With so much conflicting, confusing and overwhelming information on the web, it can be difficult for the prospective author to know what to do first. Though there are different ways to get from A to B, I’ve compiled my own interpretation of the savvy author’s writing journey; a step by step approach that will help you avoid most new writer mistakes and which will make the process unfold much easier and see you more informed.
I know that many of you reading this may have got to the end of your manuscript, and are probably looking for help concerning the publishing of your book, or the next steps to take. At this point, some of the questions I suggest you ask yourself are much harder to answer than if you’d qualified them at the outset. Don’t worry too much, though; we don’t know what we don’t know. Just try and be as honest as you can to reach the most appropriate answers and form the best strategy.
1. Ask yourself why you’re writing this book
To be a famous author is not the answer. It may be the by-product (wouldn’t it be lovely?!), but it shouldn’t be your motivation. The results you’re looking for from your book will shape your budget as a self-publishing author, your marketing, and much, much more.
For instance, if your book is only going to be a legacy or gift for family and friends, I’d recommend publishing through template sites, such as Createspace or Lulu; the aesthetics of your book and your sales platform are not as important than if you’re a business owner looking to increase your credibility and visibility. In this second scenario, your product should be one of quality, a marketing tool that represents you as well as can be. Don’t just aim to ‘write a book’, concentrate on writing a great book that will make your potential clients want to work with you. Believe me, this is easier said than done.
2. Ascertain your target market
It’s much easier to write your book if you know this at the outset. Defining your perfect reader allows you to understand their pysche and what they’re looking for from your book. If your book is already written, to have the same effect, you may need to shoe-horn your work into something your market wants or expects, which is much harder than creating an appropriate, unique product from scratch.
Profiling your reader also helps you create content that’s more appealing in tone and more engaging to your reader. You can only pin down a conversational style if you know who you’re talking to.
3. Know what you’re bringing to the table
Again, this is best done before a single word is written, when your book is still just a concept in your mind. Why write your book if you’re not saying anything new, or delivering a new angle on an existing subject (something particularly important for non-fiction authors)? There are only seven kinds of story in the world; can you honestly say that your story is unique? Research the life out of your plot, read your competitors’ work – determine your voice, your opinions, depict your imagination…don’t ride on the coat tails of others.
4. Be disciplined
Right, you’ve got the theory surrounding your book out of the way, now it’s time to start writing. Hopefully, you have, by now, worked out the plot of your book or the structure of your non-fiction book. Be warned: the enthusiasm for your project will only last for so long. To ensure you actually complete your book, you need to understand that it will take up a lot of your time.
Some people prefer to write in longer, sporadic blocks, some chip away at their word count by a little each day. Find what works for you and plan for writing time in your diary over the next few months. It may mean sacrificing weekend lie-ins, your weekly coffee and catch-up with friends, or downtime after a hard day in the office – but I never said it was easy. If you want to do it, you’ll find the time. If you can’t, perhaps you don’t want to write this book as much as you thought you did. Harsh, but the truth.
4. Ask for help early
It’s soul-destroying to get to the end of your manuscript and discover huge holes in your plot, or that you haven’t passed the ‘so what?’ test, via feedback from your very first readers. As a developmental editor, I can’t impress enough how feedback is best delivered on a continual basis as you write your book. Specific, professional critique, from an impartial party, will make so much more difference to your content than a ‘glowing-so-as-not-to-hurt-your-feelings’ report from Aunt Flo.
It makes for far less rewriting, and a better understanding of your work and audience, as well as the offer of a sounding board upon which to unleash your worries and creativity throughout the writing process. Don’t allow your first book-buying readers to be the initial judges of your work; professionals exist to give you the help you need in this regard before paying customers get to have their say in reviews and by word-of-mouth. The risk, if you don’t engage professional feedback, is that your author platform is annihilated before it even gets off the ground.
5. Consider the marketing of your book before you come to sell it
Readers will be more likely to buy your book if they’re invested in you, and what better way to involve them than sharing your writing journey? Enticement and anticipation are powerful marketing tools, and having an eager audience when you push the button on your print run can help you reap your initial financial investment, and also ensure you hit the ground running when it comes to building a loyal readership.
Don’t confuse sharing with wittering, however; the very simplest way to think of your book promotion is ‘the creation of conversation with your potential readers‘. They’ll only reply or reciprocate your attention if you interest them, help them, or entertain them. Whatever the subject of your book, this is your three point rule.
6. Don’t be a Scrooge
If you genuinely don’t have the budget to produce your book to its highest specification and quality, and you’re not just planning on giving a few copies to family and friends, there are ways round this essential point, but this is best covered in another post. If you haven’t the funds to have your book professionally edited, the layout professionally typeset, and your cover professionally designed – none of which will be as expensive as you may think – you may need to rethink your motivation and your long-term plans.
I truly believe that a self-published book should look like a book. That may sound a silly statement, but the reason self-publishing gets a bad rap is because many DIY titles are amateurish, both aesthetically, and via their content. A self-published book should look as good as a traditionally-published book and read just as well as one. With freelance editors, typesetters and cover designers everywhere, there’s no excuse.
Carefully consider the pros and cons of printing your book via a short-run printer as opposed to such as Createspace. Over the course of even 100 books, the price will be much cheaper with the local short-run printer, than printing through Amazon. As well as being more cost-effective, you’ll have far more choice with regards to the size, paper and bespoke/interactive aspects of your book. Again, I could go into this in more detail, but this post is long enough already.
7. Understand that book promotion is an art
Twitter is overrun with authors selling their books, but it doesn’t mean you can’t sell yours via the platform too – or any other. Book promotion is all about the author’s mind-set and understanding of their readers, not where they choose to sell their book. If you’ve defined point 2, you know who you’re talking to and where they’ll be. What you then say to them comes down to approach and technique.
Network online and offline; your book should never be the first thing you mention. Engage people, take an interest in them, whet their appetites so that they invest their attention towards you. Find the places where your target market hangs out, learn their preferences and tastes. Do not sell to them; build a relationship.
The DIY author faces the long game when it comes to creating their author platform, but there’s one thing they have over the big publishing houses: the ability to create, understand and nuture a relationship with their readers.
8. Carry on!
Don’t stop at one book: the best way to market your first book is to produce your second, your third, your fourth, and so on. Don’t keep your readership waiting for your next work. Eventually, if you’ve followed these steps, you WILL reach a tipping point, where you spend more time writing than marketing/promoting what you produce. This should be your aim, not whether you can rival the success of Rowling or James with the first work you create.
If this sounds bleak or uninspiring, I apologise. It’s intended to be helpful and, above all, realistic. Authorship is as hard as any other skill; all writers improve over time and with practice. The way you approach the creation of your book is as crucial to your success as the time and effort you expend producing it.
Never forget the most important thing of all….your reader.
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.
Thanks to Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the main image.