James Floyd Kelly

Writer and Swashbuckler-for-Hire

Writing Advice – I’m not a writer, I just play one on TV

I originally wrote and  posted this on my Facebook page in December 2008… only friends could read it.  I’m reproducing it here with permission of the author… he’s very understanding.


I’ve got two friends who are trying to write non-fiction books – Dave and Charles. Some recent conversations sparked me to write some of this down for anyone else who might be interested:

1. In another of my Facebook notes, I mentioned that the Table of Contents is critical. It is… not only does it help you organize your material but it’s also going to be a huge benefit when trying to convince a publisher to hire you to write the book. So… the magic number seems to be 12 – chapters, that is. Most publishers who I’ve asked seem to hint that they like to see more than 10, but fewer than 30. Too many chapters can quickly lead to a bulky book… to few chapters means there’s not enough there or the reader won’t have a good place to end and will have to bookmark the middle of a chapter which leaves a feeling of “unfinished” business in the reader.

So, write down on a sheet of paper Chapter 1, Chapter 2, … up to say Chapter 20 and give them titles that reflect what you want to accomplish in that chapter. Keep the titles to 5 words or so and make them descriptive enough – they can be changed later by the editor or you, but the goal is to provide something akin to a bullet list.

2. Once you’ve got your chapters defined (and you can always go back and add and delete), start with Chapter 1 – trust me. The last book I wrote I jumped around because each chapter was a stand-alone subject and rarely referenced other chapters. So, I wrote Chapter 20, then 12, then 15, then 2, and on and on… but halfway through the process, the editor decided to cut 2 chapters from the TOC and, of course, now I have a numbering issue. All the figures have to be renumbered, all the captions, and all the in-text references (such as “In Figure 20-4 notice the… now becomes “In Figure 18-4 notice the…” – get the point? Try and stick with linear writing if you can just in case chapters are deleted, added, or shifted around… much easier when they’re already in some sort of order.

3. Where to begin? If it helps (and it does for me), create a blank document called Chapter 1 – open it up and start immediately with the section headers. Headers should be 10 words or less and give an overall summary of what the section will be about. Creating headers also helps you organize your thoughts for that particular chapter. Just write out what you want to accomplish in that chapter and the headers should write themselves… sorta. Here’s an example:

Chapter 1

Header: Intro
Header: Obtain the Hardware
Header: Obtain the Software
Header: Install the Hardware and Software
Header: Testing the Installation
Header: Troubleshooting
Header: Summary

See? Now I’ve structured my chapter in a logical manner and all I’ve got to go and do is write the words in between the header sections… okay, not really. Sometimes a publisher has a Word template they want you to use – it has pre-formatted stuff such as paragraph indentation, font and font sizes, header sizes, and other peculiar things that you must adhere to… sometimes these help in organizing a chapter, sometimes not… but you can’t just write a chapter these days and have it all 12-point Times Roman, including section headers, notes, sidebars, and more. Keep that in mind.

4. Try to start a chapter and finish it in one sitting or at least one day if you can… I find I get on a roll and if I ever stop, I have a hard time getting my mind back to that same point and I also sometimes forget things I meant to include. I definitely take writing breaks, but once you start spilling stuff from your head to “paper”, keep going and get it out. There’s nothing like wrapping up a chapter and emailing it off to editor and crossing it off the TOC I have taped to the wall in front of me – nice motivation that you might try.

5. Relating to #3, make sure to ask about any special formats for referencing figures in your chapters if you have them – many publishers require you to submit your photos or graphics in a particular format (usually TIF or PNG) as well as certain resolutions (150DPI or other). They want the files named a certain way and that same name used in the chapter where the figure will be placed. Save time now and get this information from your publisher before you begin writing.


February 26, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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