Friday, February 14, 2014

How to Write a Book: Part 6



Wow, we're up to Part 6 now! That means that after working on your book through the previous five parts, you're ready to start thinking about how your book is going to be released so that everyone can read what you've written.


This is where the entire process of creating a book can ground to a screeching halt if you're not careful, and oftentimes for reasons that are completely out of your control. There are multiple layers to this part of the entire ordeal, so I'll try to peel them back one at a time in order to make it clearer. Also, please note up front that this is my opinion based on my own personal experiences; I don't claim to be an expert by any stretch and there are definitely other people out there who have had different experiences. But I hope that by sharing what I know and what I've learned, I can at least offer my insight and help guide you in the right direction to getting your book published.  This is what Part 6 is going to be about:

DECIDE ON A PUBLISHING STRATEGY, TAKING YOUR TARGET MARKET INTO ACCOUNT

This is a two-phase process that will require you to think long and hard and make some honest assessments about your work and how you want to proceed. Let's approach these one at a time to make it clearer:

1) What is your target market?

This goes to the core of your entire book: what type of book is it? Is it fiction or non-fiction? Biography? History? Critical analysis? Reference? You need to really think about what category you would put your book into and how niche it is. For instance, if you've written a novel about intergalactic time-traveling space pirates, your book is obviously in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of fiction, but could have interest to all readers of fiction (and many who don't usually read fiction depending on how good it is). However, if you use my books on Blur as an example, those are much more niche; beyond dedicated and serious fans of the band, it probably won't have too much appeal to anyone else except maybe other music addicts who might find it interesting. 
While we all would obviously love to have our books be read by the largest number of people possible, sell millions of copies, and make lots of money, it's not always realistic to even entertain those fantasies. Be honest with yourself and be realistic about your goals and expectations, which leads me into the next layer of the discussion... 

2) Based on your target market, which publishing approach is best for you?

That question is the heart of the entire mater. Taking into consideration your honest assessment of your book's target market and estimating its appeal (its "nicheness," if you will), you need to now decide which publishing channel is right for you. This is where your entire endeavor can really get bogged down if you're not careful. I'll share my experiences with you in a little bit, but first I'll give a general overview of each approach.

The traditional publisher approach:

This is what most of us think of when we think of book publishing; one of the countless large publishing houses, like Random House, Little Brown and Co., Harper Collins, and so on. This approach is best if you feel that you have a book that has fairly mass appeal or is of a quality that has a realistic shot of getting picked up by a large publisher. Again, this is where you need to dig deep inside and make sure you're being completely honest with yourself regarding your book. Let me say upfront that this is the most difficult path to take to getting published, and you should prepare yourself for a LOT of flat-out rejections, most often at the "not interested" stage in response to your initial emails/phone calls. It's damn near impossible for most new/unknown writers to get their foot in the door with a large publisher, and certainly a monumental task to get them interested enough to take a chance on your book.

There are two ways to tackle this if you decide it's the way you want to go. The first and most common way is to hire a literary agent who will use their connections in the industry and do the legwork for you. However, this costs money, takes a lot of time, and there is still no guarantee that you will get interest from a publisher. Just because the agent can pitch your book to a publisher doesn't mean that the publisher will want it. This, again, is where the quality of your work and having some sort of name/reputation built up beforehand is almost a necessity.

The second approach is the one that I (unsuccessfully) tried. For my second book, I researched companies that published books similar in topic and style to my first book and contacted them myself.  I had prepared a publication package which included the following:

- My resume
- A brief proposal document (3-4 pages) which outlined my book plan
- A provisional table of contents
- A sample chapter
In the proposal I included:
- A 1-2 paragraph outline of my book, talking up its major selling points.
- I identified the market/readership I was targeting
- I provided endorsements from satisfied readers (mainly reviews on Amazon and other websites)
- I shared sales data
- I described the competition in the current market and how unique my book was

Quite a few of the publishers that I contacted were interested enough (especially since I had the cachet of my first book under my belt as evidence of credibility) that they wanted to see the packet. One publisher wanted to see my entire manuscript and another wanted to see several chapters. In both cases I ended up being politely turned down: one company probably rightfully determined that, since they were a US-based company, the readership for a book on Blur was too niche and would do better in the UK and Europe (where this company didn't have as strong a presence). The other company told me that given the readership base I'd built up with the first book, I'd end up losing money were I to go with them because all of the costs they'd incur with the book, from publishing to marketing, would leave less of the profits for me. The rest of the companies that wanted to see my materials simply never got back to me. The worst part of this entire process was the waiting, which ranged from days to weeks. Oftentimes, contact had to be reinitiated by me when a promised email or phone call never arrived. Overall, I didn't burn any bridges because I may very well want to use the people I interacted with as contacts for future projects, and it was a good learning experience for me that I'll use in the future.

If you are unsuccessful going this route, or if you've decided not to try it right now for whatever reason, your other option is to...   
 
Self-publish:  

Self-publishing has come a long way in recent years. It used to be the domain of shoddy, homemade-looking books of typically very poor quality, both in terms of appearance and content. While there are definitely some self-published books that still fall into that category that are put out today, overall if enough care and attention is put into a self-published book, it can result in a really nice product. You'll still never get quite as nice a book as one via a traditional publisher, but there are myriad other reasons why that may be just fine for you. There are also drawbacks to self-publishing. Let's look at the pros and cons below:


PROS:


- You maintain complete creative control over every aspect of the book's production, including content, size, formatting, print type, artwork/photographs, etc.
- You can usually choose which distribution channels you want your book to be sold through
- A larger share of the profits will (typically) be paid directly to you
- If you work hard at it, you can end up with a very nice looking, quality product
- The entire project is on whatever schedule you dictate and any deadlines you have are set solely by you
CONS

- You have to take care of EVERYTHING by yourself: editing, proofreading, approving final formats and proofs, marketing, promotion, and oftentimes product fulfillment and orders
- Obtaining copyright clearance for photographs and artwork that you do not own can often be very time consuming and expensive
- No matter how hard you work at it, the final product will never look and feel quite as nice as one from a traditional publisher
- The lack of hard deadlines and a strict schedule from a publisher can lead to chaos and procrastination if you don't really focus

I intend to dedicate some future parts of this series of articles to a few specific aspects of self-publishing that are in this list because regardless of which publishing approach you take, you'll have to deal with them, but for now I think this gives you a good idea of what you're in for regardless of which path you follow.

From personal experience, I self-published my first book and the overall experience went relatively smoothly, although as I described in Part 5, my quality control wasn't as tight as I would've liked. I buckled down and learned from my mistakes to make my second book much better. I'm also very good at sticking to self-imposed deadlines and I was able to stay on my schedule, but I realize not everyone can do that. One last thing to consider if you go the self-published route is which kind of self-publishing you want to use. I use CreateSpace, which is owned and operated by Amazon. It's what's called a "print-on-demand," or POD, service. Basically, you upload your final manuscript to them, they send you a proof copy, and you go through and edit it. After submitting revisions, they send another proof, and this goes on as many times as you'd like until you approve the final proof, at which point your book goes live. The nice thing about POD companies is that you don't have to hold any inventory...they take care of order fulfillment and print as many copies as are needed on demand to fulfill each order. There are others besides CreateSpace, all with their pros and cons. I like CreateSpace because it allows your book to be sold through every Amazon site worldwide, as well as available to libraries, bookstores, and other retailers. They take care of all of the order fulfillment, but if I want to order copies to sell personally via promotions (like my successful preorder or at book signings) I can get as many as I need and with a big discount. They collect all of my royalties and send me a check every month. I'm also able to publish my titles to Kindle, again sold through Amazon worldwide, which is another nice stream of income. There are some companies that will simply print you as many copies of your book and sell them to you at a bulk price. It's then up to you to sell them yourself. For some, this is the approach they like to go with, although my hesitation to recommend this approach stems from the fact that it's awfully hard to gauge sales, and just because a certain number of people say that they'll buy your book doesn't mean they will. You may end up sinking a large amount of money into getting your book printed only to find yourself sitting on a lot of inventory months later.

I know that this part in the series has been quite long, but this is a very important step in the process, and one that can have you going down the rabbit hole wasting a lot of time and energy if you don't do some careful and honest thinking before you begin.  Regardless of your choice, whatever ends up being right for you is almost certainly not going to run perfectly smoothly, but with some planning and dedication, you should be able to make it through to the other side satisfied. Remember that, like everything, it's a learning experience and even when the ride gets a bit bumpy, it will only help you the next time. Learning what not to do is as important and beneficial, if not more so, as learning what to do. As long as you continue to work hard and think clearly, you should have your finished product in your hands very soon!

Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have about getting your book published...I would be happy to share my experiences and any advice I can offer. If you're a published author yourself, please feel free to offer your advice in the comments section below. And if you disagree or take issue with anything I've said, let's discuss below.

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