Here’s how to start.
You might be an expert in your field, but how many people know it? A non-fiction book is a great way to increase your visibility and client list, as well as share the valuable information that you have accumulated during your career. Once you’ve authored a book, you have a specific “calling card” that establishes you as the expert you are.
But before you start, there are many decisions to make. Should you try to get a publishing contract? Should you self-publish? Do you hire someone to help you?
Traditional publishing is when you receive a contract from a publishing house. Let’s clear up some of the common misconceptions about this process:
- For non-fiction books, publishers first want to see a “book proposal,” not your entire manuscript. The proposal is like a business plan that sells them on your idea.
- Many publishing houses accept book proposals only from literary agents. Therefore, your best bet is to submit your proposal to agents who have handled similar books. You can find them through the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. at www.aar-online.com. To increase your chances, submit immediately to 50-100 agents. (Note: If an agent asks you for money up front, run fast! Reputable agents only take a small percentage of the advance you get from the publisher.)
- It can be hard to get a publishing contract if you don’t already have a substantial following or major credentials. This is called your “platform,” which you can build with some effort.
- Advances for first-time authors tend to be low, often less than $10,000.
- Authors are expected to handle almost all of the publicity for their books.
- Your publishing contract will include a percentage of royalties, but you only earn them after your advance is deducted. For this reason, most authors never earn any royalties.
- After your book sells to a publisher, it can be one to two years before it comes out.
Now that you’ve taken in the harsh realities of the publishing business, does this mean you should self-publish? That depends on your preferences. Here are some considerations:
- In the pro column, self-publishing allows you to keep more of the money from each sale.
- Also in the pro column, you can release your book much faster. If you’re quick, your book can come out within a few months.
- In the con column, self-published books don’t have the credibility that a traditional publisher provides. You have to convince your readers that yours is of high quality.
- Another con: Bookstores almost never buy self-published books for their shelves. Of course, bookstores aren’t as relevant as they once were.
- Also in the con column, if you self-publish, you must hire your own editors and designers. This is an additional expense without the help of a publisher advance. Be sure to hire professionals! Don’t even think about sending your manuscript to print without the help of an editor. There’s more to editing a book than just checking the grammar and spelling, so your English teacher friend doesn’t count. The most difficult aspects are structure and flow, and only book industry pros can help you with those. Also, be sure to have the book proofread numerous times by more than one person so that you catch typos.
- Market-test your title and subtitle to make sure they are working, and hire a professional cover designer. Your title and cover can make or break your book.
GHOSTWRITERS & EDITORS
Even if you’re a good writer, you may need help structuring your book or proposal. Ghostwriters are a bit like Rumpelstiltskin, taking your knowledge and spinning it into gold. They won’t ask for your first-born child, but expect to pay $15,000–$30,000.
Editors take what you’ve written and make sure it’s ready for publishing. Depending on the amount of work involved, expect to spend a few thousand dollars. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but if you put out a poor product, your book will do the opposite of what you want: harm your brand rather than elevate it.
It might sound as though there are a number of obstacles to writing a book, but the hard work is well worth the effort. Just remember: The book itself is unlikely to make you money, but the credibility it affords you could make you a great deal through new clients and even speaking engagements.
Plus, there’s nothing like seeing your name on a book cover!
By Melanie Votaw
Melanie Votaw is a 1981 Bellarmine graduate. She’s the author of six books published by Running Press/Perseus Books and has ghostwritten an additional 21 books that have been published by such houses as Hyperion, Macmillan and Hay House. She has developmentally edited more than 50 books that have won 30+ awards, and her work has appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List. Melanie is also a journalist who has been published in numerous magazines, including Woman’s Day and the South China Morning Post. Read more on her website, www.ruletheword.com.