In my work in the book publishing industry over the past 20+years, I have seen many new authors make the same mistakes. Some of them seem obvious to industry insiders—perhaps that is why we have not done a better job of helping authors avoid them. In this era when most new books are self-published to some degree, an author is responsible for several functions they previously outsourced to their publisher, and these mistakes are becoming more common. While not nearly as important as the original Ten Commandments, these guidelines can determine an author’s level of success.
1. Thou shall write a good book. The characteristics of a “good” book are enigmatic, ephemeral, and evolving. Perhaps it helps to think in terms of what the market wants at this moment in time (see #3).
2. Thou shall know thyself. (This actually needs to happen before #1, but #1 is the most important factor in determining your success.) What is your mission? What are your goals? How does publishing a book help you achieve your mission and your goals? Do you need to be traditionally published?
3. Thou shall know thy market. (Again, this actually needs to happen before #1, but #1 is the most important factor in determining your success.) Who is your target reader and what do they want? How much are they willing to pay? Is there room for another book on the topic? What will separate your book from the competition and cause your target reader to buy it?
4. Thou shall build your network and marketing platform. Begin by creating a blog and participating on other platforms before you begin writing your book so that you are familiar with your market and have connections with thought-leaders on your topic. “The Crowd” that you encounter online includes many knowledgeable people who enjoy helping others. Interest groups also exist offline. Your network can and should provide input and feedback during each step of the process. Each person who takes the time to comment has some level of vested interest in your success and is that much more likely to buy or even recommend your book. Organized groups can provide opportunities for webcasts and speaking events. Find ways to capture email addresses and provide value to your network—give more than you take.
5. Thou shall obtain editorial assistance. At the very least every author needs a copy edit to remove as many simple errors (spelling, grammar, etc.) as possible. After living with the words for months, most people become blind to errors so identifying and fixing them takes a fresh set of eyes. Most authors would also benefit from a line edit and working with a developmental editor to transform their writing. Extensive collaboration between an author and their editor is required to create a quality book that retains the author’s voice.
6. Thou shall obtain a professional cover design. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. Readers have millions of books to choose from and thousands on any particular topic. A good cover communicates that a book should at least be considered. A good title leads a reader to believe a particular book might be the one they are looking for.
7. Thou shall use industry standard tools and procedures. Nearly everybody you need to send your manuscript to will expect a Microsoft Word file. You will be viewed as a professional author if your manuscript comes close to conforming to the Chicago Manual of Style. If you are self-publishing and can’t or don’t want to make your manuscript conform, then obtain editorial (see #5) and book design services.
8. Thou shall advertise and hire a publicist. Social media does not cost much money and can be a powerful marketing tool, but it also can have an enormous opportunity cost as you spend hours composing updates that could be better spent writing and refining your next book. All good publicists are social media experts. Establish clear, measurable goals, collaborate, and pay for results. Find out where your target reader spends their time and determine if advertising there or email blasts would raise their awareness of your book. Run inexpensive tests in several places to identify those that deliver the best results.
9. Thou shall distribute review copies. Identify bloggers and other influential thought-leaders on your topic and send them a copy of your book with a personalized but short letter. You should have an extensive network in place (see #4). Continue to participate in it but be careful not to come across as self-serving.
10. Thou shall publish. Too many authors waste years waiting for an agent or traditional publisher to deem their first book worthy of being considered. Give your initial plan a deadline and have plan B ready to implement. Be creative and flexible. What is your goal? How many different ways can you get there? Each book you publish creates synergies for promoting your other books and your brand. The first book is the most difficult and the most expensive so get it launched as quickly as possible and learn as you go.
Which commandment is the most difficult from your perspective? Which one are you focused on today?