Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Advice for Aspiring Authors

Aspiring authors frequently ask me for advice on getting published so I wanted to share a few tips that can help.

The reality is there are tens of thousands of people writing manuscripts every year. The days of mailing a manuscript to a publisher in hopes of becoming the next bestseller are long gone. I found this out the hard way after I finished writing All the Law; I went to a Christian bookstore and wrote down every publisher I could find, and then went to each of their websites. Not one was accepting “unsolicited manuscripts.”

 Getting published is hard work, and it took years of rejection before I was published. Even after you get published, the next hurdle is getting a store to carry your book. If a store does carry your book, it will be one title among thousands of books. The average book buyer looks at each book for two seconds before making a decision. Unless you are a Super Bowl MVP or won American Idol, that is what you are up against.

That’s why my advice is to self-publish and build your own audience.

Instead of being one book among thousands that people will just glance at, you can sell yourself. People who know you will want to buy your book. Here are some tips to help you get there.

The best print on demand (POD) company, in my opinion, is Instant Publisher, which produced my book Who is God? Instant Publisher is fast, cheap, easy, and has great customer service. Every time I have called them for help I have received prompt, courteous, helpful answers. You can upload a manuscript in minutes and receive an order in less than two weeks, and shipping has never exceeded $25 for my orders.

You will need to place a minimum order of 50 books, and the more you order the cheaper the price per book becomes. IP does full color books, cookbooks, and photo books, in addition to regular paperback. They can do hardcovers too, but the price goes up a good bit there.

IP has ready-made book covers, or you can design your own. You can add a barcode and ISBN so that your book can be sold in stores (major bookstores won’t carry books without an ISBN). You can add words to the back cover (called back matter) for an extra fee as well. The more you do, the better your book will be.

To give a reference point, if your book is 100 pages and has no color pages, you can order 50 books for less than $300.

Once you have a box of books, you are ready to start selling. Start a blog, use social media, and get a website. Open a PayPal account so you can accept orders online; get a credit card reader for your smart phone so you can swipe cards in person. Always be ready to make a sale.

Next, work on building your audience. Write a press release for your local newspaper. Contact local civic groups, like a rotary club, and ask to be a guest speaker (these groups are usually in need of speakers). Contact local radio stations and offer yourself for an interview. Go to local bookstores and make yourself available for a book signing, and see if they will carry your book (usually on consignment).

The more you do, the more you build your audience.

Use whatever contacts you have. If you travel for work, look for ways to pitch your book while you travel. Make business cards that advertise your book, and leave them in strategic places.

If you are a pastor, carry the books with you when you do revivals or other speaking engagements. With IP you will make more profit; your only overhead is the cost per book, which means you are making far more than the royalty checks you would get from a publisher.

I’m not telling you to give up your dream of becoming a bestselling author; that is still my dream too. But with Instant Publisher, there is no contract, so you can continue to pitch your book to agents or publishers while you are selling. This will allow you to build your audience, make contacts in the media and bookstores, and learn how to do book signings and other events. This way, people can benefit from your message or enjoy your story while you are waiting for a publisher.

And when you do get picked up by a major publisher, your audience will make the transition with you. They will have your “original” work, which will become a collector’s item! 

Here are two ready-made covers from Instant Publisher. The first is my book Who is God?

The other is a history book I wrote for a church:

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