My answer: It depends. Anybody can write a book these days. Almost 3 million titles were published last year alone (includes self-published books). Apple even provides free software (iBook) so you can download a template to publish your own ebook. But if you’re talking about writing a great book, published by a major publisher, well reviewed by objective readers, that sells well, then that’s an altogether different story.
If you’re inclined to try your hand, here are a few lessons I’ve learned after having published 46 of my own:
- Build your platform. The most difficult thing is not writing your book, but getting attention for your book above the noise. Publishers want to know how you will reach your intended readers. In what circles are you well known? What connections do you have with other high-profile people who might help you get attention for your book? How active are you on social media? In industry associations? In community activities? How large is your mailing list?
- Study the market. You may have heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” That’s solid advice for novel writing; if you write from personal experience, the emotion will ring true. But in other genres, look to other levers for impetus: What problems need to be solved? What trends do you see on the horizon? What myths need to be exposed? What principles do people need to embrace? Grab an idea that appeals to the masses or that addresses a single issue for a niche market. Either way, study the market for your idea and the books that already compete on the topic.
- Know your audience. Picture the ideal person to buy your book: age, gender, education, career, family, dreams, goals, fears, problems. Write for that one person.
- Write a great proposal. There’s no one template for a great proposal any more than there’s one way to make a chocolate cake. But then all chocolate cakes do have a few common ingredients. Likewise, great proposals will overview the concept clearly and crisply, provide a comprehensive marketing plan, and include the author biography. Learn what goes into winning proposals.
- Craft a great title. While a mediocre title won’t keep a good book from selling, a great title can sell a mediocre book. My agent once held my proposal on a time-sensitive topic for 12 days before submitting it to publishers because he thought we could come up with a better title than my first attempt. Titles either titillate readers or torpedo your proposal.
- Follow through on the project. At some point, you do have to sit down and write the book—rather than just talk about it. It always surprises me how often a would-be writer sells an idea to agent or editor and gets a go-ahead and contract, but then never delivers the manuscript. Writing a book proves to be just like any other long-term project; it requires a plan, complete with interim steps and deadlines. Waiting for inspiration is for the mystics among us.
- Make your writing riveting—or at least readable. Today’s readers have too much competing for their attention to struggle with heavy prose, jargon, convoluted sentences, and grammar glitches. They skim, skip, and click through your pages, wanting to be engaged, informed, persuaded, or amused. If they snooze, you lose.
- Promote, promote, promote like it all depends on you. Publishers distribute your book so that it’s available in stores and online. They also do a fairly good job of selling sub-rights: audio series, electronic rights, movies, and foreign translations. A few do a good job at marketing and promoting your book. But for the most part, they count on authors to be the chief marketer. So understand and plan for that role from the very beginning, include it in your proposal, think “marketing” as you write your book, and allocate sufficient time in your career game plan.
If you’d like to learn more about this process, you may be interested in the upcoming Writer’s Conference in Dallas on July 21 mentioned in the graphic below. (Note: I have no financial stake in your attending the conference, but I will be doing the opening keynote. So if you decide to attend, please come up and introduce yourself.)
In any case, if publishing is in your career plan (or retirement plan, for that matter), all best wishes for a stellar seller.
Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books. Her work has been translated into 23 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg, Forbes.com, CNN International, NPR,Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication. Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies. www.booher.com 1-800-342-6621
- How To Build A Successful Career As A Published Writer (forbes.com)
- If You Want People to Actually Read What You Write (forbes.com)
- ‘What the World is Publishing’ an address by Jill Corcoran (bettysargeant.tumblr.com)
- Overcoming Bad Writing Habits (booher.com)
- Writing Skills: Treat Enclosing Commas Like Bookends (booher.com)