So, you want to write a book…

So, you want to write a book…
November 28, 2017 Joseph Paris

My book, “State of Readiness”, was published in May this year (2017).  And it’s been almost six months since I have written a fresh article.  It’s not been for a lack of topics.  In fact, I have several topics in the queue for articles I want to write.  But, publishing a book took a lot of effort and I found myself exhausted from writing.  So, I put my pen, typewriter, word-processor on the shelf for a while until I could regain my strength.

Many people have commended me on this accomplishment (thank you all).  But there have also been many people who shared with me their desire to write a book.  So I figured my first, post-publishing, article should be about the process of writing and publishing a book.  In Operational Excellence terms; to envision your future state, assess your present state, how to prepare for your journey, considerations for the journey, and the journey itself.  The intent is that you won’t have to pay as much tuition to the University of Publishing as I did.

It’s my way of paying it forward.  For you see, I had a Sherpa – Carey “Vixen” Lohrenz – in my publishing journey.  She published her book, “Fearless Leadership” (a read I recommend), in advance of my journey and was kind enough to devote time and energy in mentoring and motivating me through the production of my book.

The critical basics

Why do you want to write a book?  This is the first and most important question you need to answer before you write your book.  You are about to embark on a project that is going to be a huge time-suck and will probably span a couple of years (at least).  You need to clearly understand why you want to write a book before you begin investing the considerable amount of time, energy, emotion, and cash to see it through to the end.

J.Paris:  I never set out to write a book.  It was never a life ambition or on my “bucket list”.  I mostly wrote my book because I was coaxed into writing it by friends, family, and peers.  And this was based on people reading my articles and saying, “You need to write a book.”  So, I eventually capitulated to the pressures and decided to write one.  But, once I made this decision, I took it very seriously and was determined to see it through to the end.  The thought of having started and not finishing was not an option.

However, making the decision to write a book was only the end of the beginning.  If I was going to write a book, what did I hope to accomplish?

For me, I wanted to write a book to share my thoughts, born of experiences and the lessons I learned, for the benefit of others.  Through my sharing, I hoped to help companies grow beyond Process Excellence, through Systems Excellence, to Operational Excellence where they might become a High-Performance Organization – what that all means and looks like in real terms and why it’s important.

Who is your intended audience?  This is the second most important question to ask.  When you are done with your book, when it is real, who would you like to have read it?  This is important because it will influence many of your down-stream decisions.  For instance, if your market is very narrow, then you might want to consider print-on-demand to minimize (or eliminate) the issues related to inventory and logistics and make your price-point attractive.  If your book will appeal to a wider audience, then you need to consider a more traditional approach to publishing so you always have inventory on-hand to satisfy opportunities for distribution outside of eCommerce.

J.Paris:  What I saw as the biggest challenge in my marketplace (business) was that the people who had responsibilities and roles of business defining vision and strategy were not aligned with those who had the responsibilities for strategy execution?  How or why could they not effectively communicate with one another, or were otherwise not empathetic to the needs of each other.  And, believing that time is the enemy of the 21st Century company, I saw an over-emphasis on analysis and perfecting a business processes and a lack of emphasis on systems and accelerating the decision-making process – turning thoughts into action much more quickly and decisively.

Are these two aligned?  This is the go/no-go decision point.  If the above is not aligned, stop.

J.Paris:  Obviously, I (eventually) believed these were aligned for me.  The book is done.

What does success look like? Riches; Some people believe they will get rich from publishing a book.  But for every J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) who went from nothing to being a billionaire superstar, or Andrew Cuomo who got a sweetheart deal from HarperCollins for his book, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, (earning $783,000 but selling only 3,200 books of the 200,000 printed) there are countless authors who remain unknown – having sold their books (or given them away) to friends and family.  So, I would guard against your believing you will become rich with the publishing of your book.  It might happen, and I hope that it does, but don’t count on it.

Business; A more pragmatic expectation should be in your believing that publishing your book will be good for your business.  This is a more likely outcome, but there are many factors that will play into it being successful – much of which I will cover later in this article.  But one thing to consider is; your book is the ultimate business card.  People will probably toss your regular business card away, but rarely does someone throw away a book.  If anything, it will be passed along to someone else.  This means your book needs to be a professional production if you want it to achieve this outcome.  “Dressing for success” applies to producing your book, too.

Legacy; Some people produce their book just to be a testament to their having “been there and done that” and wanting to tell others their story.  Here, the success is measured in personal satisfaction without regard for monetary reward.  If they are proud of the final product, and others express appreciation for their work, then they consider the project a success.  This is the story behind many a table-top books – a vignette into something near and dear to the writer that the writer wants to capture and share.

J.Paris:  For me, it’s a blend of the three.  I believe my book will be successful if it resonates with the reader and I am rewarded with the opportunity to engage in more business as a result (70%), that it will sell enough to cover the direct investment (20%), but also that it is a testament to my legacy (10%). 

As you can see, my measure of success is driven by business and commercial aspirations.  And, although I am at the early stages of the book’s being released, I am pleased with the performance to-date.  And I am especially pleased that I have sold more books to-date than Andrew Cuomo.  Maybe next time I will use HarperCollins as the publisher.

Before you start

Find your voice; Start writing. I would recommend that you start easy and small.  Set a pace of one article per month with a target word-count of 1,000 words (not less) and post them to your profile on LinkedIn (which you simply must have).  Write in a journalistic way; bringing the red-meat of the article to the front and then adding the supporting content afterwards.  Link to any facts you might use to support your article, making sure to only use credible sources (as I have done in this article).  This process can take quite a bit of time.  If I look at my earlier articles, I can see how my voice changed – much like going through puberty.

And it is in these early writings that you will discover how capable you are as a writer.  Chances are, you won’t be that good.  Your command of expressing thoughts and pulling them together to tell a story – perhaps even your sentence structure, grammar, and vocabulary – will need significant improvement.  Start working on that.

For me, my many years of reading “The Economist” has helped me improve my writing skills; from constructing an article, to writing style, to the “voice” that is used.  One thing about vocabulary; keep it simple.  It’s not necessary to impress people with your vocabulary – impress them with your thoughts.  Besides, you want the reader to enjoy reading your content, not have to struggle with it.

As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

When you have a dozen or so articles under your belt, start a blog.  I would recommend you use WordPress and one of the millions of WordPress Templates that are available.  It’s easy to set-up and maintain.  Be sure to publish your blog under your own domain name and not under WordPress’.  See www.josephparis.me as an example.

Develop an online reputation; Start sharing.  There are many outlets at your disposal for sharing your articles (none of them should cost any hard money).  In addition to posting your articles on LinkedIn under your profile and sharing them from there, you can also post them to Twitter, Facebook, Academia, Reddit, and so many more.  With Facebook, don’t just use your Facebook Profile, create a Facebook Page – this will help you keep friends and family separate from fans.

Don’t be shy.  You are starting to create your brand.

Which gets me back to the length of the article.  Most people use our social media feeds to occupy our minds.  Our feeds have taken the place of the morning paper.  We read them while having breakfast or sitting on the can.  We rarely retain what we read and we don’t want the content to be too wordy – it’s too much work.  I call these articles and posts “popcorn”; popcorn takes up space but has no nutritional value.

Therefore, the missions of writing your articles are; to find your voice, start collecting your thoughts, developing your story (and the future thesis of your book), and to develop your online reputation.  Your articles should not be designed to occupy someone’s mind while they are doing something else.  Rather, the objective of your articles should be that people find them because they are looking for quality content related to a subject in which they are interested – and your article is substantive enough to gain their complete and undivided attention and become part of their research.

The ultimate mission of your articles should be to establish yourself as a thought leader.

Build your audience; The time to build your audience is before you need it.  Start early.  Even if it’s before you have written your first article.  Join LinkedIn Groups where you believe your content will resonate and engage the group.  Don’t connect with everyone, but do connect with those with whom you have engaged and those with whom there appears to be an alignment.  When you send a connection request, be sure to send a personal note stating why you want to connect.  Trust me, the note will go a long way in motivating a person to accept the connection request, will make you stand-out and be noticed, and might even result in a real dialog.  After all, that is why you want to connect.

Make thoughtful comments on other people’s posts.  Don’t be shy of taking a contrarian position, just be sure to support your position and always be respectful.  If you find an article that is aligned with your profession or the thesis of your book, share it in the relevant groups and as a post.  Post professionally.  Don’t confuse LinkedIn with Facebook.  You want people to follow your thought leadership, not your drama.

Be sure to give a snappy title to your discussions.  Add a couple of lines as to why the article resonated with you and what others might gain from reading it.  And be sure to end with a “call to action” such as; “What has been your experience?” or “What are your thoughts?”.  This will motivate others to engage.

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Build your network – and your public speaking skills – by speaking at conferences or even volunteering to guest-lecture at a local University. All of this is going to require a lot of work and a lot of runway.  But do it you must. Bottom-line is, put yourself out there.

Validate your messaging; As you write, you will get feedback.  Some of the feedback will be positive and some won’t be.  Don’t take the negative feedback personally.  Think of it as a learning opportunity for when people give pushback on the thoughts in your book.  How well prepared are you to engage in debate?  Who knows, perhaps your views will bend a bit.

Over time, you will refine your thoughts and redirect your views.  This is healthy and good.

J.Paris:  I started writing my articles some time ago.  My first article – at least the first that I retained – was written in December of 2006.  It was entitled, “Leadership through public speaking”.  Reading it today, I am reminded of how far my own writing has evolved.  Mind you, it’s not bad.  But it’s not particularly good either.

It was about this same time – early in 2006 – that I joined LinkedIn.  I didn’t know it was going to become a juggernaut of professional social media at the time.  And it was in June of 2006 when I formed the Operational Excellence Group on LinkedIn – a group that; now boasts 60,000+ members, is the center of gravity for the discipline of Operational Excellence, and serves as one of my main platforms for sharing my thoughts. 

I would like to think both actions were strategically masterful – that I was brilliant.  But the reality is that both were Forrest Gump moments – more lucky than smart.

Unfortunately, LinkedIn has matured and the advantage of being an early adopter are gone.  You are going to have to work harder to establish yourself on this platform and rise above the din than I did.  But applying yourself in these efforts is necessary.  My recommendation is to forego starting your own Group at this point.  There are too many competing groups that are much larger than yours – why would members of these established groups join another that was similar (or the same)?  Rather, you should actively engage in Groups where your message will resonate. 

One word of caution, though.  Only engage with the reader in mind, not your own interests.  By that, I mean to make sure whatever you post drives value to the reader over yourself.  If you make it about you, your audience will disengage.

Over time – by my sharing my thoughts and reading the thoughts of others, starting conversations and engaging in the conversations started by others, and especially listening to feedback of others – I was able to; find my voice, formulate and mature my ideas, begin building my audience, and establish my reputation as a thought leader. 

In a phrase, I was building my brand.  You need to build you brand before you need it.

Start writing your book

Determine the thesis; What is your book about?  Don’t try to write about a bunch of different things – it should have a single main theme.  Certainly, there might be a plethora of supporting content, but it should all be aligned and supportive of the main theme.

One other piece of advice here.  Find a topic that is fresh – at least relatively so.  Remember, your book will be competing with a lot of others.  The less competition the better.

Collect your thoughts; By the time you start writing your book, you will have probably written dozens of articles.  Some of them will be good, some not so good.  Some will have helped establish, what will be, the thesis of your book.  And some will not be relevant at all.

Identify the articles you wrote which support the thesis of your book – even incorporate them into you book.  Of course, you will have to update them.  You might even have to pull them apart and scatter their messages though-out the book where they might be relevant.  Just be sure to not make the book a collection of your articles – after all, you are not Jimmy Breslin or Mike Royko.

The Title; Early in the process, create a title that will grab the attention of your reader and is as unique as possible.  For instance, although my book is about the importance of “Operational Excellence”, I didn’t want the main title to have the words Operational Excellence in it.  There are so many books already out there with those words in the title.  I wanted to invoke the sense that a fresh perspective is contained within the pages of my book – because there is.

You also want to select a title that is short – sweet, simple, impactful.  A longer subtitle is acceptable (but keep this as short as possible also).

Another consideration for selecting a title is the availability of a URL for your book’s title.  Grab it early.  Even if you change it later, you can always just abandon the URL.  The reason for this is that you will eventually create a webpage for your book as I did for “State of Readiness”.

Create a rough draft; Before you approach a publisher, you will want to create a rough draft of your manuscript.  Without being too fixated on numbers, your rough draft is considered a rough draft when you have created one-third of the content of your book.  This is not one-third of the way through your book from the start, but one-third of your book from the beginning to the end.  This is what your publisher will want to see.

When to write; Some people advise that you set aside some period of time every day to write.  Or to keep a pad and pen handy at all times, even at your bedside, so you can jot down ideas as they come along.

I found that setting aside time every day, or at any fixed schedule, just didn’t work for me.  What did work for me was to clear my schedule when I was particularly inspired to write.  During these times, the words would flow freely and I can produce upwards of 5,000 words of content at a sitting.  Of course, I would also remove 1,000 words later because I thought some of it was crap.

I believe the best advice here is to find a discipline that works for you – even if it does not look like a discipline from the casual observer.  The important thing is that you write.

J.Paris; The thesis that I settled upon, one where there was not a lot of competing contributions, was on “organizational design”.  Specifically, that the enemy of the 21st Century company was “time”; that the organization that can see further beyond the horizon then their competitors, recognized opportunities and threats sooner, and be able to design, decide, and deploy a decisive engagement of those opportunities and threats, will have the advantage.  This requires that a company continually develop its capacity and hone its capabilities to engage – to be in a “State of Readiness” – such that success is as pre-ordained as possible.

Creating the rough draft of my manuscript was fairly simple and didn’t take too much time.  All told, it was six months of work and I had 47,500 words.  This is mostly because I had done so much of the up-front work of; writing articles, sharing and engaging with my audience (and listening intently to the conversations), reading and listening to the works of my peers, and engaging in constructive debate.

If you are starting from scratch, the rough draft will probably take you a lot longer to complete than six months.  But maybe not.  Perhaps you will be one of the lucky few whose ideas will just flow out.

Decide on your publishing vehicle

If you have made it this far, don’t stop now!  Look at all you have accomplished.  You;

  • Have figured out why you want to write a book and know who your audience is.
  • Understand what success means to you and you are satisfied with that.
  • Have written several articles and found your voice.
  • Began building your on-line reputation and audience.
  • Have shared your thoughts with others and your message resonates.
  • Established yourself as a thought-leader and built your brand.
  • Decided what your book will be about, its thesis.
  • Collected your thoughts and created a rough draft.

Now, you have to figure-out a way to get your rough draft finalized into book form and in the hands of the reader.  But where to start, and what are the pros and cons of each?

Traditional Publishing; Unless you are a celebrity or an author that has a track-record for success, you won’t get a fat advance (or any advance) – so it’s better to get that out of your head now.  The one thing you need to understand is that a traditional publisher takes all the risk in producing your book.  They will provide their professional services for editing, design, illustrations, production, and distribution.  All this will require a considerable sum of investment on the part of the publisher.  And although your contribution is “sweat-equity”, the publisher is contributing – and risking – cold, hard, cash.  This is why you should expect it to be difficult to get an acceptance letter; especially if you are a first timer.

So far, all of this is well and good, but – and this is an important “but” – the publisher will own your book in the end.  They will have exclusive rights to the book.  Where it is produced, it’s distribution, even what snippets you can use for your own purposes.  If you want to give copies of your book out to friends, family, business associates; if you want to offer them at events or conferences where you speak; if you want any copies whatsoever, you will have to purchase them from the publisher (albeit at a respectable discount).

For all of this, you can expect a royalty of 5% to 10%.  The rewards are low – but not as low as you might believe, comparatively (see below) – but your risk is low.  The real sacrifice is that you no longer own your book.  And this might be important to you.

Self-Publishing; In its purest form, where you do all the work, publishing your own book might sound attractive.  You get to own the book and the production can be very economical.  But chances are great that your final production will not be nearly as good as it could have been and the risk to your success criterion is great.  The reason for this is; you don’t know what you don’t know – or almost worse – you think you know more than you do or are better at it than you are.  The level of arrogance in which you hold your ignorance is your greatest risk.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you understand your limitations and you decide to hire-out for those services where you might not be best suited.  Now you must determine what those needs are, and find and hire the spot talent you might need.  The challenge here is; if you are not suited to doing the work, how can you know if you have found someone who is?

Accordingly, I would not recommend self-publishing for the first-time author (unless your book is not very complex and intended for a very narrow audience).  It will diminish the chances of your book meeting the success criterion you seek.

The bottom-line on self-publishing; The process of publishing is very complex and the risk of your self-publishing and producing a product that is less than its full potential (in quality and market penetration) is very great.  This risk is especially amplified if you have not published before.  You must know there are costs involved and these costs will be covered by you.

But, you get to own your book and do whatever you want with it.

Hybrid; Every firm that advertises themselves as a “self-publishing company” is, in fact, a hybrid publisher.  They offer a portfolio of ala carte services that a traditional publisher might provide, but they will charge you a fee for these services.  They add transparency to the publishing process and its associated costs, and give you the freedom to determine what services are of value to you and to what extent.

For the first-time author, their acting as your Sherpa through the publishing process may prove invaluable.  They will help you through the unknown unknowns and ensure you are aware of all the steps of the publishing process.  Your challenge will be to filter which services you need and which you don’t.  After all, their model is fee for services.  And if they don’t provide the service, they don’t earn the fee.  Accordingly, there is an inherent conflict of interest and they are not the pure advocate of the author that they portray they are.

You bear a much greater risk in hybrid publishing and it’s not for the faint of heart, as I will share in my personal example.  You must be a bit of an entrepreneur who is comfortable with a very real increase in risk with only the potential for increased reward.

However, the benefits of hiring a self-publishing firm can be – especially for the first-time author – of great value.  You have someone to; guide you through the publishing process with a reasonable level of transparency, explain the multitude of considerations which must be evaluated and decided upon, and offer reasonably sound advice based on their publishing experience.  Just make sure the experience and success of the individuals with whom you are directly dealing (your publishing team), and not just that of the company, is considerable.

But, you get to own your book and do whatever you want with it.

J.Paris: After I had decided to write my book and was well into the process, I started investigating the publishing avenues available.  I even spoke with a few publishers (both traditional and hybrid) and other authors.  When speaking with traditional publishers, I got the sense it was going to be a lot of work just to sell them on the idea, and none of them were very excited (I wasn’t Andrew Cuomo).  I guess the energy just was not there.  And when I spoke with hybrid publishers, I got the sense I was being sold (they didn’t really care if my book was successful or not – so long as they collected the fees for services) and I also got the sense they were not telling me everything until I was “hooked”.

As I had mentioned earlier, I had the good fortune of having Carey Lohrenz as my Sherpa.  Having already traveled the road I was about to travel on myself, her consul and mentorship were invaluable.  As we talked-over the process and I weighed all the options, I decided I was going to go the hybrid route for a few reasons;

a) I never published before. I knew that I did not personally possess the knowledge and knowhow necessary to publish – nor was that knowledge and knowhow within my existing network. Since I also knew the required talents were quite diverse (more than one person would be required), and I had no way of evaluating qualified talent from unqualified talent, I realized the best route was to engage a publisher.

b) I wanted to own my book.  The thought of someone else owning my book was not attractive.  I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted with my book without having to gain permission from anyone.  The thought of having to purchase my own book to suit my own purposes was also not very attractive.  But the single biggest issue was my professional footprint, which spans the globe.  If I needed 50 copies of my book for a conference in Europe, I would have to order them from the States and have them shipped there (which takes a bit of time and incurs considerable expense).  By my owning my book, I could have my book printed in Europe for the European market (and beyond) and save a lot of time, hassle, and expense.

c) I am a bit of a gambler (read: “entrepreneur”). I knew there was going to be considerable risk. By the time my book hit the shelves – for publishing and printing the first run – I was into the project for $108,000.  My break-even point on book sales alone is around 10,000 copies (more than twice as many as Andrew Cuomo sold).  This does not count the number I give away – I look at them as $3 business cards that nobody will ever toss.  I had (and still have) a high degree of confidence that I will recoup my publishing investment in book sales (perhaps within a year of its being published), and a reasonable level of confidence that I will profit from book sales over time.

Not enough to retire, though.  Not nearly so.

d) Risk management. Aside the fact that I believe I will earn more from book sales over time by going hybrid over traditional publishing, there was considerable risk with my going the traditional route. Specifically, what if the publisher decided not to print the book anymore?  Certainly, my royalties would end.  But so would access to my book for my professional needs.  Maybe the publisher would release the ownership to me (at what cost?), but I would have to produce the books.  And would I also have to rebuild all the branding, and channels too?

What publisher did I select?  Of course, there are many publishing services out there.  But the thought of interviewing them all – and not having the ability to determine the competency level of any due to my lack of experience – made me decide to take the easy route; I just went with the one Carey used, Greenleaf Publishing Group.  After all, I respect Carey and think she’s a pretty smart cookie.  And I knew she did her due-diligence.  Whomever she selected must be good enough for me.

Create your manuscript

Substantive editor; Once you have completed the rough draft of your manuscript, it’s time to hire a substantive editor (sometimes called a developmental editor).  A good substantive editor will be the reader’s advocate.  As such, they should probably not be a person you know as it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to offer unbiased guidance.  Nobody wants to risk the relationship.

The main responsibility of the substantive editor is to examine and analyze the construct of the manuscript for flow (does the reader progress naturally and easily through the material), readability (overly complex sentences and paragraphs), is there adequate content where needed and is distracting content eliminated or reworked.  In essence, to help make the book a rewarding experience for the reader.

A substantive editor is not a ghost writer.  You must do all the writing and work.  But a substantive editor will offer suggestions for where you need to develop additional content. Remember, when it came time to seek a publisher, you only had a rough draft of your manuscript.  It was just your detailed thoughts and thesis of the book and about one-third complete from beginning to end. Working with the substantive editor will help you bulk-up your book where it needs muscle.  Think of your substantive editor as your personal trainer – only writing.

It is also during this process where your timeline might slide.  It’s a lot of work – and rather hard work at that.  I found that I would have to set the project aside from time to time just to clear my head to the point where I could re-engage and be productive.

You can tell if you have a good substantive editor if they are not afraid to challenge you and debate.  It’s all part of the process.  And it can be a rather long and frustrating process – so be prepared accordingly. I had many revisions during this process.  The versions I printed out (and there were many I did not) ended-up being a stack 1 meter high.

It is important to keep in mind that when the substantive editing is done, and you have approved the work, the opportunity to introduce any significant changes is past.

Illustrations; As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and are very useful in telling a story.  You probably have some sketches, or PowerPoint slides, perhaps a few charts and graphs.  But unless you are uniquely gifted and can create compelling and crisp illustrations, hire a professional.

For project timeline considerations, you should probably have your illustrations completed and incorporated before you promote your manuscript to the next phase, the copy editor.

Copy editor; Once the substantive editing is complete, your manuscript is ready for finalization.  The role of the copy editor is to refine your manuscript with a focus on grammar, punctuation, spelling and style.  This process is fairly simple and straight forward and does not involve nearly as much of the writer’s time as efforts leading up to this point took, nor does it take the emotional toll that the substantive editor might (will) inflict.

When interviewing the copy editor, you should ask them what style guide they use.  If they don’t say the “Chicago Manual of Style” (also known as CMOS or CMS), move on.  The CMOS is the style guide standard for preparing manuscripts for publication.  Even if they do say they use CMOS, make sure they have a command of it themselves.

There might be a several passes of copy edits (depending upon the complexity of your manuscript), and the first pass will be the most painful.  So. Many. Edits.

Make sure to read your manuscript one last time before approving it to the next stage in the process.  There is a strong probability that some content in your manuscript (but not a lot) has changed and skewed the meaning from your original intent.  Catch it and fix it.

Proof-reading; After the copy editor’s work is done, your manuscript will move to the next and final step in the writing process, proof-reading.  At this point, your manuscript is almost ready for press.  The construct of the book is complete, including any illustrations.  The page layouts and fonts are as they will appear in the final version of the book.  And the document from which you are working looks like the guts of the book.  So, you need to make sure you like what you see.

A very important thing to keep in mind is that, when your manuscript is at the proof-reading stage, there is very little scope for any substantive changes.  Forget adding a paragraph or reworking a chapter.  That time has passed.  You might – I repeat might – be able to do some rework at the sentence level, but not a lot.

As with copy editing, make sure to read and approve the final copy.  It won’t go to press without your approval and once approved there is no going back.  Take the time and do a thorough job.

J.Paris; I had selected my publisher, but now I had to select the production team within the publisher who was going to help me make my manuscript a book. 

They assigned a project manager who kept me alert of due dates as they were coming up – and passed.  But she seemed to expect this was going to happen and updated the project schedule (several times).  I am not sure what she did otherwise.

They assigned a graphic designer who was going to develop the cover and who was also responsible for selecting the font-set and layout of the book.

The offered the services of an illustrator, but I was not comfortable with the pricing and decided to seek my own illustrator.

But the person with whom I worked the most was my substantive editor, Nathan True, (who was also my copy editor) and a proof-reader (when the time came).

I want to spend a bit of time on the substantive editor.

When I was speaking with the project manager, the subject of selecting a substantive editor came up – and I was asked what I wanted in a substantive editor.  I described myself to the project manager as a person who was very strong-willed, but who also had a strong ego – read that as someone who is not easily offended and can take, even want, criticism.  I wanted someone who was going to push me forward when needed, and give me pushback when needed.  Someone who was not going to shy away from a debate and even tell me that I am flat-out wrong.

When interviewing Nathan, and told him how I was and what I thought I needed, he told me, “I know you want to get a message out, and that message is in your book.  My job is to make sure people want to read it.  I am the reader’s advocate.”  Hired.

I worked with Nathan for darn near a year – six months longer than I anticipated.

He really took me to task.  My normal style of writing was more that of a play-write or novelist – where I set the stage, introduce the characters, and let the story develop from there – than an author of a manuscript.  The first thing that I had to learn was, “Don’t bury the lead.  Bring the red-meat to the beginning.”

And I had to drop content that was extraneous to the thesis of the book and add content where the thoughts needed to be further developed.  One of the things you will learn is to not be assumptive.  You know your content.  Your reader does not.  Take the time to step back and explain.

There was a lot of cutting and pasting, moving large and small amounts of content around.  Each time, I had to rework and feather the content so that it flowed.  There were many cycles to this process – so many that I nicknamed him “The Metzger”, which is German for “The Butcher”.

Mind you, while Nathan was very difficult and demanding, I would not have it any other way and am very pleased with the results.  I would hire him again, if he would have me.

Eventually, my manuscript grew from 45,000 words, through the goal of 65,000 words, topping out at 80,000 words.  Nathan argued to cut it back.  He argued that most people want lighter reads.  When I was done, I wanted something substantive and as complete as I could make it.  So, it is what it is – 80,000 words.

*NOTE-1: When the major content movements of my manuscript were completed, I solicited a few close friends who were familiar with the subject matter of my book and asked them to give it a read – let me know their thoughts.  Only a few who volunteered completed the task, but their input was invaluable.

*NOTE-2:  Backups.  Make them.  A quick and dirty way to back-up is to just eMail it to yourself.  You don’t want a day’s worth of work lost – not ever.

At this point, with the manuscript and substantive editing nearing completion, the graphic designer selected a font-set and layout.  I know some people obsess over this, but not me.  I figured the graphic designer new what she was doing.  She set a sample of my manuscript in the layout and sent to me for review.  There were a couple of discussions and some minor tweaks, but this was fairly easy and straight-forward.

A bit more challenging was the cover design.  The graphic designer interviewed me about the book and the messaging I wanted to convey.  Knowing I have a face for radio, I told her I didn’t want to be on the cover.  Then she developed five cover designs for me to review.  I selected one, and we started to refine it.  But I also sent out the cover designs to a few people I respected – none of them liked the one I liked.  So, I selected another which was popular among those with whom I shared.

Illustrator: As you are developing your manuscript, you will probably have some illustrations you have developed to help tell the story.  But they are also probably crude and in need of a professional.  As the manuscript is nearing the final stretch and about the same time you are sending out for endorsements (see timeline below) it’s time to hire an illustrator to put a professional touch on them.  I turned to UpWork, which is an online service that puts freelancers in touch with people who might need their services.  I posted the job requirements and received several responses. 

The illustrator I hired was Allen Hall and was very pleased with my experiences working with him.  He applied the proper amount of artistic license to refine my illustrations and was very responsive and diligent.  As you would expect, we went through a couple rounds of refinements.  Bottom line is; it was a pleasure working with him and the project was completed to my satisfaction.  I would hire him again.

Next came the copy editing with Nathan.

Holy crap…  I swear, the manuscript had 80,000 words and just as many edits.  I struggled through a dozen pages or so – evaluating each edit and accepting, deleting, or changing as I thought appropriate.  It was painful. 

So, I decided to just “accept all”.  Then I read the entire manuscript through again to make sure everything made sense and there were no changes that made the content and meaning incorrect – comparing it to the last manuscript as necessary.  I kept “track changes” on, so I could make notes and changes as necessary and so Nathan could see.

After a few rounds, the manuscript was stabilized.  I went back through it one more time to ensure readability.  That is, I wanted to fix any long or clunky sentences, so they read easily, and I wanted to rid the document of as many MBA words as possible.  I did not want the reader to fight with my book, but to enjoy the experience.

Off to proof-reading.  Attention to detail is important.

It this point, you are working off of a PDF version of the book that is in the format in which it will be printed.  You can’t make any edits on the document itself – unless you do what I did and get Adobe Acrobat DC.  I was able to make edits, but I also made sure to note those edits for the proof-reader.  Remember, at this point, the edits are not substantive.  The index is about to be created and you don’t want to do anything that is going to make content spill from one page to the next.  That’s bad.

The final stage of the proof-reading process is the printing of the Advance Reader Copies (ARC’s).  These are actual soft-cover copies of the book that are used for promotional purposes.  But they are also the last chance to examine and read your book – in its finished form – before it goes off to production of the final version.

Once the ARC’s are approved, the hard work is done.

 

Timeline:

  • 2014-Jul; Decide to write a book, start writing.
  • 2014-Oct; Complete first version of manuscript – 21,000 words
  • 2014-Dec; Negotiate publishing agreement. Substantive editing starts.
  • 2015-Sep; Manuscript matures to 45,000 words
  • 2016-Jul; Contract Illustrator. Request endorsements
  • 2016-Sep; Illustrations complete
  • 2016-Oct; Substantive Editing is complete at 80,000 words
  • 2016-Nov; Copy Editing starts. Endorsements and Foreword complete.
  • 2017-Jan; Proof-reading starts
  • 2017-Feb; Manuscript complete
  • 2017-May; Book production complete.
  • 3 Years Total Time Invested

Investment:

  • $ 65,000 for publishing services ($12,000 over budget)
  • $ 25,000 for public relations and advertising
  • $ 18,000 for book production (5,000-USA, 1,000-EU)
  • $108,000 Total Invested

Printing your book.

Congratulations!  You are almost an author!  There is only one more step before you can hold your book in your hand – the construction.  What will your book look like?  How will it feel?

Let’s start with the cover. Your book needs a cover – two, in fact (front and back) and a spine.  Will it be a hard-cover or paperback?  Keep in mind that a hard-cover book will need a jacket and a paperback will not.

The front cover/jacket needs to be something that catches the prospective reader’s eye and offers a vignette into what the book is about.  It also needs to be attractive enough to cause the prospective reader to pick-up your book and have a look inside.

The back cover/jacket will contain snippets of endorsements from advance readers (more on that later).  Where the front cover catches attention and appeals to emotion, the back cover speaks to the credibility and character of the content inside.

If you decide to go hard-cover with jacket, make the jacket stand-out.  You can use varnish on the title and your name to make the letters “pop”.  You can draw additional attention to your book by embossing the title.

A jacket will also offer two inside flaps; one in the front and one in the back.  The front inside flap of a jacket will offer a short introduction to the thesis of the book and the value the reader will receive from reading it.  And the back flap of a jacket is all about you and usually includes a small picture.

My experience is that a hard-cover production did not actually cost much more to produce than a paperback; adding about $0.50 per book for the hard cover and jacket.  But the impact on how professional the final product looked was significant.  Of course, hard-cover might not be an option if you choose to print-on-demand, which means you will have to print enough hard-cover copies to realize economies of scale and will have to carry a level of inventory (and the sunk investment).

What paper you use is also an important consideration.  Heavier paper looks and feels better, but it also adds to the cost of production and also the weight (important considerations for when you ship your book).  You also need to consider the color of the paper.  Stark white makes the text and illustrations “pop” off the page (great for picture-books), but also fatigues the reader’s eyes more quickly.  For a regular book, you will probably want an off-white paper.

You must also consider the binding.  Will it be glued or sewn and glued?  A glued binding will result in a crisp look, all edges square.  A sewn and glued binding will result in a more “classic” look, with the edges being somewhat concave with some minor rippling because several pages are folded, sewn together, then glued to the binding.

J.Paris; Other than writing a check, the production of you book is fairly painless. 

There are professionals who print books – that is what they do.  Other than some back-and-forth on specifics; imitation gold-leaf on the hard-cover, embossing and spot-varnish on the jacket, and paper selection, there is not much to consider.  If you trust the person producing your books, you just defer to their guidance.  In my case, I had the good fortune of having my brother working as a printer at the company that printed my books for the American marketplace – Quantum Graphix.  We discussed some options, decided, and went.  There were no issues during the production process.

My complication was that I wanted to print books in Europe for the European and Middle Eastern market – and I didn’t have a relative there who I could trust.  To make matters more complicated, there were language issues that had to be overcome and the conversion of English units of measure to the metric system for all aspects of the production.  To further complicate the decision making was the huge gap in cost among the various printers – can you really trust the cheapest?

The search process was a bit complex.  I had to use Google Translate to know what Book Printer was in the various languages.  Then I had to Google for those who offered such services and reach out to them.  Those who did not respond in a timely fashion or in English I dropped from consideration.  Then it came down to price and trust.

I eventually settled on Drukarnia Skleniarz located just outside Krakow, Poland.  The selection process was a bit more demanding and there was a lot of back-and-forth discussions.  The salesperson had a reasonably good command of the English language, was very responsive, and very patient.  The price was reasonable, but I wanted to make sure the quality was going to be reasonable also.  I reached a level of comfort through the use of video and exchanging images of what I wanted versus what they produced.  The tipping-point for my trusting them was when they offered payment terms of 30 days.  None of the other printers offered this and it spoke to me of their confidence in producing a quality book.

They delivered a very fine quality product on time and on budget.  I was very happy and would certainly have no hesitation using them again.

Promoting

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does in make a sound?

The same is true of authoring your book.  You have already done all the pre-work as detailed in “Before you start” (above).  You have established yourself as a thought leader and have created your brand.  You have been writing and publishing your articles, delivering talks on the subject of your book.  You have been building your professional network, and engaging in relevant social media platforms.  Right?  Then assuming this is true and well before your book is published, you are actively letting your network know of its pending publication.

If you have not done this, have not created your professional network, established yourself as a thought-leader, and built your brand; promoting will be much more difficult and your prospects of success will have diminished greatly – and achieving success will require a lot more work.

Obtaining endorsements; Sometime near the end of your substantive editing, you will want to seek endorsements from advance readers.  These should be respected peers (not friends or family), the more notable the better.  They are lending their reputations to your book.

The Foreword; One of these advance readers may be willing to write the foreword for your book.  The foreword is a briefing of your book; what the author of the foreword thought of your book (general impression), what they personally gained from reading your book, and what they believe others might gain from reading your book.  You should actively seek the most respected person you can find to write the foreword.

*NOTE: Both the endorsements and the foreword must be obtained before the proof-reading stage begins.  Make sure to stay on top of this action-item.

Social Media; Once you start writing your book, start building awareness.  You can do this simply enough by offering periodic status reports.  The best are the tongue-in-cheek graphics (similar to the ones I used in this article, which are ones I used when writing).  Doing this will build energy around your book and generate a dialog such as; “What is your book about?” and “When will it be released?” And so on.

You might want to create a Facebook page for your book.  You can populate it with your articles and other content on the web that supports, or is otherwise related to, the content of your book.  Make sure to have more than just text so that it catches people’s attention.

When you have the cover design complete and no less than three months before the release date of your book, it’s time to start building awareness in earnest.  Some action-items.

  • Create your book’s website. You can get ideas for this from my book’s website.
  • Update the cover pictures on your book’s Facebook page and your LinkedIn Profile to include the cover of the book.
  • Add badges to all your articles everywhere they may be and have them point to your book’s website. This will require you to go back and edit your previous content.
  • Add a link to your book’s website in your eMail signature.

About two months from the publishing date, start increasing the frequency of your posts and shares across all your available avenues.  You will want to have a steady stream of posts the month before, and the month of, your publish date.

Make sure to do some work when posting – always drive value to the reader.  You might want to share a vignette into the content, or share previous articles that are reconstituted in your book.  If available, always have a title for your post that will grab attention.  Add a couple of sentences that will inform the reader why the article is important to you or why it might be important to them.  And always end with a call to action such as; “What are your thoughts?” or “What has your experience been?”

Public Relations; You might consider hiring a public relations firm to get the word out.  As usual, I contacted several people I knew (including my Sherpa) for their experience and who they had used.  Of those authors I contacted that had used a publicist, there was not a single one who was pleased with the results of hiring their publicist.  I reached-out to several and was not very impresses with their value-proposition (cost for expected results).  I eventually hired one who promised he would try to get my book in front of other thought-leaders for promotion in their networks as well as various media outlets – avenues into which I did not have native access – with little or no results.  I would not hire one again.

J.Paris; When it came time to find advance readers and seek endorsements (called “advance praise” in publishing), I was surprised to discover; publishing a book is something of a racket, and an incestuous racket at that.  By that, I mean, when it came to endorsements and forewords, my publisher recommended that I contact other authors of similar books and consultants in my field.

Frankly, I didn’t care what other authors and consultants thought of my book.  I didn’t write if for them.

I wanted my book to resonate with business leaders who worked at some of the most respected companies in the world.

I also didn’t want to ask “friendlies” who might tell me they like my book out of politeness or some perceived duty.  If my book was going to suck, I wanted to know.

To get real feedback, I decided to reach-out to my LinkedIn network.  You know how it is on LinkedIn; people connect, but most you don’t know and most you will never have a real interaction.

So, I searched my 1st-level connections on LinkedIn for business leaders at some of the largest and most respected companies I could find.  I selected about forty and sent an eMail to each of them, individually, asking if they would like to read my manuscript and offer me their thoughts.  I did not send the manuscript at that point, just asked them if they would like to participate.

About thirty said they would and I sent them the manuscript and let them know I would follow up in a month’s time to interview them for their thoughts. 

I was pleased to discover that everyone enjoyed the read and had positive feedback to offer – and I asked each if they would mind writing an endorsement (called “advance praise” in the publishing industry).

Of the thirty, twenty said they would write an endorsement.  The ten that declined let me know that they had to decline due to policies in their companies prohibiting such.  Of the twenty who agreed to write an endorsement, one response was very thorough and very enthusiastic.  I asked if he would write the foreword – and he agreed.

Promoting on social media was straight forward.  As I previously mentioned, I have been active on LinkedIn for a very long time and had the good fortune of grabbing the name “Operational Excellence” for a group on LinkedIn.  Both have proved invaluable in building my audience and as a platform for promoting my book. 

At this point, I would recommend your not starting a group unless your topic is totally new – there is just too many competitors out there and you won’t attract the size audience that will generate the energy you need.  Better is to join other groups that are relevant to your subject and actively engage there.  So long as you are creating posts as prescribed above – driving value to the reader – you should not be flagged as a spammer and placed on moderation (or worse, removed from the group).

I also created Facebook and Twitter pages for my book.  They were not nearly as successful as engaging and sharing in LinkedIn.  I tried paid advertising on all platforms and the results were very poor.  I would recommend you forego paid advertising.

The main point here is, if you are going to write a book, make sure to build your audience before you need it – do the work.

But building and maintaining a social media awareness effort is a lot of work.  I found I needed help here and hired a social media expert to help with the heavy lifting of posting content and discussions and updating pre-existing content (editing old content to include a badge to my book’s website).  This was money well spent.

To find someone, you might want to look to UpWork, which is a site used to find and hire freelancers.  I was able to find very good talent at a reasonable rate – far better results than hiring a public relations person/firm, but leveraging into, and capitalizing on, my existing networks.

I was very pleased with these processes related to endorsements and promoting on social media – and the results – and would recommend you follow similar courses of action with your book. 

Distribution and Sales

The following is going to be a sobering moment for anyone who still has the idea that producing a book is going to generate riches.  It might, but it will be for others as much as for you.

Distribution; Once you have your books printed, where are you going to keep them?  And who is going to fulfill the orders?  Chances are, this will be done by some service who is going to charge you to store them (based on cubic feet) and also charge for the services related to order fulfillment and customer returns.  Your publisher might offer these service, or you might have to contract with a third-party logistics company (3PL).  In any case, you are going to have to pay.

Retail; Included in retail distribution are traditional “bricks and mortar” retailers as well as on-line retailers; specifically, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  In all cases, you are going to get a fraction of the retail price of the sale of the book – set at 35% of the retail price.

In my case, my hard-cover book retails for $27.95.  That means, for every book sold through retail, I get $9.78.  But wait.  Out of that $9.78, it cost me $3.25 to produce the book.  That leaves me with $6.53 of gross profit.  Then I have to pay for the shipping of the book to the retailer – who can order a single copy at a time.  This can not only consume all of your profit, but it might actually end-up costing you for them to sell it.

Oh, and the retailer can return it at any time for any reason and receive a full refund.  But at least they pay the return shipping.

Selling eBooks is a bit better.  You get 30% of the list price of the eBook.  There is no cost of production, no shipping, and no returns.  But the eBook sells for considerably less than the hard-copy.  In my case, my eBook sells for $9.95 and I get $2.99 per eBook sold.

Lastly, it could take up to six months for you to receive your money.

All that being said, don’t underestimate the power of Amazon Reviews.  If your book and eBook are not on Amazon, your success will be greatly limited.  So I look at my sales on Amazon as a form of advertising which may or may not cost me anything.  Who knows, maybe I will even make a couple bucks.  I am not as satisfied or optimistic with Barnes & Noble – their gravity is not nearly as great as Amazon’s.

Retail at Airports; I separate this out from regular retail because it’s a bit different.  All of the business parameters described above apply to retailers at the airports.  But in addition, the retailers at airports charge you a fee for having it on their shelves.  The proposal I was given was for three months for $15,000.

I declined this opportunity because the business case did not make sense for me.  If I net $3.00 per book (being somewhat optimistic), that means I have to sell 5,000 books just to break even on the deal.  I was also told that I could expect 50% in returns.  If I broke even, it means that I had to produce and send 10,000 copies of my book and would eventually receive 5,000 copies of my book back in returns (now my inventory).  But since the books were on shelves, many might not return in “new” condition.  It did not make any sense at all to me.

Personal; This is where you have the opportunity to make some actual money on your book; by selling them yourself.  And you can realize these opportunities in several ways; through your website, at conferences and events, through speaking engagements and masterclasses you can conduct based on your book, and by fulfilling quantity orders from non-retail outlets.

In these instances, the direct cost of my book is $3.25 and I sell them for up-to $27.95 plus shipping (for personalized copies).  I recently received a blanket purchase order for 2,000 copies of my book, which I sold for $16.25 per copy including shipping.  That the order was from a university hospital to be used as a cornerstone text for their operational excellence program bodes well for my book as it continues to gain traction in the marketplace.  And a $32,500 sale goes a long way towards recouping my investment of $108,000.

Try to fulfill quantity non-retail orders yourself.  Your publisher will give you the opportunity for them to fulfill quantity orders from non-retail outlets for you, but will also take a considerable sum for the privilege. The level of value-add provided by the publisher for this service is minimal.  They are not actively selling the book which would drive the traffic to generate these sales (you are doing that).  They merely answer the phone and take the order.

I should note that selling your books directly will not help your chances of making a best-seller list.  Only books that are sold through retail and counted by Nielson BookScan are considered for best-seller lists.  For me, I made the decision that recouping my investment was more important than getting on a best-seller list – especially considering the additional financial toll endured by selling via retail.

What would I do differently

Upon reflection, there are a several things I would do differently, or forego completely.  All of them in the promotion of my book.  I feel the actual production of my book, other than it taking longer than I originally anticipated (by six months), went reasonably well.  The publishing team, illustrator, and printing companies all did an excellent job and I would hire them again.  I can safely say that my book would have been a poor production – maybe not completed at all – without them; especially my substantive editor.

Perhaps I would not need all the services I contracted from the publisher on a second go, but I definitely needed most on my first book.

Except for the development of my book’s pages on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I would not have purchased most of the promotional offerings from my publisher.

I also would not have hired a Public Relations person/firm.  There was money that was spent on trying to get my book into additional networks, but no significant or tangible benefits – in either awareness or sales – was realized.  Better is to build your own robust network and build your brand.  Then engage a person who will assist you in building awareness on social media.

Nor would I have paid for any advertising on any platform in social media.  It did not expand the awareness of my book beyond what I was able to do for free, and no sales resulted.

Making these adjustments, I would have saved $15,000 on my project.

But that means my project would have still required an investment of $93,000.

Some final take-aways.

If you have a book in you, or feel you have a book in you, start today.

  • Find your voice by writing; starting small (1,500 words).
  • Build your audience by networking; both in person and on social media (LinkedIn).
  • Establish yourself as a thought-leader by sharing your thoughts (through posts on social media and speaking opportunities) and engaging in the thoughts of others.
  • Create your brand and build awareness.
  • Establish the thesis for your book.
  • Start writing your book.
  • Think of a creative title that separates your book from the herd (and get the URL).
  • Know your limitations. Hire the talent you need – as you need and where you need – to make your book a professional reflection of you.  If your book is shoddy, the people reading it will have the impression you are shoddy too.

For your consideration:

My book was 80,000 words and 400 pages long.  A significant effort by most standards.

This article is 11,000 words – or just over one-seventh the length of my book.

It took me three days to write this article.  But I had no research to do.  It was all based on my experiences and reflection.  When it flows, it flows.

By Joseph Paris

Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 40,000 members. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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