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Published Article
by Patricia Fry

How to Turn Your Book Idea Into A Product

Just because you think you have a good idea for a book, doesn’t mean that it is a viable product. Likewise, the fact that you can write well, doesn't guarantee your success as a published author. You might know a lot about business and marketing, but can you navigate the competitive world of publishing?

There’s much more to successful authorship than one typically sees on the surface. It isn’t a simple matter of writing, publishing and raking in the royalties. Successful publishing means:

 • understanding the publishing industry

 • knowing your publishing options and the possible consequences of your choices

 • being aware of your responsibilities as a published author

 • being willing to construct a business plan (book proposal)

 • the ability and willingness to get out and sell your book once it is a book.

Do you have a book in mind or in manuscript form ready to be published? Do yourself and your future a favor and set your work aside while you take some important preliminary steps. If you're new to publishing—if this is your first time at bat with a manuscript—you probably have a thing or two to learn before making your pitch.

The fact is that most first-time authors, even though they want to be read by the masses, don't look at their books as products. While you might envision people buying your book, you find it difficult to consider your book a marketable item.

When you're still in the writing stages, you tend to view your work as a part of your very soul. Even a nonfiction manuscript is filled with your sweat, your heart and your dreams. Through your book, you hope to change some minds. You want to teach or entertain. But most of all you dream of having your carefully chosen words read. You want to reach out, touch and make a difference. That's what's on your mind while you're writing your book.

When you hold your finished book in your hands for the first time, you feel such pride that you fear you will burst. You are thrilled beyond belief. And you're sure that anyone who sees this book will yearn to own a copy. "It will sell itself," you quip. And you actually believe this. Why shouldn't you? You've worked hard to bring it to fruition. Certainly, your efforts will be recognized along with the value of your book.

As authors, we've all felt this way. And it's a good thing to have this kind of belief in our books, because sooner or later, you will realize that, to everyone else: consumers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, etc., your book is a product. And the earlier you buy into this, the sooner you will begin to realize your dream of readers everywhere enjoying and/or learning from your book.

How do you shift from sappy, emotional author to savvy book promoter? Follow these guidelines:

 • Study the publishing industry. Find out what it takes to successfully navigate the publishing industry. For example, what are your publishing options and which one is best for you and your project? How do you locate and approach an appropriate publisher? Over 76 percent of all published books sell fewer than 100 copies. How can you break out of that common mold? How do you get your book into mega bookstore chains when they typically carry only about 10 percent of all titles in print? What does it take to be accepted by a distributor? What are some of the most successful promotional activities for authors? How does one go about studying the publishing industry? Read books about publishing, join publishing organizations, subscribe to newsletters and magazines related to publishing.

 • Determine the purpose of your book. Do you know why you want to write this book? You will understand more about how to promote a book when you have clarity on its purpose and your reasons for producing it. But your purpose must be honorable and reasonable. If you are writing this book to impress someone, to change minds or to make an unpopular point, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Aspirations of fame and fortune may also be unrealistic. And you won't get very far with a book that is simply a copycat of all the others in its category. If, however, you wrote this book in order to position yourself as an expert in your field; you feel you have a remarkable story to tell and you want to share it or you have discovered a new way of presenting important information to a segment of the population, your purpose may be reasonable and your book idea valid.

 • Learn about your competition. What other books are out there like yours and what makes your book different, better, more valuable, more useful? If you can't determine that your book is different enough or better than most others, maybe you need to reconsider your book's focus.

 • Find Your Audience. When should you start thinking about your audience? The very moment you conceive of the idea for your book. Most hopeful authors believe that if they write it, readers will come. And this isn't always true. In fact, this concept is born of our need/desire to maintain our creative posture. Our creative side does not want to be thinking about targeting an audience, marketing or any of that while involved in the writing process. But if you want to sell that book—if you hope to create a viable product, you must consider your target audience before you complete the book. Write the wrong book for the wrong audience and you won't be able to sell it. Write a book that a large segment of readers want, yearn for, desire and you are creating a viable product.

 • Establish a platform. Your platform is your following, your way of attracting readers. A platform may consist of credentials, expertise, experience, celebrity status or name recognition. You might have a platform already because you are well-known in your field. Or you can begin to establish a platform by being published over and over again in magazines and ezines related to your topic/genre, by getting actively involved in websites and organizations related to your topic/genre or by creating some other form of becoming recognized.

 • Have a promotions plan. The viability of a product is a moot point if there is no marketing plan in place. An audience and a platform, even for a solid, well-thought out book, won't sell it. You, the author, must develop a strategy and take action toward marketing and promoting your book.

You may have an idea for a potential blockbuster bestselling book. But that book will go nowhere if it isn't backed up with some solid business sense as outlined in this article. The next time you sit down to work on your book, before you get too involved in the writing, view it as a product and then use the guidelines above to determine and to develop its viability.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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