Monday, August 21, 2017

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?

Daily, I get e-mails that say, “I want to write a book, but I don’t even know where to start. Can you help me?” I decided a blog post might be helpful. Feel free to e-mail me if you have other questions and I’ll be glad to help.

The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past 10 years, and has opened wide the field for anyone to publish a book. Now you have choices that have not been an option before. As you begin this journey, there are several questions to ask yourself and decisions to make.

First, you need to decide if you wish to seek the traditional publishing route or if you want to self-publish through a subsidy press or on your own.

What’s the difference between traditional publishing, subsidy publishing, and self-publishing?

A traditional press takes all the risk and expense of publishing a book - planning to recoup their investment with the sales of the book and any accompanying merchandise. The author will eventually receive royalties on the book, but usually not until the traditional press has earned back its initial expenses for pre-production, printing, and marketing. With a traditional press, the author usually earns 6-12% royalties (sometimes a little more, but not by much). Currently, there are six large traditional publishing companies in the US. For an author to get their book published through one of those six, the author must have an agent and already have an established platform. The process can take years before an author will see a published book - and that's after the manuscript has been bought by one of the publishing houses. In the past, the traditional publisher also did much of the marketing for the books, but today, that service has all but disappeared. The author is now responsible for a vast majority of the marketing, especially if the author has a limited platform.

Another traditional publishing option is that of small presses. The smaller companies may not offer advances or have large marketing departments, but they are more open to non-agented submissions, usually offer a higher percentage of royalties compared to the big six, and are a great way for new authors to get published. Just be sure to ask questions and check out all their books for quality - the quality at some (definitely not all) small publishers may be lacking. Examine their books and their covers, and if you're comfortable doing so, you may even want to send a polite e-mail to a couple of their authors to get their opinion about the company in general.

A subsidy press does the same work as a traditional publisher, but the author assumes the financial risk. The author pays the subsidy press to publish their manuscript into book format, with costs ranging anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on which company you choose and the services you need. The press then takes the manuscript submitted by the author, formats and designs the book and the cover, assembles the book into a finished product, publishes it, and distributes it. Editing may or may not be included in the packages offered, but every book by every author needs editing, so if you don’t hire an outside editor, check with the subsidy press for their editing options. Most subsidy presses offer packages and some offer a la carte services, so that the author can pick and choose only the services they need. The author receives higher percentage of the royalties - anywhere from 40-100% depending on the publishing company and the type of package the author purchases. The process is faster - some books can be published in just a few weeks or months, depending on how prepared the author is when he/she hires the publisher. The author also has greater control over the entire project - some publishers allow the author to have input on every step, like cover design, formatting, overall layout, etc. The author can also decide on sales and promotions to best fit their schedule or the theme of their book. (The traditional publisher controls the calendar themselves.)

You also have the option of publishing the book yourself – but you’ll have to learn how to do all the above like the pros or readers will instantly identify your book as self-published and may not give it a second glance. You’ll need to learn about cover design, fonts, layout, editing, production set up, and marketing. You’ll need to be proficient in computers and a variety of software. All of that is in addition to honing your writing skills. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, this might be the best option, but most writers I encounter just want to keep writing and leave the other tasks to professionals.

What do you hope to accomplish with your book?

As you ponder these different routes, you’ll need to determine what you want out of the whole process. What is your goal in publishing your book? Is it to become a bestseller? Is it to help others? Is it to tell a story? Is it to serve a cathartic purpose? Do you plan to write more than one book? Yes, you can answer yes to more than one question – but these answers should help you decide which route is best for your goals.

The Craft of Writing

Writing a book is not as easy as it sounds. You must learn the craft of writing, much like a doctor learns about the human body or a mechanic learns about a car. You have to know how words and sentences work together so that you can maximize their impact, and present your work in the best possible light.

You can learn about the craft by writing, by reading, by attending conferences or taking classes, and/or you can hire a coach to guide you through the process of writing your book.

What Kind of Book?

Is your book fiction or nonfiction? Are you writing it for adults, teens, or children? Do you want to write a children’s picture book? Memoir, autobiography, self-help, devotional, tell-all? Or if fiction, which genre? Mystery, thriller, romance, coming of age, women’s fiction, action, horror?

Examine and study books that are similar to what you want to write. Study them front to back, every aspect, identifying their similarities and what makes them different. Look at covers, what you like and dislike about each one, and begin to envision the cover of your own book.

Who is Your Reader?

Who is your reader? Get specific with the answer to this question. Imagine one reader wandering around a bookstore or browsing books on Amazon and that one reader chooses your book to pick up and read and buy. Who is that reader? Male or female? Age? Political/social/lifestyle preferences? Financial status? Family status? What does that reader expect to get from your book?

Once you’ve answered these questions, start writing. You’ll learn as you go and you can’t edit a blank page.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or post them below.

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