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Writing a Trade Book


I am interested in your writing process, and want to know how much planning you do before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? Have you planned the whole book? How detailed are the plans for each chapter or do you just work with a thesis for each chapter? I am speaking of the process you go through for a trade book. I assume the process for the scholarly book is a bit different, but if so, how so?


I get asked this question every now and then, and think that maybe I’ll devote a few posts to trying to answer it.  I will focus my response to the question specifically of how I go about writing trade books.  Writing scholarly monographs is a different kettle of fish, and more people are interested, I think, in the books for general audiences, since these are the ones that get read the most.  So how do I go about writing a trade book?

As a preliminary I should say that I am on a two-year cycle for trade books – that is, I have agreed with my publisher, HarperOne, that I will produce one approximately every two years.  It normally takes 8-12 months (usually 12) for a book to be produced and published from the time that the very final version leaves the author’s hands and into the publisher’s.   So if I plan on publishing a book in Spring 2016, as I am, then I need to have the thing written, completely and utterly written with no revisions left to make, by Spring 2015.   If there is a crunch on my time, and the publisher is willing to speed up the process on their end (putting other books back in the queue) then early Fall might on occasion be an option.

In my case, I am always imagining and thinking about several trade books at once, and have them lined up in my head in the sequence in which I want to write them, so that when I start work on a book seriously it is not the first time I’ve thought about it.  I’ve  been ruminating about it for a long time, usually years.   This helps speed things along significantly.

The basic sequence of producing a book involves the following steps:

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Member Content Continues:

  1. Doing basic research/reading/and outlining
  2. Writing a prospectus for the publisher
  3. Reading massively
  4. Outlining the book
  5. Writing it
  6. Revising it
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Where Do You Start Reading?
My Approach to Doing Research



  1. RonaldTaska  September 3, 2014

    Like all of your posts, this one is quite interesting. I am very familiar with all of the contradictions in the Gospels, but it still surprises me that there are not more of them considering decades of oral transmission. So, maybe a significant question is why are the Gospels so similar? Wouldn’t decades of oral transmission have resulted in even more discrepancies? I understand the use of Mark by the authors of Matthew and Luke, but ….

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 4, 2014

      Yes, it would! But you’re right, the deal is that the Synoptics are so similar because they were not based on independent oral traditions but on the same sources. John is very different, of course.

      • RonaldTaska  September 5, 2014

        Thanks. What a difference a single explanatory sentence can make in my understanding, I GET IT NOW! Have a good day.

  2. JudithW.Coyle  September 4, 2014

    Astounding how truly interesting it all is.

  3. walstrom  September 7, 2014

    Until the age of 40, I walked the earth thinking somewhere/someplace (museum, archive) the original manuscripts lay pristine inside a shekinah-bathed display case!
    Now I can wrap my mind around the idea the NT was preserved like the ruins of Pompeii! Which is to say, in no way preserved; likely the object of indifference on the part of Deity.
    For fifteen hundred years the universal church (Catholic Church) had little need of Bible.
    With the advent of Protestantism, non-Catholics turned to sola-scriptura to replace magisterium.
    If there was inviolable “truth” therein–why has sola scriptura produced 41,000 denominations?
    Eculid’s geometry text is the same for anybody in the world today–totally unlike theology qua scripture.

    What is the clear FACTUAL premise of Evangelical inerrancy proponents?
    The Mormon church excommunicates its historians when they print falsifying data.
    The Watchtower Society disfellowships any member who dares challenge their Governing Body’s interpretations.
    Is this not ample evidence of rampant awareness they haven’t a leg to stand on?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 8, 2014

      If you’re asking whether inerrantists have facts to back up their case, they would say yes and I would say no.

  4. fabiogaucho  December 1, 2015

    C-SPAN has this fascinating program, “In Depth”, where they interview at length an author, recapitulating his many books, and discussing his writing and thought process (there is also a segment where the author shows his library). Any chance you will be featured? The audience is probably of 20 people, but it stays online, so thousands can watch later. I guess many readers here would like to see an episode with you.

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