Thursday, June 30, 2011

A (Cautious) Nod to the Writer in Each of Us

I’m certain you’ve heard the saying, “there is a book in everyone”.  Although this may be true, I am finding it increasingly more important in this DIY society to ask some very important questions before you venture off into the “Hemmingway Period” of your life.
If you have a burning desire to share a delightful or maniacal character that you have developed with the world …or, you want to share your life story with others so that others can be helped to achieve the success that you have attained … or you want to help others to avoid and not repeat your mistakes, then it has never been easier to write and publish a book than it is today. I just got off a site that offered self publishing, rights filing, maintenance, etc. , etc., etc. for $199.00. What a deal! Or is it?
Inexpensive publishing options aside, I strongly encourage you  to consider the following three questions, at a minimum,  before you quit your job, go into the “Hemmingway Phase” of your life and write a book and publish it for under $200 and expect to make a living off of it.
Please ask yourself these three questions before you even consider the idea of writing a book as a profit generating tool:
1.       Does anyone really care what I have to say? Now this may sound harsh, but put more politely, have you done your market research and determined that there are not 100 other books written on the same topic? If there are, unless you are a celebrity or a well-known author with hundreds of thousands of fans -- no one cares.

Now, I don’t mean to be cruel, but it is true. There are people who care but the people who do care are probably your friends and family. If so, write your heart out and give them your book as a Holiday or Birthday Gift. That would be a well-spent $200.

Seriously, this truly can be a satisfying experience for you and for your friends and family who are interested in what you have to say, and more importantly, care about you. My dearest Aunt just sent me a book that she wrote with the aid of an historian about her life. She only printed about 15 copies and gave one to each member of her immediate family. As she and I were chatting one lovely afternoon (any afternoon that I can chat with her is immediately turned lovely), she told me that she had written this book to share the family’s heritage so that it would not be lost. I remarked how proud I was of her for doing that because many people think about it but few actually do it – but she did it. And, I can tell you from personal experience, it was beautifully written and did portray a time gone by and I loved every word – because I love her.

Had my Aunt’s book been written by someone I didn’t know, I would not have even read through the first chapter. But knowing her and the other people in the book gave me delight and insight into their lives that I had not totally known. I devoured every written word. I cherish the book and I love it so. Why? I love it because I know the author and I know the subjects in the book. If not for those important facts, I would never have cracked open the cover.

2.       Am I self publishing because I am afraid of rejection from publishers? If this is true, you need to really do some self examination and consider what is ahead of you. Whether self published or not, you will need to market, promote and sell your book. This process inherently holds rejection as well. Sometimes, a lot of it. So, if you are self publishing your book because of your fear of rejection from publishers, you will never make it through the marketing, promotion and sales process – NEVER!
I have a few clients who have written books and most are published by a publisher – but most will tell you that they could wall paper a room with their rejection notices - and then on that one bright day when they finally received a publisher’s approval, they framed their acceptance notice!
For those that have self published, they generally struggle terribly through the marketing phase. They have a difficult time going through the methodical process of identifying their audience(s). They can tell you all about the characters in their book, but they cannot articulate one market segment that would be most likely to buy their book.
This isn’t good news. The challenges of selling a book are hard and they are harder for those that are self published and/or on POD (Print on Demand) status because the bulk of the cost of promotion, labor of promotion and ideas and access to promotable events falls to the author.
3.       Have you established a budget to market your book and can you live (possibly on peanut butter sandwiches) until it reaches significant sales goals? Many authors that I speak to go “radio silent” when I ask them what their marketing budget is to promote their book. This breaks my heart as I know that this means that they have little to no chance of selling enough books to make a change in their lives.

One person I spoke to had what I considered to be a book “with legs” to it. In other words, this book could become a movie one day. It had the possible attributes to become a franchise, much like Harry Potter did. The characters were strong and unique and had a great target market segment of tweens and teens. It contained an archeological element like Indiana Jones. It had fuzzy characters and I had visions of licensing toys, rides at amusement parks, lunchboxes, sequels, etc. around this fantastically creative and fun story.  And when I asked the author what his budget was to market the book, he stated that he spent all of his money self publishing the book and didn’t want to send it out to potential publishers/promotional machines. It was his baby and he was sure it would just sell itself once he got it listed on one of the major .com book seller sites. The last time I checked, he still had all of the original first run copies of the book. Sad.

So please heed my humble but honest and caring advice. If you do write that one book that you have in you, please don’t assume that it will sell itself. Do everything you can to get it published by a mainstream publisher. That entity has the know-how to assist you with the critical aspects of the visual packaging of your book’s cover, spine and back. In addition, the established publisher has the contacts, relationships and experience to “plug you into” a promotional campaign that includes a well-planned launch, media coverage, book signings, reviews and the paperback announcement. If you are unable to get a mainstream publisher to publish your book, hire a professional marketer/promoter with a track record of success. Don’t fall prey to the “self help” seminars, webinars and “how to” guides that are out there. Most of them are bogus, over priced and based upon theory not practice or actual results. In this case, after you’ve put your words to paper, put your money where your mouth is and hire a professional who will get you and your book to stand out above the crowd. Don’t be another self published author who pours their soul into a book and then waits for it to sell itself. It is highly unlikely that you will succeed with a “build it and they will come” strategy.

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