Getting Your Book Published For Dummies
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Want to know how to write a book? It's more complicated than just sitting at a computer and letting the words flow. For many people and for many reasons, writing a book feels like a paramount achievement. It’s an “end product” of our knowledge, experience, and professionalism.

writing a book © Michail Petrov /

There’s something exciting about the idea of holding your book in your hands, giving it to people, even signing copies or seeing it in a bookstore—though this is no longer where most books are sold. A book feels like the ultimate way of sharing, branding, and making a mark.

If producing a book is a dream or a practical business tactic for you, there’s never been a better time to do it. Publishing traditionally is more competitive than ever, but self-publishing has come a long way from being called the “vanity press.” You can write and produce your own print books, ebooks, or both, without endorsement by gatekeepers. You can handle the whole process yourself, or access a growing range of services and support systems to help. You can market your books directly to your selected buyers and sell them yourself.

Books are attractive propositions because they can produce “passive income” — money that accumulates over time and requires little effort once it’s published. There are two big “buts” to this idea. First of all, very few books make money. Commercial publishers support their constant stream of new books with the proceeds of a few blockbusters. Second, books don’t sell themselves. Authors learn that even a traditionally published book demands active marketing, and self-published writers find that this can be a full-time job.

Bottom line: Don’t plan on your book being profitable. It does happen but not often. It helps to be famous or have a subject that hits a universal nerve; have access to something or someone special; or have a ready-made “platform”—an audience presumably eager to buy your book because you have a social fan base, a popular blog, media coverage, an impressive reputation or rare skill. Otherwise, write your book because it will give your “real” career a nice boost, or will just make you feel very good.

The guidelines given here assume you want to write a how-to book of some kind. But most of the ideas apply with some interpretation to most types of books—and to developing other large-scale and intensive writing projects.

1. Envision your finished book

How do you see your final product: as a self-published print or ebook? Or, a commercially published book? This decision affects your choices from the outset.

If you aspire to traditional publishing, almost always you need to land a literary agent—a feat in itself—and create a solid proposal that includes a promising platform. The publisher customarily covers editing, design, production, and distribution and in theory, marketing. You only get 10 to 20 percent of the royalties on sales. But a traditional book still carries the most cachet in the business world, especially for consultants.

If you choose self-publishing, an ebook is a good option. You sidestep expensive printing costs and the headaches of storing all those heavy books. You can earn 70 percent or more on sales and keep the copyright. Amazon’s Kindle division facilitates many of the production tasks, and many other services offer supplementary resource packages. Or, hire freelancers as needed. Otherwise, you are responsible for all the functions like editing, graphic design for the cover at least, and perhaps help with formatting (converting Word to digital), as well as marketing.

A nice option that many new authors use is print-on-demand. You can publish an ebook and also order small batches of physical copies rather than a huge number of physical books at once.

In making decisions, take into account how much material is called for. A traditional hard-cover book requires 60,000 to 80,000 words, at least 250 pages. The publishing process is slow: it easily takes a year or two. Ebooks can be any length, and a number of authors produce steady income by slivering their subject into a series that readers lap up if they like the first one or two.

2. Create an elevator speech for your book

A book is a message that’s definitely on a much grander scale than an email, but the planning is not that different. Create a good base for what may be a long-range commitment by writing down your goal as specifically as possible. Write a detailed portrait of the book’s audience. Think through what your intended readers will gain. Then write a crystallizing statement of your intention. For example, here is an elevator speech used for Business Writing For Dummies:

Business Writing For Dummies will help readers on many different skill levels improve their writing by using professional techniques across media, so they can be more successful in their own field—whether business, government, nonprofit, freelance or consulting.

Also, write down your own purpose in undertaking the book. You’re committing yourself to an extended period of hard work—no two ways about that—and need to keep your motivation strong. How effectively will your book support your consulting business? Establish your authority? Give you something on your desk to smile at? Remind yourself!

3. Think about marketing—early

It’s never too soon to think about how to publicize and market a book, and if you’re aiming for a commercial publisher, you need an almost full-fledged plan to sell it.

A website it essential for selling directly if you choose to do so, and for publicizing. You might create a site solely for the book, or attach it to your business website and give it a landing page and promotion on the home page.

Review your existing platform: Do you blog? Are you active on certain social sites and have built up followings? Do you give workshops or speeches that bring you into contact with likely buyers? Might you go to conferences where you can talk the book up? Many good tactics take time to put in place so the advance work, done incrementally, makes a big difference.

Savvy authors start putting the pieces into place right at the beginning, maybe even before starting to write. You might plan to up your blogging schedule or re-focus it . . . dig deeper into a social platform that will support marketing . . . develop speaking engagements . . . make useful contact with bloggers in your field, and other influencers. You may want to join relevant associations.

Experienced authors use their existing channels to generate excitement during the writing process, and may report on progress to their connections. Some bring their fans into the process and ask for input, or offer an advance chapter to read and comment on.

It’s inspiring and useful to plan your book launch early, too, whether as a party of friends or at a bookstore, library, clubhouse or even via videoconferencing. Many bookstores actively support local authors. Offer to speak about your subject and sell books.

4. Break the writing into pieces

Brainstorm a simple master list of all the components you plan to cover. This will make the work far less formidable and enable you to organize it from the beginning. For example, if you want to write a book on “Entrepreneurship for Gen Z,” think about what this cohort wants to know and what your experience suggests they should know. Ideally, supplement this with a reality check—in this case, talk to a bunch of Gen Z’ers and successful entrepreneurs who are one generation older: Millennials.

Think about where your readers are now in relationship to the subject so you know how basic you must be, at least in part. Consider also demographic factors such as age, which may suggest factors like attention span. This might affect your presentation style.

5. Create a folder system

Whatever the timeframe a publisher gives you or you give yourself, take advantage of the chance to build the material incrementally. Equip yourself with a large file and start throwing into it all the relevant material that crosses your desk or dining room table in the normal course of your days, from newspaper and magazine clippings to conference handouts, and your own notes from your notepad and paper napkins. Make up a virtual file as well for storing all the related blogs, articles, websites and other useful information.

The magic of focusing on a topic is that, suddenly, everything becomes relevant. Your file will fill up quickly. Before it becomes unwieldy, scan through it and sort everything into subtopics from your master list, plus additional ones that your research-and-thinking period prompted. Make up a physical folder and a virtual one for each subtopic. Keep the virtual ones in the cloud so you can access them on any of your devices.

The payoff of this folder strategy: In addition to an already-organized system, you end up with a working outline of your chapters!

6. Assess the practicalities

Re-check how much time you have to complete the project, or wish to give it. This may suggest trimming down your ambitions to what you can reasonably accomplish in the timeframe and your chosen format—whether a physical book or an ebook.

Also assess your capabilities. Will what you have in mind require help with the design and layout? Cover? Editing? If it’s an ebook and you’re self-publishing, what must you know about that process so you write to suit it?

Do you have a platform or can you put one in the works now—a ready-made means of marketing via a successful blog or circle of influencers, for example? Figure out where you will need help and what it can cost. One essential is a professional editor, or at least, someone with a good eye for language who can save you from careless mistakes.

Don’t let the answers to your check-in necessarily discourage you: Just take realities into account to determine your project scope and scale. Visualize the finished project as you’d like it to be, all over again.

7. Write a proposal

Whether your book is planned for traditional or digital publication, write a proposal—even if no one else but you will ever see it. Pulling a proposal together sharpens your thinking and focus like nothing else. Is it a lot of trouble? Yes, but it sets you up for the whole project so you invest your time more productively and never find yourself floundering. Well, at least not as often.

Researching the competition is especially important. You need to know what’s out there and why your book will be better or different. Don’t despair if you do find books on your subject. On one hand, publishers like knowing about existing books because it tells them there’s a market for that subject. On the other hand, they’ll check the sales figures for each one and want to know why yours will sell. If the competition looks strong, consider whether you can find a narrower niche for yourself. The Gen Z entrepreneur author might decide to narrow the focus to creative service business or video game start-ups.

Use facts and statistics when possible to make your case. For example, a quick Google check unearths that a Nielsen study, as quoted by Forbes, documented that 54 percent of the Gen Z cohort want to start their own businesses. But does this group read books? Studies also show that they do, in fact, search out books of interest, and the proposal can include that as well.

A typical proposal that might gain you entre to an agent’s services and, eventually, a publisher, generally runs 25 pages or more. If you don’t plan to send it anywhere, you’re on the honor system—do enough to nourish your project. It saves time later. Trust me. The components:

  • Title and a tagline: Long ones that suggest the book’s unique content are in fashion.
  • Nutshell description: Like an elevator speech for your book, as pithy and zingy as you can craft it.
  • Audience description and their need for this book: Who will buy it, with figures on potential audience size; why they’ll want it and what it will do for them; how it differs from available sources.
  • Rundown of the competition: Typically describe six to ten of the closest books and mention their pros and cons relative to your idea.
  • Chapter outline: A paragraph or more describing each chapter’s content.
  • Your credentials for writing this book: All the relevant qualifications you can come up with; any evidence that you are capable of delivering.
  • Your platform for marketing the book: Include useful connections, memberships, activities, followers, reputation, email list, networks, newsletter, media coverage and more.
  • Sample chapters: If you’re submitting to a publisher—preferably via an agent—you may need to also supply three written chapters including the first one so they can evaluate your ability to write and follow through.

8. Draft the copy

Follow your roadmap! Start at the beginning to set the context and tone you want. The first chapter usually needs to explain to the reader (and yourself) why you’re writing this book, what it will give this reader and how to use it. A short ebook might require only a page or two for this. You will probably revise this opening piece later.

Depending on how you work best, proceed chapter by chapter or start with those you feel most prepared for. You need not necessarily proceed sequentially, but it works best to finish a chapter, or at least a section, before moving elsewhere.

Review all of the material you collected for the chapter. It will probably need further organizing into sub-topics. Assign new folders for each. These folders may serve nicely as subject heads and subheads for the full chapter. Try that, and tweak as needed so the material flows well.

Develop each section piece by piece. When you hit parts that you don’t feel ready to write, skip them until you feel like doing some research or analyzing the issue in more depth.

9. Liven up your content

Stories, anecdotes and examples liven up every subject and highlight your first-hand experience. How-to books benefit from some entertainment value, too, helping adults to learn better and stick with the experience. Case histories also work beautifully. So does your own story.

Another option is to incorporate “view from the field” mini-features by people who are expert in a particular angle of your subject, such as a financial advisor, an investor, a copywriter, and a professional marketer for the Gen Z book. Ask contributors to write a short piece themselves (which you edit), or write it yourself based on talking with them. This carries a bonus: You can ask them to help promote “our book” and may gain some enthusiastic marketing partners.

10. Check out self-publishing options

Every aspect of self-publishing has a raft of consultants and services to support authors, reflecting the popular appeal of writing books. Check them out to see which best suits your needs.

The main retailer is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which publishes and distributes books for their Kindle device. Because this service dominates 75 to 80 percent of the ebook market and makes it easy to create a book, don’t overlook it, though you may have to give them exclusive selling rights. Amazon also operates CreateSpace, which prints physical books on demand.

Apple Books is Apple’s ebook publisher and retailer and offers the advantage of wide international distribution. Kobo is a Canadian company with international reach and some distribution services in the United States.

Other platforms to know about for print books and eversions include Book Baby, IngramSpark, Lulu and Smashwords. They offer various production and marketing services, as well as distribution.

You can, of course, hire freelance help, essential for editing and cover design. Fees are all over the place depending on professional credentials. Know the difference, reflected in fees, between a developmental editor (helps shape the content), line editor (helps improve language), copy editor (does light rewriting and addresses inconsistencies) and proofreader (fixes spelling and grammar errors). Know what level of help you need and request project fees.

Many authors claim good experience with Fiverr, a resource of hungry editors and designers offering creative services at rock-bottom prices.

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