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7 Things I Learned from Publishing a Book

By:     Topics: Blogging

Last year Nick Scheidies and I published a book through a small publisher titled, What it Takes to Make More Money than Your Parents.

As a writer, I’m naturally curious about the publishing industry. Since we published that first book, I’ve talked with three other publishers and dozens of authors. I’ve learned a lot about publishing a book, including a few dirty little secrets.

#1 Publishers Look for Audiences not Authors

When publishers look for new authors, the number one thing they’re looking for is somebody with an audience.

Publishers don’t dump a lot of money into marketing a book unless it’s already selling. Whether or not the book sells is dependent upon the author’s ability to sell it.

If you want to get published but don’t have an audience, the best thing you can do is start blogging. It’ll build your audience and validate whether or not you’re a good writer.

#2 Big Names Use Ghost Writers

I used to struggle with the fact that most big-time authors don’t write their own books.  It seems sleazy, but it’s not. Here’s why:

  • People with big audiences don’t have a lot of time. One way to save time is to outsource the creation of your book. It’s not like Steve Jobs assembled iPhones, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was his product.
  • Big-time authors aren’t necessarily good writers. They have influential ideas and can communicate those ideas as speakers, but they struggle to put those ideas in writing.

Oftentimes, a ghost writer can write and communicate those ideas better than the author, which results in a higher-quality book.

#3 Know How to Sell It Before You Write It

Just like with any product, you need to know how to sell it before you create it. Thomas Edison:

“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.”

Yet, most authors write about what they think is interesting and hope that other people find it interesting.

Before you write a single word, figure out:

  1. Who you’re going to sell it to.
  2. Who the end user is (sometimes the buyer and reader are different).
  3. What price point you’re going to set it at.
  4. How you’re going to distribute it.
  5. What you’re going to do to promote it.

The answers to these questions will help you write a book that people want to read. If it’s not marketable, it won’t sell. And if it doesn’t sell, what’s the point?

#4 Amazon Best Seller Status is a Crock

You ever notice how many people claim to be best-selling authors? Like, pretty much everyone who’s written a book, right? Doesn’t that seem fishy?

You only need to sell about 300 books to become an Amazon Best-Seller. If all of those sales come on the same day, you’ll be bumped to the top of your sub-sub-sub-sub-category. In turn, your book is a best-seller for a few hours.

Since people figured this out, they pre-sell their book on their site months before it’s launched. Then on launch day, they manually submit those orders to Amazon so it appears as though lots of people are buying it.

Not all Amazon Best Sellers do this, but many of them do. When someone claims to be a best selling author, ask them how long they were at the top of the list.

#5 Traditional Publishing is Dead

A few weeks ago I pitched a book idea to Mark Victor Hansen, who has sold over 500 million books, and he replied with, “Publishing is dead.”

For the first time in history, publishers need authors more than authors need publishers. That doesn’t mean publishers accept any dead-beat book off the street. It just means that if you’re a good writer, you have a better chance selling it yourself.

Instead of taking 10% royalties from the traditional publishing route, self-publish your book through a service like CreateSpace and pay someone to put your book on Kindle and iBooks.

#6 70% of Books Don’t Make a Profit

According to Jenkins Group, a premier publishing firm, 70% of books don’t make a profit. When people joke about the cover designer making more than the author, it’s often the case.

There are lots of upfront costs with creating a book. Some of ours where:

  • Promotional copies. We printed and shipped 30, 100-page promotional copies to get blurbs.
  • First running of print books. We bought 250 copies for our initial running.
  • Shipping and materials. We fulfilled the first couple hundred orders ourselves. We didn’t get paid, however, until months later because the money had to run through the publisher.
  • Traveling expenses. We were invited to Chicago to give a break-out session at the CEO National Conference and we paid our way.

All told, we spent over $8 grand on our book. And, yes, we did make it into that 30%.

#7 Nobody Gets Rich as an Author

If a book sells 10,000 copies, it’s considered successful. The average royalty through a traditional publisher is 10%. So even if you sell 10,000 copies of $10 book, you’re only walking away with $10 grand.

If it’s not profitable, why do so many people write books?

Because being an author opens the door for other opportunities like speaking, training programs, and consulting. Plus, it makes your parents proud.

Now is the Time

If you’re an aspiring author, I want to encourage you to move forward with writing your book despite some of these stats. Working on that book with Nick was one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve ever been a part of.

Start with a blog. Then write a book for your audience. Sell the book on your blog. If it’s good, you’ll find other ways to sell it.

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  • Awesome post nicholas and congrats on the book. How long did the book take you to write? How has your life changed since writing and subsequently publishing the book?

    • Nicholas Tart

      Hey Jordan! It took Nick and I about a year to write and publish the book. We had a unique experience writing our book because we interviewed other entrepreneurs to provide the content. Talking with so many successful people reshaped my entire perspective on life, especially my entrepreneurial life.

  • JanDirk

    Man I didn’t know all of this it would make sense to publish your book as a kindle book or an e Book. You will make more buck in the end.

    Thanks man great tips! 😀

    Jan Dirk

    • Nicholas Tart

      Yep, but it is nice to have a paperback to sell at speaking gigs and to send to people as gifts. Can’t really do that with ebooks.

  • Tram Tran

    I bought and promote your book through click bank. Very inspirational reads . Recommendit to anyone. Come say hi sometimes 😉 stay awesome

    • Nicholas Tart

      Woohoo! I’m glad, Tram. Good book, huh?! Which was your favorite interview?

  • Amazing post Nicholas! I am writing a book as we speak and thought that it would be a great idea to write a blog post about the things I’ve learned doing so, and there you are! 😉

    Great to know points, thanks!
    Angel

    • Nicholas Tart

      Ah… Good to hear your blogging and writing at the same time. Is there anything else you would’ve added to the list?

  • Did I miss the link to your book in this article? I know I can just Google it, but why not have a little ad in the article so I can check out and buy your book?

  • Liz Alexander

    Terrific post, Nicholas. Delighted to hear that your book is in the minority and has made a profit.

    I particularly like what you said about Amazon best seller status. Yes, it seems everyone’s a “best selling author” these days — meaning very little in most cases. When someone gives me that schtick I always ask them how many books they sold…and it’s funny how often folks respond with “Uh, I don’t know for certain.”

    The other thing that bugs the heck out of me is when authors corral their buddies to write glowing 5* reviews on Amazon and other online sites. This makes it very difficult for readers to accurately assess just how well-written and valuable a self-published book (especially) is going to be. I wrote about this recently on the AMA blog: http://austinama.org/2011/11/testimonial-sluts/.

    But it’s always good to make our parents proud, yes?
    Liz
    http://amzn.to/pHFcPa

    • Nicholas Tart

      Yeah, the Amazon Best Seller sham is a shame. It even makes good writers feel like they have to follow suit just to keep up. It’s a nasty cycle and I want more people to become aware. That way real NYT Best Selling Authors can get the recognition they deserve.

      And the “I don’t know for certain” is a brilliantly designed cop-out because, unless it’s self-published, you don’t know how many books you’ve sold.

      Congrats on the 500,000 books! That’s quite an accomplishment.

  • Amiria

    Good article. I really appreciate it how posts on this site both disclose insider information and don’t try and paint the picture too rosily. Just wondered if anyone has tried blurb’s book publishing services and how this compares to CreateSpace?

    • Nicholas Tart

      I’ve only ever used CreateSpace. I did a bunch of research and heard it was better and cheaper than Lulu. I haven’t looked into Blurb. The nice thing about CreateSpace is that it’s an Amazon company so your book is automatically listed on Amazon. Other POD’s take weeks to list the book.

  • charline payne

    I agree with many of your points and have learned some of them the hard way.

    I do think there is a value in writing a book. Where would we be without Emmy Dickinson/Mark Twain?
    Literature reflects life; and we can help others from our own experience.
    I write healing poems; and not to make my mother proud as she is deceased!
    Charline Payne

    • Nicholas Tart

      I know I’ve read a stat somewhere about the majority of the world’s billionaires being avid readers. I’m going to be reading a lot more in 2012.

  • SE SUTRISNO

    Apart from getting rich or making our parents pround, writing is a part of human culture. When our work of writing is fruitful, it is a good fortune, but when it is not, it is all right. We will try to get another chance.

  • Keith

    Great article. Can you provide information or links on the process for obtaining an ISBN for a self-published book?

  • I am thanking you for the Amazon best seller info, I learn something new every day. Also the truth be sold I should have read your article before publishing a book. I’m not sure how you are so smart at your age, but I thank heavens you are. For the rest of us it’s not too late to learn. Thanks for being so awesome.