Before You Write Your Book, Read This

Julie PolandGuest blogger Julie Poland is founder of  SummitHRD and President of the York, PA Chapter of SCORE.  She wrote an e-book, Secret Messages, and self-published the business book Changing Results by Changing Behavior. 

Writing seems to be on a par with networking and speaking engagements right now in popularity – about every other person we talk to has a dream of writing a book.  The process isn’t for everyone, and we’re not even talking about the quality of the writing that you’re capable of producing.  There’s some strategic work that needs to be done at the outset.
A few months ago a panelist in a workshop for would-be writers said, “The only person who should plan to make money writing a book is the person who has already made money writing a book.”  Perhaps this sounds cynical to you.  Perhaps you DO have the new information, the gripping story or the unique twist that will beat the odds.  But you might not – and you need to think about that.  You will invest time, energy, emotion, ego, and some money before you’re through, so in order to go into the project with both eyes open you want to answer a number of questions before you start.

What is your goal for your book?

  • Source of passive income?
  • Marketing tool?
  • Reason for groups to ask you to speak?
  • Credibility builder with prospective clients?

What is your topic or genre?

  • Non-fiction: biography, history, self-help, business, how-to, etc.
  • Fiction: thriller, mystery, humor, romance, historical, etc.

When do you plan to do your writing?

  • Instead of doing other work
  • At night or early in the morning to fit around other responsibilities
  • As fast as possible
  • Over time as information is collected

Are you writing this on your own?

  • By yourself
  • With collaborators
  • Using research
  • With public domain book as foundation

Who will publish it?

  • Mainstream publishing house, with an advance paid to cover costs
  • Vanity publisher
  • Self-published print-on-demand

How will it be marketed?

  • By the publisher
  • Online through Amazon or other avenues
  • By local bookstores and gift shops
  • Given to prospects, not sold (the book itself is not the intended revenue generator)

 Pros & Cons of Self-publishing


One advantage of self-publishing is the control you have over the project.  There is no executive telling you what spin to put on your concept, or mandating a certain length, style, etc.  The flip side of the control issue, though, is that you have responsibility for far more than the writing.  You’ll need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), cover design, page layout, editing, artwork, recommendations from pre-readers to use for marketing, placement in retail locations, transference into multiple formats like audio, e-reader, and so forth.  When you self-publish you’ll lay out the funds for these pieces as you go along, as opposed to the publishing house route, where the house covers the costs and connects you to the resources.

Vanity publishing means that you’ll go through these steps and deliver your product to a publisher with an order for a certain number of books.  The books will be delivered to you and it will be your responsibility to get them to your desired distribution channels.  The more you order, the lower your cost per book.  But you will lay out a chunk of change in exchange for a stock of books that will last you until  ______?

Print on demand enables you to avoid having a stack of books in your closet or in your garage.  Create Space (a division of Amazon), for instance, enables you to upload your book package.  You approve a proof, they give you your ISBN and place your book on their Amazon site.  You can buy a supply of books at a certain cost if you want to have some on hand, and if somebody orders your book on Amazon, the site handles it and mails you a check later for your cut of the sale.

Parting Thoughts
As in any business venture, there’s a difference between working IN your business and working ON your business.  If you are writing with the intention of making money from it, the actual writing is only part of the equation.  You can choose to be more writing-focused if you outsource the production and marketing to a publisher, but for the most part it’s them choosing you rather than you choosing them.  Your story or concept or writing is going to have to give them a compelling reason to invest in you.

All that being said, if you have something you want to say in a book, make your decisions, plan it out and go for it.

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