So You Want to Write a Book. . .by Tony Stubbs
As a professional in the publishing field, I have seen so many heartbreaking stories of people who have poured their hearts and life savings into a book, only to be ripped off by unscrupulous vanity presses, agents, printers, and distributors. In this six-part series, we'll cover the major points that the aspiring author should consider, such as is your book even worth publishing, publish or self-publish, your writing style, hardcover or paperback, cover design, choosing a printer, and how to distribute. If the series saves just one author from heartbreak or "bank break". . .
Part 1: First Things First
You have a message burning inside you that's helped you and your friends. The good news is that, thanks to computers, it's never been easier to get your message into print. The bad news is that, thanks to computers, it's never been easier to get your message into print. So, without dampening anyone's literary fires, let's take a reality check.
The first tough question to ask is "Is my book worth publishing?" As the editor of a publishing house, my desk was piled high with manuscripts that were simply accounts of how the authors "woke up" to their own spiritual nature. The manuscripts were about the authors and had no payoff whatever for the reader. So the first big question is: Does your manuscript have a payoff for the reader? Will the reader's life be changed by reading your book? Will the reader be educated, elevated, or entertained by your book?
Be brutally frank in your answer, because I assure you that the marketplace will be, and by then you may have invested a few thousand dollars to fill your garage with cases of books. Don't ask your partner, your parents, or your children. What are they going to say? Forget your friends, too. After all, they want to stay your friends. So, with a bucket of cold water in our faces, let's go on.
Topics come in waves. A few years ago, you couldn't go wrong with angels, but today publishers want nothing to do with the winged critters. ETs and UFOs are now "in" as we approach the end of the millennium; somehow, the marketplace is making a connection. Watch the movies and leading-edge TV channels. A recent market survey revealed that the market wanted ancient and extraterrestrial wisdom. For example, I've just ghostwritten a book about NDEs, UFOs, ETs, abductions, ancient Egypt, new science, and the Photon Belt. We'll see. . .
Talk to your local bookstore about what they're ordering nowadays. They're on the frontline of the marketplace. But remember: the three most important things in a book are reader payoff, reader payoff, and reader payoff. Anything else is superfluous (just like this sentence).
Look in the mirror and ask, "Who are you to be writing this book?" Answer honestly; otherwise you'll lie in bed nights, gnawed by that question. What's unique about you that makes you the best person to deliver the story or information to the rest of us? Of course, you may well be, but you must know why. Otherwise the talk show hosts will eat you alive.
A Book by Any Other Name. . .
Most authors worry too much about the title up front. Unless Archangel Gabriel personally commands that your book will be called Around the Horn, or whatever, just pick a working title for now and get on with writing. The final title will come from your subconscious later, from a publisher, or from the book itself. If the latter sounds strange, remember that, as a thought form, your book exists as a separate entity from you, and it may have its own ideas!
When title does become an issue, trust the professionals. They know what sells and what turns prospective readers off. Avoid overworked phrases, such as Confessions of. . . or Memoirs of. . . They've been done to death and should be retired. Avoid cutesy "bumper sticker" slogans such as I Brake for. . . The perennial How to. . . always works, as does using "Handbook" in the title (sounds authoritative, I'm told). Avoid words such as Principles of. . . or Theory of. . . Readers don't want books with titles that belong in schools.
Use title and subtitle to build a synergy. For example, in Paul Von Ward's Solarian Legacy: Metascience and a New Renaissance, the title is enigmatic and invokes your curiosity, whereas the subtitle explains what the book is about. Same with Dianne Robbins' The Call Goes Out: Messages from the Earth's Cetaceans and Wayne Fields' God, Cosmos, and Man: The Role of Mind in a Purposeful Universe.
Publish or Self-publish
For a new author, working the publishing houses feels like swimming upstream through piranha and crocodiles, only to be thrown back in once you've pulled yourself onto the riverbank. It's not their fault; the field is just so competitive, with a hundred manuscripts chasing the production and marketing money for just one.
The industry has changed in the last decade. Editors no longer make the acquisition decisions. That's done by bright, shiny MBA-types in Marketing who may not know or care what your book's about. Their only concern is "Will it make enough money to get me through my next performance review?"
If you do get picked up, the benefits you'll enjoy are professional production, backed by the publisher's marketing and distribution power and, of course, the book is produced on the publisher's dime.
The price you'll pay is a pittance in royalties and loss of control. Recently, an author's manuscript was so distorted and corrupted by her publisher that she took out a display ad in Publisher's Weekly to publicly dissociate herself from her own book. Ouch!
If you go it alone and self-publish, the benefits you'll enjoy are total control of your manuscript (but that can be a two-edged sword if you don't know what you're doing) and a much bigger share of your book's revenue. The price will be personal involvement in every stage of your book's production (quite a learning experience!) even if you hire contract help, marketing the book yourself, and supervising distribution and, of course, you get to pick up the tab.
Check, please. . .
When I'm asked, "How much does it cost to publish a book?" I ask back, "How much does it cost to build a house?" It all depends.
Editing runs anywhere from $500 to $2,000 depending on the size of the manuscript and your writing ability (more in the next issue). And every book does need a professional editor sorry, your college English major just doesn't equip you to write a commercially successful book without an editor.
Desktop publishing could also cost between $500 and $2,500 depending on the number of pages, plus any graphics and illustrations that must be prepared or scanned in. Then hold your breath printing costs will run from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on size of the print run (never less than 2,500 or you'll eat a huge unit cost), hard versus paperback, page count, color plates, and the number of colors in the cover.
How do you pay for this? If you're broke and don't have a rich aunt who's about to meet St. Peter, you'll need to be inventive. Attracting investors in your book is really attracting investors to you. How passionate are you about the book, its message, and your mission? If you're not, they won't be.
Next time, we'll talk about writing style and skills. Sharpen your pencils. . .
Tony Stubbs is a freelance writer, editor, publishing consultant, and desktop publisher living in Southern California. He is also the author of An Ascension Handbook, and can be reached at (909) 672-6115 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.