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Advice to Aspiring Authors

Books

Since making the announcement that I signed a book deal, I’ve heard from quite a few of you who have publishing aspirations of your own. Many of the emails I’ve gotten are congratulatory, but I’ve received an equal amount of questions from aspiring authors. Questions have ranged from, “How’d you get the book deal?” to “What are the advantages of choosing a small publisher over a big one or over self-publishing?” and, “What do I need to do to get my book published?”

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This is not how I wrote my book. But I would have, if my publisher would’ve accepted the format.

Last Friday, I finished the first draft of the manuscript and sent it to my publisher. Even though I’ve answered every email I’ve received, today I decided to spend a little time answering some of the many questions that aspiring authors have and giving you some of my advice, having just completed the first stages of my book.

Choose Your Audience First

I’ve talked with a great many authors who have put their heart and soul into a book, but couldn’t sell a copy to save their lives. More often than not, the reason is that they haven’t chosen an audience before writing the book. That means you’re writing for you and not for your audience. Big mistake.

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Before you start writing, and I mean, before you’ve written a single word (including the title!), choose your audience and get to know them. Know your reader and what keeps him or her up at night. And please, don’t tell me your reader is “everyone in the world” because honestly? No, it’s not. Your book can have a general premise, but that premise simply won’t apply to everyone in the world. And if you try to reach everyone in the world, chances are, you’ll reach almost no one. So choose an audience and then tailor your message to solving their biggest concerns and problems that you can speak to.

Write Before You Get the Deal

I’ve been extremely grateful that I wrote a lot of content before I signed the book deal. I’ve been thinking about this book for a couple of years, and I began writing content for the book for at least a year. It wasn’t polished content, but I made a point of writing every single day so that when the time came, I’d have content that I could use in the book.

Thank God I did. Here’s the thing: writing comes naturally to me, so the words tend to flow fairly easily for me. The one thing I never could’ve predicted is that when I put ink to paper and signed the deal, something in my brain would change. Suddenly, I started to question everything. I write blog posts that huge numbers of people read, but there was something qualitatively different about writing the book. A book is real. It’s tangible. It’s paper and ink and something people hold in their hands (okay, yes, there are ebooks, but you know what I mean).

So after every sentence or paragraph, I would stop and ask myself, “Wait, is that what I really believe? Is that absolutely true?” I began to question everything.

The good news is that the resulting book is something I’m enormously proud of and that absolutely represents me and what I stand for and what I believe.

Write a Great Proposal

Your proposal is your first impression with any publisher. First impressions matter a lot. As such, you should write a great proposal. There are tons of great examples of book proposals out there in the world. Some publishers have their own preferred format. Here’s a list of the basics that you should include:

  • Your bio
  • Brief synopsis of the book
  • Brief target audience description
  • Overview of what other books already exist in this category and brief description of what hole your book fills in the marketplace
  • Table of contents
  • Summaries of every chapter
  • Book marketing plan

Yep, you need a marketing plan and it can’t be “have the publisher market the book.” It doesn’t work like that anymore.

Build Your Platform

Before you sign any deal, even before you approach publishers or agents with your proposal, you need to build your platform. There are 1,001 ways to do this, and that’s not what this post is about, but what you need to know is that the publishing game has changed. Many, many years ago, getting a book deal was how you made a name for yourself. But today, you make your name first, then you get the book deal. So start by building your platform now, because getting a book deal also means getting a project that you are going to have to market the heck out of.

Plan to Market Your Book

That’s right, you should plan to market your book. That’s why you build your platform. If you’ve marketed you well, then a publisher will believe you can market a book well, too (that’s not always true). And, if you’ve successfully marketed yourself, then you’ve built a following that hopefully is engaged enough to be interested in reading your book.

Publishers won’t do a lot to market your book. They might schedule a book signing or two for you, but it’s up to you to get people to that signing. It’s up to you to get enough people excited about what you’ve created that they want to buy your book and read it. I’ve talked to a great many authors who are horribly disappointed when they hear this news. But it’s important for you to know that you’re going to have to market your book, whether you self-publish or sign a deal with a big publisher. So get ready, because once you’ve finished writing the book, you’ve only finished a quarter of the marathon!

Don’t Jump At the First Offer

I’ve been offered a lot of things in my time, and they haven’t all been what they’ve seemed. You can’t be too careful when you’re an aspiring author. There are companies that ask you to pay them to publish your book. That is not a book deal. So take your time and don’t jump on the first offer you get, just because you’re so excited that you were offered a book deal. Make sure that the publisher is a good fit for you and that you’ll enjoy working with them.

Write A Book You’ll Be Proud Of

This is a lesson I learned from my mentor. This book, it’s permanent, in its own way. It’s going to be associated with you and your brand for a long time and you want it to be something you can stand behind for a long time. Create something that you love and that you’re proud of.

Is this all the advice I have for aspiring authors? Heavens, no. But it’s a start. If you’ve got more questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer with as much detail as I can.

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