Many qualified authors unnecessarily postpone beginning to work on their first book. The penalties are serious. They lose what could have been a valuable head start on their project, allowing others to build momentum. They miss opportunities to build valuable relationships with potential allies.
As a result, rather than positioning themselves as a unique, insightful innovator on their topic, when their book is eventually published, they become just one more voice in the category.
Here are several ways you can establish your credibility while deciding whether to self-publish their book or begin the process of approaching trade publishers.
1. Offer to help a currently published author update their book
Successful authors may be so busy with other tasks, such as serving their clients or writing their next book, that they may be hesitant about updating the current edition of their first book. They may simply not interested in reviewing each chapter and undertaking writing tasks like addressing chapters requiring replacement or significant updating. They may, however, be willing to work with a good writer, knowledgeable about the topic, who shares their passion for the topic.
Approaching currently published authors requires conviction, persistence, and resiliency. Your initial contacts may not pay off. However, on the other hand, your initial approach may be the first step in a lasting relationship. It may pay off potential testimonials when your own book is published. It may also result in referrals to present at industry events or referrals to potential client.
It’s important to remember that your primary goal is not the fees you may earn from the opportunity. Your goal is primarily to see your name on the cover of the next edition of a high-visibility book. Before beginning work on the next edition, you’ll want to make sure your name will appear on the front and back cover of the book. You’ll also want to prepare a detailed letter of agreement specifying each partner’s responsibilities and deliverables.
2. Prepare a simple lead generating program
It’s never too early to begin building your email list of prospects who may want to either buy your book when it becomes available or invite your to work directly with them.
Start by creating a simple incentive you can offer in exchange for permission to send future editions of your newsletter. The incentive can be very simple, like a PDF list of best practices, recommended resources, an article reprint, or access to a previously presented podcast.
Learning how to create a successful lead generation program will pay big dividends in the future. It’s also a valuable skill you might be able to offer as a service to your clients.
3. Write a premium book for firms addressing your market
Premium books are books are usually not available in bookstores. Firms publish premium books to identify prospects (see lead generators, above) or used as purchase incentives.
Writing a premium book is an excellent way to become known in your field. Premium books are typically shorter than traditionally-published books. In addition, the premium book publishing process can be more efficient than either self-publishing or trade publishing. There are usually fewer people involved. Responsibilities are more clearly defined. There is usually a faster approval and publishing process.
Most important, you are paid as a vendor, with an initial payment, a progress payment, and a payment upon delivery of the finished materials.
While preparing a premium book, you are also positioned as a resource to the firm’s marketing, public relations departments, and—typically—the firm’s external advertising and public relations agencies. (This might lead to additional profit opportunities for you.)
Caption: My first published book was The Aldus Guide to Basic Design, written as key part of a recommended marketing marketing plan.
Most important, the publication of a premium book proves that you are a credible author. For example, within a week of the publication of the premium book I wrote, The Aldus Guide to Basic Design, a trade publisher called and asked me if I “would consider” writing a trade book for them. (This was after I had assembled a drawer-full of rejection letters from previously contacted publishers.)
Caption: Within a week of the release of The Aldus Guide, a trade publisher called me and asked me if I would consider writing a trade book, which became an international bestseller, Looking Good in Print.
This lead to the international success of my first New York Times-recommended book, Looking Good in Print: A Guide to Basic Design for Desktop Publishing. Dozens of follow-up titles, and numerous speaking and training opportunities followed during the next ten years.
The “big lesson” I learned from this experience was not to propose a “book,” but position the book as a key component of a strategic marketing program. Books are often viewed as creative, or “luxury” projects. Marketing programs, however, are viewed as essential, strategic, profit-making endeavors.
4. Constantly scan the horizon for emerging challenges, trends, and technology
Josef Woodman, the founder of Ventana Press–my initial publisher–taught me an important lesson. Be the first book to write and publish a book on an emerging topic. In his words, “Don’t wait until a wave has crested (or peaked). Publish before the wave has crested!”
Before the wave crests, there are few competitors but many potential readers. After the wave crests, however, the market typically becomes crowded with competing titles just as demand begins to taper off.
The importance of timing is rarely addressed as a successful author marketing tactic. Authors tend to focus on the creative excellence of book contents rather than the context surrounding their book.
Trade publishers are often hesitant to gamble on a title that does not have a track record. For example, a decade or so after Looking Good in Print appeared, I was in my office late at night, reading the latest issue of PC Week, a tabloid-sized computer industry trade publication. There was a small story about the forthcoming release of Microsoft Office for Windows 97—the first “bundled” office productivity suite for word-processing, spreadsheets, email, and presentation graphics.
“Eureka!” I shouted. It was obvious to me that Microsoft’s yet-to-appear software bundle would dominate the office productivity market.
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I stayed up all night preparing a proposal for a “…for Dummies” book. I sent it off to my agent. I waited…and waited…and waited some more for a response. When I asked my agent “Why no response?” It turned out that the publisher’s response was “There’s no track record for books addressing bundles of software!”
Months later, I signed a publishing contract, and the book was a success around the world. But, the fact remains, even considering Microsoft’s previous software success, the publisher was waiting for the Office software bundle to “prove itself” before the book could be published.
Since then, of course, the publishing world has changed. But, it’s worth remembering that editors at trade publishers often have more to lose approving a title that doesn’t sell than they have to gain “taking a chance” on what may be an obvious “safe bet” to others.
Book publishing, of course, has always had a strong “human side.” All the more reason, of course, for authors to always do what they can to stack the odds in their favor!
Roger C. Parker is a popular author, content strategist, and copywriter. Roger’s goal is to help every client make the most of their ideas, writing talent, and business profitability—and enjoy the process. Make his acquaintance via email or LinkedIn. OCTOBER SPECIAL: email for my FREE 1-page Author Platform Evaluation worksheet and suggestions.