Guest Post by Jodi Brandon, Jodi Brandon Editorital
Have you heard that a book is a great tool with which to scale your business? Then you’ve heard correctly! I’ve seen firsthand what a book can do for a small business owner and firmly believe that not only should you write a book, but you need to.
When potential clients ask why they should take the time to write and publish a book (because it does take some time), I give them what I call “the big four” reasons:
Let’s face it: You’re an expert in your industry. You’re asked questions all the time — and you know the answers.
All that sounds good to most small business owners and creative entrepreneurs — what’s not to like, right? — and they start to think it’s something they should do. Then they realize that they don’t know a thing about the book publishing industry. Let’s break down the two primary ways to publish a book: traditional and self publishing. For each, let’s say you know what your topic is and you’ve written the first draft of your manuscript. (I know that might be a stretch, but we’re doing a simplified overview of the process so you can get the gist of how it works.)
Traditional Book Publishing
Most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (though some smaller and niche publishers do) — meaning that if you send your manuscript to them directly in the hopes that someone will read it and claim the publisher needs you and your brilliant book, you’ll be sorry because it probably won’t even be read — so your first step is to get a literary agent. The agent will pitch your book to publishing houses and act as a liaison between you and the publisher during the contract phase. So how do you find an agent? You pitch them, along with a book proposal or submission package. Each agent wants something a bit different, so you’ll need to do some homework. There’s a resource called the Literary Marketplace that lists agent information based on genre. I urge my clients to take a look at similar books in bookstores. Authors thank their agents all the time in book acknowledgments. So I have my clients literally go to the bookstore and read book acknowledgments to look for agents’ names. Once you have a list of agents to contact, it’s time to put together a proposal. Every agent I know asks for the table of contents, the first few chapters, and a market analysis. Some want more than this, but those are a good starting point.
Fast-forward a few months. You get a “Yes, I’d love to represent you!” from an agent. Pop the bubbly! You sit back and wait while the agent does the legwork to get your proposal accepted by a publishing house and negotiate terms with them. Once you get a deal in place and sign on the dotted line, your book will enter production. You’ll receive a check with your “advance against royalties”. That money is yours no matter what happens with book sales. After a few months, you’ll review edits, make requested changes, and wait some more. You’ll have some marketing and promo work to do, because unless your name is Elizabeth Gilbert or Brené Brown, your marketing budget is going to be a lot smaller than you think. The days of 20-city book tours and the like are long gone; publishers simply don’t have the money they used to. After a few weeks or a couple months, your book will be pushed to the publisher’s backlist, where it’s still available but not actively marketed. You may or may not earn royalties, depending on how many copies your book sells.
Timeline: 12-18 months from contract with a publisher (plus time looking for agent, and agent pitching publishers)
The publisher handles (and pays for) editing and design
You keep your advance (even if your book doesn’t sell one copy)
The publisher will likely do at least minimal marketing
The publisher has final say over design and editorial decisions
Time to market can be painfully slow
While the end result (a book or ebook) is the same no matter how a book is published, self-publishing couldn’t be more different from traditional publishing. The biggest difference is that there are no gatekeepers at any point in the process. No literary agents to “pass” on your idea. No publishers saying “no thanks.” Because of this, lots of people who, frankly, shouldn’t publish books, do. For this reason alone, self-publishing used to be considered the ugly stepsister of the publishing industry. Fortunately that’s no longer the case — especially for non-fiction. (Hurrah for you and me!)
What gets the project in motion is simply you deciding to do it. You decide whether to have the book edited and formatted professionally. You hire someone to design the cover the way you envision it (or you DIY it). You upload the files to Amazon and other booksellers. You are large and in charge throughout the process, boss lady!
Timeline: As little as a few weeks — or as long as you need
You have final say over design and editorial decisions
You keep much more money per book (up to 70%)
You set the price of your book / ebook
You are responsible for all marketing efforts
You pay for editing and design upfront
You handle (or pay someone to handle) admin tasks such as obtaining an ISBN and registering copyright
So, which method is right for you? I work with clients on both platforms. Since leaving the world of in-house publishing to work with authors directly, fifteen years ago — and these numbers are unscientific — self-publishing authors are 95% happier. Why? Well, lots of reasons, but here are the two that I hear over and over and over again:
Control. You run your own business, so you are used to being the decision-maker — AND you’re comfortable in that role. The idea of a publisher choosing the cover of your book is not appealing to you. The idea of working with a publisher’s timeline and waiting…and waiting…and waiting for your book to launch drives you batty, and
Money. Again, you’re a business owner first and foremost. You’re not trying to be a professional author. You’re simply trying to grow your business and using a book to help you do so. Nothing wrong with wanting to make money. In publishing, that happens when you self-publish — period — because that’s when you keep the largest portion of profits.
I know, I know. The idea, though exciting, is still a bit overwhelming, right? Here are my top-three practical tips to get you from “No way!” to “Uh, heck yes!”
Think of book writing — and book marketing, too — as a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in it for the long haul, so buckle in and pace yourself. There’s no rush. Set realistic goals for your timeline. Don’t say you’ll get your writing done in a month if within that month you have a ten-day vacation. Don’t say you’re going to publish your book on January 1st if you have another launch planned that month and won’t have time to market it
Repurpose, baby! While the idea of writing ALL. THE. WORDS. is daunting (I’ve been there!), you have more words in your arsenal than you realize. Mine your blog posts, your guest posts, your email newsletters, transcripts of interviews, and podcasts. You’ll be amazed at how much you can use with just a bit of tweaking
Don’t skip proofreading! I say this not because my bread and butter is editing, but because, as an avid reader, I can tell nine times out of ten if a book has been proofread, let alone edited. Your book is not just for fun; it’s a tool to grow your business. Your product must be professional!
So what do you say? Have I convinced you that it’s possible and that it’s worth it? I sure hope so. If you have questions, let me know. I love to talk books anytime!
Jodi Brandon has more than 20 years’ experience in book publishing. After graduating from Elizabethtown College (PA) with BAs in professional writing and business administration, she began her career in New York City on staff at William Morrow (now part of HarperCollins), and later moved to book packager Smallwood & Stewart and ultimately to niche publisher Career Press. In 2001, after relocating from New York to Philadelphia, Jodi launched her freelance editing business, with a specialty in non-fiction books. Jodi's passion these days is working with independent nonfiction authors readying themselves for self-publication as an editor and a writing/publishing coach.