Compare it to a marriage-versus a blind date. You have to work on the relationship, you have to have persistence and belief in what you’re doing a course in miracles demand more upfront time-even with novels, first-time authors need to know their “platform,” or why the book is unique and publishable and will sell copies for its publisher. It demands getting to know the book concept, even planning and exploring that concept long before the first draft.

Few good books nowadays are written by someone just sitting down at the computer and letting it rip. (Unless they have already written ten books and know how to do it.)

Over my years of teaching over 2000 writers how to plan, write, and develop a book, I’ve distilled nine elements that every book must contain to succeed. These are things the writer may not be conscious of during the first draft or even during early revision of their manuscript. But by the end of the process, before they start submitting it, they need to have these elements in place. They are:


The premise is a one-sentence statement that describes your book’s outer story and its inner meaning. Remember “Dorothy travels to the magical land of Oz and discovers there’s no place like home”? The premise for the book (and movie) The Wizard of Oz describes the entire story, very clearly and in an engaging way. Premises are also called focus statements or tag lines, and they often appear on the book’s cover, are used as subtitles, or become part of the query letter to agents. A premise should have compelling, well-edited language–and a twist, if possible, to make us curious. (For instance, why should Dorothy love home more after her journey into magic?)

Triggering Moment

Something starts your story-it establishes the reason to keep reading. Often, though, the writer feels he must give us tons of background to make the triggering moment make sense. Not true. The opening event-without which the book would not exist-must happen sooner now because the reader’s attention span is shorter. What is the triggering event in your book? What is the moment when the need your book will address is expressed and demonstrated? The trigger lays out the meat of the conflict of your story. It’s the hook, it delivers the main characters’ obstacles, it presents the most important thesis. Mostly, it tells us about the struggle. There’s always a struggle in literature, a struggle between people or people and an ideal or countries at war or the need to lose weight and the obstacles to do so. Note: The trigger must occur within the first twenty pages (since these are the sample pages that an agent will see and determine the worth of your book).

Single Visual Concept

Most modern literature contains theme-a deeper meaning. We’re a reading culture that searches for meaning and we want to be changed and enlivened by what we read (or we want to escape with great fun and passion-as in entertainment literature). Theme is presented via a single repeating visual or senses-rich image. This introduces and develops the inner story, the lesson learned or the goal achieved or lost. For instance, a box of letters that is searched for throughout the story and represented the losses between two family members.

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