Do you have an amazing life story to tell? Have you always dreamed of writing a novel? Would you like to write a book reflecting your passion – you know, that subject you speak about over and over at Toastmasters meetings?
When asked, most people will say they have a book in them. And technology has made it possible for more of us to actually write and produce our books. Sadly, most authors fail. Why? Because they approach the publishing industry all wrong.
If you have already started writing a book, you may know something about the process. But the first thing you’ll learn upon entering the publishing field is that publishing is not an extension of your writing. While writing is a craft, publishing is a business, and once your wonderful manuscript is produced and available for public consumption, it becomes a product. Just as there are techniques and protocol in public speaking, publishing has its own procedures, rules and etiquette. To succeed in this business, one must understand his options, the consequences of his decisions and his responsibility as a published author.
So how does one learn what is necessary in order to succeed? There are two basic steps:
Step One: Study the Publishing Industry
- Read books by publishing professionals such as Dan Poynter, Brian Jud, Marilyn Ross and myself.
- Read magazines about the industry – in particular, Publisher’s Weekly (you can subscribe to its free ezine, www.publishersweekly.com). I am the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and our Web site, www.spawn.org, provides a great deal of helpful information.
- Attend writing and publishing conferences. (Locate conferences at http://writing.shawguides.com/ and by doing a Google search to find writers’ conferences in your area.)
- Join publishers’ organizations, such as SPAWN, PMA – The Independent Book Publishers Association and SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America).
The first thing you will learn as a result of studying the publishing industry is that you have options. Here are the most common three:
1. You can contract with a fee-based, print-on-demand “self-publishing” company (such as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Infinity, etc.). I have no quarrel with this, if you do the following:
- Explore all of your options first.
- Know your responsibilities as a published author.
- Before signing a contract, consult with an intellectual properties attorney.
- Read The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. He rates and ranks the major fee-based self-publishing services.
2. You can self-publish (establish your own publishing company). Self-publishing means that you put up the money, you make all of the decisions and you keep all of the profits.
I generally recommend self-publishing over using a self-publishing company. Why? I believe that when you are involved in all aspects of preparation and production, you maintain a more intimate relationship with your book, and thus it has a greater chance for success.
3. You can land a traditional royalty publisher. There are hundreds of publishers out there eager to invest in good books that will make them some money. And only a small number of them work through agents. Here’s how to locate appropriate publishers for your particular book:
- Study Writer’s Market (published by Writer’s Digest Books).
- Look at books like yours in bookstores. Find out who published them and contact those publishers.
- Always study the publishers’ Submission Guidelines (usually posted at their Web sites) and adhere to them when approaching a particular publisher.
Step Two: Write a Book Proposal
We’ve established that publishing is a business and a book is a product. A book proposal, then, is a business plan for your book.
Almost all publishers today require a book proposal for nonfiction, and many publishers of fiction want to see one as well. The most valid reason for writing a book proposal, however, is to help the author.
Think about it: You wouldn’t go into any other business without first studying the industry and learning something about the product, the competition, the manufacturers, the suppliers and the customers. A well-developed, well-organized, well-written, complete book proposal will answer the following questions:
- Why do I want to write this book – what is the purpose?
- Do I have a book at all?
- Who is my target audience?
- What books out there compete with mine?
- How will I reach my audience?
- Why am I the best person to write this book?
- How will I promote this book?
When Should I Write a Book Proposal?
I suggest preparing a proposal before writing the book. Why? A thorough book proposal will actually help you to write the right book for the right audience. I’ve met many a disgruntled author who is sitting on boxes and boxes of books that will probably never sell, because he did not consider his audience before he wrote the book. On the other hand, I know some highly successful authors who, during the book-proposal process, decided to change the focus and/or the slant of their books to address a larger, more realistic audience.
A student in one of my online book-proposal classes changed the whole focus of her book. During the proposal process, she realized that she was writing the wrong book for the wrong audience. She presented her new concept to Houghton Mifflin and immediately landed a contract.
Do You Have a Book at All?
One step in preparing a book proposal is the Market Analysis. How many books are there on your topic? Is there room for another fitness book, for example? If there are a number of books on your topic, how can you make yours different so it will stand out?
If you study the fitness-book market before writing your work, you might discover that, while there are numerous books on the subject, there are few or none focusing on a fitness program for the recovering cancer patient or on how to keep fit while traveling. Has anyone written a book telling how to romance your pounds away?
What if you discover there are no books on your topic? Wow, this sounds like an opportunity, right? Maybe not. Further research might show that there are no books on that topic because there is no market for it.
What is Your Responsibility as a Published Author?
It used to be that after a publisher produced a book, the author did a few book signings and then went back to work writing her next book. Today’s reality dictates that the author is responsible for promoting his or her own book. And this is true whether you self-publish, go with a fee-based publishing service or land a traditional royalty publisher.
Thus, in the book proposal, you will address all of your abilities, skills, talents, interests, connections and so forth that compute into the major task of book promotion and marketing.
If you self-publish, you are responsible for locating and working with a wholesaler and/or distributors who, in turn, serve the retail and library markets. It is your job to approach bookstores, specialty stores and other outlets for your book. You’ll be sending out press releases; setting up speaking gigs, radio interviews and book signings; reserving space at book fairs; possibly approaching corporate leaders to suggest premium or incentive agreements; putting your book on amazon.com and arranging for book reviews. You will also need to set up a Web site storefront for selling books. As a self-published author (you establish the publishing company), you have complete control of marketing and promotion and you also have total responsibility.
There are somewhere around 80 publishing services eager to produce your book for a fee. Before signing with one, make sure you understand the contract. For example, will the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) be in your name? If not, you may have difficulty getting a book wholesaler or distributor to work with you directly. But know that, no matter what the people at the publishing service tell you and no matter what sort of promotions package you pay for, you are still the primary person in charge of marketing and promotion for your book.
If you’re thinking that you can launch your book with a lick and a promise, think again. In today’s competitive publishing climate, your book will sell for as long as you are willing to promote it.
Build a Platform
Your platform is your reach, your following, your ability to attract readers. High-profile politicians and actors have platforms for their memoirs – or practically any book they want to write. They have large followings of admirers, supporters and curiosity seekers. The Food Network’s Paula Deen has a solid platform for her books on cooking. Michael Aun’s platform for his books and audio tapes on public speaking revolve around his expertise and experience with this subject.
Do you have a platform for your nonfiction book? If you’ve earned several DTMs and you frequently present training workshops internationally, you have a built-in platform for a book on speaking in other countries. Your platform includes your experience and expertise in your field and, of course, your Toastmasters achievements. If you produce a highly popular newsletter that goes out to thousands of Toastmasters, frequently attend club meetings in the cities you visit and enter Toastmasters speech competitions, all of this is also part of your platform.
Build a platform for your fiction book by building your reputation as a published author of short fiction. If you haven’t developed a platform for your nonfiction or fiction book, you may want to do so before you try to publish it. How? If your book is geared toward presentations or workshops, start doing some now. This is an excellent way to start building your platform.
Toward that same end, here are three other things you can do:
- Establish and constantly build on your mailing list.
- Submit articles or stories to numerous publications. (Get your name out there.)
- Remain active in Toastmasters and work hard at honing your public speaking and communication skills. (You’ll need these skills when you begin promoting your book.)
There are more opportunities for hopeful authors today than ever before, but there are also more pitfalls and increased competition. If you want to experience success as a published author, it is imperative that you enter into this field armed with knowledge and embracing realistic expectations.
Patricia Fry, ATMS, is an author and lecturer in the area of publishing. She has written The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and the companion Author’s Workbook (Matilija Press, 2007). Visit Patricia’s Web site at www.matilijapress.com, where she also writes a blog about publishing and writing.