Writers: Don’t Forget to Do Your Homework!

Writing a book is a big undertaking. Most newer authors will spend months to years preparing a manuscript for publishing. The more you write and become familiar with the process, the easier it normally gets and it can take less time. But no matter how seasoned of an author you are, there is something that will never change, and that is doing the research for your book.

If your writing is to have credibility, you HAVE to make sure you take the time to do your research. Most writers are probably targeting people who need to know more about the topic of their book (hence why they need to buy your book and read it!). But you have to realize that experts in the field that you are writing about may also pick up your book, and if you have not done your research and don’t know what you are talking about, it will show. That expert could go online and leave a nasty review about how poorly you studied your topic — and all the time, money, and effort you put into your book just went down the tube.

Let’s face it, we all get ideas that seem good when you first come up with them, but later when you look at facts you may realize it’s not such a good idea after all. Or maybe you got an idea from a dream you had. That is well and good if it all stacks up to the research, but you can’t go off of pizza-dream ideas! Get those thoughts written down and then take time to think it through and read up on anything relating to that idea by other experts who have gone before. If it works out, great! THEN you put it in your book.

When it comes to fiction, know the time period and setting that you are writing about—and know it very well! If your novel is historical at all, study everything you can about that point in history and incorporate it in the descriptions throughout the book to make that time period come alive to your readers. What did they wear and what foods did they eat? How did they wear their hair? What mechanical inventions did they have (and don’t put things they didn’t have back then! I worked with an author who had lug-nuts on wagon wheels, making it a crucial part of the narrative. She had to go back and do some rewriting!)

If you are writing about theology, know that theology like the back of your hand. Take the time to look at opposing viewpoints and determine if your theological standpoint lines up biblically. Make sure you do not take scripture out of context to back up your stance. If you can’t find more than three verses that support what you are saying, or if you have to keep chopping of parts of verses so your theories make sense, maybe it is time to look deeper into your theology. Assume that a theologian will be reading your book, and write it with that person in mind; but make sure it is still clear and understandable to your target readers, too.

And, as always, if you use other people’s material to back up your research, remember that you not only have to cite it correctly, but you have to get permission in writing from whoever owns the rights to that material. It’s not a college paper, it is a commercial product, whether you sell it or give it away.

The bottom line is, even though you may be decades removed from having homework, you still have to do the hard work of putting in whatever research is necessary to make your book the best it can be!

Happy writing!