Writing a book sounds romantic and looks exciting. It does feel amazing to see your work published!
In my case, I started writing my book in the middle of COVID-19. I already had my base content from my academic research. This allowed me to obtain my contract, write the book and get it published in 15 months.
I pushed myself to get it done.
In hindsight, I would be less ambitious a second time.
It is a lot of work. There is a lot more to writing a book than writing it!
A few people have recently asked me about writing a book and advice.
So, whilst some of my thoughts are relatively fresh in my mind, here are a few of them:
1. Do your due diligence upfront!
Writing and publishing a book is a substantial multi-year project requiring time and money. Like all projects, do your due diligence before diving right in.
One of the best things I did was a self-guided programme on how to write a book that showcases your expertise by a friend, Valerie Khoo, who runs the Australian Writers Centre. The programme guided me through areas such as publishing options and how to write a proposal. It also had a 30-day book camp to help me get into the habit of writing every day. For me, doing the programme was invaluable.
Other than online research, I also spoke to friends who had written business books and were kind enough to share examples of their proposals and advice on responding to peer review queries (as is the case for academic publishers). Their advice on which publishers to speak to and introductions to some commissioning editors (those who initially worked with authors at publishers) were beneficial.
2. Think through your ‘business case’
Most authors make little money from selling their books. And you may not make a profit.
Think about the maths. If your book retails for $50 and you sell 1,000, the total sales would be S$50,000. However, your share of the commission from the book sales will be substantially smaller! And this is before the costs for you to write and market your book, which can be significant.
So, you must be clear on why you want to write a book. Is a book the best way for you to share your points of view with your likely readers compared to other formats?
Many people are too busy to read books, so podcasting, blogs or contributions to newspapers and magazines could be more effective for you.
However, if you wish to publish a book, you may be able to justify the time and effort if your book is your ‘business card’ that supports your business or brand.
In other cases, it is because you wish to share your knowledge and wisdom.
3. Explore different publishing options.
One of the more significant decisions is how to publish your book. This ultimately impacts how easily readers can purchase it.
In my case, I decided to get a contract with a publisher as they could manage the whole publishing process and distribution of my book.
However, obtaining a contract requires much work and can take a long time. This is where your book’s business case and brand are essential.
It may be helpful for you to do some writing (your blogs or getting some thought pieces placed in publications) before approaching a publisher to test out your potential market and to get a track record and a following.
The more mainstream your publisher, the more likely your book will be able to be distributed in larger physical and online stores. However, if your book topic is a bit more niche (as most publishers thought mine was), they may reject you as they may not see a market for your book.
Smaller niche publishers are an option. However, they may only be able to publish a small number of books per year.
If you go for an academic publisher, your book is more likely to be sold via online channels and less likely to be available in an airport bookshop or retail shop, even if it is a ‘professional’ book.
Using a publisher may mean that you need to compromise a bit regarding your book’s content and style. You also may have little say on its pricing.
One consideration to help you get a contract could be to get a literary agent. However, you will need to consider the cost vs benefit of using one.
The other option is to self-publish. This is a route if you want more control over the content and pricing of the book, would like a higher return per book sale to come to you and wish to publish your book faster. Some companies can assist you in doing the project management for your book for a fee.
4. Develop your writing mojo
What ‘scares’ many people is finding the time to write. This is where some discipline is required!
Like writing any business report, when you submit your proposal, you will need to share a table of contents for your book with the publisher and write a short abstract/synopsis of each chapter. You will also need to consider how many words each chapter will be. Spending time upfront on this may save you time re-writing chapters later.
What I found helpful to start me off was following Valerie Khoo’s writing boot camp programme. I received an email prompting me to write a certain number of words daily. Over time, I got into the habit of writing every day, allowing me to complete my book per my overall timetable.
Another consideration is whether you wish to get a writing coach or involve a copy editor. As a first-time writer, I got some assistance from a copy editor to review a very early draft of my book. This, however, can be expensive, and they may only help you tidy your grammar and not ‘polish’ your manuscript. Your publisher is likely to have some form of high-level copy editing. However, I would not rely on them too much.
Finally, consider getting a Grammarly subscription to help you with minor editing as you write!
5. Remember the marketing!
One area where I underestimated the time and cost involved was marketing my book.
Unfortunately, even if you have a great personal brand and are an expert in the field, your book won’t just sell itself!
When you present your proposal to your publisher, you will be expected to provide them with details on your networks that you can leverage to market your book.
Not all publishers will market your book for you, so you must consider how much time and money you want to spend on this. The cost and time commitment can be extensive.
In my case, I got a third-party web designer who specialised in providing websites for authors to design my website. I set up social media pages on multiple platforms. I also used a PR company in Australia and one in Singapore to help me with the publicity of my book in print media. Finally, I leveraged my personal and professional networks to help me with my book launch and various talks and webinars that I have done.
So, would I do it again? Yes!
Would I do things differently?
I think so. I may not have been so rushed to contract and get my book out so quickly.
What are your thoughts and experiences?
Karen Loon is the author of Fostering Culturally Diverse Leadership in Organisations: Lessons from Those Who Smashed the Bamboo Ceiling.