The Path to Becoming an Author
Becoming a published book author is no simple, quick, or inexpensive matter. You'll have a lot of planning to do and a lot of decisions to make. Knowing what to expect from the beginning can make the process move along more smoothly.
You must begin planning to market your book even before you write it. Why? Because it could change the way you write it! Thompson Writing & Editing works with our authors on marketing from the beginning of the process, whether we're ghostwriting the book for them or editing an already-written book.
Probably the most important part of your marketing plan is understanding your target audience. Part of the work in preparing your book's marketing plan is defining your target audience, researching their needs, and determining how your book addresses them.
Knowing your own goals for the book is also important. Why are you writing it? What do you hope to accomplish with it? How much money do you want to make from it, and how many books (or ancillary products) will you need to sell to do that?
You'll need to know all about your competition, too. We make sure you know who you're up against in your chosen genre and how they're marketing. You'll need to know what makes your book different from the competition so these distinctions can be emphasized in marketing it.
Does your book have series potential, or will it stand alone? Publishers love series, as they've had a lot of success with them. Will your book be helping you to sell any other products, or will most of your revenues come from sales of the book itself? Some authors may even give away their books if they're designed to sell another product! There is also money to be made from licensing of products associated with your book. These products could be anything from paid seminars to toys!
Understand how you're going to sell your book is also a part of your marketing plan. Will you be selling it through bookstores, whether traditional bricks-and-mortar ones or online? Will you sell it through your own book website? Or in the back of the room when you speak? What about bulk sales; how and where will you pursue those? Will you sell it in both print and e-book editions?
Will you be looking to sell any subsidiary rights to your book? These include things like the rights to publish editions in other media (paperback, e-book, etc.), for other purposes (book clubs, serializations, movies, TV shows, etc.), or in other languages. These can be quite lucrative, but often require a literary agent or intellectual property attorney to negotiate.
When preparing your marketing plan, determine the date on which you'll be releasing your book. Take into consideration things like holiday selling seasons, other themes to which your book's subject relates, and publishers' catalog release dates. Establishing this target date will help you determine which year you'll be able to release your book, once you know how long each step of the process will take.
You're also going to need to have a personal commitment to marketing your book once it's published. Even the largest traditional publishers do very little in the way of marketing support for authors. Even shy writers need to be prepared to go out and meet their public once their book is released. So be prepared to spend both money and time selling your book once it's out. After all, isn't that why you're writing it?
There will also be many costs associated with marketing your book, from printed material to book release event and/or book tour expenses. Make sure you prepare a budget for your book that takes these things into account and examines the most cost-effective ways to accomplish each of your goals for the book.
Whether you'll be writing your book yourself or hiring a ghostwriter, the writing process is the only part most people consider when they think of being an author. There are many excellent books on the market about how to write various types of books, so this page won't go into a lot of detail there. Some people spend years writing a book. Others dash one off in mere months. If you've developed a solid marketing plan first, that will help you structure your book to make the writing easier and quicker.
You'll need to determine the type of book you're going to write. Fiction or non-fiction? Into what genre will your book fall? What age are your targeted readers? Your marketing plan should have given you some direction here.
If you're hiring a ghostwriter to help you, interview several so that you find the best option for your book's purposes. Check their references and read some of their work so you know what you're getting. Get an agreement in writing, hopefully a contract you both sign, before the work begins. That should spell out each of your responsibilities, the cost of the project, and the timeline for it. A signed contract and a retainer fee are likely necessary for the ghostwriter to begin work.
Even if you're using a ghostwriter, the material for the book must come from you. The writer can't just make up something for you. So be prepared to spend quite some time transferring this knowledge to your writer. You will need to meet regularly during the writing of the book for interviews or follow-up questions. You will also need to review the draft of the manuscript presented by your ghostwriter and note any changes that need to be made on the second draft.
If you're writing the book yourself, it's helpful to prepare an outline first that will summarize what each chapter of the book covers. This breaks the work down into manageable parts, and you can even set deadlines for yourself if that helps you make progress.
You'll likely prepare at least two drafts of your manuscript before you even send it to an editor. Make sure your project timeline allows for this, along with any research time needed to complete the manuscript.
The manuscript you've produced at this point will need to be professionally edited before it's ready to shop around to publishers or literary agents. Why? Because you (or your ghostwriter) is too close to the material after such a long time of working on it to spot any errors. Your editor should do an in-depth content edit and a lighter copy edit on the manuscript, with revisions in between.
You'll want your editor to check your manuscript not only for copy errors such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., but also for larger issues like logic, communication of the intended themes, plot issues, character development, continuity, etc. This is known as a content edit, and it can point out serious flaws in the manuscript that will require extensive rewriting before returning the revised manuscript for a copy edit.
Content editing can take a few months to do properly, so allow for this in your book's project timeline. Copy editing takes less time, but will still need to be given an allowance in the schedule.
Editing is an important step in producing a quality book, and should not be neglected to save money or time. Allow about eight (8) months of time in your schedule for editing.
There are many more publishing options available to authors today than there used to be. You will have a number of decisions to make here. Printed or e-book (or both)? Hardcover or paperback (or both)? Traditional publisher or self-publishing? (Or a hybrid of the two?) Batch printing or print-on-demand (P.O.D.)? Which publishers or literary agents to target?
Your ghostwriter or editor should work with you, or at least provide information to help you through the publishing process of your book. Thompson Writing & Editing actually provides a publishing worksheet to our authors that helps you explore the options available to you and make the best decision for the goals you want to achieve with your book. The worksheet outlines the pros and cons of each publishing method and gives you resources to find the most suitable publisher.
Whichever publisher you choose, make sure you review the publishing contract carefully and run it by your own attorney. And be aware that if you go with a traditional publisher who issues you a book advance, that payment is just that -- an advance paid against future sales of the book. You may get a few royalty checks and think your book is doing great...until you get a bill one day for books returned to the publisher by bookstores!
If you self-publish, watch it on how much the publisher can charge you per book you order. One of my authors kept getting this price raised so much that he could no longer make a profit on his books with the cover price that had been set for them! So make sure you understand everything in the contract and what it means to you before signing, and don't be afraid to question the publisher if you're uncomfortable with something.
This is where a literary agent can come in handy; they've worked with publishing contracts for many years and know all the tricks of the trade. If you want to target the large, traditional publishers, most of them won't accept queries directly from authors. They only deal with literary agents. They do charge for their services. Literary agents have expenses for the work they're doing for you. They do not work on straight commission only when they sell your manuscript, so if you plan to use one make sure you budget for it.
Depending on the publishing method selected, this part of the process could take a few months, or it could take more than a year! These are factors to consider as you are shopping around for a publisher. There are also publishing consultants who will shepherd first-time authors through the publishing maze and guide them toward the right solution. We can refer you to one of these consultants, if you like.
Once you send your manuscript over to the publisher, there is more marketing work to do. Much must yet be done prior to your book's release to build buzz for it and perhaps even take some advance orders. Reviews must be sought. Cover copy and design must be written and drawn. Your website must be developed. A media kit must be prepared. Your speeches must be developed. Your book release event must be planned. If you need to work on your presentation skills, your interview skills, or your image, you need to be doing that now.
All of this can be quite daunting for a first-time author, or even for a seasoned one. Traditional publishers used to handle all these things for their authors, so all the author had to worry about was writing the book and showing up for the events. All of that has changed. With budget cuts has come less marketing offered by the publishers, so authors must take more and more of this work upon themselves. And if a self-publishing option is chosen, you're almost certainly on your own.
Typically, there are at least three (3) months in between the time you supply your manuscript to your publisher and the release date of your book. It's during this crucial time that all of the above work must be done. Some of it can even begin during the editing process. Make sure the time and costs for these are included in your book project budget and timeline.
This information is not intended to discourage you from writing your book; on the contrary! The more you know about the process, the better you can prepare for success. You can spend up to $100,000 to get your book into print. But if you leverage the value of your book so that you can sell additional products, or if the book becomes a best-seller, the profit potential for it could be in the millions. Not a bad return on investment, huh?