by Patricia Fry
The 5 P’s of Authorship
What does it take to become an author? Notice that I didn’t even insert the word, “successful” in this sentence. Success is relative, anyway, isn’t it? I know authors who don’t believe they are successful until they sell 100,000 copies. And then there are authors who celebrate their success if they earn back enough to pay their printing costs.
But what does it take to become an author—to accomplish the requirements of authorship? During my thirty-seven years as a career writer and author; after 31 published books and after having worked with dozens of clients on their book projects, I’ve narrowed it down to 5 P’s. Ask any author who has been around the block and they will tell you that it takes:
There are no shortcuts. One cannot deviate from this established path to authorship. If you want to become an author and experience whatever measure of success you desire, you must consider each of these 5 P’s. (It wouldn’t hurt to throw in the word Patience, either.)
Before you start writing the novel or the nonfiction book of your dreams, put some thought into the potential for your project—a lot of thought. I suggest writing a book proposal. You wouldn’t open a business without a business plan. Consider the book proposal a business plan for your book. At the same time, look at your book as a product. If you view this project any other way, you are already starting down the wrong path.
Before proceeding, ask yourself, “Why do I want to write this book?” and “What is the purpose of this book.” If your responses are valid and reasonable, move forward. If they are frivolous and emotionally-driven, reconsider your project.
Now sit down and write a book proposal. There are many resources to guide you, including Herman and Adams, Write the Perfect Book Proposal and my How to Write a Successful Book Proposal.
What will you learn as you progress through the book proposal process? Here are the most important questions that you need to answer through your book proposal.
• Do you have a valid book at all?
• Who is your audience and where are they?
• What else is out there like your book?
• Is there actually a market for this book?
• What are your qualifications for writing this book?
• Do you have a strong enough platform to generate sales for this book?
• How will you promote this book?
What you learn from a well-researched, well-developed book proposal will guide you in making your next decision. Is your original idea a good one or do you need to tweak it a bit in order to make it more marketable?
This could be an important turning point in your project. Make an emotional decision (I love my idea and I’m sticking with it even if I can’t justify producing it) and you may fail. Make an educated decision based on the facts revealed in your book proposal, and your book has a fighting chance.
What about a book proposal for a novel? While the book proposal process is designed with the nonfiction book in mind, I recommend preparing one for a novel, as well. You should establish your genre, have a plan for your story, know something about your audience and how to reach them and you must be prepared to promote your book once it is a book. The fact is that no matter which publishing option you choose, you—the author—are responsible for promoting your book. So you’d better start building your platform—your following, your way of attracting readers.
Once you establish that your book is a viable product, begin outlining, organizing and writing it.
Also work on your platform:
• Create a massive mailing and emailing list.
• Become known among leaders in your book’s genre/topic.
• Write and submit articles or stories to appropriate publications.
• Develop workshops and seminars on your book’s topic and present them.
• Publish your own newsletter.
This will be a busy and enjoyable period in the process of becoming a published author. You will sometimes think that these eight to thirty-eight (or so) months are the hardest you’ve ever experienced. But I want you to hold this thought: You ain’t seen nothing yet! Most authors say that they thought the writing process was hard until they got involved in promoting their books.
It is for this reason that I recommend working on your platform while you are in writing mode. You’ll be more well-prepared for what is to come.
Once you’ve completed your manuscript, you’ll become involved in self-editing. Proof and edit as thoroughly as you possibly can.
• Check for inconsistencies and repeated material.
• Make sure your spacing and punctuation is correct.
• Examine your manuscript for muddy writing and run-on sentences.
• Eliminate those sneaky mistakes that aren’t picked up by spellcheck.
• Correct any misuse of apostrophes or words.
Once you have done your self-editing, hire an experienced book editor for your final edit. Yes, this is necessary and the expense must be factored in. Hiring a good editor is an investment in your publishing success. But I must repeat—this should be an experienced book editor.
Plan to pay an editor from $800 to $3,000 (or more). This depends on the size and scope of your manuscript as well as the condition of it.
You now have a choice to make—you have options. Will you try to land a traditional royalty publisher for your piece of fine work? Will you go with a pay-to-publish company? Or will you self-publish (establish your own publishing company)?
People ask me, which is the best publishing option? My response is, “It depends on you and it depends on the project.” Your job is to study the publishing industry so that you understand all of your options and the possible consequences of your choices. My book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, provides a good start in that direction. If you are considering a pay-to-publish company. [Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.] Also read Mark Levine’s The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, wherein he rates and ranks 48 of these companies and scrutinizes their contracts for you.
Publishing is not free. If you land a traditional royalty publisher, you may not be required to put any money up, but you’ll receive only eight to fifteen percent of the selling price of the books and this doesn’t typically add up to much.
If you go with a pay-to-publish outfit, you could end up with as much as $10,000 out of pocket. And in many cases, you still have to purchase your books. Read and understand any contract before signing.
If you self-publish, you could spend anywhere from $1,000 (for a few copies produced at a business center) to $10,000 or more. My first self-published book cost me $25,000 to produce in 1983.
Both the pay-to-publish option and self-publishing require that you hire a page layout and cover design experts, unless you can do this work yourself. Here, you could spend another $3,000.
Do not even consider producing a book for publication if you do not have the money, time, experience, interest, enthusiasm for and/or knowledge about book promotion.
In order to sell copies of your book, you must turn practically all of your attention to promoting it. This means identifying your audience, locating them and finding ways to effectively approach them with information that will entice them to purchase your book.
There are numerous ways to approach book promotion and, in my articles, courses, workshops and books, I outline various activities for each type of promoter—the bold and the bashful. Do not expect to sell books without promoting them. Your book will not sell itself. (Don’t laugh. I’ve met authors who believe that their books will do just that.)
One of the things you will learn from studying the publishing industry is that the competition for books is fierce. You may have already noticed that everyone is writing a book. Did you know that over 75 percent of all published books sell fewer than 100 copies? And lack of promotion is only one reason why so many books fail. What are the other reasons?
• Lack of appropriate planning.
• Improper preparation.
• Inadequate proofing/editing.
• Ineffective publishing methods.
• Lackadaisical promotion.
Put your P’s in a row before you even put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and you will have a much greater chance for publishing success.
Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.