Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Patricia L. Fry
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What's wrong with this picture? Isn't the author's ultimate goal to get published? Yes, but the author who goes directly from writing to publishing is omitting some essential and vital steps toward his success -- there are missing links. If you've searched the Internet for a publisher within the last few years, you know how many companies are pushing to get your business. Type in "book publisher" at the Google prompt and your screen is filled with promises to publish your book for a fee. Choose one, almost any one, and they will tell you what a wonderful manuscript you have and quickly offer you a publishing contract.
Now there's a thrill. You call your mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and all of your former co-workers to share the exciting news. After giving it a quick glance, you sign the contract and then sit back and wait for your shipment of three (four or six) books. You order several more copies to give to mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and your favorite former co-workers.
At some point, you will suddenly realize that it is your responsibility to promote your book and you don't have a clue where to begin. It's true! As the author, promotion is your responsibility whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, go with a fee-based POD publishing service or self-publish your book.
Some of you will also go back over the contract you signed and figure out that where it says, "We will make your book available to bookstores" doesn't mean "Your books will be sold by the thousands through bookstores nationwide." Instead, it means, "If a bookseller comes asking for a book like this, we will tell them about your book."
Yes, I speak to many disappointed, disillusioned authors every year. That's why I'm currently on a mission to find authors before they start making expensive, heart-breaking mistakes. Now this is not to say that signing with a fee-based POD publishing service is necessarily a mistake. The mistakes occur when the author is not industry savvy -- when he or she makes uninformed decisions.
So what constitutes the missing links I speak of? Here are the steps an author should take after placing of the last period on his manuscript and before signing a publishing contract. (Actually, I'd rather you follow these steps even before you write the first word of a novel, memoir or nonfiction book.)
1. Determine your motivation for writing this book. If you have a book inside that just must come out and you're interested only in sharing it with family and a few friends, go ahead and do your thing your way. On the other hand, if you are driven by the desire for fame and fortune -- if you want to be published and widely read -- keep reading. It could make the difference between pitiful failure and wild success.
2. Study the publishing industry. You wouldn't start any other business without knowing something about the field. Well, publishing is a business and your book is a product. It's imperative that you know something about the industry, your publishing options and the ramifications or consequences of your choices. When you take the time to learn about publishing, you'll also begin to understand that you -- the author -- are responsible for selling your book. This fact comes as a shock to many hopeful authors, especially those who learn the truth after they've entered into the extremely competitive publishing field.
Learn about the publishing industry by joining publishing organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), SPAN and PMA. Read magazines and newsletters related to the industry: SPAWNews, PMA Independent, SPAN Connection, Book Promotion Newsletter, RJ Communications Publishing Basics and many others.
Read books such as The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and The Successful Writer's Handbook, (Patricia Fry), The Self-Publishing Manual (Dan Poynter) and The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (Mark Levine).
3. Write a book proposal. A book proposal is a business plan for your book. It's something that you need in order to make the best decisions for your book and you might even land a traditional royalty publisher with a well-written book proposal. A proposal for a nonfiction book might include a synopsis, a marketing plan, a comparative study of similar books and a chapter outline. It will also identify your target audience and, if you plan to approach a publisher with your proposal, you would include an "about the author" section.
4. Identify your competition. Why is this important? You (and a prospective publisher) need to know if yours is a viable book. Is the market saturated in this area or is there room for another book on this topic? How is your book different from what else is out there? If there are no or few books on the topic or in this genre, perhaps there is a reason. Maybe there is no market for this book.
How do you conduct a comparative study of similar books? Visit a major bookstore in your area and go to the shelf where your book might be. Look at all of the books shelved there. Read many of them. Determine what's different about yours -- what makes it better? Maybe you'll discover that your book idea is quite similar to several published books. Can you come up with an angle or a slant that is different -- one that makes your book more useful, interesting, entertaining or informative, for example? If your nonfiction book is just like all the others, why bother producing it?
How healthy is the fiction market? Your comparative study will most likely reveal what sort of fiction is popular today. Young adult novels are selling well, for example. There also seems to be a big desire for fantasy and thrillers.
Maybe you plan to write a memoir. If you are not a high profile person, you may want to rethink your desire to write a memoir for national distribution. Many authors write memoirs in hopes of using their own tragic stories to educate or inform others. You may well discover that a memoir isn't the best way to do that. Ask the hard questions and use the comparative study of similar books to get the answers you need in order to make all of the right decisions.
5. Identify your target audience. Even before you write that book, you need to know who you are addressing. If it is a historical novel, presumably, those who typically read historical novels will be interested in yours. It's a little tricky, though. Most novel readers are loyal to certain authors and aren't easily lured to read something by an unknown.
If yours is a nonfiction book, you must identify the audience who wants the information you are providing or who is interested in the topic. This does not include those who you believe should read the book, but those who will want to read the book. If you are honest in the evaluation of your target audience, you may discover that it isn't a very large segment of people. This knowledge may even prompt you to change the focus of your book or abandon the project altogether. I can't even begin to tell you how many authors I meet who have written the wrong book for the wrong audience and now regret the money spent, the time involved and the emotions invested.
6. Locate your target audience. So now that you know who they are, you need to know where they are. And if you say, "Bookstores," you're probably wrong. Bookstores aren't always the best place to sell books, especially nonfiction books. Just look at the competition in the mega-bookstores. Your book on gnarly ski slopes throughout the U.S. might sell better through winter sports stores and catalogs, appropriate Web sites, magazines and newsletters and at ski resorts. A book on dog grooming might sell best in pet stores, grooming shops and through reviews and articles in pet magazines.
If you discover that you don't have a solid target audience, take another look at your book idea. Maybe you need to refocus. Now doesn't it make sense to discover the truth about your book before you publish it?
7. Plan your promotional tactics. Some people will buy the book just because they know you or know who you are. So start by developing a massive mailing list. List everyone in your personal addressbook, your rolodex at work, your class reunion roster, your Christmas card list, you email list and add your child's teachers, fellow church and club members, your mailman, neighbors -- everyone you know. Collect business cards from everyone you meet. Offer your list a pre-publication discount if they order the book before the publication date. I have managed to pay a good portion of my printing expenses for several of my books through pre-publication orders.
Build a website related to your book. List magazines, newsletters and Web sites that might review your book. Outline articles/stories you can write to help promote your book. (Read A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit by Patricia Fry.) Obtain a list of civic organizations seeking speakers. Contact bookstores nationwide and plan book signings. Ask local radio/TV stations to interview you. Send press releases to appropriate newspaper editors throughout the nation. Discover many additional book promotion ideas in books by Patricia Fry, John Kremer, Fran Silverman and others.
8. Build promotion into your book. For a novel, choose a setting and a topic that will be conducive to promotion. For example, give a character diabetes. If he handles it in a positive way or has something to teach others about the disease, the American Diabetes Association might be interested in helping you to promote your book. For a history or a how-to book, involve a lot of people and agencies. Interview people, quote them and list those people and agencies who helped with your research. They'll all buy books and promote the book to their friends and acquaintances.
9. Establish your platform. Your platform is your following -- your way of getting the attention of your target audience. The most successful authors are those who establish a platform before they produce a book. If your book relates to conserving California water, your platform might be that you have been the general manager of a water company for 25 years and on the California State Water Board for most of that time. You have name recognition and credibility in that field.
Maybe your book is on an aspect of acupuncture. Your platform might include the fact that you've studied and taught acupuncture internationally for many years. You've written articles for numerous magazines on topics related to acupuncture, you have a column in a local newspaper on alternative healing practices, you have a Web site and a newsletter that goes out to 20,000 people. What if you have no platform? The time to establish one is before you write the book. Maybe you want to write a book on personal finances after retirement, but you don't have a professional background in finance. Here are some things you can do. Build on the financial background you do have -- join organizations, take classes and become known in financial and senior circles. Involve experts in your book -- maybe even share authorship with someone who is well-known in the financial field. Join Toastmasters to develop better public speaking skills and start presenting workshops locally for retirees. Write articles for a variety of magazines. Develop a website and start circulating a newsletter related to your topic.
If you hope to sell more than just a few copies of your book to friends and relatives, follow each of these nine steps and you will experience the success you desire.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Patricia L. Fry has been writing for publication for over 30 years, having contributed hundreds of articles to about 250 different magazines and e-zines. She is the author of 25 books including A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press). For more inspiration, information and resources from Patricia Fry, follow her blog at http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog/.