How to 'Invent' Your Book
Take your blank page to national bookshelves.
Inventing can take on many forms; it doesn't necessarily have to involve a newfangled gadget. One of the greatest "inventions," in my opinion, is setting a pen to page and writing a book. I'm repeatedly asked how one should go about getting published, so it's a topic I thought I would address as part of the creative process. I base this advice on my own experience writing and publishing two books: The Mom Inventors Handbook, released in 2005, and Secrets of Millionaire Moms, released this year.
First, it's important to note that there are multiple options in the world of book publishing. The first, less risky option is to find an existing publishing company to publish your book. The advantages of this approach are that you are paid for your work upfront and the publisher incurs the expense of typesetting, printing, distributing and promoting your book. The challenge is finding an editor and publisher who believes in your work as much as you do and who'll put the resources behind it to get it to the marketplace. In addition, you'll only receive a percentage of the book's profits, which usually total about 10 to 15 percent of final sales. However, if selected, publishers may provide you with an "advance" on this sum, so you get some money upfront when you sign the deal.
Your second option is self-publishing. The advantage: Anyone can self-publish, provided they have the money to do so. Self-publishing involves hiring a typesetter and printer to publish your book, which can entail a significant investment. Then, once you have finished copies, you are responsible for distributing the book to reach your buyers. This can actually be the most difficult part of self-publishing. While existing publishers have an experienced and well-connected sales force to get books into stores, you'll have no one but yourself to pinpoint buyers and make the sale, and you must convince booksellers to carry it. Also note that booksellers will view you with much less credibility than an established publisher's representative, if you are lucky enough to get an audience. The advantages are that you have complete control over the process, and you'll make 100 percent of the profits.
Self-publishing is like going into business for yourself--you'll have to invest your own money, find a printer, manage your inventory, make your sales and manage the business. If you choose this route, an excellent resource is SelfPublishing.com . The greatest advantage is that you are in business for yourself, so you have a lot more to gain. However, it is important to note that few self-published authors ever turn a profit or sell more than a few hundred copies.
Contracting with a publisher is more like "licensing" your invention to another company--they take on the risk by incurring all the upfront costs, while you can sit back, see your book come to life, and make a percentage of the profits.
Finding a Publisher
Let's assume you've decided to take the first path: pitching your work to an existing publisher. How is this done?
First, be prepared and do not contact a literary agent or editor without doing your homework. If your book is a work of fiction, it must be a complete and fully written manuscript. In the world of fiction, few books are bought on "spec." Most publishers will require a fully written manuscript to evaluate before even thinking about making an author an offer. Until a fiction writer has a successful track record of turning out multiple books--and selling well--publishers want to see a beginning, middle and end to evaluate plot, story-telling ability and marketability of the finished work.
Non-fiction books can be a different story. Although they still require a strong concept, outline and fully realized plan, you can often approach publishers without a complete manuscript. Here are some guidelines to follow when pitching your non-fiction idea:
- Write what you know. Most publishers demand that an author of non-fiction has credibility. For example, don't expect to sell a book on diet or exercise unless you have years of experience as a fitness trainer or nutritionist. Readers want books from experts they can trust, and publishers know this. If you are passionate about a topic but lack credibility or experience in the field, find a partner who can help. For example, if you'd like to write a book on parenting, hook up with a pediatrician, child psychologist or other expert who can lend your book credibility.
- Prepare a comprehensive book proposal . This should include a detailed outline of your vision for the entire book, including each chapter; your background and what qualifies you to write on your given topic; a market evaluation of similar and successful books currently on the market and an explanation as to why yours is different; and a few sample chapters to demonstrate your writing style and your ability to produce valuable content.
- Get help . Perhaps you don't have the time to write a book. Or maybe writing is not your strong suit, yet you have information and material to share that you know readers want. Consider getting help from an editor or professional writer. This involves hiring and paying an expert to work with you. Arrangements can vary greatly. For example, you may have already written a draft of your book or proposal, but it needs to be polished, re-organized or revised. Or, you may need a writer to whom you can dictate your entire book. Either way, a professional writer can help you get the job done. If you don't already know someone personally, ask friends and family for references. Or, go to mediabistro.com and click on "Freelance Marketplace" for a list of hundreds of experienced writers and editors across the country, along with their qualifications and experience.
- Sell your idea. To many aspiring authors, this can be the most challenging part of the process. After all, where do you even start? Publishing companies aren't necessarily household names, and the vast majority is concentrated in major cities. You probably don't have a network that includes many book publishing professionals. Once again, there's no single path to take when attempting to "pitch" your idea to publishers, but there are some methods to help increase your chances of being offered a contract.
First, a little insider background: Very few publishers today accept unsolicited or un-agented manuscripts. And if they do receive them, they typically go automatically to the bottom of the priority list--also know as "the slush pile"--and are rarely read.
This is why I recommend finding a literary agent to represent you. A good agent is already plugged in to the publishing world, with relationships and regular contact with editors at many publishing houses. An agent knows an editor's style and interests, and sends work to appropriate contacts. For example, most editors have focused interests, such as business books, pop culture books, parenting books, children's stories or bridal books. Agents know these areas of focus and send work to those whom they feel will best respond with an offer. In addition, editors will look at proposals from agents they trust much more quickly than unsolicited work. After all, if an agent is representing an author, it means the work has already passed one "screen" test.
But how can you find an agent in the first place? Personal referrals are usually the most effective if you can find someone who will "introduce you" to his or her agent. Since that can be difficult, you can find an agent yourself. The Literary Marketplace is a great resource that provides a comprehensive list of agents and their areas of focus so you can send your proposal to appropriate parties. Like editors, they also have areas of expertise and focus, although they are usually a bit more broad-based. These areas of focus are also listed in the LMP.
In addition to having entr�e into the world of publishing, your agent understands the marketplace and the inner workings of the publishing world. That means if you are made an offer, your agent can negotiate the best possible terms for you. In return, most receive 15 percent of your advance and royalties.
A legitimate agent will never ask for payment upfront; avoid any agent who tells you otherwise. Agents are only paid when your work sells to a publisher.
Finally, don't give up. While the first agent you confront may not be interested in your idea or your manuscript, the 20th agent may be. Books are a very personal commodity, and interests and tastes are highly individual. There are countless stories in the world of publishing about some of today's phenomenally successful authors, who went through rounds of rejection when they first began. If you believe in your work, someone else is bound to, as well.
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