A 2021 New Year’s resolution for authors

Is writing a book in your list of 2021 New Year’s resolutions?

Your friends may be encouraging you. “This is your year! You can do it!” If you’ve subscribed to emails from any of the “we help you publish” services out there, they’re telling you the same thing.

Maybe you need a push.

Or perhaps you need someone to help you see what the future will really hold if you commit to a book. To that end, here are a few questions worth considering before you jump into the deep end of the publishing whirlpool.

(As always, this is designed for nonfiction authors — if you’re writing a novel, some of these considerations may not apply.)

What are you trying to accomplish?

Among published nonfiction authors in my recent author survey, the following goals were most popular:

  • Share the knowledge I had.
  • Boost my reputation.
  • Get more paid speaking gigs.
  • Prove I could write a book.
  • Generate leads.

The list was the same for those who were not yet published, along with a sixth goal: Make money from book sales.

Until you know how the book will help you, you don’t know what kind of book to write, and how to invest in it.

Unless your goal is just “prove that I could write a book,” you need to think this through. A crappy, unedited book, created quickly, is unlikely to accomplish useful goals. If you want to make an impression, get paid speaking gigs, or generate leads, the book needs quality content and plan to generate sales.

So don’t just concentrate on writing a book. Concentrate on what kind of book will accomplish your goals.

What is your timeline? And what is your publishing model?

I ask these two questions together because they are closely related.

If you want to pursue traditional publishers, you’ll have to write a proposal (including a sample chapter and promotional plan), impress an agent, and get a publishing contract. (A sample proposal is here.) Optimistically, it will take you two months to create a solid proposal and another month to get it in front of publishers. That means publishers will be bidding on it in, say, April of 2021. If one makes you a good offer, your earliest publication date is around the end of 2022. (Yes, it actually takes that long.)

If that timeline is acceptable to you, by all means go for it. But if you can’t wait that long, consider other publishing options.

If you want a similar level of impact but a faster timeline, consider hybrid publishing, in which you pay a publisher to do a professional job publishing and distributing your book. If you submit a manuscript in the first half of 2021, a hybrid publisher could publish it by the end of the year. But it will cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

If you want the fastest, cheapest publication model, you can self-publish with Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing, which creates a print-on-demand paperback) or Ingram Spark. The result will be a paperback, most likely available only on Amazon. You could see that within two months of completing the manuscript. But it’s unlikely to have the impact of a traditionally published book.

What is your idea?

Writing a book before you’ve crafted a killer idea is like driving a car without a destination. The wheels may go round and round but you won’t get anywhere.

Test your idea out on friends and colleagues. Blog or podcast about it. Work with a developmental editor on idea development.

Your idea must be new, valuable to a specific audience, and impactful. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, work on improving it . . . before you start writing.

What will fill your chapters?

You can’t write without content. So you need a plan to create some.

Here are some possible sources of content:

  • Interviews with smart people.
  • Case studies about real people dealing with the challenges and ideas you describe.
  • Survey data or other sources of data.
  • Web research. (Use this to supplement other sources, not exclusively.)
  • Musings from your own mind. (Depending on this alone is unlikely to be successful.)

What’s your plan to create this content?

Casual observers may not perceive the creation of this plan as “writing a book,” but it’s a lot more important to your success than just typing out words.

Who will help you?

Decent books are rarely a solo effort. Here are some types of helpers that may make you more successful.

  • Developmental editor. Gives you feedback on ideas, structure, tone, and everything else about your writing. While the other helpers are optional, a developmental editor is the one professional who will make the biggest difference in the quality of your book.
  • Coach. Keeps you moving forward, provides suggestions on what to concentrate on.
  • Ghost writer. Writes the text for you if you’d prefer not to do it yourself.
  • Researcher. Finds content online and in other books that you can reference.
  • Illustrator. Creates or improves graphics.
  • Cartoonist. Creates cartoons to make the text more entertaining.
  • Copy editor. Does a final read for grammar, spelling, and other errors. (Often provided by your publisher.)
  • Indexer. Creates an index.

How will you promote the book?

Publishing a book without a promotional plan is a huge waste of effort. Unless people know you’ve written something valuable, it won’t have a useful impact on audience.

Promotional resources vary. Some people have blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other outlets where they can promote. Others have mailing lists of followers. You may have an established speaking career or the potential to create one. You can leverage social media followers. Or you can hire a publicist to help get your work published or quoted in media sources.

I’ve worked closely this year with Carolyn Monaco, who helps authors create promotional platforms. She’s not the only one who can do this, but she’s one of the best.

There’s a reason traditional publishers scrutinize the promotional section of proposals so closely — they know books won’t sell if you haven’t got a good plan to promote them. Even if you’re not using a traditional publisher, you’d better start thinking about this now, not after you’ve already completed the manuscript.

The right New Year’s resolution for authors

“I will write a book in 2021” is the wrong New Year’s resolution.

“I will create a great book by laying the groundwork, starting right now” is better.

Your to-do list should include developing your idea, deciding on a publishing model, generating useful content, sourcing helpful partners, and building a promotional plan.

Once those are underway, you’ll have a far better chance of writing something that actually has an impact.

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