A client in our book ghostwriting business recently called to tell me a publisher was interested in offering him a book deal. Of course I’m always happy when clients see success with projects we’ve helped them create, and this time was no different. We talked about the merits of accepting a book deal, which got me thinking about several things to consider when deciding if a book offer from a publisher will be a good fit for you. When I landed my first book deal (which I later terminated) and even my second one, I didn’t know much about book contracts. But now, as an experienced author and editorial consultant to other authors, I have learned just how important it is to read through the contract and negotiate your points — or skip the contract and stick to self-publishing.
Every one of us has a story to tell. But not to sell. Selling your story requires a few additional considerations, aside from simply wanting to tell it. Selling your story means finding that message, meaning, or lesson that can be drawn from it to inform, inspire, and educate others, often causing them to respond to a particular call to action.
When you find the message and meaning in your story, you can write a powerful book about it, even build a business around it. That’s what we help clients do every day at RootSky Books. In fact, those are the only books we ghostwrite. If a client isn’t interested in writing a book that touches the lives of others in some way, we don’t take on the project. It’s not that we are snooty or are being difficult. We’re just business-minded. We know that the marketability of a memoir or life story, especially by someone who is not a celebrity, is heavily dependent upon what the author wants the reader to get from it. If the author is only concerned with telling his or her story, and not concerned with why the reader will invest time in reading it, then it’ll be hard for that book to be successful.
Many authors write a book and expect an audience to find it. As a result, their sales are disappointing — most likely, dismal. You can’t think book writing is a Field of Dreams and all you have to do is build it and they will come. They won’t know it’s there. They won’t know what it’s about. They won’t know where to get it.
So you’ve got to identify who they are and get the word out to them. With book writing, you’ve got to market the book. That means telling readers about the book, how it can help them, and how they can get it. We’ve talked quite a bit about book marketing in this space. But there is another side to marketing your book and building your brand. It’s about productifying your book.
I wrote a post the other day about the best way to market your book, writing career, or business. I said the best way to market your work is the way you will actually use. The thing you will actually do. It doesn’t matter if others give you a ton of other ideas for things you won’t do. All that matters is what you will do.
But I now want to give you specific ideas for marketing your book, writing, or business. I am sharing these ideas just in case you are scratching your head looking for a list of ideas for getting the word out about what you do. Having been a published book author and business owner for more than ten years, I’ve seen lots of marketing ideas. I’ve seen ideas that have worked for author friends or others I know in business. And those ideas that fell flat. I’ve tried ideas that didn’t work, and implemented ideas that worked beautifully.
If you publish a book, there is a pretty good chance that you want to sell it. Better yet, you want to sell lots of copies of it. Yet, most books don’t sell. That includes traditionally published books, where seven out of ten don’t earn back their advances — meaning the books don’t sell enough copies to give the author a royalty — and self-published books, where most sell fewer than 100 copies.
Sounds like publishing your book is a losing proposition.
And it is, for most people.
But it doesn’t have to be for you. The reason most books don’t sell, is simply because they are not properly marketed. What am I saying? Some books aren’t marketed at all. Yet their authors expect readers to magically appear, clamoring for their work. Book publishing is not a build-it-and-they-will-come venture. It’s a market it, build it, market it, market it, market it and they will come venture.
News of the potential merger of Random House and Penguin — likely reducing the number of publishers vying for authors’ works — is enough to send authors into hand-wringing depression as they bemoan the tightening industry that has already seen smaller book deals. But this merger doesn’t have to mean bad news for authors.
If anything, it’s a kick in the pants.
That’s because you can take this news as the inspiration you need to actually take charge of your own writing career. You don’t need a Big Six publisher to be successful. You don’t even need a small or mid-sized publisher. What you need, are the smarts, hard work, and good products to make it happen. In other words, you need you. Publishing success comes down to you, not whether some far-away publisher has deigned to grace you with a book deal.
Lives cut short, so short.
And then she had to deal with me, a young reporter who had telephoned to do an interview about this news event for a story to run in the paper the next day. My question? “How do you feel?”
Her answer? A quick, biting, “How do you think I feel?”
Amazingly, she didn’t hang up on me.
I somehow managed to stumble all over myself, my words pouring out of my mouth like wild children racing from the schoolhouse at the end of the day. They had no direction, no focus, probably very little understanding of the moment.
That was at the start of my career and was one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done. I can’t remember if I was an intern or if I had just started working full-time at my first professional newspaper job. But what I do remember is how awful I felt after that interview and how terribly I messed it up. Who asks a woman on the day she is burying her sister and niece, “How do you feel?!”
You don’t have to sell a million copies of your book — or even a single one — to make money from it.
You see, a book is much more than a single product to be read. A book has become the new business card. It is a tool you can use to generate leads, get people to buy from or hire you, and build your brand.
Most writers, though, don’t take advantage of the opportunities their books give them. Instead, they focus on simply selling the book to the customer, the reader, forgetting that there are others who need their information.
I was reminded of this recently when a new client signed up for us to edit and design her book and get it ready for publication. As I talked with her about some of the additional ways her book can make her money, she was silent. Then she said, “I hadn’t really thought of it that way.”
I tallied up my work this past week and realized I have authored or ghostwritten 34 books. I know I ghostwrite books for a living, but despite doing yearly revenue totals, I had not actually counted the number. But when I did, I realized just how productive I’ve been. And I’m really excited.
I have always wanted to be a working writer, and I am doing just that. The fact that this labor has produced more than 30 books makes me feel really good. And maybe you’re happy for me, too, but beyond being happy, you want to know how I did it. I hear you, which is why I’ll give you some tips that can help you become a more productive writer.
But first, a breakdown of the work. I’ve been a published book author since 2002, when I self-published my first novel, As If Nothing Happened. I landed an agent in 2005 and a book deal in 2006. I’ve authored three novels, one nonfiction book, and three ebooks. I did not count in this total one novel I wrote, Out of Control, because it was published under a book deal that I canceled. So I kind of forgot about it. But as I think, I suppose that ups the tally to 35 books I’ve written. Why should I not count it? Just because I forgot about it doesn’t mean I didn’t write it.