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 you’ve 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?
When you receive a contract from a publishing house, it’s called “traditional” publishing. 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 book proposal is like a business plan that sells them on your idea, and it can be difficult to produce if you’ve never written one before. (See my article “Sell Your Book: 12 Common Non-Fiction Book Proposal Mistakes.”)
- Many publishing houses only accept book proposals 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 that 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. Publishers do very little promotion, so it’s up to you to get sales.
- Your publishing contract will include a percentage of royalties, but you only earn them after your advance has been deducted from the take. For this reason, the majority of authors never earn any royalties.
- After your book has sold to a publisher, it can be 1-2 years before your book 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 important points about self-publishing:
- 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. Anyone can self-publish a book, so you have to convince your readers that yours is 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’re working, and hire a professional cover designer. Your title and cover can make or break the success of your book.
Ghostwriters and 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 expert knowledge and spinning it into gold. It’s still your book, but you borrow their book-writing expertise to make sure it’s a good product. They won’t ask for your first-born child as payment, but expect to pay $15,000-$30,000 for an experienced ghostwriter.
Editors take what you’ve written and make sure it’s an excellent product ready for publishing. Depending on the amount of work involved, expect to spend a few thousand dollars for a good editor. 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, harming your brand rather than elevating it. (Check out my article, “Do You Need a Ghostwriter or an Editor?”)
It might sound as though there are a number of obstacles to writing a book, but the hard work is well worth the effort—especially if establishing yourself as an expert will help you make more money in your field. 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!