Success depends, in part, on not just providing a great product or a necessary service, but on letting people know about those products or services.
In other words, you’ve got to tell your story. You need to get the word out there in order to build a business, ministry, or non-profit organization. The hard part is, you’re so busy doing the work you do, you don’t have time (or expertise) to tell your story.
That’s why I’m delighted to announce the launch of A Powerful Story, my new writing services business. After years of collaborative writing and helping people turn their ideas into books, curriculum and online resources, I’ve taken the big step of putting a label on it and launching APowerfulStory.com
I’ve been building this behind the scenes for several months, so I’m currently working with a handful of clients. I’ve created custom services to fit each client’s needs and budget. I help them by coaching them in writing, creating SEO optimized copy for their websites, creating marketing copy, writing ebooks, editing their blogs—in other words, helping them tell their story in a powerful and compelling way.
Just this week, I met with another potential client. She’s a small business owner who’d like to write a book, mostly because it will help her get more speaking gigs–a key part of her business and one she wants to expand. It will build her credibility to have “author of ____” after her name in her bio, and potentially get her more (and better paying) speaking opportunities.
We had a fruitful discussion about how she’s currently marketing her business, what she sees as next steps, what story she wants to tell, what she would write about if she did a book, and how I could help her do that.
Our meeting got me thinking about some important things to understand about writing a book. This is information that will help anyone who might be thinking, “I’d like to write a book.”
I’ve had ten books of my own published, and been a co-author, ghostwriter or contributor to about a dozen others. I’ve created more than 60 small group studies on a variety of topics. I’ve written hundreds of articles. I’ve been in the publishing industry for 30 years–read my resume and bio here.
There are many paths to publication, but basically, there are two ways you can do a book. You can self-publish, or try to find a traditional publisher (often called a royalty publisher). As the publishing industry shifts and changes more rapidly than ever, there are new hybrids between these two every day, but understanding these two basic models will help anyone who has thought, “I should write a book,” or “Having a book would help me grow my business.”
I can help you navigate either path. But this information might help you know which path you want to venture down, especially if you are new to publishing.
Traditional (aka Royalty) Publishing
A royalty publishing company takes on the cost of editing, typesetting, printing, cover design and binding, distribution and some of the marketing. They pay the author a percentage of sales, sometimes in the form of an advance. Author’s make no financial outlay to a royalty publisher, the publisher pays them. However, finding a publisher to accept and agree to publish your book can be challenging.
Also, because they front those costs, a royalty publisher makes money by selling books, and receiving most of the proceeds from those sales. The publishing house gives the author a small percentage of the sale of each book, typically 18 percent or less. Sometimes it’s as little as 10 percent, which means when customers buy a $10 book, the author gets $1 before taxes. (This is sometimes complicated by contract language that specifies whether the royalty is paid on the retail price or the net proceeds. But I digress…)
If the royalty publisher has paid the author an advance, any royalties earned by sales first go toward paying back the advance. So if the author received a $1000 advance, they would not get any additional royalties until they had paid back the advance through book sales. In our above example, that means $1 at a time (or less if the publisher sells that $10 book to amazon at a discount and they sell it for $7.99, in which case the author would get, depending on their contract, about 79 cents, but again, I digress…). So a $1000 advance and a 10 percent royalty mean that the author would have to sell 1000 books or more before any additional earnings came their way.
An author can’t simply hire a royalty publisher. They have to pitch them on the idea and get them to offer a contract (almost always with the help of a literary agent).
What convinces a publisher to make an offer to an author get an offer? What are they looking for? It starts with a great proposal (which is one of the services A Powerful Story offers—turning your idea into a proposal).
Publishers want a great book idea they think they can sell, but also, an author with an established platform (that’s where having a bunch of blog subscribers or a strong social media presence really matters). Publishers want to know how big your existing audience (on social media, blog, speaking etc.) is, and how you’ll work with them to market your book to that audience.
In other words, platform matters. Building a platform is what makes your story powerful. And a big part of what A Powerful Story does for our clients is to strategically help them build a platform.
Because royalty publishing is competitive, many authors choose to self-publish. Here’s the basics on that:
Self-publishing comes in all sorts of packages. Although the name implies you publish the book yourself, there are companies to help you do it. In the past, self-publishing was sometimes called “vanity publishing.” You want a book, so you write it, and then you pay someone to print your book—even if the writing is terrible and the idea is weak. You don’t have to convince the publisher to publish it, your check does that. Of course, that is not always the case. Some great books have been self-published and gone on to be successful. And a lot of great books have been rejected by traditional publishers and found an audience via self-publishing and an author’s hard work.
In the past, prior to e-books, self-publishing often resulted in authors with a basement or garage full of unsold books. Because writing a book is only the beginning, not the end. Selling a book is the goal, not just having a book.
If you’re a speaker and regularly get in front of large audiences where you can then sell your books, self-publishing is a smart idea. Because you receive all the proceeds from sales (after your costs of printing, editing, and so forth), it makes sense. You already have a platform, and you’ll use it to sell books.
These days, because of the Internet, you can sell your self-published book if you work hard at it and develop a platform (are you sensing a theme here?) so that you have fans and followers who will buy your book. You can self-publish an e-book at little or no cost. And even if you aren’t speaking to large audiences, if you have a blog or even a Twitter account with decent number of followers, you might be able to sell those folks your book.
There are self-publishing companies that will publish your book, but you have to pay them for the cost of printing, editing, typesetting, any number of other services. They may have access to wholesale distributors to help you get your book into bookstores or on amazon, although that may not always be the case. The advantage is (or was, traditionally), once you pay those upfront costs, you sell the book yourself and are able to get all of the proceeds. If you sell your book for $10, you get the $10. If you sell it yourself on amazon, they take a percentage but you still get most of it.
You can get the help of a self-publishing company, or do it yourself via sites like CreateSpace (a division of amazon that allows you to create print-on-demand or ebooks) or SmashWords.com, which is a free ebook publishing platform where you can basically upload an Word document and turn it into an ebook.
Most of my work has been with royalty publishers. But I’ve published e-books (as well as print on demand), and opted to add a professionally designed cover. I also had to buy ISPNs and make sure the book was edited. Those costs are all worth it, to create a professional product.
Generally, if you pay someone else, and/or incur the upfront costs yourself, in order to get the majority of the proceeds, it’s self-publishing. If they pay you, and they take care of upfront costs like printing, editing, typesetting and marketing, but get the larger chunk of the profits, it’s royalty publishing.
Self-publishing has become much more accepted and accessible in recent years. By simply downloading a manuscript, you can publish an e-book in a few hours. (This doesn’t mean anyone will buy it, and if you don’t do any marketing, it’s unlikely anyone will even know your book exists, but you will have a book).
There are many publishing companies trying to create hybrid models, saying they are not “self-publishing” houses when they are actually a form of that.
One client had already published their book and came to me for help with marketing. They publishing company charged for editing the manuscript, and for typesetting. The author received no advance. The publisher did no marketing other than to put the book on amazon and other online sellers, and the publishers’ own website.
But the publisher insisted it was not “self-publishing” and had the author sign a contract giving a very small royalty to the author on each book sold—which meant the publisher got most of the sales revenue. So they paid the publishing house to create the book, then also gave up most of the proceeds. The company insisted it wasn’t self-publishing. I agree—this is what polite people might call a “hybrid” but what I would call a “rip off.” (However, I must add: perfectly legal.)The company got the advantages of self-publishing (author paying front costs) as well as the advantages of royalty publishing (publisher getting most of the sales revenue), without having to incur the costs associated with either model. If you decide to self-publish, be wary of agreements like this.
I’ve started A Powerful Story to help clients navigate publishing and getting their story out there, whether it is via a book, a blog, an ebook or marketing content. I can also coach you on writing your own book, or edit an existing manuscript.