Janey Lee Grace, author of five books, gives step-by-step tips on how to write your first book, whether to self publish or find a publisher, and top ways to get PR for your book
It’s said we all have a book in us. Is there one inside you and are you purposely keeping it in? As the author of five books and a coach for budding writers, I’d strongly suggest you ask that inner voice if your book would like to be birthed.
The common mistakes people make when considering writing a book are assuming that their books needs to be the ultimate. People with a message to share or a great story rarely think along the lines of getting their first book out there. They tend to assume it must be the equivalent of War and Peace, and so the sheer enormity of the task is overwhelming.
I suggest you focus on one aspect of your message and start there. In fact, writing a non-fiction book can be the best calling card you will ever have for whatever else you want to achieve. Let’s face it once you add three letters to the word author, you are an authority. (Fiction is slightly different of course; more on that later.)
Decide on your USP. This can be the stumbling block for many people. They have a recurring sense of intuition that they should write a book. Perhaps clients, friends or colleagues constantly tell them that others would love their messages. Yet they feel fearful because they start counting the thousands of books already out there which cover their topic and think: why bother?
It’s true that very little is new under the sun. If you are a therapist, for example, who specialises in aromatherapy or a chef who is brilliant at desserts there will indeed be thousands of books on similar topics. But there’s only one YOU, and you will have your unique take on the best blends of essential oils or the most unique ingredients for satisfying puds. If you are authentic and passionate about your thing, then the chances are others will be interested in reading your words.
Don’t procrastinate about getting started. You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it going. Don’t be held back by thinking you aren’t a good enough writer, either: if you have a message and you could speak about it to someone, chances are you can write it. If for whatever reason you really aren’t up to speed, record into a device, let someone transcribe it and if necessary use a good editor.
How to prepare. Plan in advance what kind of length the book will be (it’s OK to start with a 25-page e-book). Brainstorm your suggested title, the three main points you really want to get across in the book, and a draft chapter list.
Divide the estimated word count by the estimated chapters, then work out how long it usually takes you to write. For example, if you want to create roughly a 40,000 word book, and ideally want ten chapters of around 4,000 each (it can vary but this keeps you from going hugely over or under) then schedule your time. Do you need half a day to do 1,000 words? Or a week? If the latter, you know it’s going to take you around four weeks per chapter, be realistic and schedule your writing time accordingly.
Ask yourself who your target audience is for the book. Imagine someone walking into a bookshop or browsing online and reading the back cover of your book or the introduction. What kind of person are they? What interests do they have? Why would your book appeal to them?
At the same time, chart out all the different ways you will able to tap into those ideal clients in your marketing strategy.
Keep the flow going rather than constantly going back, correcting and editing. That can all be done later. One top tip is to occasionally get away from your usual working environment to write.
Even if you are usually pretty good at ignoring the phone, focusing on the task in front of you rather than the laundry that needs doing it can still be liberating to be away from any distractions. Often you’ll find you can be twice as productive – even if you are in a public space such as a library or hotel foyer.
Should you find a publisher or self-publish? This is a key question that you may not initially have the answer to. Self-publishing used to be seen as the lesser option, but not any more. I have a colleague who has turned down offers from publishing houses because her self-published books are highly successful and there would be no point sharing the revenue.
If you do want to go for the publisher option, first get your proposal right. A good proposal will include a synopsis, some sample chapters and, importantly, information about your target clients and what you see as the current marketing opportunities for your book.
Yes, despite being published you will be expected to know exactly how the book should be promoted and to whom, and the better your own platform the greater the likelihood of being published.
It’s different if you’re writing fiction: publishers willrequire the full manuscript in addition to a synopsis/proposal. Fiction writers do tend to want to go through agents so it’s worth approaching some. A simple way is to find authors whose work is in a similar vein and Google who their agent is. Agents may take ages to get back to you, so follow up with a polite phone call.
Use one of the many services to help you create a print-on-demand book (where the book is printed only when an order is placed). Lulu lulu.com was one of the first but there’s also Lightening Source, the American company Bookbaby and of course Amazon.
You usually need to do your own typesetting (especially for a printed book) and beware – this may not be as simple as setting up the margins on your PC. Typesetting can be quite an art, and you don’t really notice it until you come across a book that has been badly typeset, where the fonts, margins and spacing are wrong and make it an uncomfortable experience to read.
If you are creating an e-book you will need to ensure it’s formatted to the various different specifications of the sites that host it, such as Amazon, kobo, iTunes etc.
Having your book ready doesn’t, of course, ensure it will sell. The majority of books that are published (and self-published) do not sell in fact particularly well.
Accept that a book is a fantastic calling card and be willing, if necessary, to treat it as promotion for other work that you do. Of course everyone hopes they will have a 50 Shades of Grey on their hands, but its best to concentrate on raising awareness of your book and your work. All things being equal you should see some revenue over time.
Create a great press release to send journalists and editors. They need to fill their column inches so offer succinct article and feature ideas from the content in your book. Like all of us, journalists want an easy life so make it clear and concise. Always ensure that you pitch to newspapers and magazines that are your target demographic. Don’t bother sending your book about fly fishing to Natural Health magazine.
Offer editorial and reader giveaways to local press. You are a big fish as an author in your local area so capitalise on that. You could also offer yourself as a guest on local radio and TV. Be careful, though: in my work as a radio interviewer I’ve come across lots of authors who have managed to attract a great opportunity but have certainly not maximised it. Ensure you have some media training first, so that you get it right.
Use social media to promote your blogs and articles. Use content from your book and dripfeed it across social networking. People do business with those they like, know and trust, and if you are someone who regularly sends interesting facts, amusing anecdotes or fascinating gems of wisdom into their inbox or social media feed they are more likely to want to read your book.