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How To Write A Book And Sell It

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 11 minute read

From the 37,000-year-old hand prints left by Neanderthals in a cave in El Castillo, Spain, to the crude sketches of a long-nosed figure peeking over a fence and proclaiming, “Kilroy was here,” people have always tried to immortalize themselves through art.

The white-haired matron from the Hamptons writes a letter to the newspaper complaining about dog leash restrictions for the same reason that the Los Angeles graffiti tagger does: to make their voices heard and leave their mark on the world.

The advent of digital technology has made it possible to share and spread information, thoughts, and ideas directly and without the need for a middleman. In the modern era, anyone can publish their own work online and strive to emulate the likes of Stephen King, Tom Brokaw, or Larry McMurtry.

It is important for grandparents to share their family histories with their grandchildren. The globe as a whole gets a chance to learn more and express themselves more than ever before.

Self-publishing and Technology

In 1993, Peter James’ thriller “Host” was the first electronic book, released on two floppy disks and sold 12,000 copies. Five years later, in 2010, the first electronic readers entered the market to mixed reviews.

When Amazon, the largest online bookseller, released the Kindle reader in North America in 2007, it altered the industry in ways that can never be reversed. Electronic books may now be read on a wide range of devices, including computers, smartphones, and tablets.

For the first time ever, ebook net sales outpaced hardback net sales in the first quarter of 2012. Although paperback books continue to be the most widely read format, this trend is expected to change soon, as ebook sales on Amazon exceeded paperback sales in the fourth quarter of 2011. The dominance of the ebook can be attributed to its cheaper production costs and better earnings (despite the fact that ebooks typically sell for less than half of what hardcovers sell for).

Bowker Identifier Services estimates that self-published book titles increased by 60% from 2011 to 2012 alone, and Amazon has been a major supporter of these authors’ efforts to rebel against traditional publishing houses in order to increase their share of royalties. People who have always wanted to be writers but never imagined they could publish are now able to do so with the help of modern tools.

Why should you write?

Individuals’ motivations for putting pen to paper and publishing their work can be as diverse as their identities. Some people are driven by their curiosity, some by their emotions, and others by the prospect of financial gain. No, whatever your motivation, now is as good a time as any to put pen to paper.

  1. Keep Track of Your Experiences

Market for presidential biographies expanded as a result of Ulysses S. Grant’s accounts of the Civil War. Less well-known people have also shared their vivid memories of times past, big and small, from the Great Depression to the best BBQ spots along the Mississippi.

Paperback collections of my father’s reminiscences of life during the Great Depression and the West Texas Dust Bowl that he wrote for his children and grandkids are second only to the worn leather bible that has been passed down through the Lewis, Card, and Forsythe families for generations.

Recording your life’s journey can be a powerful act of self-preservation, but it also has the potential to benefit the lives of others in the future. Countless others, like Isaac Newton, have said that they’ve benefited by “standing on the shoulders of giants,” or constructing their own ideas with those of others whose work has been recorded in writing.

  1. Make a Proclamation

Authors of letters have an audience of one or two people whom they can persuade, explain, and even challenge. Literature is a form of communication that reaches all corners of the globe.

A wide range of authors, from Henry David Thoreau to Ayn Rand, have put pen to paper to record their ideas and feelings on anything from the natural world to political systems. 

Artworks and dining experiences are both fair game for critical analysis. Parents disseminate information about effective child rearing practices and the safety of vaccines. Writing is one of the best ways to get your thoughts out there and the field is vast.

  1. Inspire Others

For his first book, my brother, a former corporate executive and first-time author, chronicled his decade-long experiences increasing work chances for the disabled in a Fortune 50 corporation. For this reason, businesses all over the world are launching new projects with the potential to enhance the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Also, in the early 1960s, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson inspired a new wave of Americans to become environmentally conscious.

  1. Earn Income

Bloggers, editors, and gurus of all stripes may cash in on the media’s ravenous need for material in print, on television, and online. The desire to make money is a good reason to write, but would-be authors who think self-publishing will make them rich overnight need a healthy dose of reality. Only a select few authors actually make a decent living strictly from book sales.

  1. In other words, try to impress us with a tale.

Truth or fiction, nearly everyone has an account of some kind that they’d like to tell. Through them, we are able to better understand one another and the world around us.

Mary Shelley, a wife and mother by the time she was 18, authored “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,” while at age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder penned the first book in her beloved Little House series. You can start any adventure at any time.

  1. Leave a Legacy

Some novels aren’t meant to be read by the general population. The words we leave behind for our loved ones are often the most precious we have ever written. It doesn’t matter if you write for yourself or for the world at large; your book will be a physical reminder of your contribution to history and will serve as a bridge between generations.

Having anything written down is a powerful statement about who you are as an individual, partner, parent, or friend. For you and your loved ones, you’ll be missing out if you don’t write down your narrative.

Explosion of Literature

Statista reports that in 2012, the publishing sector in the United States produced over 1.76 million new titles and made $29.5 billion in sales. However, even though one-third of Americans did not buy a book that year, book sales reached a staggering 2.59 billion units. 

The changing economics of digital publishing provide significant savings over paper and ink, prompting nearly all publishers to provide ebook editions.

Conflict has arisen between authors, publishers, and distributors as a result of the dramatic increase in ebook sales. Amazon and Hachette (the largest traditional publisher) are having a public spat over the spoils; Amazon is being accused of holding up shipments, while Hachette threatens to cut off access to best-selling authors like J.K. Rowling.

Even while the resolution of the distributor-publisher disagreement is not likely to have a major impact on first-time authors’ and self-publishers’ initial efforts, they should still watch it with interest.

Various Platforms and Formats

Thanks to technological progress, writers now have more options for getting their work out to the public. While many authors distribute their books in several formats at varying prices, some prefer to focus solely on ebooks as a means of cutting expenses and reaching a niche market.

  • eBooks. Publishing economics were completely upended by Amazon’s Kindle reader, which sparked the transition from traditional print books to electronic formats. Authors can easily convert their written works into electronic books with the help of services like Smashwords, Lulu, and Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing, all of which distribute the books to global markets within 24 hours of publication and allow the authors to choose their own rates.
  • Widespread Printing with Paper and Ink. Commercial printers offer comparable services to writers prepared to invest in an inventory of books in the hopes that sales will follow, but this is primarily the domain of large publishing houses that generate hundreds or thousands of print copies to minimize per-unit costs. The book printing industry is dominated by behemoths like R.R. Donnelley and Quad/Graphics.
  • Print-on-Demand (POD). Paper and ink books can be made available to authors without requiring massive upfront investments for massive print runs thanks to the ability to print on demand. The entire process of printing, binding, and shipping a book to a customer now takes less than 24 hours.
  • Audio Books. The “Talking Books Program” began in the 1930s, marking the first time that audio recordings of books with narration had been released. MP3s and other downloadable digital formats have now replaced vinyl albums, cassette cassettes, and compact discs. In 2011, this industry was predicted to be worth $1.2 billion. Over 26,000 audio versions of ebooks with professional narrators have been produced by Audible, another Amazon company, and 1,000 new titles are being added to Audible’s catalog every month. ACX on Amazon is a hub for writers who want to turn their novels into audiobooks. It connects writers with narrators, streamlines the production process, and distributes the audiobook on Amazon and the Audible platform.

Many well-known authors are advocating a “hybrid” strategy, in which they employ the big publishing houses’ resources while also providing some self-published options.

Many publishing companies now offer self-publishing services like editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing, and publicity for a fee or a reduced share of the book price in response to authors’ willingness to shoulder more promotional responsibilities than was previously the responsibility of publishers.

Popular Self-Publishing Subgenres

If you’re a first-time writer considering self-publishing, it’s necessary to do some research on what kinds of stories your target audience is interested in reading. While no topic you’re particularly interested in is necessarily a bad one, the following genres may provide some direction in selecting marketable material before you begin writing:

  • Fantasy. Considering how popular fantasy shows like “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and “Game of Thrones” are, it’s hard to deny the genre’s widespread appeal. Writing captivating stories about fantastical settings, unusual characters, and otherworldly powers could be right up your alley.
  • Crime fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. Everything from espionage to murder, from mental illness to terrorism, can be found within these pages. Many authors have found success thanks to the popularity of books featuring likable but flawed protagonists like Jack Reacher, Alex Stone, and Kay Scarpetta.
  • Horror. Authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz are responsible for giving us the chills and making us afraid of the dark and people in masks.
  • Speculative fiction from the future. Authors like Robert Heinlein and John Scalzi only scratch the surface of the science fiction genre with their stories of robots, laser rifles, extraterrestrial encounters, and post-apocalyptic journeys.
  • Biography. Biographies and autobiographies can either cover the subject’s complete life or zero in on pivotal moments that the author thinks the reader will find interesting.
  • Spiritual and religious. The link between humans and a supernatural force has always fascinated readers. Fiction writers might find inspiration in the accounts of those who have battled and triumphed over illness, tragedy, and other forms of adversity.
  • How-To. Popular topics for how-to books include everything from software to publishing their own work.

Printing Routes

Find a traditional publisher or distributor prepared to take a chance on your work, or publish your work through a “vanity press” (an earlier form of self-publishing). However, as “The Self Publishing Manual” author Dan Poynter writes in Writer’s Digest, “it’s practically impossible to land a publisher unless you bring an audience with you.”

Great works of literature like Madonna’s children’s books and the book reportedly written by Paris Hilton’s dog are published because the publishing house solely cares about making money off the author’s names.

  1. Traditional Book Publishers

Many of the hundreds of query letters, proposals, and complete manuscripts sent each week to traditional publishing houses and literary agencies go unanswered. The website Literary Rejections: Why Your Book Was Rejected argues that traditional publishers are often wrong in their predictions of a book’s commercial success, which is good news for aspiring authors.

  • J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” was rejected a dozen times before it found a publisher.
  • Authors like Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss, and Agatha Christie all endured years of rejection letters before seeing their first novels published.
  • After being turned down 140 times, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” went on to sell over 125 million copies.
  • A number of bestsellers, including “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Peter Principle,” and “Catch-22,” were initially overlooked by literary “experts” and therefore never published.

You need to toughen up and keep going for your goals if you want to go the traditional route of querying book agents and publishing houses. U.S. “big five” trade book publishers are as follows:

  • The Hachette Book Group. Imprints including Grand Central Publishing, Faith Words, and Little, Brown & Company are included.
  • HarperCollins. These book publishers are included: William Morrow, Avon Books.
  • The MacMillan Company. Henry Holt and Company, St. Martin’s Press, and Picador are just a few examples of publishers.
  • This book was published by Penguin Random House. Including those published by Knopf Doubleday, Crown, and Mass Market Paperbacks.
  • Authors Simon & Schuster. Among those publishers are Free Press, Gallery, and Scribner.

If you can break in, these organizations will be your best bet for marketing and sales, but competition is stiff. Whether you want to become a best-selling author or just share your tale with the world, self-publishing is an option worth examining. Some previously self-published authors have signed with one of the Big Five publishing houses once their novels were commercially successful.

  1. Self-Publishing

Since self-publishing is low-cost and accessible, many authors take advantage of the opportunity, despite the fact that their books are often of poor quality due to disjointed or incorrect material, improper grammatical usage, or both.

This causes them to fall flat with potential viewers and hence decreases their chances of success. In particular, the marketing of a commercially successful book can be time-consuming and costly, especially when compared to works published by traditional means.

If you want your book to sell well, it needs to have a great tale, excellent writing, a great cover, and a catchy name. That’s why it’s recommended that you hire a competent editor, proofreader, and designer. Many aspiring writers avoid the fiction market altogether in favor of penning nonfiction for certain niches that already have an established readership.

However, not even literary classics are certain to sell well. Recognition in the marketplace is just as important as quality when it comes to commercial success.

Marketing

Other than having written a terrific book, an excellent marketing and PR plan is the key to achieving massive book sales. Experience with SMM and SEO is crucial for success in today’s competitive industry, where the majority of purchases are made online.

Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” and “Moneyball”) and Michael Lewis (“Liar’s Poker,” “Moneyball”), two wildly famous authors, spend months on publicity tours, attending book fairs, giving interviews, and signing copies of their books. In the hopes of gaining positive evaluations, hundreds of complimentary copies are sent out to bloggers, literary critics, newspaper editors, and magazine writers.

Since most books don’t sell more than a few thousand copies, many would-be authors who self-publish instead work on building a catalog of books to sell, usually all in the same genre. 

Every book promotes the others in the series, on the theory that an avid fan of the author’s work is also likely to buy the other novels in the series. The goal of a successful author is the same as that of an appliance manufacturer: to establish a distinct identity in the minds of readers so that they will keep coming back for more.

Bottom Line

Everyone has an interesting story to tell, something that can be pondered and experienced vicariously by future generations. Ultimately, we are all the results of a family tree worth of mistakes and growth. In order to have an impact, you need to know how to structure what you want to say, as well as how to make, advertise, and sell it.

Words color in the past, filling in the blanks where we may otherwise have to guess. Follow your intuition to the stories you have to share. You’ll never find a more worthwhile endeavor or regret your participation.

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