How to be a published (non-fiction) author

By: Suzan St Maur

TURNING YOUR IDEA INTO A BOOK

With general non-fiction there is usually room for a good new book on the market, provided it's likely to attract a substantial group of readers because:

?It's about something entirely new and very interesting that no-one has written about before, or...
?It's about something that's not new, but to which you contribute something entirely new and very interesting

So why write a business book? Well, there aren't many more effective promotional tools. "Having a book published" still holds a certain kudos and perhaps in Pavlov-dog fashion, people automatically associate someone who writes a book about something with that someone being an expert on the subject.

Used correctly, your book will also be a helpful PR tool in other areas, and will make a business gift that has a very high perceived value. But never make the mistake of thinking you will retire to the Bahamas on the proceeds of its sales.

Pick a good title

A book's title is a very important part of the marketing of a book. With non-fiction and particularly business books, like every other piece of marketing communication the book title has to offer or at least suggest a benefit to the reader.

It's the title people react to when they see a book displayed, whether that's on a shelf in a bookstore or online. When people are looking through books you only have one chance to get their attention, which is why your title needs to be powerful enough to stop them in their tracks.

There are two basic publishing routes you can choose: self-publishing, or conventional publishing by an external publisher. In addition there are a few hybrid options available, as well as publishing services organizations which offer services to self-publishers on a menu basis.

The conventional publisher

The advantages of getting your book published externally are:

?It gives your book status (less so than in the past, but still good if it's a well known, respected publisher)
?Your book will be distributed to all the agreed markets at no cost to you
?They will handle and pay for all design, setup, print and production costs
?You'll probably get paid a small advance on royalties

The disadvantages are:

?They will be in the driving seat, although they will listen to what you want to do
?They will say that they'll market the book, but many of them won't (see below)
?You will need to negotiate your contract with them very carefully
?The percentage of each sale you receive will be far less than if you self-publish

Finding a publisher to approach is easy with the Internet. Because publishers tend to stick to specific genres of book (called "lists") you'll find them simply by searching for your type of topic via a search engine or on Amazon. There are also print directories of publishers, such as "Writers' and Artists' Yearbook" in the UK.

Most publishers have websites, and some even give you the option to submit your preliminary book proposal online - which is well worth doing.

Approaching publishers and submitting proposals

If you're going into a publisher cold, you're best to start with a covering letter addressed to the correct person, and enclose with the letter a one-sheet on which you describe the essence of the book. Then wait for feedback before you submit proposals.

Here are the main elements of detailed proposals that you will be expected to include:

?Synopsis ... the "elevator speech" about the book (probably taken from your one-sheet.)
?Competition ... what other books on the subject exist and why yours is better
?Market/audience ... to whom the book will appeal and why
?International market ... if the book is suitable for translation
?Style and approach ... informal or formal, textbook or friendly advice, didactic or anecdotal, etc
?Endorsements ... whether you could get a suitable famous person to write a foreword, etc
?Delivery information ... anticipated length of book, anticipated time required to complete, etc
?The author ... brief biography, including any earlier books you have written or contributed to
?The background to the book ... why and how you came to devise it
?Chapter list ... preferably with a title and as many bullet-pointed details as possible of each one
?Sample chapter or excerpts ... 1,000 words or so to demonstrate style and approach

Once you have submitted your detailed proposals you may have to wait quite a while - several weeks - before you hear anything.

The offer and the contract

If you get the green light, the publisher will come back with a formal offer, saying "yes, we want to publish your book." The "offer" part of it is the advance on royalties - but don't expect much! Advances are normally paid in 2 or 3 tranches with payment points at signing of the contract, delivery of the manuscript, and publication.

Until you sign a contract you're not under any obligation to proceed, even though you will have accepted the publisher's offer.

There are a number of key areas you need to watch out for in the contract – details are in my eBook “Get Yourself Published," http://www.bookshaker.com/product_info.php?products_id=83

Self-publishing

As the nuts-and-bolts elements of book production become cheaper through the advancement of technology, self-publishing becomes increasingly attractive for some business book writers. With modern print-on-demand facilities, too, you avoid the need to have hundreds or thousands of copies printed initially just to keep the unit cost down. Now you can have a handful of books printed at a time and still keep the unit cost within reason.

The advantages of self-publishing (as I see it) are:

?You do not have to answer to anyone else on design, content, editing, etc
?You do not have to spend any time on finding or convincing a publisher to take your book on
?You get to keep all profit from book sales

The disadvantages of self-publishing (as I see it) are:

?You have to find the money to get the book produced
?You can get editorial and design support, but you have to pay for it
?You have to organise and pay for distribution of your book
?You will not find it easy to get your book on to Amazon and into other key distribution channels
?You have to run a publishing business as well as whatever else you do

WRITING YOUR BOOK

A daunting prospect? Not if you approach it methodically. Here are some tips.

When you come to write the book and are faced with what many people call that "huge, impossible project," here's a trick that I was taught when shivering with fear about my first book.

Forget thinking about your book as one project. Think of it as XX discrete projects (one for each chapter.) Get that notion fixed firmly in your mind. 15 writing projects of 4,000 words each feels a lot more comfortable than one writing project of 60,000 words. You also get a greater sense of achievement as you're working through the book, because the completion of each chapter becomes a major milestone.

Planning and structure

With non-fiction of any kind it helps enormously to work to a closely defined structure. Spend a good chunk of time planning your chapters and ensuring they run in the right order. Subdivide the chapters down into bullet point structure of their own and flesh that out as far as you can.

If you're going to use research material you need to assemble it and file it under each chapter of your book. Particularly if the research material is printed on paper, assemble it in the same order as the running order of each chapter. That way you don't have to leaf through piles of material to find what you want.

Chapter breakdown

Using your word processing software, separate the chapter breakdown into one document for each chapter. If you prefer to work with pens or pencils you can print out the document so that each subject heading heads up one page, then staple those pages together in order.

Now, start writing more bullets and notes under each subject heading. Leave plenty of space between them so you can add sub-notes and sub-sub-notes.

Work through this process without hurrying, but keep going for as long as you feel the creative energy flow. Once you have incorporated the bare bones of all information you feel needs to go into that chapter, stop and take a short break. Then go back to the chapter and edit your notes as necessary.

Writing it up

Now you need to take the plunge and start writing prose. Because you have mapped out the content of your chapter so carefully and thoroughly, you'll find that some it has already started to write itself. Your job then becomes one of linking and smoothing, rather than having to think up stuff from scratch. This method doesn't remove the fear of writing altogether (if you're that way inclined) but it certainly makes it a lot easier.

Your own edit

Take your time over your editing process. And most important of all, be hard on yourself. Put yourself firmly in the shoes of a potential reader and ask yourself if - in this role - you would a) understand everything and b) find it interesting. If the answer is no to either then rewrite the section concerned until it IS a) understandable and b) interesting.

The external editor

If your book is being published externally, once you've finished your edit the manuscript will go the publisher's editor. Once the edit comes back to you, you'll have the opportunity to go through the issues raised by the editor and dispute their recommendations if you feel they're wrong. Then when everyone is happy with the result, your manuscript goes into production.

If you're producing the book yourself you don't, in theory, need to use an editor at all. However unless you're a professional writer by trade, if you're self-publishing it makes a lot of sense to use a pro editor to have a look at your work. An informed but unbiased extra expert on the case will help you sharpen up your text and will pick up on all the little details that you - being so close to the material - may have overlooked.

And there you are - a finished manuscript! Now, to the final stage...

PRODUCING AND SELLING YOUR BOOK

If your book is being published externally you won't have a huge involvement with the production process. This means that you're relieved of the hassle and expense of production, but on the other hand you won't have all that much control over how your book looks. Publishers will usually send you cover designs to look at as a courtesy, but don't automatically assume they'll change the designs if you happen to hate them.

"You can't judge a book by its cover" -- but it helps!

If you're self-publishing you're free, of course, to have whatever you like on the cover. Even if you have strong ideas about how it should look, in your shoes I would invest in a professional design for the cover. Particularly if you're going to sell the book remotely (i.e. without your being there) that cover is the only real point-of-sale tool you have - so it needs to be good.

Just as the title and cover design are critical elements at the point of sale for your book, so is the jacket copy. This has to sell hard enough to make them carry your book all the way to the checkout and stay there until they've paid for it. If you're self-publishing and don't feel you can create the snappy words required, hire a pro copywriter to do it. It won't cost very much as it shouldn't take them long to complete, and it will be well worthwhile.

Marketing and selling your book

Publishers say they do marketing, but the reality is they don't do much. And it really is annoying when you think that they are taking the lion's share of the proceeds from your book sales. So if you want your book to be marketed, you have two choices.

The first choice is to hire a publicist. This is quite popular among American business gurus and public speakers who do not have the time but do have the money. Opinions are divided on whether or not you will get back what you pay the publicist in extra book sales you wouldn't have had otherwise.

The second, and the more realistic choice for most of us, is to DIY. To achieve that without spending big bucks you need to consider a number of points following publication of your book. You’ll get all the details of this and much more from my eBook, “Get Yourself Published," downloadable from here:

http://www.bookshaker.com/product_info.php?products_id=83

Well, that's it - with luck you'll sell a good number of books. Enjoy the experience!

~~~~~~~~~~
Suzan St Maur is a leading business and marketing writer based in the United Kingdom. You can subscribe to her bi-weekly business writing tips eZine, "TIPZ from SUZE" on her website - go http://www.suzanstmaur.com - and you can check out her latest eBookFeature Articles, "GET YOURSELF PUBLISHED" here: http://www.bookshaker.com/product_info.php?products_id=83
? Suzan St Maur 2003-2005

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