I remember how confused I felt when I embarked on writing my first book back in 2004. I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly find my way through all the conflicting advice. And in almost two decades since then, the expansion of the internet has allowed that conflicting advice to multiply many times over.
In addition to being confused, I was completely overwhelmed. There are SO MANY steps involved in writing, publishing, and marketing a book. I hear so many author lament about all the same challenges. Maybe you’re also feeling overwhelmed and unsure what steps to take next.
Unfortunately for me, I learned far too many lessons the hard way! But the good news is that I can help you avoid many of those mistakes. Read on for guidance on the entire process—from writing to publishing to marketing and beyond. It doesn’t have to be this hard!
Get Off the Struggle Bus
Whether you’re writing your first book, embarking on traditional or self- publishing, or navigating marketing your book, it’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed. If you have spent countless hours reading, watching videos, and listening to podcasts to the point of becoming even more confused, you are not alone.
When you’re taking in information from a variety of sources, some advice will inevitably conflict with what you’ve heard elsewhere. Just because TikTok dance videos worked for one author doesn’t mean it’s a strategy that will work for you. And what works for fiction writers doesn’t always work for nonfiction writers, and vice versa.
So how do you reduce the overwhelm?
Stop wasting time with conflicting advice.
Choose one or two reliable sources to get your information. This might be from an experienced fellow writer, podcaster, courses you take from reputable organizations, or through membership in an association like the Nonfiction Authors Association. Just make sure whoever gives you guidance is trustworthy and has walked in your shoes.
There are plenty of people who give advice on activities they haven’t done themselves. And even those who’ve published before you may not have done it the right way or the best way. Check references and reviews before you accept what anyone says as gospel.
Break Down Writing into Doable Steps
Embarking on writing an entire book manuscript can seem incredibly daunting. Here are some steps to make it easier.
1) Create an outline. I recommend using the storyboard method, which means taking a stack of 3×5 cards and writing down each and ever topic or story or example you want to share in your book on an individual card. You should end up with dozens of cards.
Spread those cards out on a large table or the floor and start to put them in a logical order. As you organize your cards, you will begin to create chapters and you can visually see where some chapters are heavy and need to be broken into two, or where some chapters are light and need more details. Once all your cards are lined up and complete, you should have a list of chapters with sub-topics. Transfer those topics into an outline.
2) Set a daily or weekly writing goal. Perhaps you can get up an hour or two earlier and write in the morning a few days a week, or you can dedicate a weekend day to a 6-hour writing spree each week. Whatever time you carve out, make sure you put it in your calendar just like any other appointment you would commit to attending.
3) Write without editing or distractions. Editing while writing can break up your flow and slow you down. Instead, just start writing and know that you will return to edit it later. Refer to your outline and know that you don’t have to tackle it sequentially, but it should serve as your guide for writing. And if you need to do research or look up sources, make a note in your manuscript so you can come back to it later. I use “XXX” so I can easily search and find places that I need to return to. I also recommend turning off email, your phone, and any other distractions that will take you away from the task at hand.
4) Set realistic goals. If you aim to write 1,000 words per day, which is about four typed pages, you’d have a 60k word manuscript in under two months. And that’s a substantial manuscript! Shorter books are currently a trend in the nonfiction space, so you could aim for 30k words and have a complete manuscript in just a month of daily writing. Or, if you commit to writing 3,000 words per week, around twelve typed pages, you’d have 30k words in ten weeks! Time spent getting words on the page each week will inevitably add up.
Also, writing should get easier the more you do it because you are flexing a muscle that builds with time. After your first full draft is complete, you will return and begin editing, adding sources, and tending to the details. But when you’re embarking on writing the first draft, aim to let the words flow as much as possible.
Choose Your Publishing Path Carefully
Deciding how you want to publish can be one of the toughest decisions for new writers. You may wonder if you should pursue a traditional book deal or self-publish. And if you self-publish, you must figure out how to proceed.
My personal feeling is that traditional publishing isn’t as bright and shiny as it once was. Brick and mortar bookstores have become far less relevant as we have shifted to buying books online. (Some sources estimate we buy up to 70% of all books from Amazon alone.) Bookstore placement used to be a primary reason to seek a traditional publisher, but the buying habits of readers have changed.
In addition, when you sign away your rights to a traditional press, you lose control of your work. They can change your title, remove entire chapters, and give you a cover design you don’t like. (All of these things happened to me when I was traditionally published.)
It typically takes a year or more for a traditional press to release a book, you will still be expected to handle the bulk of the marketing efforts, and you will earn around $1 per book sold, on average. And while you may receive some sort of book advance, you won’t see another dime until you earn that advance back through sales, $1 at a time.
When you self-publish you maintain all the creative control over your work. It’s easier than ever to produce a high-quality book and get it distributed to online retailers. And while you will need to invest in book production upfront, you will earn more from your book sales. When I realized I was doing all the heavy lifting and the publisher was reaping most of the rewards, I decided to turn to self-publishing and have never regretted that decision.
With all this said, if getting traditionally published is a personal goal for you, then don’t let me talk you out of it. It was a personal goal for me too, so I understand. But if you decide to travel this path, I recommend setting a time limit. Commit to spending six months or a year sending out queries to agents and editors and see what happens. If you don’t receive a good offer by the end of your allotted time, then move on to self-publishing.
And if you already know you want to proceed with self-publishing, then you have several options.
1) Become a self-publisher. Pure self-publishing involves purchasing ISBNs, establishing a publishing company name, hiring editors, a cover designer, interior typesetter, and ebook formatter. It means registering with the library of congress, choosing a printer and distributor, setting prices for your book, and making many important decisions. There are many steps in the process, but if you enjoy DIY projects, it is certainly doable.
You can download a free self-publishing checklist here. I also authored a book that takes you through each and every step: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan. Finally, we offer a Book Publishing Master Course here.
2) Work with a hybrid publisher or custom publisher. These are service providers you pay to produce your book for you. Hybrid publishers are distinguished by the fact that they vet manuscripts and turn down projects that don’t meet their quality standards. This means your book should be in good company.
Custom publishers don’t typically review manuscripts. They will produce just about anything in exchange for a check, so your book could be published alongside other books that aren’t well-written or properly edited. These firms tend to be less expensive than hybrid presses and often the author must do a fair amount of DIY work in exchange for that cost savings. You can locate hybrid and custom book publishers here.
3) Hire a book coach. There are publishing professionals who can coach you through the publishing process and help you avoid mistakes. Many of them have completed our professional certification program. You can access a directory of book coaches here.
Tackle Book Marketing One Step at a Time
I often compare marketing with gardening. Perhaps you dread marketing, the same way I dread gardening. I don’t like bugs or dirt or heat, but I work in my yard on a regular basis because I love having a beautiful space to spend time. I find the effort is worth the reward.
Marketing your books is a similar process. You may not love marketing, but if you want a positive outcome, you must commit to doing the work on an ongoing basis.
Imagine planting and nurturing three seeds in your garden every day. Over time, you would grow a beautiful garden. Marketing is quite similar. As you implement and nurture several marketing tasks each day, those efforts begin to grow over time.
If you want to sell more books and make an impact in the world, I recommend planting three marketing seeds each day. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Carve out 20 to 45 minutes each day and watch how those efforts add up over time. Here are some examples of activities to tackle:
- Write a blog post for your own site.
- Contribute a guest article to a site or publication that reaches your target readers.
- Research podcast guest opportunities.
- Write a pitch to send to podcasts.
- Send out your podcast pitch.
- Research speaking opportunities with trade associations, nonprofits, and businesses.
- Write a speaker pitch.
- Apply for a speaking opportunity.
- Update content on your website.
- Set up Amazon ads.
- Start and host an online group that attracts your ideal readers.
- Send out review copies to influential people.
- Write a media pitch.
- Send out your media pitch.
- Develop a new set of slides for a presentation.
- Record short videos to share on social media.
- Create images to post on social media using a free tool like Canva.
Marketing your book is an ongoing process, just like managing your garden. Early on, it can feel like your efforts aren’t getting you anywhere. But when you plant and nurture those seeds over time, all that effort begins to add up.
And keep in mind that marketing is about testing. A marketing tactic that works for one author may not get the same results for another author. And sometimes we plant seeds in our garden that don’t ever reach maturity. So, we move on and plant new seeds.
Do the work, seed by seed, day by day. This is the number one secret to success as an author.
Outsource When Possible
If you can dedicate a small budget to spend, you can hire help with many of your book marketing tasks. Think of it like hiring a weekly gardener to do the basic maintenance in your yard.
I have long been a big fan of virtual assistants. These are administrative professionals who work from home and can be hired as contractors on an hourly basis. Virtual assistants can help with all kinds of tasks like posting content to your website, managing your electronic newsletter, researching speaking opportunities, sending out pitches, sharing your content on social media, and so much more. Rates can range from $20 to $75 per hour and up, depending on experience.
Imagine what could happen if you hired someone for five or ten hours per month to tackle some of the tasks you find frustrating or don’t enjoy. For a few hundred dollars, you could consistently make some good progress with your marketing efforts!
I hope you found some helpful tips here. While I know firsthand how much effort is involved in writing, publishing, and promoting a book, I also know how rewarding the experience can be. I hope you get to experience this satisfaction too!
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