Expert Round-Up Topic: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an author?
Nonfiction publishers expect authors to market their own titles. There’s a good deal of burden placed on the writer to build a social media presence, present at conferences, sell books in bulk, give podcasts, build email lists, give away ancillary content, and invest in marketing and publicity.
If you want to impress an acquisitions editor and editorial board, don’t lean in—go all in with a marketing plan. Along with your book proposal, write an extensive marketing proposal and start building your social media presence and email list.
Without a doubt, my biggest challenge as an author is managing the business and marketing side of publishing. Time and again I’ve found myself caught, trying to hold the tension between writing and researching new books and helping sell the ones that are already in print or under contract.
I love putting words on the page, love digging deep into topics and making them accessible to children. The writing process is very life-giving to me. Less so marketing. It feels like there is always something new I need to learn and master in order to be successful—Instagram reels, Facebook ads, how to create the perfect Pinterest pin, being present and engaged on
social media in order to network and build community. I want the opportunity to write more books and put them in children’s hands, so even though it’s outside my comfort zone, I’m committed to rising to meet the challenge.
I’m working on a memoir. My biggest challenge is finding the angle. Because life is so long, how do you pick and choose what to include? Also actually sitting down to write the stressful/hurtful parts. I’ve written and published several how-to books. Now I’d like to write about my experiences in an inspirational memoir about turning my side-hustle into a full-time business.
Most authors don’t have an evergreen marketing plan for their books. Too much weight is given to the first few weeks of a successful book launch. Every author and publisher wants that coveted bestseller status. But what we often forget is how long of a shelf life books have. People are still
discovering for the first time older classics like *7 Habits of Highly Effective People*, *How to Win Friends and Influence People,* and *Think and Grow Rich.*
What if authors treated their books like raising a child? A good book needs time to crawl before it walks and walk before it runs. My latest book was released during the height of covid and the contentious presidential election. It was difficult to cut through the noise online to gain traction
on the book. But my success was not determined by the launch of the book but by our long-term plan. We’ve seen more success in the past few months with books sales than the initial launch. Every week we are lining up podcast interviews and getting the book into the hands of more people.
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One of the challenges with a nonfiction book, such as perhaps a memoir-style self-help book, is balancing research with the author’s point of view. In earlier drafts of The Big Power of Tiny Connections, I packed first chapter with data around how unhealthy loneliness was for people. From statistics around how babies die when they’re not held, to the rising problems that the lonely and aging population in Japan is creating…it’s a fine line between having the chapter feel informative versus dry and data-driven. Early readers all asked me to pull back on the data, keep the tone light, insightful, and just have the data back up my thinking. So that’s what I did and the chapter is more welcoming and engaging as a result.
Additionally, when you’re dealing with dialogue in a nonfiction book, there is the concern that you might sound too fluffy and flip. Or that your book will suddenly read like nonfiction prose. Instead of being overly concerned about this, I embraced the idea that nonfiction could be made substantially more enjoyable, snackable, and skimmable with the addition of fresh dialogue whenever possible. Again in my book, I suggest unexpected ways to connect conversationally with strangers. These off-the-cuff suggestions add a real flavor to the book. For instance, if you hate idle chit-chat and want to really just get someone to crack a smile, she suggests you try asking a stranger: “So, what do you think your odds of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse might be?” Or you could go with a more meaningful question like: “I know we’ve just met, but I’d like to know your stance on pineapple as a pizza topping. Are we for or against?” These unexpected and amusing questions kept my book amusing and insightful.
I have published a series of short essay collections on aspects of Victorian England mentioned in the original Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories (The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes). The series has presented a number of challenges given the subject matter. Because the series focused on Arthur Conan-Doyle’s writings, reaching an audience outside of those interested in Sherlock Holmes involves appealing to other aspects of the topics covered, such as those interested in Victorian England or history in general. One of the major approaches I’ve taken has been through Amazon advertising. This requires knowing which categories those interested in the book would seek out, and I have been able to harness this method recently.
The books are also not long, and when published, I set a low price. The market, however, now suggests that those interested in quality writing are willing to pay more for it, and most advice now suggests a $2.99 price for the lower end. This reflects the book’s value. Too low a price (or even free) suggests a lower-quality book to some potential buyers. Those seeking to market a nonfiction book need to clearly identify the audience and reach out to them through appropriate marketing techniques, including setting a price that reflects value.
(1) While some people think writing a nonfiction book is easier to write because it’s just you talking, I disagree. Please know that a nonfiction book will be challenged. Readers want to know they are reading the truth so be diligent in that any claim you make is authentic and can be backed up by a recognized authority, a traceable resource, another book, or a legitimate case study (or many). Use independent, respected data if you need an ironclad resource.
(2) If you are just stating your opinion about the subject, make it clear to the reader that you are disclaiming certain passages based upon your own observations. *“I cannot prove this but my own anecdotal observations are…”*
(3) Many nonfiction writers want to add photographs. That’s fine as long as you give the original photographer proper credit. In our latest book, we included almost 30 photos. We gave credit where credit was due on a separate Photo Credits page. We also shot a lot of the photos ourselves. We highly suggest that practice so you don’t run into a possible conflict
(4) You should know your competition. It is always a good idea to read other nonfiction books within your own subject matter so that you don’t write about something that has already been covered by someone else. Why? In nonfiction, it is likely that your reader has a broad interest in your subject. Readers will often buy multiple books within the same category to affirm the perspective they’re seeking.
While writing What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy, I was constantly tempted to include everything I know about photos, organizing, genealogy, and storytelling. Heaven forbid someone should think I didn’t know something because they didn’t see it in the book! But I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers. I wanted them to feel that embarking on a legacy project of their own was doable, and not just for photo organizers, organizers, and writers. So I reminded myself constantly: “No, that’s too much. I don’t have to include everything I know. The advanced readers can pursue that on their own. Save it for the next book.” (There isn’t necessarily going to be a next book, but it helped keep me making progress on this one!)
Similarly, it was impossible to include every resource available—every tool, app, book, blog, podcast, group, and service provider. Trying to do so would have been pointless, since these resources come and go, and constantly leapfrog each other in terms of desirable features. So I included a few, and also added a section on how to be resourceful and find new resources, or replacements for those that were no longer available.
Goodreads Author Profile
Amazon Author Page
The biggest challenge about writing nonfiction is that facts change. In my book, I have an entire chapter dedicated to outdoor gear. Several years after publication, many products I write about are no longer available or have changed their look. Despite this, my book sales remain strong because I’ve built a relationship with my audience over social media. I created my website Treeline Review after readers requested an update to my gear chapter. The website is an addendum to that chapter and is a way to engage with my readers beyond the book.
IG: @treelinereview and @lizthomashiking
Facebook: @treelinereview and @lizthomashiking
When I was writing We Are Bridges, which is a hybrid memoir that weaves the story of my journey to motherhood with the story of two of my ancestors, the most challenging aspects for me was trying to find enough time, money, and other resources to do the kind of research I
knew would deepen this personal story. Even more frustrating was the lack of historical documents to aid me in attempting to tell the story of my ancestors—who were Black and poor people in the South, born without many of the civic liberties their descendants enjoy today,
victims of a lynching. I had to work around the gaping holes caused by missing birth and death certificates, obituaries, letters, licenses…all the documents that make our lives “official.”
As a nonfiction author, I am dedicated to using storytelling techniques that draw in the reader—the texture and beauty of language, plot, structure, setting—but I am also tasked with trying to get certain facts right since these are not purely stories pulled from the imagination. The novelist would argue that, even then, research is tantamount for creating realistic characters and settings. And yet, when you are writing any story, subjectivity and narrative choice are inevitable. One person’s memory collides with another’s memory. Fact and truth are tenuous and slippery in many ways. My challenge in writing nonfiction continues to be having enough time and resources to do the kind of travel I need to do to truly explore the land in which my story is set, to spend time in archives, and even the time and resources needed to determine what and where those “archives” are.
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So honored to be included here!