9 Keys to Self-Publishing Success

It’s never been easier to publish a book, but that doesn’t mean we should

9 Keys to Self-Publishing SuccessI once read a self-published e-book, a novella. I read it for several reasons: it was recommended (which turned out to be a bad reason), it would be a quick read, I’d never read a novella, and it was free (I got what I paid for).

On the plus side, the opening captured my attention, the story line was intriguing, and the ending was a delightful surprise. On the negative side, the book did not flow smoothly, was poorly edited (or not edited at all), contained many errors, and was poorly converted into e-book format. Overall, the great ending did not overcome all the negative elements.

For a self-published book to be successful, it needs what all great books need:

  • A Promising Idea: If you don’t have a great story idea or theme, don’t start writing. This novella did, but its implementation fell short.
  • A Compelling Opening (a Hook): The opening didn’t grab me, but it was sufficient to make me want to read more.
  • Great Writing: I felt I was reading a rough draft. Elements of good writing were present, but they were too sparse to be effective.
  • Professional Editing: The novella may have been self-edited (never a wise idea) or done so on the cheap, but the result wasn’t even close to professional. While publishing perfection is hard to achieve, the goal should be to get as close as possible.
  • A Satisfying Ending: The ending of the novella was superb. It was the most notable element of the work. But one good line does not make a good book.
  • A Memorable Title: Some titles are hard to forget and others are hard to remember. I can’t recall this novella’s title.
  • An Attention-Grabbing Cover: The cover didn’t hurt the book, but it didn’t help either. If I were judging this book by its cover, I would have passed.
  • A Pleasing Layout: In print, the book shouldn’t look self-published. (We can’t always define it, but we know it when we see it). In electronic form, the formatting should flow smoothly with no glitches, misplaced text, bad alignment, or floating words or titles. In any good book, the interior design should be innocuous. When people notice the layout it becomes a distraction.
  • Effective Marketing: The above items all relate to the quality of the product. (There are more elements to consider, but these are the main ones.) A quality product requires effective marketing. A stellar book with no sales will not be a success, nor will great marketing of lousy writing work out.

If you’re considering self-publishing, be it in print or e-book, make sure you cover all nine of these items before proceeding. Your book’s success will depend on it.

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Should You Make Simultaneous Article Submissions?

Be upfront with editors if you are sending the same piece to multiple publications

Should You Make Simultaneous Article Submissions?When submitting an article to a magazine it’s a good practice to inform them if it’s a simultaneous submission, that is, if you’re sending it to others for consideration at the same time.

Making simultaneous submissions is like dating multiple people at the same time. If you are honest and careful, it can work, but if you’re not, someone will be hurt in the process.

If you submit your article to two magazines and both publish it in the same month, then it will look like one copied the other or that neither is interested in providing unique content. Both publishers will be upset with you and your chances of working with either in the future is unlikely. If you do simultaneously submit articles, make sure you inform each magazine you are doing so.

Better still is to submit your article to one first, then consider others later.

If the first publication doesn’t accept your submission, then you can immediately submit to a second. If the first magazine does accept it – assuming you only gave them, “first-rights” to use it – wait until after it is published before considering other magazines. (The first publication will often prefer you wait a certain length of time before you approach other periodicals.)

When submitting an article to someone new, you should indicate where else it’s been published if the piece is essentially unchanged from the original. However, if you repurpose it or sufficiently rework it, there should be no reason to note prior publication.

Following these steps when you submit articles (this doesn’t apply to press releases) is the professional way to do so and will save everyone much frustration.

Should You Be a Writer or an Entrepreneur?

Authors are advised to treat their writing like a business

Should You Be a Writer or an Entrepreneur?If you write solely for the fun of it or treat writing as a mere hobby, then don’t read this post. Seriously, it will just make you mad.

But if you want to succeed as a writer, regardless of how you define success, then this post should give you some ideas to consider. Please read on. Then let me know what you think about it.

Writing is a Business: When we treat our writing like a business it means we strategically pursue actions to meet the needs others have. We hope to earn a profit doing so. This need we strive to fill is information, inspiration, or entertainment. Maybe all three. For nonfiction we know things (or can find out things) that most people don’t know. For fiction we tell stories others want to read. We write to fill these needs. When we charge money for meeting the needs of others, we ensure we have the means to write more – and meet more needs.

A Book Is a Product: Yes, our books are creative works. Books are art, but they are also products; books provide a service to our audience.

A Series is a Product Line: If one book is a product, then a series is a product line. This is why beginning authors need to stay within one genre or one theme, so they can develop a product line and build a following around that line.

A Book Proposal is a Business Plan: At its most basic level an author’s business plan is a book proposal. Look at the elements of a proposal. It outlines the theme and purpose of the book (the product), it lays out a vision for what it will accomplish, it talks about the need for the book, and it addresses the competition. It also proposes follow-up books (a product line). At the very least, a book proposal informs our writing and guides us to producing a marketable book (product). No business will ever produce a product people don’t want. An author shouldn’t either.

We Need Backing: The purpose of a business plan is to raise funding, to procure investors. When it comes to publishing a book our business plan (our book proposal) is the means to get a publisher to back us, to invest in our product (our book). In theory an advance is money to live on while we develop the product (write our book). Our publisher will produce the book for us, distribute it, and sell it.

If we self-publish our book, we may go to Kickstarter to raise funds or solicit friends and relatives. They’ll want to see a plan before they fork over cash. Even if we self-fund our book, we would be foolish to do so without treating it as an investment.

Marketing Plan: Our marketing plan – often part of the book proposal – addresses how we will let others know about our book. Even if we go with a traditional publisher, they will expect us to market our book. If we self-publish, marketing is even more critical.

Writing and publishing a book requires thinking like a businessperson; we must become an entrepreneur, especially if we choose to self-publish.

Do you think of your book as a product? What do you think about treating writing as a business? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing Career

The more I focused on platform building, the less I enjoyed writing. I almost quit.

A few years ago, when I was still looking for an agent, I received some unexpected feedback. The agent liked me and my writing. He thought my book had merit. But despite all that he chose not to represent me. His reason was direct: “You have no platform.” Ouch!

How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing CareerHe didn’t say, “Your platform isn’t big enough,” “We want to see a bigger following,” or even “Your platform is too small.” Each would have been a true statement, and I could have accepted that. But no. He said, “You have no platform.” His words smacked at the core of my being. It’s as if he stuck a knife in my heart and twisted it.

I doubt he meant to cause me pain, but he did. Words have impact. I know. I write for a living.

So with renewed focus I dove into growing my platform. I studied books, took online classes, and listened to podcasts about platform and branding. I followed blogs and copied what the big-platform people did. I put greater effort into blogging, looked at each social media platform I used to make it better, and developed a consistent message across them all. I sought to engage with people online and build community.

I followed the steps of the gurus, the holders of grand, successful, platform-building outcomes. Eventually I realized the truth of the oft-spoken disclaimer: “Individual results may vary.” Indeed few of their followers ever achieved their if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can-do-it results. That included me.

With so much emphasis on platform I had little time to write. I wrote infrequently and enjoyed it less. My fixation on platform drained me of my passion for words. The size of my following became a burden, one harder to bear as time moved on.

Then one day I’d had enough. “If this is what it means to be a writer, I quit!” I gave up. But instead of relief, I grew even more miserable.

That was when I realized I could never not write.

I scaled back my mostly unsuccessful platform efforts to what was doable without being overwhelming. I cleansed the evil of platform fixation from my soul and reclaimed my joy of writing.

I suspect I will always consider platform building and self-promotion as the dark side of writing, but as long as I keep the former in check, I can continue with the latter – and thoroughly enjoy it.

Frustration with my platform almost caused me to stop writing. But it didn’t. I’m still here, and I’m still writing – regardless of the size of my platform.

What do you think about the need for a platform? How do you balance platform building with writing? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Do You Want People to Buy Your Book or Read Your Book?

We all want people to buy our books and then read our books. That’s the ideal. But what if we can realize only one of these two outcomes? Would we rather have people buy our book or read it?

Do You Want People to Buy Your Book or Read Your Book?In the first scenario a lot of people would buy our book but they never actually read it. It sits around unread and later moves to a book shelf and later still ends up in the trash. No one ever reviews the book or lets us know how much they enjoy it.

In the second scenario readers download our book for free, read someone else’s copy (that wasn’t paid for either), receives an advanced copy, or finds a pirated version. We receive a boatload of positive reviews and everywhere we go it seems someone says how great our book is. A lot of people read our book and love it, but we never make one penny from it.

Both these situations are extreme, but if we had to select one, which one would it be?

If we pick the first, then our primary goal in writing a book is to make money. If we pick the second, then our primary motivation to write is for the love of the art. Neither one is wrong, but by themselves, for the long-term, neither one will fully satisfy.

We need people to buy our books, and we need people to read them. The first need is practical and the second need is emotional. We must have both to sustain ourselves as writers. Without the money we starve physically; without the feedback we starve creatively. Don’t be caviler about either; we need both and shouldn’t dismiss one as unnecessary.

We must write books that will make money and that people will want to read. The money doesn’t have to be a lot, but we need to make something. Our readers don’t need to be many, but we need to have at a least a few.

Of course we’d prefer to sell lots of books and have lots of readers. Isn’t that what we all dream for – even if we don’t say so or are afraid to admit it?

If you had to choose which would it be? Which of these two outcomes should you take more seriously? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below

How to Write a Book: Practice First on Shorter Pieces

I meet many aspiring writers who want to jump right in and write a book. They have little experience, but they have an idea. They start typing away. Most give up soon and few finish. And those who do complete their journey, the result is seldom noteworthy.

Why is that?

The answer is simple. They weren’t ready to write a book. As the saying goes, you need to walk before you run. But you need to crawl before you walk. There’s an order to things.

Few people would decide on a whim to go out and run a marathon. They would not likely finish, and if they did, they could injure themselves. Plus, their time would be bad, really bad. No, they would condition themselves first, get in shape, practice, and gain experience at shorter distances.

The same holds true when writing books. We need to practice; we need to gain experience with shorter word counts.

For most successful writers, their first book didn’t sell. Or there second. Many times I’ve heard of published authors who wrote five books before they wrote one someone would publish. That’s a lot of work and many years of wasted time.

Instead, aspiring book authors should start out writing shorter pieces. That’s an easy way to learn what works and what doesn’t, to find our voice, and to hone our skills. If a piece fails, we have little time invested in it. If it succeeds, we have a quick victory to celebrate. Plus, we can easily see our improvement from one piece to the next.

So, if we want to write a fiction book, we should start by writing short stories or flash fiction. If we want to write a nonfiction book, start with blogging, articles, or personal essays. Memoirs tap the skills of both fiction and nonfiction writing, so we can develop our memoir writing skills with flash fiction and blogging.

Before we write a book, we should practice first, writing shorter pieces to gain experience and develop our skills. Then, once we’ve put in the needed training, we will be ready to write our book.

Peter DeHaan Opens His Writing Newsletter to the Public

Veteran Magazine Publisher, Editor, Author, and Blogger Shares about Writing in Weekly Newsletter

June 9, 2015GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.Since last year Peter DeHaan has shared about writing in his free monthly newsletter, “Write On!” He now opens up the subscription to anyone interested in writing, from the beginner to experienced professional.

“I started my newsletter, ‘Write On!’ to keep in contact with people who attended the sessions I led at writing conferences over the past several years,” said Peter, who is a magazine publisher and editor, in addition to being a writer with over three decades of experience. “I sold my first article in 1982, and the world of publishing has changed a lot since then. I want to share my experiences and encourage others in becoming better writers.”

Each issue of “Write On!” includes an article about writing, a resource of the month, links to writing and book publishing blog posts, an inspiring quote, and a popular Q&A section where Peter answers writers’ questions.

Plus, each new subscriber will receive Peter’s valuable resource, “How to Format Your Submission,” at no cost. This is an essential guide for writers who want to present their work to editors and publishers in a standard, professional format. “Once we have produced our best work,” says Peter, “we need to present it properly so that it stands the best chance of being read and accepted. Editors and publishers are pushed for time and a well-presented submission will get their attention and increase our chances for success.”

Sign up for Peter DeHaan’s writing newsletter “Write On!” today; the next issue comes out on Thursday. You may unsubscribe at any time, but we don’t think you’ll want to!

For more information, go to Peter DeHaan’s website: www.authorpeterdehaan.com/newsletter.

Writing is an Art; Publishing is a Business

Consider all the really great books that don’t sell. Consider some of the poorly written books that do. Although this is unfair, it is also reality. Fortuitous timing aside, these two situations point out the fact that producing and selling books is part art and part business.

I’ve been in business much of my adult life: managing businesses, owning businesses, starting businesses, running businesses, and buying businesses. Being a businessman is in my blood; it’s part of who I am.

I’ve been writing even longer, but in the past five years, I’ve taken writing seriously, moving it from hobby status to professional. I’ve worked at improving my work, at communicating clearer, and at understanding the craft. Along the way, I realized writing is art. For a person who didn’t think of himself as creative, seeing writing as a form of art is huge. I embrace the role of an artist who writes. Writing is my passion. It’s in my blood; it’s part of who I am.

In accepting the reality that writing is art, while publishing is business, it would seem that as a businessman writer, I have the best of both worlds. My creative side produces content and my business side turns it into product that sells. Unfortunately I have trouble connecting the two, at least as far as my work is concerned.

Many writers also struggle with the business side of their art. And while I am closer to connecting the two, my struggle is no less real.

Though the reason why I have this issue still evades me, the solution is clear. As Nike says, I need to “just do it.” And with all the evolving technology in the world of publishing, it has never been easier to do.

Are you more artist or businessperson?

Why We Need a Book Proposal for Every Book We Write

I’ve never met an author who likes to write book proposals, yet if we hope to sign with a traditional publisher, we need a book proposal – a really good book proposal. Aside from being tedious and time-consuming, parts of a book proposal are challenging, such as researching competitive titles, selling ourselves as the ideal person to write the book, and talking about our platform (a.k.a. how we can move books).

To further complicate things, there is no standard format for the ideal proposal. True, there are some common expectations, but the list varies. Even the order is a matter of preference. To further frustrate matters, some people advise including items that other equally knowledgeable folks say to ignore.

This all conspires to make writing a book proposal a chore. Thankfully we only have to write book proposals if we’re going the traditional publishing route, right? No. The gurus say to do a proposal if we’re going to self-publish, too. Yeah, like I’m going to do that.

However, I recently gained some insight into this when attending a book proposal workshop by Andrew Rogers at the March Jot Conference. In addition to giving the most helpful information I’ve ever encountered on the subject, the act of writing parts of a proposal in class was insightful.

For the purpose of the exercise, I used my current WIP (work in progress) Women in the Bible – for which I did not have a written proposal because I plan to self-publish it. Noting the title and subtitle was easy, since I already knew that. A synopsis paragraph affirmed my vision for the book, while describing the target audience was insightful. Though we didn’t have time for it, writing the hook – a compelling one to two sentences to sum up the book – would provide additional clarity. Last is the table of contents, which effectively is an outline to guide the writing. (I realized that to self-publish I could skip the other items of a typical proposal, including a detailed outline, platform information, author bio, and sample chapters. Yea!)

Having these five key items established would help me write and hone any book I want to self-publish. Plus, they wouldn’t take too long or be burdensome to develop. Armed with this insight, I intend to write a mini book proposal for all my future self-published books to guide my writing and clarify my vision.

The items for a mini book proposal when self-publishing are:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Hook
  3. Synopsis paragraph
  4. Target audience
  5. Table of contents

This is not an overwhelming list and won’t take much time to pull together. Remember, this will make our book easier to write and the finished product, better.

What’s your experience writing book proposals? Do you see yourself writing a mini book proposal for your next self-published book?

Don’t Be a Generalist: Your Book Will Not Appeal to Everyone

Authors need to know their audience. We must determine who will be the typical reader of our book. Too often writers naively assume – or arrogantly claim – that everyone will like their book. While having the whole world clamor to read our work would be a great outcome, it’s not going to happen; no book has universal appeal.

Trying to write a book that will interest everyone is a futile effort. Likewise, marketing our book to everyone is a waste of time and of money. Not everyone will be interested in our book. While this idea may be disconcerting, it’s a reality we best accept.

So forget about being a generalist. We need to specialize. Becoming a specialist gives us focus, both for our writing and our marketing.

When we specialize, we home in on a particular topic geared to a specific demographic. We write with that idea and reader in mind, and then we market with the same perspective.

However, just because we write and then market to a certain demographic, doesn’t mean we’re limiting our sales to that specific group. Others from outside our target audience will also read and enjoy our book; it’s just that these folks are harder to identify and market to. Sales to our target audience should be our focus. Then when others buy our book, it’s a bonus.

Trying to appeal to all people will cause frustration; focus can remove that frustration.