identify as a writer now and you’ll silence that inner critic—who, of course, is really you. Talk back to yourself if you must. It may sound silly, but acknowledging yourself as a writer can give you the confidence to keep going and finish your book.

Are you a writer? Say so.

Part Two: The Writing Itself

12. Think reader first.

This is so important that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write. Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-first, agent-first, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle or critics-first. Reader-first, last, and always.

If every decision is based on the idea of reader-first, all those others benefit anyway. When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader-first, it gets overhauled or deleted. Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority. Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer. Whatever will intrigue him, move him, keep him reading, those are your marching orders.

So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span? When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

13. Find your writing voice.

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be. You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  1. What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  2. Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  3. What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged. That’s all there is to it. If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process.

14. Write a compelling opener.

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line, you’re not alone.

And neither is your angst misplaced. This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started on the rest of the first chapter.

Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that. But settling on a good one will really get you off and running. It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence—and momentum—soars.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

Surprising

Fiction: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man

Dramatic Statement

Fiction: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction: “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

Philosophical

Fiction: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction: “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Poetic

Fiction: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours.

Here’s a list of famous openers.

15. Fill your story with conflict and tension.

Your reader craves conflict, and yes, this applies to nonfiction readers as well. In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do—like watching paint dry.

Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table? Have one say something that makes the other storm out. Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced. Is it just a  misunderstanding that has snowballed into an injustice? Thrust people into conflict with each other. That’ll keep your reader’s attention.

Certain nonfiction genres won’t lend themselves to that kind of conflict, of course, but you can still inject tension by setting up your reader for a payoff in later chapters. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this. Somehow they keep you turning those pages, even in a simple how-to title.

Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end. And sometimes that’s as simple as implying something to come.

16. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.

Many of us are perfectionists and find it hard to get a first draft written—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it. That voice in your head that questions every word, every phrase, every sentence, and makes you worry you’re being redundant or have allowed cliches to creep in—well, that’s just your editor alter ego.

He or she needs to be told to shut up. This is not easy. Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day. I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days. Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre.

It helps me to view that rough draft as a slab of meat I will carve tomorrow. I can’t both produce that hunk and trim it at the same time. A cliche, a redundancy, a hackneyed phrase comes tumbling out of my keyboard, and I start wondering whether I’ve forgotten to engage the reader’s senses or aimed for his emotions.

That’s when I have to chastise myself and say, “No! Don’t worry about that now! First thing tomorrow you get to tear this thing up and put it back together again to your heart’s content!” Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks, if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft. You don’t need to show it to your worst enemy or even your dearest love. This chore is about creating. Don’t let anything slow you down.

Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works. Doing it that way would make me worry I’ve missed something major early that will cause a complete rewrite when I discover it months later. I alternate creating and revising.

The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. If that’s ten pages, so be it. I put my perfectionist hat on and grab my paring knife and trim that slab of meat until I’m happy with every word. Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again.

So, for me, when I’ve finished the entire first draft, it’s actually a second draft because I have already revised and polished it in chunks every day. THEN I go back through the entire manuscript one more time, scouring it for anything I missed or omitted, being sure to engage the reader’s senses and heart, and making sure the whole thing holds together.

I do not submit anything I’m not entirely thrilled with. I know there’s still an editing process it will will go through at the publisher, but my goal is to make my manuscript the absolute best I can before they see it.

Compartmentalize your writing vs. your revising and you’ll find that frees you to create much more quickly.

17. Preservere through The Marathon of the Middle.

Most who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle. That’s a particularly rough stretch for novelists who have a great concept, a stunning opener, and they can’t wait to get to the dramatic ending. But they bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle. They start padding, trying to add scenes just for the sake of bulk, but they’re soon bored and know readers will be too. This actually happens to nonfiction writers too.

The solution there is in the outlining stage, being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last. If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.

For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. The shine wears off, keeping the pace and tension gets harder, and it’s easy to run out of steam. But that’s not the time to quit. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged.

Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place. It isn’t just that you want to be an author. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.

Yes, it’s hard. It still is for me—every time. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like surrendering. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

18. Write a resounding ending.

This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. It may not be as dramatic or emotional, but it could be—especially if you’re writing a memoir. But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud, the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor.

How do you ensure your ending doesn’t fizzle?

  • Don’t rush it. Give readers the payoff they’ve been promised. They’ve invested in you and your book the whole way. Take the time to make it satisfying.
  • Never settle for close enough just because you’re eager to be finished. Wait till you’re thrilled with every word, and keep revising until you are.
  • If it’s unpredictable, it had better be fair and logical so your reader doesn’t feel cheated. You want him to be delighted with the surprise, not tricked.
  • If you have multiple ideas for how your book should end, go for the heart rather than the head, even in nonfiction. Readers most remember what moves them.

Part Three: All Writing Is Rewriting

19. Become a ferocious self-editor.

Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s also reality, so we writers need to face it.

How can they often decide that quickly on something you’ve devoted months, maybe years, to?

Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. If they decide the investment wouldn’t make economic sense for a 300-400-page manuscript, end of story.

Your best bet to keep an agent or editor reading your manuscript? You must become a ferocious self-editor. That means:

  • Omit needless words
  • Choose the simple word over one that requires a dictionary
  • Avoid subtle redundancies, like “He thought in his mind…” (Where else would someone think?)
  • Avoid hedging verbs like almost frowned, sort of jumped, etc.
  • Generally remove the word that—use it only when absolutely necessary for clarity
  • Give the reader credit and resist the urge to explain, as in, “She walked through the open door.” (Did we need to be told it was open?)
  • Avoid too much stage direction (what every character is doing with every limb and digit)
  • Avoid excessive adjectives
  • Show, don’t tell
  • And many more

For my full list and how to use them, click here. (It’s free.)

When do you know you’re finished revising? When you’ve gone from making your writing better to merely making it different. That’s not always easy to determine, but it’s what makes you an author.

And Finally—the Quickest Way to Succeed…

20. Find a mentor.

Get help from someone who’s been where you want to be. Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve. Just make sure it’s someone who really knows the writing and publishing world. Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves.

Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers.

There are many helpful mentors online. I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild.

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