At some point, many creatives ponder the same question: is it time to turn my business or passion project into a book? Whether you’re hoping to grow your brand, yearn to share your knowledge with the world, or simply dream of seeing your name in print, writing and publishing a nonfiction book is a goal shared by many of us. Here are a few reasons to take the publishing plunge:
- To share your knowledge and ideas
- To build your business, brand, or platform
- To help others by shedding light on a larger issue
- As a creative outlet
- As a portfolio to share your work
- To reach a larger audience and connect with like-minded people
- To establish yourself as an authority in a given area
- As a path toward licensing partnerships, speaking engagements, and more
- As a “giveaway” or incentive for clients, customers, or students
I have worked in publishing for nearly two decades, first in New York and now in Sydney, and have helped hundreds of authors create publishable books. I have also met many aspiring authors who wasted time and effort on murky book concepts that led to rejection and frustration. What are the magic elements to a publishable book proposal? Why are some proposals snapped up by agents and publishers, and others left in the rejection pile?
There are many layers to book publishing. Large trade publishers, which are often accessible only through literary agents, focus on commercial projects and authors with track records and ‘platforms.’ Smaller presses are open to newer authors and niche topics. There is also academic and educational publishing, not to mention self-publishing. Finally, there is the new world of ‘partnership publishers,’ which provide editorial, design, printing, distribution, and publicity services for a fee.
Whichever type of publishing you pursue (unless you are self-publishing a book strictly for friends and family, or a monograph), it’s worthwhile stepping back and asking yourself a few questions before diving in. Note: these are for nonfiction books only.
1. What is your book about?
Can you describe your book in one sentence? Be sure to include the genre, main idea, audience, and what makes it special. Avoid generalities in favor of specifics that make us want to learn more.
- Too general: A book about collage
- Better: A beginner’s guide to upcycling discarded materials into stunning, multi-layered collage by an award-winning collage artist and instructor
- Too general: A memoir about my ex-husband
- Better: A harrowing memoir of how I discovered my ex-husband’s shattering secret - and why I kept it for twenty-five years
- Too general: A book about leadership for women
- Better: A soccer-mum-turned-CEO’s laugh-out-loud manifesto for rejecting the ‘mummy track’ and leaning in without sacrificing your sanity
2. Is it a good book idea—or just a good idea?
Is your topic meaty enough for an entire book, or could you do it justice in a blog post or magazine article? When you share the idea with others, are they intrigued? Are there many layers to explore? Does it telescope out to a larger issue?
Most adult books have, at a minimum, 60,000 - 80,000 words (excluding heavily illustrated books and gift books). Is there that much to say about your topic?
3. Are you a credible author?
What makes you an authority on your topic? Do you teach courses? Have practical work experience? Have you won awards? Perhaps you write about the topic for a popular blog, newspaper, or magazine, or have a relevant social media platform.
If your only connection is personal interest, it’s time to gain external credibility. Pitch an article on your topic to a small local blog and then use that post to pitch larger publications. Teach a class in a local community organisation and/or apply for speaking opportunities. For a publisher to take you seriously, you’ll need more than just raves from family and friends.
4. Is it doable?
Will you need to travel? Conduct hundreds of interviews? Pay for permission to include famous artworks? Think about the logistics of researching and writing your book and make sure you can handle them with your schedule and financial situation. These days, it’s rare to find a publisher that will pay for expenses and most advances are small and paid in installments over time.
5. What is already in the market?
Go to the bookstore or hop online and find out what other books are already out there on your topic. For each, write down the title, author, page count, price, and publisher. Note how the scope and tone differs from yours. If you’re doing research online, look for reviews to see how each book was received. Does your book offer a fresh approach and/or fill a gap? Bookstore owners have limited shelf-space, so think about it from their point of view: what does your book offer that justifies taking the spot of another book already on their shelves?
Many authors think it’s a selling point to say that theirs is the ‘first’ book on a given topic or that there’s ‘nothing else out there,’ but if you’re hoping to attract an agent or publisher, this may work against you. Trade publishers tend to prefer books that tap into reliably popular (though not glutted) categories.
6. Who is your target reader?
Who are you writing for? If you are solving a problem, whose problem is it? If you’re sharing a story, who will be interested? Is your market women who own small businesses? Dog owners? Mums searching for healthy, kid-friendly recipes? Readers who loved Fight Like a Girl? Are there enough of these people to create a healthy market for your book?
7. What is your book’s extra-special ‘something’?
While your book should have a tight, concise concept, it should also tap into a larger idea, goal, or emotional need. For example, does it offer insight on a current trend or world event? Does it offer hope during troubled times? Inspiration? Tools for making a dream come true? Will it help your reader feel part of something larger, or give her something to share at the next office meeting or school pickup? Hone in on your book’s particular magic ingredient.
If you’ve answered all of the above and still feel good about your project, great! The next step is to write a proposal to pitch literary agents and publishers. Or if not, it may be time to rethink your idea or explore another angle. Either way, you’ll have made your process that much more efficient as you unearth the best book within you.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Image from Pexels.com.