Are you an expert at something and want to share your knowledge? Do you have an original idea? Whatever you choose to write about, make sure you are fanatical about it.
Jamie Scalise, the author of “The Power of Three” comments, “For me, as I was working directly in the aesthetics field, I simply wrote about the method that I developed and used for my own skin care practice that worked over a two year period without fail. I decided it was information that needed to be shared with others in the field who were facing the same challenges as I was.”
Adam Metz, author and owner of a social marketing firm, said “I felt there was a lack of strategic guides on social customer management for consumer brands — that’s why I wrote There Is No Secret Sauce. This year, my agent and I decided that there was no strategic guide for multimillion dollar social customer relationship management engagements, so that’s how I decided to write Dance On a Volcano.”
Monica Schuloff, freelance writer and editor, notes, “In order to know what to write about, you have to read a lot and know what the trends are. Look at magazines, the Internet, and TV. Take a look at what's out there already and determine if your idea is something new. Talk to trusted colleagues and ask about the areas they think are lacking educational materials. Before you get started, ask yourself five questions: Who is going to read this book? Why are they going to read this book? What will interest them the most about this book? Where will you distribute this book? How are you going to write it? If you can't answer these five basic questions, sit back down at your computer and do a little more research.”
Next, do some preliminary research on your chosen topic. You’ve got to know your market. Is the market flooded with books on your topic? Will your book stand out? Will people want to read it? Schuloff notes, “Search the Internet. This is the easiest way to find out what's out there as an Internet search will return the most popular or clicked on items in that category. Talk to friends in the industry. You can also visit professional web boards or even use social and/or professional networking sites like linkedin.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, etc., to float ideas and get nearly immediate responses.”
Write! Once you are set on a topic and you’ve done your research, get writing. Martine Edwards, Editor, suggests you do not write an entire manuscript before speaking to a publisher. “I would recommend to anyone with a book idea to flush the idea out thoroughly, but not to write an entire book before talking to a publisher. A publisher will have some direction for you that will help to make the book more marketable.” Schuloff says “Getting a book published is not easy. If you can answer all of the five questions (who, what, where, why, and how) you've got a good start; but if you're not a writer, it can be difficult to formulate clear copy. You should expect it to take a few months, at least, to write your book.”
Experts also advise to always have trusted friends and colleagues read and comment on your manuscript along the way. Rewrite if necessary. You usually only have two to three pages to impress the publisher so make sure you are sending your best work.
If you can, get an editor. Schuloff says, “It is advisable to hire an editor if you are not a professional writer. Your literary agent may help you with this. If you're self-publishing, you will need an editor/proofreader and/or writer. Look at who is on staff at a newspaper or magazine and ask them what they charge. It never hurts to ask.”
“The most challenging aspect of writing is to have the courage to change parts as you go along to make the overall piece better. You can't be married to your copy, especially if you ask for help or opinions. Be prepared for comments from editors that may sting. Develop a thick skin and approach all comments objectively, redirect with questions on how to make the portion, chapter, or overall book better. On the other side of the coin, consider the source and ask several people the same question. Decide for yourself if you must use it or if you can lose it. After all, you're the boss; it will be your name on the book, not theirs,” says Schuloff.
Metz found the writing process itself challenging. He said, “The most challenging part was coming into the office at 7:30 a.m. every morning to write my book for an hour and a half, especially while my colleagues were either out at the gym or sleeping at that time. Instead of going out to brunch with all my friends on the weekends, I was sitting at home, writing the book.” To fight the urge to take a break or give up, you must stay focused and remember why you are writing in the first place. What is your ultimate goal? Try posting motivational notes or your goals in your writing space to keep you going!
Now, try to learn a little about publishing. If you can, connect with people who are familiar with the process and ask them for help. Read books on the subject; sit in on web chats with other authors. Do all you can to familiarize yourself with the process before you begin. Connections really are best, so get out there and network. Schuloff notes, “In publishing, like in many things, it's often who you know. If you know someone who knows someone, this could be an easy way in the back door. Ask everyone you know, and specifically anyone you know who has been published before. Post a note on your social networking site to see if any of your friends might be able to connect you with someone through back channels. Often, agents will prefer recommended authors from their current authors rather than cold query letters. Talk to those you know who are already in the publishing industry to see if they have any suggestions or can link you with an agent or publisher. Sometimes magazines and newspapers will publish your book for you while they take a cut and distribute it.”
If you can’t make a connection, there are other options. Metz chose to self publish his first book. He explains “After establishing good credit, you can generally sell your books before you pay for them.” After he sold a few thousand copies, Amazon picked up his book. However, after this book, he did get an agent. He says, “Don’t be afraid to self-publish your first book. But if you do have an agent, expect to get a lot of feedback from her and expect the process to take a lot longer than you expected.”
The Internet is full of information and resources to guide you through self-publishing. Websites like www.lulu.com provide easy services that allow you to design how your book looks from cover to paper style. If you choose to self-publish, get ready to market it so that it gets picked up. Marketing is an important step whether you get a book deal or choose to publish on your own.
“There are so many ways to market your book,” says Schuloff. “Take a look at your audience. Who are you writing your book for? Who will read it? These are the people you need to target. Press releases are wonderful little tools to help push your book, and magazines and newspapers don't charge you a fee to publish them; however, they don't guarantee they'll publish them, either. Consider where your target audience will be, like trade shows or schools. Do they read trade magazines and professional websites? Do they belong to professional organizations? Metz says, “Speaking engagements really seem to help. We’ve also done quite a bit of niche industry events in industries that my team hopes to work in. For example, we love working with apparel brands, so we go to a lot of apparel industry conferences.”
Begin your publishing hunt. Find publishers who might be interested in publishing works like yours. Go to the library or a book store and look for publishers of books similar to yours. Writer’s Market is a good resource for names, if you are using the most recent edition. If you have an agent, they will find publishers for you as well.
On how he got the ball rolling, Scalise said, “I used the ‘trial by fire’ approach, contacting a few publishers and sending out my manuscript, as well as asking many questions and paying attention to the answers. I followed up with persistence, being told 'no' along the way, but always questioning how he could move the process along.”
Once you have your list of publishers to contact, you can begin the submittal process by first sending a query letter to see if the publisher is interested in your work, rather than sending it and waiting months to hear something. A query letter will let you know if the publisher will give it a read before you waste time sending it. If you choose to send your work without a query, Edwards advocates, “A strong table of contents, some data on why the book will sell, as well as a sample chapter are always a great starting point to open the conversation with a publisher.”
Whether you send your work to a publisher or first make contact with a query, use the Literary Marketplace (LMP) for the names, addresses, and phone numbers for the publishers you want to contact. The LMP can be found at the reference desk of your library and will have current information.
Lastly, submit and wait. Schuloff says, “Getting a book published is not easy” and “You should be prepared for rejection. It is not uncommon for authors to be rejected 50 times or more before they get a book deal.” Grow tough skin. If persistence was ever necessary for success, it’s in getting a book published.
About persistence, Scalise notes, “If you are committed to seeing your information make its way out into the world, if you know deep down that the industry you serve will be a better place with your content in their hands, then the rejection will not be daunting.” Prepare for rejection and persevere.
While that might be easier said than done for some, Schuloff offers some motivation in saying “The most rewarding thing about having something published is seeing someone actually reading your piece or carrying your book around.” She fondly recalls a moment when a woman sitting next to her at a trade show read her article and announced out loud, “That was a good article.” Schuloff replied “Thanks” and the woman realized she was the author. Schuloff says, “That was an amazing gift that I'll never forget. Feedback is so rewarding.”
If you’re serious about writing, don’t give up. Most people drop out after some rejection and time passes without a book deal. Just by sticking with it, you are making progress.