Can I ask a stupid question...?
And of course the answer to that is no, because there ARE NO stupid questions. Especially when it comes to the weird, arcane and confusing world of publishing.
So I thought it would be useful to get down some of the most common questions I get asked. Are these the right answers? Well, they're MY answers. ( so yes, yes they *are* the right answers).
Let's dive in!
How do I even know if I can write a book?
Well you don't really, not until you try. But you *should* try. Just start writing. Something. Anything. See how it feels. Don't put off getting started because the thought of having a book on the shelf of a bookstore feels too impossibly out of reach. As bestselling (and somewhat reluctant) author Tim Ferriss says, just start with two crappy pages a day.
Don't you have to have an agent to get a traditional publishing deal?
Well, that's the perceived wisdom, but depending on what you are writing the real answer can be a little more... flexible than that. Publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts and so most people will tell you to spend your time trying to get an agent instead. If you are writing fiction, this is absolutely the way to go.
But if you're writing non-fiction however, in my experience (and with my help!), I think you have a little more wriggle-room. So if you want to go in un-agented, it can be done under the right circumstances.
So how DO I get a traditional publishing deal without getting an agent?
You put together an absolutely killer pitch. Think of this as a business plan that makes an unbeatable case for why your book is a total slam-dunk for that particular publisher. The most important component? Research Research Research. It's never going to be 100% foolproof as there are so many moving parts that need to be aligned and things out of everyone's control (this could be the year that they ONLY want to publish hilarious cat books) but there are key notes that you need to hit to make sure you're putting your best foot forward. And a big part of that is matching the right book to the right publisher and the right editor.
But I *want* to get an agent. I think. Do I?
Yes, if you're writing fiction then you absolutely do want to get an agent because it's extremely unlikely you'll get your book into the hands of an editor without one. And the same applies to non-fiction if you don't want to do the leg-work yourself. And of course agents exist for a reason - having a skilled, supportive, expert friend (albeit one that you give 20% of all your book earnings to) that guides you through the process can be invaluable. Book contracts are frankly a pain in the ass.
Finding & getting an agent also comes down to Research Research Research. Don't send your book of poetry to someone who only represents business authors. Don't fed-ex your entire manuscript to someone who asks for 3 chapters submitted online. Presenting your work to an agent for representation is not the time to express your quirky personality. They are looking to take on authors that are serious about the business of writing and growing a long term career as a writer. This is a business transaction, not a cute baby competition.
How do I get noticed? What else will a publisher want to know?
Whether you want a traditional deal, or you want to self publish you need to start building up a community of engaged fans around you. Because these are your readers, your tribe. These are the people that will buy your book. If you are approaching a traditional publisher, they absolutely will want to see evidence that you have an existing following. Not because they're lazy and expect you to do all the work but because good strong social proof is an excellent indicator of a book's success. So before you even write a word, start thinking about who your audience will be and how you're going to reach them.
I really want to write a book but I just don't have the time...?
Ha. That's what EVERYONE says. What you actually don't have, is a compelling enough reason WHY you should write a book. I promise you, once you've nailed that, you WILL find the time.
We find the time to do the things that are important to us. So maybe right now, watching TV because you're too knackered to go to bed is where it's at. But when you work out what writing the book will mean to you, what it will give you, what doors it will open for you, and that goal becomes SO tangible and real to you, you will make time.
When it comes to writing a book for your business, it can easily be one of those things that languish at the bottom of your to-do list. But map it out in terms of business growth and look at the other marketing activities you're doing to build 'know, like & trust' and it starts to make sense...
How do I turn my idea for a book into an actual book? You know, with chapters and stuff....
Let's look at an example. Say you're a coach with a thriving business and your methods have resulted in a number of delighted clients who have made significant positive changes in their lives. You (rightly) believe that if you shared your unique take with a wider audience you could help many more people than you can reach in your 1:1 practice. so how do you go from in-person to page?
The easiest and fastest way to start is with an almighty brain dump of every single aspect of your business and how, where, when, why you interact with clients. What problems do you solve for them? What are the transformations your achieve for them? What are the methods, models & frameworks you apply to get those results? The journey you take your client on, is the journey you will take your reader on.
So now I get how my business can translate into a book, how do I actually start writing it?
You've still got some more planning to do! But don't worry, you're nearly at the writing stage. The next step after getting it all out is to start mapping it around a structure that actually makes sense to read. You need to think about the journey you want to take your reader on, and what their actions or takeaways will be. This form of mapping will also make it simpler to tackle writing small sections at a time. We want to achieve two things with this planning phase - making it easy to write and a joy to read. It's time to crack open the index cards and post-it notes. Make this visual. Make it big! Group together topics, issues, questions and see where the common themes emerge. That's probably going to become a chapter. See how it's starting to take shape?
I don't know if I want a traditional publishing deal? Maybe I should self publish? Which is best?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It depends on what your aims and objectives are for publishing and the type of book you are writing. But either way, it's good to know this right at the very beginning of the process so you can make sure all your hard work is taking you in the right direction.
Will you help me with the writing?
Well that depends. I take on a small number of VIP 1:1 clients who are writing non-fiction and I help with structural editing on their work. So yes, in some cases I can help with the writing.
If you are writing narrative non-fiction or fiction, then no. But I can recommend other people who can help so get in touch.
Will I copy-edit or proof-read your work? Not for all the tea in China...
Now all of that pretty much just scratches the surface. I hope it was useful but if it raised more questions than it answered then maybe we should have a chat. Let's move you forward a step.