“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Ann Landers
Time flies. I have started So You Want to be an Author workshop back in 2014 with a simple mission to educate and empower aspiring authors on their journey to becoming inspiring authors. This mission came about because I have personally witnessed too many writers who have embarked on the journey with exuberance but often ended up disillusioned when expectations are not met.
The journey of authorship does not simply start with writing the manuscript and end with printing of the book. If you would like your book to work for you, you need to think like a publisher and there are 6 critical areas you need to focus on (caveat: what I share below is more applicable for authors writing non-fiction books):
- Planning: “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin. This is true for many things that we seek to accomplish in life, including becoming a published author. Before you even start writing your first word, my advice to all aspiring authors is to reflect and first find your answers to the following six questions
- Why do I want to get published?
- What is the niche I want to occupy?
- Who am I writing for?
- What do they want to know?
- What has been written so far?
- What shall I write?
A frequently asked question when aspiring authors came to me seeking advice is “what is the current hot topic that I should write a book on?”. My response to them is that they need to answer the first five questions before deciding on what to write. The reason is simply the answer to question six will be a natural conclusion after you have answered the first five questions. The market has different needs at different points in time and it is pointless to be chasing after those fleeting needs if the book does not meet your goal. If you can write on a topic that is close to your heart and aligned to meet a specific market demand, that will be what I call a sweet spot.
2. Penning: If you imagine writing to be a journey where you need to lock yourself up in some mountain in the Himalayas, this cannot be further from the truth. The reality is that writing need not be a lonely journey. It can be a collaborative effort where you invite other stakeholders like co-authors, contributors, interviewees to help you generate contents.
After planning your content generation strategy, you should begin with developing your table of contents. The table of contents is the skeleton that will hold your writing together and ensure a seamless flow of your key messages from start to end. It also serves as a useful project management tool when you attach a timeline to it.
To ensure a pleasant reading experience for your readers, it is also recommended to develop a chapter template that will govern the way you present your content in each chapter to your readers. In a chapter template, you map out what and how the different elements will come together: opening quotes, pull-out quotes, stories, case studies, statistics, research, conclusion, summary, exercises, etc. Following a chapter template helps you to write your chapters in a consistent manner and also helps your readers to follow your chapters with a clear map in mind.
3. Preparing: There are critical ingredients that can make or break a book. These ingredients can broadly be classified as
- Front matter: this is the first section of the book and will contain elements like praise, copyright page, dedication, title page, table of contents, foreword, preface, acknowledgements, introduction, etc.
- Back matter: this is the last section of the book that appears after the main portion of text. This contains elements like Afterword, Appendix, Glossary, Bibliography, etc.
Assuming you have a publisher representing you, they will help you in the preparation of some of these elements. But there are elements that you are responsible for as the author of the book too. Most importantly, the elements are in a book for a reason and it is essential for you to understand them so as to maximise the leverage available to you.
There is a popular saying “Do not judge a book by its cover”. The person who proclaimed this has obviously not bought any books before. The design of the book cover will largely influence whether someone will pick up your book or not. There are key elements on a book cover which will influence the decision making process of a book buyer. A well-designed book cover will help you to raise awareness, generate interest and create a desire for someone to pick up and browse the book. While it is true the substance of a book lies in its contents, it is the book cover that represents the form. You need this form to do justice to all the hard work you have poured into creating the substance.
4. Producing: In the market, there are many different permutations of publishing models to bring your book to market. I would largely classified them under three categories: Traditional Publishing, Self Publishing, and Partnership Publishing. There isn’t any best publishing model as each publishing model has its pros and cons and caters to different needs of different authors. As an author, it is imperative that you understand how the different models work so that you do not receive the shorter end of the bargain when working with publishers. Their differences are largely in the following areas: need for funding, retention of rights, creative and distribution control, time to market, prestige, support level, outreach. I have personally encountered many authors who paid scant attention to publishing models when entering into contractual obligations and eventually found themselves trapped in unfavourable situations.
If you are required to fund the publishing cost of your book and you do not wish to pay from your own pocket, you can think of creative ways to help you finance the cost of book publishing. We have authors who managed to finance the publishing cost of their books either completely or partially through ways like cost-sharing, crowdfunding, pre-orders, sponsorships, etc.
5. Promotion: When it comes to promoting your book, regardless of what others promise you, always remember that as an author, you need to be in the driver seat. The advent of technology has bridged the gap between author and readers and the traditional model of multi-layered intermediaries in the book trade has long been disrupted.
This means that as an author, you need to start thinking like a marketer and you can no longer just write and remain behind the scenes. You should look at making the book not only available but also discoverable for your target readers through multi-channels. For book marketing, you can direct your activities in three phases: pre-launch, actual launch, and post launch.
Promotion may sound like a daunting task but if you have the right support, it will help you to achieve the outreach and sales you desire. Book promotion should not be a one-time effort. A consistent effort will pay off in the long run in helping you to prolong the lifespan of your book and to generate other spin-off opportunities for you.
6. Publicity: With millions of published books in the market, every new title will remain as a needle in the haystack unless there are efforts made to raise awareness of the book’s existence through traditional and social media. Book publicity is essentially leveraging on the media to spread the word of an author and book to your target audience. The good news is that when armed with a book, it provides you with an edge in generating free publicity which is definitely more credible than paid advertising.
Publicity can come in the form of author’s interview, book review, article submission, etc. When you have successfully positioned yourself as an expert in your chosen niche with the help of a book, it becomes easier to attract media’s attention when they are seeking sound bytes on topics relating to your niche.
To conclude, I hope that the 6Ps framework provides you with a simple structure to guide you towards publishing success. As success will mean different things to different authors, having a clarity of your end-goal will help you to navigate the journey ahead and set the right expectations. Most importantly, learning to find joy on this journey will give you the impetus to go on and write more and more books.