As a publisher of nonfiction expert-written books, I have seen first-hand the transformative difference that becoming a published author can make in an individual’s personal life and career. In fact, it’s the single most powerful way to position yourself as a thought leader—if you do it right.
There are more routes to publication available than ever before. While there is no one “best” way to publish a book, there is a way that is best for you. To help you navigate the complex world of modern publishing, here are five questions every aspiring nonfiction author should ask themselves.
- What am I expecting this book will do for me?
Your goals will inform not only your book concept and content, but also your publishing strategy. Do you want this book to open up new public speaking opportunities? Serve as a companion text to your workshops? Or launch your career as a serious author whose work is sold in bookstores? These are all very different goals, each with its own path to success.
Make a list of your reasons for publishing in the first place, and the impact you expect it will have on your life and career.
- Which publishing model should I consider?
There are three main routes to publication today: traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and self-publishing. So, how does each one work?
In traditional publishing, the publisher acquires the publishing rights to your manuscript, then invests their own resources into its development and manufacturing. They publish and distribute your book into stores, and pay you a royalty on copies sold. Pursuing this route usually requires little to no financial investment from you, but a great deal of time and effort. You will need to write a killer book proposal, find an agent, and then begin a potentially lengthy (and uncertain) process of shopping it to publishers.
Hybrid publishing allows you to get your book into stores more quickly than through traditional publishing, but will require an upfront financial investment. Once you’ve chosen a hybrid publisher and they have accepted your project, you can usually get started as soon as you’re ready.
Self-publishing is often—but not always—the fastest way to get your book out, and the most labor-intensive. The range of possibilities is wide, from DIY, one-click digital publishing to fully assisted self-publishing with the help of an author services provider. Self-published books are generally sold through online retailers only, as well as direct by the author.
- How does my content stack up against the competition?
This can be a tough question to answer honestly, but it’s critical that you take a clear-eyed look at your book idea and how it measures up to what’s already on the shelf.
Spend some time in a bookstore, examining the books in your category. Ask yourself, what would compel your target reader to choose your book over the others available? Do you have a new methodology or set of research to share? If not, can you bring a fresh and compelling perspective to a well-covered topic? Your goal is to stand out from the crowd while also fitting into the genre.
- What are my most compelling strengths as an author?
Everyone is good at something, but nobody can be the best at everything. A keen understanding of your value will allow you to choose a publishing path that maximizes your strengths.
Perhaps you have:
- Deep experience and demonstrable credentials: Are you an industry leader, a ground-breaking researcher, or a visionary innovator?
- A broad platform: Do you have an email list of thousands, or a vast online following? Are you well connected to industry influencers?
- Teaching ability: Can you present complex material in a way that the layperson will understand?
- A unique perspective: Have you seen or done things that no one else has?
- Strong creative writing skills: A way with words will overcome weaknesses in many other areas—and yes, this applies to nonfiction, too.
- What else makes you the right person to write this book?
- What am I prepared to invest?
Whichever route you embark upon, there will be an investment required of you, whether that’s time, effort, money, or all three. The more resources you have at your disposal, the broader your options. Be as bold and ambitious as possible when setting your budget, but also be realistic.
Consider the following potential costs:
- Editing: Even with a traditional publisher, you’ll probably need to hire an experienced editor to help you craft a strong book proposal, and if you’re self-publishing, you’ll need an editor to go the whole way with you. You get what you pay for, so set a budget you can live with and choose your provider carefully.
- Design: Book design is a highly specialized craft, and can make the difference between a professional and amateurish product. A traditional publisher would cover this cost (and control the results).
- Marketing: This is something that every author will need to invest in, regardless of their chosen publishing model.
- Printing: If you’re self-publishing a print run to sell directly or working with a hybrid publisher who will put copies into the retail market, you will need to pay for printing. Some traditional publishers also require new authors to buy back a certain number of copies, so read the fine print in your contract and ask lots of questions.
Publishing a book can be immensely rewarding with the right game plan in place and a savvy team behind you. But it is always a big undertaking, and there’s a lot to learn if you want to do it right. I hope that these questions set you off in the right direction.
Maggie Langrick is the founder and CEO of LifeTree Media, a hybrid publisher of nonfiction books. You can meet her in person on May 28 in Los Angeles, where she’ll be doing a deep dive on modern book publishing options—sign up for the event here.
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