4: How to turn your book idea into reality.
In this episode we’re looking at the different roles in publishing, who does what and how each will help you produce a product you can be proud of.
Join Sue and Dave as they discuss what an author can expect during the process of writing and publishing a book and what happens when you’ve finished writing.
Whether you self-publish, publish independently or use a traditional publishing model, this eye-opening episode explains why every writer needs an editor and how a professional editorial, production and marketing team behind you will help make sure your book does the best job possible for you.
with thanks to Dave Harries of CommunicateTV: www.communicatetv.co.uk
Dave Harries: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Right Book Project, a Right Book Company radio production. This is episode 4. My name is Dave Harries and I’m here with my co-presenter, Sue Richardson, to explore the whys and wherefores of book publishing, and how writing a book can enhance your business and personal profile. Sue is a publishing expert who’s been in the book business for many years and has written her own book – The Authority Guide to Publishing Your Business Book. She’s the director of SRA books and The Right Book Company, and has helped hundreds of professionals, entrepreneurs, experts and thought leaders boost their businesses and profiles with game-changing books. This podcast is all about you and your journey to writing a book. So, please get involved by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project; or tweet @therightbookco. You’ll find notes, links, recordings and transcripts of these podcasts on therightbookcompany.com. So, as I said, this is episode 4, and today we’re going to explore the ‘how’ of writing a book and publishing a book. But for those of you who are jumping in straight at episode 4, and that’s fair enough if you want to, I should say the episodes 1, 2 and 3 were about the ‘why’, the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of publishing; and it is no accident that we did those three first because they, particularly the first two, are very important to get right before you move on to, certainly, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. So, Sue, talk to me a little bit about ‘how’ and what we’re actually talking about here – other than a three-letter word.
Sue Richardson: [00:01:33] So, it’s that question: How on earth can I get this done? I’ve got a great idea for a book. How can I write a book? Lots of busy, busy business owners and entrepreneurial types are filling their days, their hours already with running their businesses. So, it’s a very reasonable question: How do I get this done? I know it’s a great idea. I know it will help me build my business. Many people will have thought about what their objectives are; what they can achieve from becoming published authors; how they can position themselves as an expert in their field; how that will help to boost their business. They will have thought through the ‘who’ it’s for. They’ll have thought through the readers and who they want to influence and who they want to serve. All of those things. Now it’s the ‘how’. It’s the time for the ‘how’. And I think the first thing to say is…I’ve got a few ideas here actually around this and one is that, if writing a book has been identified as something that, for you, is really going to work, then you need to treat it as anything else that you would in your business and create the time for it. If you can schedule, create a plan, create a writing plan, create a schedule; give yourself enough time to get it written. And, you know, don’t imagine you can do this in a few weeks. It may take you longer. But create a plan and create something that’s going to work for you. Is getting up an hour earlier in the day to do an hour’s writing every day something that would work for you? Do you need…I’ll tell you what I did when I wrote my book, and that was, I did the best I could with times I had. I was running my busy publishing business. At the time I had, in the evenings, in the mornings, on Sunday afternoons, I did what I could, and it just wasn’t happening. So, what I did was, I booked a week off. I flew to Majorca. I told everybody I was going on holiday, so that the phone didn’t need to be answered, the emails didn’t need to be answered, and I sat, and I wrote for a week and I got the back of the book broken. So, it’s really important to find a way of doing it that works for you. Second thing, I think that’s really important, is to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are two things here. One is…I mean I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who really literally do not have the time or the inclination to write the book. There are such people out there, and we have a fabulous associate who we work with, who can write your book for you. It doesn’t come cheap. It takes them probably longer than it would take you, yourself. So, they need to be paid and they’re very skilled individuals, so you need a good budget to do that. But it’s a possibility, if you’ve got the budget, think about that, rather than not do it. So, that’s the kind of, the extreme, is somebody else writes it for you. The second thing is, perhaps you know, to have a coach to help you stay focused; to help you keep on the case; keep you accountable, or work with an editor. Or a kind of a mixture of both. Again, the way that we work is, we have, you know, I have an approach which is a sort of part coaching/part editing type of role where I work with people to help them get their book written and help them stay accountable to their schedule at the same time. So, don’t be alone, don’t be lonely. Make a plan. All sorts of things around that.
Dave Harries: [00:05:25] Okay. Well that all sounds very sensible, rational. And I think even I might be able follow some of that advice. What is the other aspect, though, of the ‘how’? Because the planning and the writing clearly are essential constituent of this, but the other thing, the other part of ‘how’ I suppose, is: how do I get published? So, we’ll come back to the planning and writing in a sec, perhaps in a bit more detail and we’ll certainly come back to it in future episodes as well. But perhaps you could talk me through a little bit about the publishing. Because clearly you need to think about that too.
Sue Richardson: [00:05:57] Yes, absolutely. And I think it’s a good idea to think about this early on as well, as much as you can. Because there are a number of ways of publishing. We kind of covered a little bit in the ‘what’, didn’t we? About things like the option of doing a book on Kindle and Amazon, you know, self-publishing a little e-book or whatever. But I think we kind of established that actually, in this show that we’re doing, we’re looking at something a little bit beefier than that. We’re looking at something that’s going to have a bit more of business impact for you. So, let’s assume, in this particular instance, that we are talking about creating a real, live, tangible book. So, this is a substantial thing to do. It is going to take resource; it is going to take effort, time and cash, probably. However you do it. So, these things need to be weighed up quite carefully and how you do it comes back again to the ‘why’. What is it…I can tell you one great story actually. Let me just frame it up slightly. Let’s say that there are three main ways of doing this. There is, of course, the traditional route: the traditional route being the traditional, commercial publisher, who you sell your idea to; you pitch your idea to them; they like the idea; they like you; they like your network; they like what you represent and they like the idea for the book. And they then, effectively, take your book and they produce it. They make it happen; they publish it; they put all their resources into making it happen. And they pay you a small royalty which is effectively a share of the profits from the sales. Their model is a commercial one. Their model is: they are creating products to sell, and that product is a book. You are effectively a supplier to them. You’re the writer of that book. They can’t actually do that book without you, but they might write a similar book. They might have published a similar book and just have a different writer. So, think of yourself, in a sense, as a supplier in that relationship. You’re not the customer, you’re the supplier. They take the book and they return a small royalty to you. But apart from the time that you’ve spent, you don’t have to put any money into that project. The publisher does all of that. The other extreme, the other end of the scale, if you like, is self-publishing, where you become your own publisher. You put all your resources in; you put together all the experts that you need to help you publish a decent book. And that’s at the other end of the extreme, but you’re on your own. And then the third way is what we will call the independent, professional publishing company which would be like The Right Book Company, for instance, and The Right Book Company, or any company like that, effectively helps you to publish independently. So, you don’t have to sign an agreement with a publisher that effectively gives away your content. You keep ownership of all your content, but you use professional publishers to create the book and you pay them fees to do that.
Dave Harries: [00:09:44] OK, so let’s just to recap to make sure I understand, there are essentially three routes to publishing: traditional, the one I guess we all know about from watching movies and things like that, where your manuscript is bought by a publisher and then they deal with everything after that, and you probably lose a certain amount of control and rights and so forth, that, depending on the deal you get, but you might get an advance, you never know. And then there’s, at the other end of the extreme, self-publishing, where you do it all yourself, literally everything. And, of course, these days with online services around, including Amazon, you can, you know, you could argue that’s become simpler than it once was. Whether the results are as good as is another argument, and we will talk about that in future episodes. And then somewhere in between is independent, professional publishing, which as you say, is the sort of thing that The Right Book Company does. And that’s kind of a, in a way, it’s a sort of mixture because, you know, you’re using professionals to help you do it, but you are probably going to have to supply some of the resource to pay for some of the things, and so on and so forth. But you do retain the rights, so you get some of the advantages, I suppose, of something like self-publishing. That’s very interesting. As I say we are going to cover all three of those in future episodes in much more detail. So, don’t worry if you’re thinking: well, I want to hear more about that, and you can always get in touch with Sue and find out a bit more about it, anyway, in the meantime, she would be delighted to talk to you about it. But we will cover it in future episodes. But let’s return then, if we can put that to one side for a moment – not that it is not important, but let’s put it to one side – and come back to the planning and writing phase which obviously is the, sort of, prerequisite for all this. And I wonder whether you could talk to me about some of the strategies that can help you with…I mean, you talked about getting help; you talked about editors, coaches, that sort of thing. But are there things…I mean, I’ve heard of something called ‘a book proposal’, for example, which I’m told is quite a helpful thing. Tell me what that is and why it’s helpful.
Sue Richardson: [00:11:47] Yeah absolutely. No matter which way you are thinking of publishing, the guidelines that traditional publishers present, usually on their websites, or perhaps you might need to contact them and ask them for them; this is a fantastically useful piece of information for anybody who’s considering writing a book. Because the guidelines to writing a proposal, effectively lay out the things that you need to be thinking about to make a commercial book product. I use a fantastic one that was produced by Wiley some years ago, but they still clearly use it to accept authors’ proposals. It’s very, very interesting because, what they want to know, of course, they want to know about your idea. That’s clear. They want to know what is your idea for a book. Is it an original idea? And by kind of sitting there and looking at these guidelines and writing up a proposal, it really forces you to think about these questions that we’re asking about the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ and all of this. So, I really recommend creating a book proposal, even if it’s just for yourself. Even if you think that an independent route might be the best way, I think writing a book proposal is a very helpful thing. It helps you in the planning and the writing of the book. They will generally need to…they will want to see a structure for your book; so, the table of contents. They might want to see one or two, or even three, sample chapters, so, you may want to get going on a couple of chapters. And it’s all great for getting the writing process started. The other thing about it, I think, which is really important is, that these guidelines I’m thinking of particularly, there’s three pages to these guidelines. One page is about you, it’s about your idea for the book. The other two pages interestingly are about you and about how you’re going to help to promote and sell it. So, that gives you an idea of how important the marketing side of things is for a commercial publisher, and probably you need to have the same kind of thing in your mind, you know, it is to think about. So, again it comes back to this thing I keep banging on about which is: are you making a business case for your book? If you were to make a business case for a commercial publisher, you would also be making a business case for yourself. So, it’s a great way to start and it’s a great way to focus on the things that you need to be thinking about when it comes to getting the book out there into the world.
Dave Harries: [00:14:32] So, that’s interesting what you’re saying there about the proposal and about the making the business case. So, again I think we talked a little bit about the similarities between writing and publishing a book and starting and running a successful business. And again, I’m struck by this parallel here, that the proposal for the book is very like a business proposal. I mean, it is a business proposal, it’s not just like it. Because you are, presumably, and you did show me one of these sample proposals and I know they are asking you: Where do you think your market is? Who’s your target reader? What’s the competition like out there? How many other people have written books about this subject? All those sorts of things. And I can see how, just in the way that stuff is an incredibly good discipline in business, to kind of identify…do the SWOT analysis and all that stuff; I can see that must be tremendously useful for an author as well. Because once you’ve sort of really tackled that stuff, you’re going to have really helped your ‘why’ and your ‘who’ conversation that we talked about in episode 1 and 2, as well as have prepared something that might be able to impress a publisher and get you offered a nice deal. Or even if you choose to go a different route. So, I can see that the book proposal seems like a brilliant way of, maybe not starting, but certainly getting into quite soon after you start. Is that, would you agree?
Sue Richardson: [00:16:03] I think so, I think that’s a really good way of looking at it, Dave because I think. You know, actually, we know that there’s magic about books and we talk about that a lot. We understand that we, as human beings, have a very special relationship with books. And there’s all sorts of great things about them. But, you know, at the end of the day, a book is a product; and as an author, you are a product creator. You are making a book, a product, that needs to be fulfilling a job, being sold in the world. So, just like creating any other product, you need to create a plan around: what’s the best product that you can create? How much will it cost? What resources will it need in order to do that thing? Is it different? Is it original? Is it Purple Cow, as we talked about in the first episode? Is it, you know, do people need it? Do people want it?
Dave Harries: [00:17:04] Yeah, what difference is it going to make?
Sue Richardson: [00:17:06] What difference is it going to make? And all of these things are sorted out by this proposal. As you said, the competition, really important. Maybe there’s too many books on this subject. So, if there is, in the writing of this proposal, in the research that you do, that shows you: oh, gosh, five people have written exactly the same book that I wanted to. What’s going to be different then? You know, so how can you make it different? My own belief is that it may, even if it isn’t right for a commercial publisher, because there’s too much on the market like it, that’s not a reason not to do it. Because it’s there still may be enough ‘whys’ is in your kitty, if you like, for you to make it work for yourself. But you still need to find out what it is that’s going to make it work for you, and for your readers.
Dave Harries: [00:17:57] So, once we’ve decided what we’re going to write and all those sorts of things. And we’ve done our ‘why’. We might even, maybe we’ve even started our proposal and that sort of thing, I’d quite like to talk a little bit now in this ‘how’ conversation about the business of physically writing. Because I think that is something that a lot of us, who’ve never done much of it, do worry about quite a lot. If we think: oh, I’d love to write a book. But how do you actually, I mean, 40,000 words, 50,000 words. That’s a lot of words. Does your hand drop off? So, how do you, do you have advice? From what you’ve seen over the years and all the authors you’ve seen and the fact that you’re an author yourself, you know, about, you talked about your trip to Majorca and all that sort of thing. But, I mean, what is it that, kind of, can enable you to write? Some people seem to be good at it; some people seem to give off this idea that: oh, writing is fine. I write all the time. And they just do it. And you hear authors like, I saw Jacqueline Wilson the other day at the Hay Festival; she’s written something like 104 books. You know, I mean it’s extraordinary and you think about the amount of writing involved in that. And I believe she does it with a pen and paper as well, not a typewriter. So, what are your tips? Come on, tell me the secret.
Sue Richardson: [00:19:19] Oh, I wish it was that easy. I’d love to. But there is, and I think you told me about seeing Jacqueline Wilson. I think, I believe somebody asked this question, didn’t they? And she just said, just write. Really, just write. And I must admit, I think that’s a very good answer, in a way, but I don’t want to sound too glib about it because I know it is harder for some people than others. I think, be realistic about what it is that you can do. If you are a two or three hundred words a day person, then be a two hundred or three hundred words a day person. If you can sit down…I was at an event with an author of mine yesterday, we both actually go to this place just to write content. And he was writing his book. He wrote twelve hundred words yesterday afternoon because he was in that space. He has been in that place where he’s written 3,000 words in an afternoon. But quite often, and he was saying this to me yesterday actually, he said: sometimes it feels like I’m cheating because I’m starting to write on an area…so, he’s created his structure for his book; he’s picked out the bit that he’s going to work on; (you don’t have to do it in chronological order. You know, pick the bit that’s easy. Create a structure, create something like a mind map or a list of things that you want to cover, and then pick the easy bit to get you going) and he was describing how he’d found a bit and then he thought: hang on a minute. This feels familiar. And he remembered a thousand-word article that he’d written for a magazine last year. And he went and got that article, lifted it from where it was and banged it into place; bit of editing; bit of changing it around to fit in with the book. And there’s a thousand words which has actually taken him half an hour to pull into shape. Often experts have content already there. It may not be in book form, but it’s probably hanging around. If you do a lot of blogging, that’s a great thing to do. And sometimes, I’ve had conversations with people where actually, the book felt too intimidating, or that they weren’t quite ready with the book yet. That’s fine too. If you’re not quite ready, don’t break your neck. Start blogging. Start writing. That’s the important thing. Get the writing underway. Get some kind of discipline around it, whatever that is that fits with you. If you can’t do 3,000 words in an afternoon, that’s okay. You know, do 300. But whatever it is that you do, make it work for you. There are no rules. There’s guidance, I can give you dozens of tips about processes that might help. But the truth is, nobody can teach you how to write, sadly. You know, you’ve got to feel your own way into it.
Dave Harries: [00:22:32] I love the idea of going and finding a thousand words that you wrote last year. Hey look, a thousand words! Well, why not? But obviously some of us will not have been regular bloggers or article writers, so, I guess we’re going to be starting from scratch. But I’m interested in this idea of just writing. And I think it was I was talking to somebody the other day, I think it might have been Grant Leboff actually, he was saying…because I did ask him that question; he’s written several books, as you know; and I asked him that question. He said: Oh, just, the best advice he ever had was just to write. And he said it actually doesn’t matter what you write. It can be complete rubbish. I’m sure it isn’t, in his case, but it can be, because you can worry about what the content is later, but the point is, it’s just about getting your hand moving across the paper or your fingers typing the keys and getting something down. And somebody else said something about maybe using the same time of day, every day. If you’re a morning person, getting up early and doing half an hour, or whatever. I mean, is that, again are those techniques that you’ve come across?
Sue Richardson: [00:23:33] Definitely, absolutely. And again, it’s about finding your own path, your own discipline. You know, if you can find…I have a client who was really struggling to find the time to get her book written and then she worked out – she’s got a young daughter – and she worked out that when she took her daughter to her dance class, which was an hour and a half or something, that what she could do she could drop her…it wasn’t kind of enough time to go home and go back and get her. And so, what she would do is she would drop her daughter at the dance class, go over to Sainsbury’s, sit in the cafe and write for an hour and a half. And she got into this habit. That was her writing time. You know, it’s little things like that, little tricks that you can play almost on yourself to kind of find those corners. If a Sunday afternoon suits you, great; if seven o’clock in the morning suits you, great; but find those moments and earmark them. The other thing I say, as well, as if you can afford it, put appointments in your diary with your book. If you can afford the time to take. If you’re really serious about this and you want to get the book written in a few months rather than years, then make an appointment in your diary for however many times that you can, and treat that appointment is absolutely sacred. It’s like your best client. You’ve got an appointment with the book. It’s three hours long, you’re going to write for that three hours. And if the writing isn’t brilliant or you don’t feel in the mood, it makes no difference. As Grant said: just write. If it’s rubbish, it doesn’t matter, but be there, honour that appointment with your book and write for that three hours. You might be surprised what comes out the other end. It may not be what you wanted; it may not be; but it will still be useful, and you will have kept that appointment which means that you’ll be still respecting yourself and saying: of course, I can do this.
Dave Harries: [00:25:30] Brilliant advice. We’ve been talking about the ‘how’ of writing a book this is episode 4. I would urge you, if you haven’t already, to listen to 1, 2 and 3, because they very much feed into what we’ve been talking about today. That’s all we have time for this week, sadly. So, my thanks to my expert co-presenter, Sue Richardson. You can get loads more help and advice on writing and publishing your book by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project; where you can also leave a comment, you can ask Sue your questions, or give us your ideas for future shows, which we love to have. Or why not visit us at our website therightbookcompany.com, sign up for one of Sue’s popular webinars or even read her blog. So, that’s where you get the ideas for your book from presumably, taken from the blog? Absolutely. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our next episode. So, please join us then. In the meantime, keep writing.