December 30, 2010

So You Want To Write a Book…

Becoming an author is definitely not the easiest career path.

You can choose to become a freelance writer either online or in print, or you can turn to an even more challenging task – writing a book. Even if you aren’t trained to work as a journalist, you can pen a novel or non-fiction book if you have good ideas, a unique look at the topic, and the tenacity to finish such a daunting project.

Earning money as an author can be hit and miss. Sure, there are people like J.K. Rowling out there, but for every one writing celebrity, there are over hundred writers who are extremely talented that don’t earn millions with their books. Writing a book is taking a risk; make sure it’s one you you can afford to take.

Brainstorming and Writing

If you want to see your book on a library shelf someday, the first step you need to take is determining what you want to write. Both novels and non-fiction have the potential to sell well, but the market for novels is often over-saturated. In many non-fiction niches, you have a much better chance at finding a publisher.

It may seem like simple advice, but the best way to write a book is to write about what you know. Everyone is an expert in something. Maybe you’ve been knitting for ten years. Maybe you have had some interesting life events that can be fictionalized. Maybe your father was a truck driver for 50 years and you can interview him to write a book. Pick a topic that you already know a lot about – and then do research.

Yes, even fiction writers need to do research! Look at the market to find out what else is out there in your niche, so you can do something different. This will also help you when you approach agents and publishers, as they will want to know what is selling well right now and how you will fit into that market.

Every writer takes a different approach to getting the writing done. I’ve written a number of ebooks and am currently working on some print books as well – what I find works best for me is drafting an outline first. Writing 100+ pages can seem like a daunting task, but if you break it down into smaller chunks, it is much more manageable. Make sure you set aside time to write every day; otherwise, you may find that you get distracted and never finish more than a few chapters.

Approaching Publishers

Finding a publisher for your book can be best done with an awesome agent. By finding an agent, you can get your foot in the door at both major publishing houses and smaller firms, and your agent will not only help you secure a book deal, but will also help you negotiate a contract. To be seriously considered by an agent, you need to send a submission package, which typically includes the first chapter or two of your book, your resume and published clips (if you have them), some market research, an outline of the rest of the book, a synopsis, and a cover letter. Every agent is different, however, so make sure to follow their guidelines (which are often available online.

You can also work directly with publishers, though this is usually only a good option if you have a working relationship with a publisher in some capacity already. Many publishing houses won’t even consider submissions from writers without agents.

Increasingly, writers can use Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media to connect with both publishers and agents. Having a large social media following can also help increase the likelihood that you’ll be accepted, as it means that you already have a built-in fanbase of buyers.

You can also self-publish, where you print your books at your own cost and sell them yourself. This is an option to consider if you have a popular blog, are a professional speaker, or otherwise have the potential to sell a large number of books directly to people.


So what can you expect in terms of payment if you write a book and get a book deal?

Typically, how much a writer earns depends on the niche and the publisher. Most offer an advance and royalties. The advance usually reflects how well they think the book will sell and can range from nothing to several thousands of dollars. Your royalties reflect the percentage you’ll get from the profit of each book sale and usually range from 5% to 15%. You won’t receive royalties until you exceed what you’ve been paid as an advance.

Some publishers will also buy things such as movie rights and merchandising rights.

While there’s no ceiling as to what you can earn as an author, keep in mind that most people don’t find success on the level of Dan Brown or Stephen King. You can earn some money this way, but this isn’t a recipe for becoming a millionaire!

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