- By Cathy Goodwin
- Published 11/20/2008
Recently I came across a question on a forum. “If I get a lot of rejection letters from agents and editors, what do I do? Should I decide to self-publish after, say, 100 rejections?” I believe this author is asking the wrong question. The issue isn’t publisher vs. self-publish. It’s about reaching your target audience with a quality book, especially if you write for the how-to self-help genre. First, I would pay attention if the agents and editors seem concerned about the topic. These books follow trends. Publishers make mistakes but you should at least see red flags flying and recognize the risks before investing lots of time and money. But I would ask further, “How will you market your book?” Certain books do very well when self-published by authors with a following. Some topics sell very well on the Internet. Some topics simply won’t sell unless your buyers can browse through hard copies. As an author, you can prevent disaster when you talk to a marketer before you write your book and even before you hire an editor. Too often self-published authors summarize the content of their talks. Their ideas appeal to live audiences because they are great speakers.
But to hold readers of non-fiction books, you need three things. First you need knock-your-socks off
originality. If you’re helping readers start their own businesses, you won’t create a “wow” factor when Chapter 1 tells them to write a business plan. Second, you need hooks that allow a copywriter or publicist to promote your book truthfully and effectively. Plant hooks in every chapter and sprinkle liberally throughout your book. An example of a hook might be, “Why women over 60 make the best entrepreneurs.” And finally, you need a premise that makes prospective readers eager to reach for their credit cards and buy your book. This premise becomes the unifying theme that helps your copywriter develop a strong sales letter. For example, a business book’s theme might be, “Find your first consulting client in 30 days.” Sometimes (but not always) the theme becomes the title. Tim Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Work Week” offers a great example. Some authors pay a lot of money for editing and packaging. They create beautiful mailing pieces and book marks. But their books won’t sell and sometimes even a great copywriter can’t save them after the fact. For non-fiction, a good piece of advice is, “Write the sales letter before you write the book.”
So as an author, I wouldn’t ask, “When should I self-publish?” I would ask, “Can I create a book that readers will be eager to buy? Will my book have the ingredients that lead to 5-star reviews? And do I have a marketing plan as well as a good editor?”
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