By Wendy Keller, Senior Literary Agent
If you’ve been thinking about becoming an author because you know how much it will catapult you, your business and your profits into the big time, you need to know which option will give you the best results.
Deciding to write and market a book is likely the best marketing decision you’ll ever make. It will bring you opportunities for leverage, prestige, advertising, co-branding, customer attraction, visibility, market distinction and more.
But stepping onto the path to publication places you at a fork in the road. Should you self-publish, create an ebook, or seek out a traditional publisher? What are reasonable expectations from each option?
In the old days, self-publishing was considered the loser’s choice – the only one for people whose ideas had no chance in the “real” publishing industry. That’s not true anymore. Self-publishing means you pay someone to produce your book. Because you’re a customer to them, there is usually no or poor editorial development. It may be produced in e-book format; created POD (print-on-demand, which means that no actual copies are printed until they are ordered); or the traditional method where you get cases of books to distribute. You keep the profits, minus production and marketing costs. There are over 1 million new books created every year in the USA, the majority self-published. To distinguish your book from this tsunami of words, you will need to market the heck out of it, just to rise above the din.
A self-published book is reasonably fast to produce. If you do it right, it can look as real as a traditionally published book (although usually, people skimp on the cover design to their detriment). You can have your book in your hands in about four months. If you work hard on the marketing at least three months before and six months after it releases, it may be successful. Because my company designs and implements a lot of marketing plans for self-publishing authors, I know that a self-published book usually won’t get reviewed in the papers or get you any real media, but it makes a fantastic business card to impress your clients and can be leveraged (with effort) into a lucrative lead generator for your business.
The fastest option is creating an ebook. Write it, edit it, design it, edit it, edit again, .pdf it, and post it. You could have it up in 48 hours! You keep all the profits. Market the heck out of it and voila! You’ll likely make some sales, perhaps generate some ongoing passive income and learn a lot about Google Adwords and SEO. This method is best if you’re great at copywriting and you want to become an infopreneur. There are plenty of people who claim to be making a fortune doing exactly this. It will not have been vetted by any third party, but that may suit your purposes just fine.
If you choose to go after a traditional publishing deal, where an established publisher pays for the honor of printing and distributing your book, then you will need to get yourself a literary agent. The agent is the person who acts as the broker between you and the publishers. It’s almost impossible to sell a book to a publisher without an agent. The process of getting an agent begins with looking up a list online of agents who handle the kind of book you’re writing, or getting a recent edition of my friend Jeff Herman’s book “The Insider’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents.” Collect a list of at least 50.
Next, write a “query” letter to the agents. This is where you succinctly entice us to believe your book will be profitable. Most agents accept queries by email or have a form on their website to facilitate your approach. (www.KellerMedia.com/query) Send it to all of us simultaneously. Some agents will ask for the proposal, the document you created to show off how marketable and valuable your book will be. The majority will decline. (That doesn’t mean much unless everyone says no). One or more might offer you a contract, especially if you are known already in your field or have a large social or other media following.
Once you have an agent representing you, that person will shepherd the process, editing your proposal, showing it to the appropriate publishers and negotiating a deal for you with the best one. When the book comes out about a year later, you will earn about 10% of the book’s cover price, but their name on your content means you are “worthy” in the minds of the media and some consumers. Your profit comes when you implement a marketing plan that will force the book to grow your business.
These three options should be weighed carefully. Each one creates its own type of following, revenues and customer perception. The core principle is this: a book builds your business, can catapult your career, anchors your brand identity and will be the single greatest marketing decision you’ve ever made if you do it right.