Thinking about writing a book?

Don't get discouraged—get prepared!

We all know most service and self-published books barely recoup $200 over their sales lifetime. And we know the road to a traditional imprint is slow and frustrating. So let’s talk a little about how the book business really works, and what you need to think about before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Define Success

Every author has their own reason for writing their book, so to ensure yours returns what you really want, start by determining how you define your book’s success. I don’t know why this isn’t more obvious, but no one can hit a bullseye if they don’t have a target—and an arrow can’t go in more than one direction at the same.

I’m not saying a title can’t or won’t provide multiple returns—thousands of books do. I’m saying they can’t all be the primary focus because that’s logically impossible. So think about it: what’s your number one objective: Money? Status? Influence? Reputation? Catharsis? Social Discourse? Legacy? Personal Satisfaction?

Sure, you want them all, but which one makes you get up every morning thinking, “I’ve got to write that book!”

Because let’s be real: your goal is not necessarily what your friends, associates, or anyone else expects you to want. I’ve worked with more than a few authors who really just wanted to get their story, their experiences, their theories, or their insights published so they could hold that piece of the soul in their hands. 

Famous authors. Survivor authors. Clandestine authors. Business authors. Bigger-than-life/one-percent-wealthy authors. Work-a-day, dreamer, leadership, speaking, motivating authors. And everyone in between. Why you want to author is entirely up to you.

Recognize Reality

And since I’m being bluntly honest, you should recognize that Amazon’s backlist contains literally tens of millions of titles at any given time… and millions of new books are being written and published at any given time. And every single published book earns an income—just not necessarily for their authors. 

The most consistent book -industry revenue streams are to the entities that make their money from writers and authors:

  • Amazon, obviously, that global flea market
  • Pay-to-publish and misnomered “self-publishing” services 
  • Co-authors and collaborators who take a piece of every pie they bake
  • Supply-chain entities and back-office service providers
  • Publishers and booksellers

Notice who’s not on that august list? You. Because to you, the average one-title author, your book is a personal triumph. To your family and writing friends, it’s your heart and soul. But to the industry, it’s another widget.

Focus to Succeed

There are essentially three ways to write a book. 

The first and most common is to sit down and write. Be 100% focused on writing and publishing the book.

UPSIDE You get to say what you want to say, the way you want to say it. 

DOWNSIDE It’s not a marketable property.

The second way is to work with an experienced writer, someone who knows how to maintain your voice and style. In this scenario, both you and your collaborator/co-author are 100% focused on writing and publishing the book

UPSIDE Once again, the book ends up saying exactly what you want it to say, exactly the way you want it said. 

DOWNSIDE Its appeal and distribution is limited to those readers who are already attached, i.e., invested in you: friends, family, colleagues, and audiences.

The third path is to work with someone who understands the difference between the consumer picture of the book business and the insider realities of the multi-hundred-billion-dollar global book industry. 

They know the artistry and craft of writing the book is merely a third of what goes into a successful title. Professionals are 100% focused on creating and positioning a marketable literary property, an admittedly more involved, intricate, and intimate process.

UPSIDE The book says what you want it to say, the way you want to say it—but it’s also crafted to fulfil your personal definition of success, positioned to appeal to its three best markets, and massaged to resonate with both cold readers and industry players.

DOWNSIDE You get what you pay for.

A client once told me that businesses couldn’t rely on superstar personnel anymore. Teamwork, he insisted, was the foundation for all success in the last decade of the 20th century. 

He was right, of course. No matter your title’s track—Legacy, Purpose, or Public—it only takes you or you and a collaborator to write your ideas and dreams into a good book. Or even a great book. 

But it takes a team of professionals to convert them into a Marketable Literary Property that appeals equally to
agents and publishers…. quality hybrid houses, distributors, and reps… reviewers, emcees, and hosts…
and, most especially, cold-eyed readers—your potential fan base.