Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to know how I write, publish, and market my books, especially my most successful book, “How To Deliver a TED Talk.” I love helping others become more effective communicators so I’m happy to share the insights and techniques I have learned along the way. This post, Part 2 in a three-part series, covers how to publish a nonfiction book. The other posts are:
Tip 1: Pay for developmental editing, line editing, interior design, and cover design
If you followed my advice in my last post, How to Write a Nonfiction Book, then you have a manuscript with basic formatting. Unless, you want to release garbage, you need feedback on your book. Start with friends and family, but engage a developmental editor if you can afford it. A good developmental editor knows your genre and will provide you with actionable feedback. A developmental editor gives you notes and suggestions; they don’t actually touch your text.
Once the content of the book is in great shape, pay for line editing which includes proofreading to find typos and copy-editing to fix issues at the sentence and paragraph level. I rely on the amazing PJ Dempsey for line editing.
Finally, pay a professional to do your interior layout and cover design. When I self-published, I use CreateSpace’s custom services for this.
Tip 2: Self-publish
Congratulations, you finished writing your book and you should be proud. Now, you want the world to read it. If you are a celebrity with a following of hundreds of thousands or millions of adoring fans, you can skip this tip. For everyone else, I recommend self-publishing since it is nearly impossible to get a large, traditional publisher to acquire a book. (You can always switch to traditional publishing later if your book takes off – that is what I did.)
If you actually have a choice to make between self-publishing versus traditional publishing, here is what you need to know:
- Speed (winner = self-publishing): It takes six months to a year to get a book published traditionally. Self-publishing is nearly instantaneous.
- Quality (winner = traditional-publishing): Traditional publishers have their brand and their money on the line so they will make sure your book is a quality product. You can try to achieve the same on your own, but you would need to find a freelance editorial team with deep, current expertise in your genre.
- Editorial control (winner = self-publishing): The quality you get from traditional publishing comes as the price of editorial control. While I don’t think an editor will change your ideas, a good one will challenge you and tell you that some of what you wrote garbage. That bothers some people.
- Cache’ (winner = traditional publishing): For better or worse, there is a certain amount of prestige with having a book released by a large publishing house. That endorsement feels good and also helps open doors for speaking engagements and press interviews.
- Volume & Distribution (winner = tie): Though traditional publishers can help a little, the truth is that you will need to do 99% of your own marketing. Yes, traditional publishers will get you into bookstores, but most of your volume will come from Amazon (Kindle and print). With my self-published books, I sell 50% Kindle, 40% Amazon print, 9% Audible, and 1% other (Nook, Google Books, iBooks, etc.).
- Income (winner = self-publishing): I suppose that if your book is a flop, then you will make more money with traditional publishing since you get to keep the (small) advance. However, if your book is a success, you get to keep a much larger percentage of the royalties (typically 75%). Plus, you get to set the price.
Tip 3: Offer print-on-demand and eBook Versions
I use CreateSpace for print-on-demand and Kindle conversion since they are tightly integrated with the rest of Amazon and have exceptional quality and price. Once a book gains traction, I expand distribution in other eBook channels using BookBaby. If a book is really cooking, then I use Amazon ACX for Audible conversion. Since audio quality is so critical, I rely on Kevin Pierce on the ACX platform for his voice and production skills.
Some people have asked me about print-on-demand versus regular printing. I emphatically recommend print-on-demand for two reasons. First, you can fix typos easily with print-on-demand. Second, you do not have a maintain inventory or handle shipping since your distribution partner does that for you. Yes, you get less profit per book with print-on-demand but that tradeoff is a pittance for the two big benefits, especially since odds are (just being honest) you are not going to sell as many copies as you think you will.
Tip 4: Set the price of your book
There is plenty of incredible research available on book pricing. This presentation is among my favorites:
In my opinion, the right initial price point for a self-published non-fiction book is $2.99 Kindle/eBook and $9.95 print book. If you start higher, you risk pricing yourself out of the market. If your book is very successful, you can always increase the price over time without offending your early buyers.
Tip 5: Get an agent
You don’t need an agent if you are self-publishing. However, if you decide to ignore my advice and pursue traditional publishing, then you need an agent who is well connected in your genre to shop your book around (do not waste your time trying to engage publishers directly). The best advice I can offer is to look in the acknowledgements of your favorite books. Most authors thank their agents. You can then reach out directly to the author who will usually be glad to facilitate an introduction to the agent. It is almost as hard to get an agent to represent you as it is to get a publisher to take on your book so expect a lot of rejection. Also, reputable agents do not charge you; instead, they take a well-earned cut of your eventual earnings (usually 10%). My agent is Jackie Meyer from Whimsy Literary Agency.
Tip 6: Get an attorney
Once you get an agent, get an attorney. You should have the attorney review the agent’s contract before you sign it. Then, if you get a publisher interested in your book, you need the attorney to review the publishing contract. Do not skip this tip if you get to this phase or you will be penny-wise and pound-foolish. My publishing attorney is Maura Wogan from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.
Please add a comment if you agree or disagree or if I missed anything.