Two very different questions with very different answers.
First, of course, writing a book has numerous benefits. Having an author’s credit brings you immediate credibility with your audience. If it’s a cookbook, you’re an instant chef. If it’s a business tome, you’re suddenly a financial expert, or a marketing guru, or a mover and shaker. If it’s a medical treatise, you’re in the same ballpark as Drs. Benjamin Spock, Mehmet Oz, or Andrew Weil. If it’s a novel, you become part of the pantheon of Mark Twain, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling.
That’s if you write a book, and if you get it published.
So the second part of the question comes into play. You’ve got a great idea, but how do you put it into play?
In the article “How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?” from Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman notes several pitfalls to getting published. Friedman is an editor, author, blogger, professor and former publisher of Writer’s Digest, so she knows whereof she speaks.
First, she identifies four mistakes that can prevent you from being published: Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work; looking for major publication of regional or niche work; focusing on publishing when you should be writing; and most germane here, self-publishing when no one is listening.
What she means by that is publishing without researching or developing an audience. Bowker, the agent for issuing ISBNs and providing other information to the publishing industry, reports that in 2011, nearly 150,000 new print books were self-published, as were more than 87,000 e-books. That represents growth of nearly 300 percent since 2006.
And that’s only for those books with ISBNs. Authors who publish through the Kindle Direct Publishing program don’t need an ISBN.
So it’s obvious that there are A LOT of books out there. Now, does that mean you shouldn’t write a book if you fail to land a deal with a Random House or the like?
Not at all. Friedman herself notes that it’s more viable than ever for a writer to be successful without a traditional publisher or agent.
But not without some effort.
Where does the effort start? There are two keys. One is identifying your audience and then cultivating it. Second is actually writing your book.
We’ll talk about the second part in our next post. But even before you write your book, you need to make sure you’ll have an audience beyond your relatives.
Friedman says that if your goal is to bring your work successfully to the marketplace, it’s a waste of time to self-publish that work, if you haven’t yet cultivated an audience for it, or can’t market and promote it effectively through your network.
So how do you nurture your audience? There are many tools with which to do this. Start with the web. Creating your own website and working with social media are almost no-brainers. But make sure you’re using them correctly. Facebook is great for keeping up with your old high school pals, but that’s not going to help you sell your book. Instead, or at least in addition, create posts about your area of expertise, and start dropping hints about your upcoming book. That will both whet your friends’ appetites and force you to really write it.
And don’t just lean on Facebook. Tweet regularly. Use LinkedIn. Post videos on YouTube. And send people from all those sites to your website, where you can totally position yourself as an expert in your chosen field.
Just like you’ll need an editor for your book, make sure someone else signs off on your online efforts as well. Another set of eyes is always a good idea, whether it’s to critique the design of your site or to suggest that maybe posting those photos of you and your friends at the bar isn’t going to showcase your expertise and might even turn off some members of your potential audience.
Then there’s the world beyond the web. Joining local groups or boards, from charitable organizations to business groups, can offer numerous benefits. Not only will you be expanding your circle of influence, but you’ll in all likelihood learn new skills and even meet new friends. Win-win!