Have you ever browsed through business books and wondered, “What makes these people experts? What do they know that I don’t?” The answer is twofold: They understand the power of books as a marketing vehicle — and they act on that knowledge.
Books build reputations. They position one as an industry leader, while promoting one’s products and services. They have cachet and they fulfill one’s dream of becoming an author. One more thing: Books are egalitarian. Anyone can write one, including you.
Before you scurry to the keyboard, you need to know how a book is published and then how to write it. Although this order seems reversed, it’s not. The decisions you make regarding publishing influence the writing process and help shape your book.
In the first of this two-part article, we’ll talk about publishing your book; in Part 2, we’ll talk about writing it.
The traditional route
The vast majority of books are published by publishing companies, or houses. While some houses appeal to a mass audience, others are specialized and may only publish books on topics like law, diabetes or the Civil War.
Like any business, publishers must make a profit, so they choose books they believe have the greatest sales potential. The decision-making process is anything but scientific. Sure, certain authors and topics are perennial favorites. Stephen Covey and Ken Blanchard, for example, are practically brand names. New books on computers and resumes will always find an audience. Nonetheless, publishers often miss the mark. More than a dozen passed on Chicken Soup for the Soul; too corny, they said. Even Harry Potter was overlooked initially.
Ninety percent of traditionally published books are agented. Agents serve as gatekeepers. They evaluate a book’s potential and send the most promising ones to the publishers they believe will be most receptive. Agents base their evaluation on a writer’s book proposal.
A book proposal is, basically, a written sales pitch. It provides a compelling overview of a book, and identifies the size and demographics of its audience. It discusses a book’s advantages over its competitors and includes a bio. It also includes a sample chapter or two. Should the book be published, the agent receives a percentage of the author’s royalties.
Although this process sounds straightforward, it isn’t necessarily quick or easy. It takes time to find the right agent, and time for an agent to find the right publisher. Add to that the time it takes to write a proposal and the book itself, and a good year or two may have passed. Even then, there’s no guarantee the book will be accepted or released.
The self-publishing route
Here’s where self-publishing may — or may not — be an option.
As a self-publisher, you don’t need to write a proposal or find an agent. You are the publisher. You are also the writer, graphic designer and publicist. Each of these roles requires different skills. Fortunately, you can hire other professionals to do some or all of the work for you. The more you farm out, however, the more your book will cost. But there is an upside to this: Whatever profits you make, you keep.
Surprisingly perhaps, printing your book may be one of your least expensive costs. Thanks to print-on-demand (POD) printing, you can now run off as few or many copies as you need, when you need them. You pay as you go and carry no inventory.
(Note: Many POD companies not only print books but assume all aspects of their production, including editing, desktopping and cover design. Read the fine print, however. In some cases the final cost-per-book may be prohibitive, or the quality of services offered disappointing.)
One of the greatest challenges of self-publishing is getting your book into the hands of readers. If your goal is to have a best-seller, you likely will need a publicist or marketer to package both you and your book. If your audience is smaller geographically and/or narrower, you can do much of your own publicity via local media, public appearances, advertising, etc.
Know that you don’t have to sell millions of books to be successful; you don’t have to sell any. In fact, you may be more successful giving your book away. Remember, books are a marketing tool, not unlike brochures, calendars and tote bags. At $3 to $5 each, they may be more cost-effective, useful and memorable. Books, literally, have shelf-life. Customers can keep them for months, even years, keeping your business fresh in the their minds.