To reach your goal of becoming a successful published author, you must do more than write. You have to become a writer entrepreneur. You will have to wear a business hat. You are now in the publishing business, which is the business of selling books.
Most writers I know balk at anything that takes them away from writing their books. I call them “purists.” They feel anything related to marketing or promoting—selling—books somehow “dirties” them as artists or creatives. It’s as if selling or promoting their books lessens their public perception as a writer in some manner. This strengthens their conviction that writers should only write.
Some writers just don’t like anything to do with these “other” publishing activities, and, therefore, want nothing to do with them. They think publishers should do them (or actually do them) for each and every author.
These attitudes are fine if you:
- don’t want to have your work published traditionally
- don’t care about readers (buyers)
- want to just write the book of your heart and only have your friends and family purchase it
- simply write for writings sake
- want to live in a fantasy world
You Must Start Selling Your Book…NOW
However, if you write to be read and to have your books purchased by lots of readers or by a publisher—which, I think describes most writers—the only way to let people know about your writing is to promote your work and yourself as a writer. That means you have to start selling your book in one way or another…now. The advice Seth Godin offered in a blog post titled simply “Advice for Authors” in 2006 is more relevant today then ever before: “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.”
Some say good writing speaks for itself and draws readers. That can be true if the writing is truly great and the story, concept or information is exceptional, but even good writing and phenomenal ideas get promoted on some level. This could simply be by word of mouth. That’s promotion. Or someone talks about the book to the media and puts it in places where it can be found. That type of promotion used to be a publisher’s job. These days, it’s the author’s job. (And, honestly, no one does a better job of this than the author.) Yes, your fans and followers will help you promote your book—but you need to have some fans and followers, and that takes promotion. You need to find those fans, and that takes knowing and targeting your market with the right promotion.
Are You Committed to Producing a Successful Book?
I realize you are committed to writing your book, but are you committed to making your book and yourself as the author of that book successful? If you answered “yes,” you must ask yourself an even more important question: “Are you willing to take off you writer’s hat and don a businessperson’s hat?” If the answer is “no,” resign yourself to writing a book that may or may not succeed. I’d give you a 50-50 chance of succeeding, but I’d wager against you. If you aren’t willing to do the work on the business side of publishing, your book will be lucky to fall into the ranks of “average” (selling 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime).
Sound harsh? Maybe, but it’s the reality of the publishing business.
Traditional Publishers Want Publishing Partners
Becoming an author is hard work. Not only that, you can’t just write a good book and expect to become published—not in today’s publishing world. Publishers will not put their money behind an author who will not build author platform or promote a book once released. Publishers look for good publishing partners. When you, or your literary agent, approach a publisher with a book proposal, you ask that publisher to back your book project, or business (a book IS a business), financially. If the publisher agrees and offers you a contract, you gain a venture capital partner. The publisher provides the money to produce your book, including editing, printing and distribution. You receive the money to write your book, which comes in the form of an advance on (potential or estimated) sales. However, they expect you to not only supply a great, marketable idea and to turn in a well-written manuscript, but to help sell that book—to promote it—before and after its release. In fact, your advance is calculated using a formula that takes into account your potential to sell books (among other things). That’s why you can’t just write. You must be a good business partner
In addition to a platform, you must have a promotional plan to show publishers you will help sell your book if you want to become traditionally published. And if you want to self-publish, you need both a platform and a promotion plan to ensure you, as THE publisher, help your book sell.
Make a Choice: Successful Book or Average Book
If you don’t want to wear a business hat, you can still go from aspiring author to published author. You can do it in no time flat. Write any old book you want to write. Upload it to CreateSpace or to Kindle. Someone might buy it, especially if you tell them it is there. (Oh, wait; that’s promotion). Almost every book will find at least a small audience even without any promotion at all. If you want to be a successful author by industry standards, however, that won’t cut it.
A few hours into every workshop I teach about how to become an author someone typically sitting at the back of the room raises his or her hand. This frustrated writer always asks the same question (usually with a bit of a whine or a tinge of anger in his or her voice): “Why can’t I just write my book? I don’t want to do any of that other stuff like promotion and platform building. I just want to write my book.”
I always respond the same way. “You can just write your book, but it may not sell a lot of copies, and you won’t attract a publisher—especially not if you are writing nonfiction.”
Create a successful book or an average book. The choice is yours.But if you want to create a successful book, be willing to wear a business hat.
This post is an excerpt from the draft of my new book, The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, Spring 2014), which I am blogging here on Write Nonfiction NOW! You can read previous posts here. Only select pieces from the manuscript, a “working draft,” are being posted—not the complete manuscript. I’d love to hear your thoughts and get your feedback. Leave your comments below.
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