Sean McDowell | January 30, 2020

How to Write a Book: 5 Practical Steps

Over the past two decades (or so), I have had the chance to write, co-write, compile, or edit over 18 books. Earlier this morning I sent off the manuscript of my next book, which is on sex, love, and relationships.

Since people ask me all the time about how to write a book, I figured I would write down a few ideas that have helped me along the way:

First, build a platform. Publishers are looking for writers who can sell books. Yes, Christian publishers are ministry-focused, but they also have to be profitable. If you want to get a book published, the most important step is to build a platform. If you are an astronaut, CEO of a huge business, professional athlete, mega-church pastor, or movie star, you probably already have a platform. If not, building a platform can come through generating followers on YouTube, a blog, Twitter, Instagram, or some other form of social media. It takes work, but developing a platform is indispensable for getting a book published today.

Second, foster your unique voice. Here is a question to consider: What is the unique approach only you can take to a book? The key is not to write a book that anyone can write, but to write a book that only you can write. My co-author J. Warner Wallace, for example, has written some popular apologetics books from the unique perspective of a cold-case detective. Lee Strobel has done the same as a journalist. I write books on apologetics and worldview with a focus on student culture. Why? Because that’s my training, experience, and passion. So, what is your unique voice? And what book can only you write? Answer these questions, and you are on your to writing a great book.

Third, develop a “golden thread.” A golden thread is a core idea that ties the whole book together. Essentially, it is a thesis statement that captures the one big idea you want your audience to take home. For instance, in The Fate of the Apostles, I want readers to grasp the willingness of the twelve disciples to face persecution and martyrdom for their sincere conviction that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. In Same-Sex Marriage, John Stonestreet I and make a biblical and non-biblical case for the truth and goodness of natural marriage. Developing a golden thread is vital for writing a focused and coherent book. You should be able to state it in one sentence, and then everything in the book should tie back (in some fashion or another) to that idea.

Fourth, outline your book. There are a number of ways to write a book, but for me, it is always helpful to start by developing sections of the book and an outline. This gives me a top-down perspective–a 30,000-foot view, so to speak–of how the book progresses from beginning to end. Before I start writing individual chapters, I always want to know how this particular chapter fits into the larger book. In my recent book So The Next Generation Will Know, my co-author and I divide the book into two broad sections of how to understand this generation and then how to reach this generation. And then we came up with titles for each chapter that start with “Love,” such as Love Understands, Love Relates, Love Trains, and so on.

Fifth, write individual chapters. Once you have these first steps done, the actual writing may be easier than you think. Beginning backwards with the manuscript due date, I write down dates when each chapter is due, then block out time in my calendar, and start writing. I protect this time aggressively and refuse (as best I can) to avoid distractions. Due dates give me a sense of urgency, and they force me to discipline my time.

There are many more steps than this. For instance, I always hire someone to edit my manuscripts before I submit them to a publisher. And I also develop a plan to market each book. Don’t write a book without developing a marketing plan long before it comes out. Except in rare occasion, publishers are not equipped to market books.

And, of course, trust God through the process. He is more interested in the process than the results. Remember, we can try to plan our course, but the Lord is the one who determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: