Category Archives: Publishing

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Derailed from the Ella’s Story project!. I’m afraid this week’s episode  ain’t a-goin’ online tomorrow (Monday), as scheduled. That would be because I’ve spent the last ten days or so working on a new book proposal — one to be sent out to real publishing houses, one after another, until someone folds and buys the thing. 😀

First part of next week, I’m sending this thing to a prominent Canadian university press, mostly because the subject matter (which shall remain unnamed until I have a contract) has had more press and regulatory attention in Canada than in the U.S.

Writing a nonfiction proposal is a project. And since you don’t do this every day for a living, it’s usually a gestalt project: interrupted every time you turn around by more immediate concerns. Kids, jobs, spouses, barking dogs, blog posts… Hereabouts, paying work has been coming in over the transom — the Chinese mathematicians do not spend any time sitting on their hands! — so of course their projects take precedence over a speculative endeavor. Even though I expect this speculative endeavor to turn a few shekels. Eventually.

But now is more immediate, by far, than eventually.

So here’s a plan: Not having a chapter of idle fiction to post, why don’t we talk about how to write a nonfiction book proposal…

Probably we should start with why one would do such a thing.

Here’s my line of reasoning for this book:

Amazon is all well and good for a bookoid that you don’t think is very important (the Fire-Rider series, for example, or yet another diet/cookbook, or a strange fictional ramble that doesn’t fit into any standard genre but surely isn’t literary fiction either…). But if you have something you think people will buy, or a subject you think is important enough to bring to a wide audience (not just your friends, relatives, and those folks on Fiverr you paid to write reviews), you’re best off to bring it out through a real publishing house: a commercial publisher or a university press.


  1. Publishing houses have marketing departments. No, they’re usually not the high-octane variety, but they at least give you a leg up.
  2. Publishing houses have copyeditors. You don’t have to pay those copyeditors to clean up your manuscript and make it fit Chicago style.
  3. Publishing houses have book designers and page layout artists.
  4. Publishing houses have acquisitions editors and editorial committees and marketing committees. Yes: the dreaded gate-keepers. When you can get past those gate-keepers, you signal to interested parties that you have a half-way decent product. Maybe even a salable product.
  5. Publishing houses have advertising budgets. They also have catalogues and websites that feature your book — free of charge to you.
  6. Book reviewers at major publications — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times,  the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and that ilk — will not give your self-published tome a second look. Nay, not even a first look. To get real book reviews in real markets that reach real readers who are likely to buy your book, you need to be published through a publishing house with a real gate-keeper. And that doesn’t include CreateSpace.
  7. Libraries and bookstores will pick up your book from a real publisher without you having to jump through hoops to make that happen.
  8. Real publishers will pay you an advance against royalties. You don’t have to return that advance if your book doesn’t sell enough to earn that much for the publisher (they may not love you, in that case…but at least you get paid something for the work you put in to writing the book).
  9. Real publishers don’t jack you around, trying to get you to give your book away for free in their profit-making “lending” program.

Okay, so once you’ve decided you want to get serious about publishing and moving your writing career a notch above the outsider level, you need to write a winning proposal.

The proposal is your sales pitch. It’s the tool you use to persuade the staff of a publishing house that you have a book idea that fits the company’s mission and that they can market successfully.

So, a proposal is a pretty standard document — though you have to write with some flair and have a winning idea to make it fly. Here’s what’s in a proposal:

  1. Cover letter to the acquisitions editor. (Find this person’s name at the publisher’s website or from a current edition of Literary Marketplace.) Give your book’s working title and explain what the book is about and why you think their house is the appropriate publisher for it.
  2. An overview of the book
  3. A discussion of why you’re writing it.
  4. Explanation of how your book compares to others in the field. (It’s OK if there are other books on the subject: sometimes the existence of similar books even helps to sell yours by showing there’s a market for it.
  5. Description of the intended audience. Who do you think will buy this book, and why. If there’s a special market segment — such as textbooks, for example — say so and explain why the book fits into that segment.
  6. Statement of the anticipated length of the final manuscript.
  7. Description of the number and nature of any graphics (tables, illustrations, figures)
  8. Explanation of your qualifications for undertaking the project.
  9. A table of contents: a list of chapter titles.
  10. A chapter outline: bulleted outline or narrative description for each chapter.
  11. Your book’s introduction and one to three completed chapters.

None of these things is very hard. But they can be time-consuming. You shouldn’t let yourself get in a big hurry to do them: leave time to let it sit, come back to it, and revise.

Like I say: It’s a project.

Self-Publishing: The Tsunami

Y’know… I’ve self-published a number of my own (lesser…) efforts. I do not make any pretenses as to their superiority or lack thereof. And I think it’s delightful that an independent, unknown author can take her beloved magnum opus to its audience of two (if she’s lucky) and tell herself that she’s “published.”

But… My god, there should be a limit!

Problem No. 1 is the same problem we’ve always had with this route to the public: in the absence of a gatekeeper, any kind of schlock can go to print and distribution. And believe me, it does.

Problem No. 2: Amazon et alii have made the self-publishing process so easy that we now have an indiscriminate flood of schlock. It saturates the book market.

It saturates Amazon to the extent that you can’t tell whether you’re ordering a decent book or not. People put up their friends and hire hacks to post glowing reviews, and so if you sort an Amazon search by customer reviews, a slew of apparently stellar volumes will pop to the head of the list.

They’re stellar, all right. In the sense that a red dwarf star is stellar. Dull and glowing by the light of spent radiation.

An example of this struck the other day, here at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We would like to offer proposal writing services through our little business. As a faculty member at Arizona State University, I wrote a few proposals, and in an earlier incarnation, my little business picked up a number of jobs by answering federal RFPs. And I spent several terms — nigh unto a decade — on the Arizona Humanities Council’s board of directors. All we did there was read, assess, and decide whether to reject or approve proposals.

So I do know how a proposal works.

However, it’s been awhile. Given that times do change, I figured I’d better cobble together a DIY refresher course to bring my skills up to date before offering us up on the open market as proposal writers.

First off, I spotted a course offered through a national association of grant writers. It was pricey, but I could add people to it, so I subscribed for myself and my associate editor.

Result: middling. Apparently there’s not enough to say on the subject to fill several hours of video time — certainly not enough time to justify charging what that outfit charges — and so the instructor bloviates. On and on and eye-glazingly on. The content ranges from saccharine pep talk to entire segments dedicated to telling viewers what she’s going to say next.

I do not have time to waste like that (nor, truth to tell, did I have the money to waste on the thing…).

Insight: I need a book: a guide to proposal writing.

So I go to Amazon and see there’s really not much out there. Well: there is, but there isn’t. Most of the hits on searches for “grant writing” and “proposal writing” receive mediocre reviews. The ones that show near the top — one, for example, in the “Dummies” series — appear to have arrived there grâce à self-promotion of the most vigorous type.

I go back to the online course, waste some more time listening to hot air. Lose patience. Give up.

Drive down to the only surviving general bookstore in the city. They have exactly NOTHING on the subject, and the place is so over-run with Christmas shoppers I have to prize my way into a harassed clerk’s attention. She directs me to a) the business section (nooo…) and b) the wanna-be writer’s section (noooo to the power of ten).

Damn!  Back to Amazon. This time I filter the search in order of customer reviews. Several how-to books on grant writing appear, festooned with five-star decoration.

Order one that looks like it might be OK.

First warning sign: it takes for-freaking ever for the thing to be shipped: ten days or two weeks.

Now it finally arrives. I tear open the package to find this thing printed on the cheapest of all possible paper with one of those cheesy covers that curls up the first time you open the book and then stays curled for all eternity. Evidently self-published, despite bearing the name of a prominent East-Coast publisher.

Well, yes. Look closely at the copyright page and you learn that said venerable publisher has added self-publishing to its wares.

This outfit’s name on your copyright page looks grand, but evidently the author got no more publishing services than I would get running my copy through the PoD press I use. In fact, my guys produce a much better-looking book.

Oh well.

Now I start to read the thing.

First thing I come to is the advice that you must L-O-O-O-O-V-E your cause and your work to be a successful grant writer.




I’ve just sat through hours of the same kind of bloviation, transparently intended to fill space in the expensive video for which customers are charged a L-O-O-O-O-V-E-ly pretty penny.

When you’re trying to learn a professional skill, you do not need a pep talk. You need a road map.

Where was this woman’s editor?

Absent, apparently, along with her common sense.

Herein lies the problem: It’s too easy to churn this stuff out. It’s too easy to get it published on Amazon. It’s too easy to hire a printer to make a fake book out of it. It’s w-a-a-a-y too easy to put people up to posting bushels of ecstatic reviews at Amazon.

The result is, we have an ocean of trash out there, much of it deceptively packaged. I would not have purchased this book if I had realized it was self-published blather. Which, my dears, is exactly what it is.

Therein lies the problem with self-publishing. The tripartite problem, really: it acts on authors and publishing houses as it acts on readers. Videlicet: in the absence of a discerning gatekeeper’s eye — without an editor, a marketer, and a publisher who knows what quality work looks like and who has a decent sense what will sell and what will not sell — we are all awash in a sea of mediocrity.

For authors: we don’t know whether what we’re emitting is worth the hot air we expend on it…or not. We always think our stuff is wonderful. So does our mother. Our friends…maybe not so much, but you can be sure that they want to stay our friends and so they tell us that yes, yes, we’re so right: our stuff is wonderful.

This will happen even if what our stuff deserves is a one-sentence form letter reading “This is something that we cannot publish.”

It’s damn hard to blossom when you’re standing in a field overgrown with weeds. And how do you compete with someone who hires people or puts friends and acquaintances and customers up to blitzing Amazon with five-star reviews? Most writers hang out in the garret writing because they prefer their own company. We’re not  marketers. We’re not social butterflies. We’re writers. And that would be why we need publishers (real ones, that is), complete with marketing apparatus.

For publishers: they can bust their buns to put out the best books imaginable by the most gifted writers in creation. Good luck bringing them to a public drowning in schlock. Who wants even to be bothered to look for a decent book, at this point? Why, when I can find what I want online? No, it’s not all in one place, and it’s not all in a convenient form that I can pull off the six-foot shelf when I need a reference. But hey: it’s free, and I do know that something from the National Institutes of Health or PBS is likely not to be schlock.

And as for the public? One word. Schlock.


So, here’s something interesting: a platform that helps you scope out something over 6100 markets for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays. It’s called Duotrope.

The intriguing aspect of this resource is that it goes well beyond a simple Writer’s Markety listing of potential publishers for your golden words. It provides access to a database of statistics that can tell you, for example, the acceptance rate of given publications, markets most liked by Duotrope respondents, and search statistics showing what other people look for.

It also has a tool to help you keep track of submissions (you don’t have a calendar on your computer??), a collection of editor interviews (always useful for getting a sense of the readers targeted by a publication and how the editors try to reach them), and market listings showing what editors are looking for, acceptance rates, and pay rates.

Unfortunately, it has a paywall: a $5/month membership fee. But that’s not unreasonable: all you’d need is one paid article to more than cover that. In reviewing Duotrope over at Juggling Writer back in 2012, Bartleby Snopes founding editor Nathaniel Tower concludes that its statistics are reasonably accurate, and, if you intend to use the site seriously as a tool to locate markets for your literary maunderings, it’s worth the cost.

There are some free alternatives, BTW, but none seems to cover the number of publications listed by Duotrope.

New Pages Literary and alternative magazines
Ralan Speculative and humor
Every Writer Literary journals
Fiction Factor Wide range of genres; e-publishers & print

Me? I think I probably will subscribe to Duotrope, after taking advantage of their seven-day free trial. Funny about Money, my main blog, occasionally emits something that might interest a wider audience — this morning I found about a half-dozen posts that could be reworked and sent to various small journals. Why not?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Image: Depositphotos: © ginasanders

Managing the Creative Workload

Tame your to-do list with this one simple productivity hack. Especially great for writers and other creative entrepreneurs.Creative workers, especially those of us who are self-employed, often find ourselves trying to cope with a workload that entails tackling too darned many things at once. Managing this workload can be a real challenge.

Normally, I organize my workdays and keep more or less on track by using to-do lists posted on white-boards, one hanging in the office and the other on the door that leads out to where the car awaits.

Of late, though, these have served more to discourage than to help get work done.

Listing all the tasks that need to be done today leads one to try to accomplish 87 gerjillion things on deadline. And that is untenable.

Overload and the To-Do List

The other day I happened upon another approach.

What if you didn’t set yourself a slew of tasks, but instead aimed to get just one important thing done during the day? That would free up the day to do things you would like to do (as opposed to have to do). And accomplishing one thing a day would mean five goals would get done during a week.

Five things accomplished in a week is a whole lot more than zero things accomplished in a week.

Does your to-do list have everything on it? This productivity hack can help you manage the creative workload.So this Monday I set out to do the following:

  • Start building a Goodreads presence, somehow
  • Proofread 30 Pounds page proofs; order 20  hard copies to fulfill orders
  • Meet with client; work on his book
  • Post another racy book
  • Plug the latest Fire-Rider collection; update websites accordingly.

Five chores. It’s Thursday, and I’ve accomplished four of them.

I resisted listing any daily to-do chores. The goal was to get through five projects in a week.

Amazing Results

Without the nagging pressure of a horde of tasks waiting in the wings, I found myself focusing on a given project for longer periods and with fewer self-imposed interruptions. The result: I got through a lot of work, including some unplanned extra chores for a client. This spun off quite a few other small chores that also got done…so in fact, more than five things have been accomplished this week — and it’s not Friday yet.

Effectively what has happened is that setting fewer goals has meant more things got done! Many, many more things.

The Take-Away Message

Focusing on the bigger picture makes it easier to get moving, and five things to do in a week are less discouraging than ten in a day.

And if one strategy isn’t working, try something different. Even if it’s a tried-and-true strategy, sometimes changing gears (or getting a little assistance!) can make a big difference.

The Copyeditor's Desk, Inc.

The Copyeditor’s Desk, Inc.

We specialize in editing business, academic, and technical writing and provide editorial, ghostwriting, and indexing services. We’d be happy to take that work off your plate so you can focus on the most important items on your to-do list — things that only you can do. To learn more about our services, please click here.

To-Do Image: DepositPhotos, © iqoncept

12 Hints for Publishing on Amazon

Thinking of publishing an Amazon Kindle book? Here are 12 tips for making the (sometimes crazy-making) process of publishing a book on Amazon easier.Publishing on Amazon’s Kindle platform can be crazy-making, especially if you put up more than one book at a time. Done that…barely escaped with any of my marbles. Let me suggest a few handy hints learned from sometimes aggravating experience:

If your business is exclusively publishing, it’s probably more time-efficient to create  cover and content packages for several works at a time and then spend a full day pre-posting on Amazon. Register your ISBNs first (a time-consuming task!). Then go to Amazon. Upload the cover and content files, fill out both pages of Amazon’s form, and click “Save as Draft.” This will store your data on Amazon’s servers. Then, on the dates you’ve scheduled publication for upcoming books, you can come back and check the “I agree” box and click “Publish.”

Along the same lines, prepare ads like the ones below (with content against an image, if necessary made transparent in your layout software) in advance. As soon as Amazon sends you the congratulatory email message, begin to post your notices on your favorite social media. This is made much easier and much more efficient if your images and content are done ahead and stored to disk.


BlowingSnow Great Lacuna

Similarly, write out your book’s “description” copy and seven keywords before you go online to upload your publication data at your “Bookshelf.” Copying and pasting this stuff from a word file into Amazon’s form is a lot faster and less tooth-grinding than dreaming it up on the fly.

As soon you go to your Amazon “Bookshelf” and click on “New Book,” go direct to the upload sections before entering the title and other data. The most time-consuming part of the whole job, even more time-consuming than obtaining an ISBN, is watching your computer grind away and grind away and grind away while Amazon uploads first your TIFF (which can be quite a large file) and then your content file. While these time sucks are progressing, you can go back up the page and enter the title, subtitle, the series title and book number within the series, the author name, description, and on and on. You’ll probably complete these before the two uploads finish, but at least you’ll be doing something with the time wasted while computers work.

I don’t know if you can upload the content file while the cover image is uploading. Haven’t tried it, because I don’t have the patience to cope with a screwup. But if you want to experiment and have nothing else to do with your time but crash out of an upload and start over (should the experiment fail…), it might be worth a try.

Do not do not do not use the online Kindle previewer Amazon so richly recommends. What you see in that thing is NOT what your reader gets!!!!! DOWNLOAD the resident Kindle previewer into your own computer! It’s free, and it will allow you to view .mobi files in a form that’s as close as any desktop or laptop computer can get to the view from a Kindle or a phone. My e-book formatting subcontractor owns several varieties of Kindle; when he’s working on a MOBI file, he downloads into each of them, to ensure the thing looks its best on all possible Amazon platforms.

It should go without saying: Go through your content file with a flea comb! Do your utmost BEST to get everything right before you upload to Kindle. Chances are, no matter how hard you try, you’ll spot some new glitch in the fresh view the Kindle previewer provides. But the fewer things you have to correct, the less time you’ll waste with re-uploads.

Always always always read your entire content file in the previewer before publishing. All of it, from the beginning of the front matter to the end of the back matter.

Pay attention to the “Misspelled Words” notice, even if you suspect it’s just stumbling over foreign words or made-up place names and personal names. This feature is invaluable for spotting missed typos!

Open and review your content file in the Kindle previewer before taking the time to download your .mobi file to your computer. Do this first because nine times out of ten you’ll find new things to correct. If you get the content right in the Previewer before you store the .mobi file to disk, you’ll avoid the time-suck entailed in re-downloading corrected .mobi files.

Be prepared to have to re-upload content at least once and possibly several times. Yesterday I had to reload one book at least a half-dozen times before I got the darn thing right! Freaking torture! Re-uploading corrected content is time-consuming and can be very frustrating.

Study, study, STUDY your favorite cover images among other authors’ books. Seek out excellent graphic artists and study their design habits. Observe the types of fonts they use (serif? sans-serif? script? roman? italic?), the colors they use and how they’re combined, and the placement of elements on the space available for the cover. Note how they make cover lines “pop” against the background, and what colors they do and don’t use against other colors. If you’re going to make your own covers — and also, yes, if you hire a designer to make your covers — you must have these and other strategies down pat. Unless you have publishing experience that’s brought you into extensive contact with graphic artists, you may want to take a graphic design course or two at a community college.


Reading in the 21st Century

Beautiful woman from back with white hat reads kindle and holds a hat

Recently I came upon a new-to-me website on digital publishing, whose content I’ve been reading with interest and pleasure. Haven’t yet discovered who these folks are, but they write a lively blog and provide a great deal of industry news.

Today I read a post by Andrew Rhomberg, “Start Strong or Lose Your Readers.” It’s an extended riff on the old chestnut to the effect that you have to hook your reader within the first graf or two, lest she or he wander off to play with the cat or pop some corn or turn on a soap opera, never to return. There’s certainly something to that, and Rhomberg has the analytics to prove it. 🙂

In a comment that evidently didn’t make it past the Captcha, I argue that the whole story is not told:

“…reading fiction is a very linear activity in which you start at the beginning of the novel and, following the story arc, read until you reach the end. You don’t usually hop in and out of chapters as you would do in a non-fiction book or textbook,…”

Man reading a book in a coffee shop

Really? What if the cat jumps up on the sofa and barfs all over it? What if the baby wakes up in the middle of the afternoon and needs to be fed? What if you have to drop what you’re doing and go pick up the kids from soccer? What if your lunch hour ends and you have to go back to work? What if your boss walks by your cube and you have to pretend you’re working (heaven forfend!)? What if your cell blats at you, you answer the call, you become distracted, you waft over to Facebook, and then it’s quitting time and you have to commute home, picking up the the kiddies from daycare on the way and while you’re at it stopping to get them a Burger King and  then getting them ready for soccer practice while feeding the husband that extra  Burger King you picked up and also remembering to feed the cat and clean out the cat box and herding the kids into the RV so you can pick up four of the team members to carpool to that evening’s soccer practice and….

My point is that reading is far from a linear activity. For most readers in the digital age, it is disjointed, eclectic, and often spread out over days or even weeks. Few of  us have the luxury to indulge in linear activities anymore.

Young couple reading book on the grass on a sunny dayNor is it true that we’re any more inclined to read a novel from start to end without jumping around than we do with nonfiction. Who doesn’t peek ahead to find the sexy scenes or to see if the butler really did it?

Our digitized lives are gestalt, and so are all the habits and activities that populate our fragmented, fractured days, hours, and minutes. Those who build information by snooping into digital consumers’ reading habits seem to do so with certain presuppositions that may not let them see the whole picture. That one pauses in reading a digital document doesn’t mean the person is done reading it, or that she or he won’t come back to it. Come back to it, we might add, again and again.

Digital content by its nature is gestalt. Its very nature calls to us to drop what we’re doing

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how…

and skip over to another screen

Job growth settled into a more sustainable pace in January and the unemployment rate dropped to an almost eight-year low of 4.9 percent, signs of a resilient labor…,

and then from there to click on a link that takes us to another page

PHOENIX – Protests outside the US Foods facility in west Phoenix have now entered the second day. Thursday, as many as 200 protestors showed up near 43rd Avenue and Buckeye Road. The workers are demanding better health benefits and are also accusing US Foods of not wanting…

and a new subject

Bruce Chapman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “UAVSAR is ideally suited for observing the Nasca site because the region has virtually no vegetation and receives no rainfall whatsoever in most years, meaning that natural disturbances are minimal…”

whose background we can’t fail to look up

(The Nazca Lines /ˈnæzkə/ are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert[citation needed] in southern Peru. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 km (50 mi) between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima. Although some local geoglyphs resemble…)

and then we must tweet it or “share” it on Facebook and…

Facebook? What’s Jane doing today?

And now, heaven help us, it’s time to jump back in the car and go on our way.

Our lives are so filled with distraction that distraction has become our nature. There’s no such thing as a linear activity anymore.

So, I submit, it’s risky to assume that because a reader wanders from a digital bookoid, she necessarily has lost interest, or that she necessarily will never return to it.

Reading ain’t what it used to be. Neither are readers.

Reading (and readers!) aren't what they used to be. If you're a writer, here's what to be aware of.

Self-Publishing: Why It DOES Work

books galore

Yesterday I gave you a fairly negative appraisal of self-publishing as it applies to aspiring writers of the Great American Novel. In short, if you’re trying to replicate what a publishing house does as you work out of the bedroom you’ve converted to your home office, your chances of reaching a readership larger than your circle of friends and family are low. Your chance of attaining best-sellerdom is almost nil.

Yes. Some people do succeed. But not many. Bear in mind that Amazon is peddling upwards of 13 million titles, a number that grows by about four per hour.

Thinking of writing a book? Here are some reasons it may make sense to self-publish.However, self-publishing technology lends itself to other uses. These are what I’d like to talk about today. Some will help you turn a dollar or two; others let you create a product with special significance for specific, targeted audiences.

Publishing on Amazon is free. You can do it by posting a Word document formatted cleanly with Word’s “Styles” function. With this strategy, you can make any content available to anyone with a Kindle reader — and since you can download a Kindle app on almost any device, this means to anyone who owns a computer. You can set your price or even give it away, gratis.

Print-on-demand technology is not free, but it’s very cheap. It allows you to produce a professional-looking book in extremely small print runs — even one copy. Most PoD printers will ship books to addresses that you provide. With this approach, you can create a print book for a specific audience, order only as many copies as you need, and never worry about warehousing or shipping. Unless you’re an experienced publishing professional, you’ll need the help of a copyeditor and a graphic designer, but prices here are within reason, too.

So, what can this new self-publishing technology do for you? What kinds of projects are we looking at?

Educate your business or professional practice’s clients. This is useful for doctors, lawyers, and any business whose customers benefit from understanding facts and processes.

During the  late, great Recession, a lawyer I met displayed a self-published guide to walking away from an underwater mortgage. Part of his practice entailed helping people to get out from under dead-weight loans.

The Mayo Clinic, among other medical groups, publishes a book-length guide for patients with breast cancer.

A chiropractor who has developed a specialty in treating fibromyalgia distributes his book to patients, complete with charts and diet logs to help them keep track of their treatment and its results.

Build credibility for your business. Most people still hold “authors” in awe, believing that anyone who writes a book must be an expert.

A friend and former university colleague started a corporate consulting business that thrived. Early on, she published a book that outlined the major principles of her specialty.

• Market your business.

Because of that “gee-whiz” factor, a book not only can build credibility but helps spread the word about what you do. My chiropractor client, for example, takes his books to regional and national conferences, where he sells or gives them away to potential clients and colleagues.

• Raise funds for clubs and nonprofits.

Who among us has not seen (or bought!) a Junior League or church cookbook? For groups with active memberships or effective communications, a book relevant to the group’s mission can bring in some nice contributions. These could be inspirational books, how-to books, or books about the group’s history and accomplishments.

Record your family’s history and genealogy

A professionally produced and printed paperback is a much better way to collect and share a family’s history than a big pile of papers in someone’s closet. You can create such a book and print as many or as few as are needed to give them to every member of the family. If you don’t have a lot of graphs and images, you can (in theory) produce it in e-book format for family members around the world to download economically.

For family genealogists, a big advantage to self-publishing technology is that you can easily change or add to the existing content. All you have to do is edit the formatted copy, add or delete what you like, and re-upload.

• Write and share your memoirs.

I have a client who has led an interesting life as an international banker. Among several books he’s writing is a memoir that he wishes to hand down to his children and grandchildren. This is a brilliant use of self-publishing technology. When he’s done, he’ll have a professionally produced, bound book that can be shared with his adult children and friends and also saved for the coming generations. He plans to print about 50 copies.

Commemorate large family reunions.

Write up the events and experiences when a large family comes together for a reunion. One strategy might be to ask family members to write anecdotes or short memoirs. Another could be to have one person do the reporting and collect photos.

On a vacation in Bermuda, I stayed in a hotel that had mostly been taken over by a very large African-American family who were gathering there for a family reunion. It was quite a posh and fun affair. Any event like that would lend itself to a book marking the reunion and celebrating the family’s history.

Write a community or town history.

My city has several historic neighborhoods populated by active community advocates who love their district’s history and charm. These areas are often besieged by developers and political interests who would sacrifice them for a profit. A book describing the neighborhood’s historical importance and unique aspects can help preserve it, interest others in living there or protecting it, and enhance property values.

Most small towns have town archives or a museum housing historical materials. These lend themselves to the writing of book-length histories. If you’re a history buff, gathering and interpreting these materials is a great project. Produced as a well-edited and professionally designed book, it’s a great contribution to the community.

Compile a business history

Some years ago, a friend of mine was commissioned by a large corporation to write the company’s history. It was a big job, for the company had been in business for decades. The result was useful for the company’s upper management, a nice morale-builder for employees, and all-around good public relations in the community.

Monetize your blog

If you have a blog with a specific theme, collecting posts or — preferably — rewriting posts to create a book-length work and then adding extra content to enhance value can help drive readers to your site. Sales of the book can also increase the site’s profitability. Personal finance blogger Crystal Stemberger, for example, sells books on budgeting and on monetizing websites.

• Enhance your online or face-to-face course

Many people offer informal online courses to any and all comers.  Journalist and personal-finance blogger Donna Freedman, for example, has an online course on writing successful copy for the Web. Providing a free-standing text or workbook — electronic or print — adds value to your course and gives participants a permanent reminder of their experience.

Community colleges often allow people with expertise or experience to present community-based courses, usually for little or no college credit. This is also a good venue in which to sell books you’ve written and self-published, assuming they’re relevant to the subject. You may not be permitted to require them as textbooks, but nothing prevents you from drawing them to students’ attention.

You get the idea. I’m sure there are many other possibilities. The point is, publishing a best seller is not the only reason to create a book. Nor is profit the only motive: contribution to community or family is as good as the almighty dollar when it comes to writing and publishing.

Plain & Simple Press can help you take your story to print. We offer editing and design services, and we can recommend an excellent PoD printer or prepare your book for electronic or print publishers. To discuss your project, send us a message through our Contact page.

Self-Publishing: Why It Doesn’t Work

Should you self-publish your book? It depends. Here are some things to be aware of if you're thinking of self-publishing.Know how to get a small fortune?

Start with a large fortune and publish a book.

Nyuk nyuk! That old chestnut wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. As a practical matter, most people make nothing on self-published books. They soon find their magnum opus interests no one but themselves, and the whole project turns into an expensive hobby.

Right now I have a pricey Facebook Ads campaign plus several other efforts en train, by way of peddling one of the 48 books and bookoids my two imprints have online at Amazon. It’s been going on since January and we have sold exactly zero (yes, that’s 0.00) copies of the book.  Not for lack of trying: serial versions have earned five-star reviews.

The books that are selling — the smut published through Camptown Races — do not even come within shouting distance of breaking even on ad investment.

The cookbook sold smartly to a group of friends but in the wide world has sold just a few copies.

Yesterday as I took a break from hour after hour after crushing hour of recovering a 325-page Word file that corrupted for reasons unknown, I reflected on the reasons for this.

Books have never been easy to sell. Unless you have a platform from which to market them — a business with a broad reputation or one that does something relevant to the book’s subject matter — you will have to hustle madly to bring your book to anyone’s attention. That has ever been so, yea verily long before the Amazon disruption.

Amazon has made the marketing challenge infinitely more difficult. Without literary agents and publishing houses as gatekeepers, the market is now flooded with dreck and chaff. Not just flooded: we’re talkin’ tsunami here.

Readers know that about 80% to 90% of books offered on  Amazon and waypoints are junk or self-serving marketing tools. They also know, if they’re at all savvy, that they can acquire most of the stuff — and even some readable books — for free. So of course they’re not about to pay you enough to cover your time and skills. Not when they think they shouldn’t have to pay you anything at all.

So, the nature of the market has changed: not for the better, where people who write for a living are concerned.

Then we have the issues inherent to self-publishing that have always worked against independent writers: publishing a book or periodical and getting people to buy it requires a full staff of workers. It’s not something one little person working alone is likely to succeed with.

Every time I’ve published a book through a mainline publishing house — and I’ve published three of them, not counting the ones I’ve worked on for my employers or the ones my business has packaged for other publishers — I’ve worked with an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a layout artist, a proofreader, a marketer, and various secretaries and admins.

The first magazine I worked for had five editors, three graphic designers, four or five ad space sales staff, and a publisher whose job was to market the publication. The next magazine had three high-powered editors, a fact-checker, a photo editor, four graphic artists, a production director, and a marketing department. It also had a book division with its own editor and designers.

To make a self-published book fly, you need to do the work of all those specialists.

And you’re not a specialist. If you are, it’s as a writer, not as an artist, a marketer, a sales rep, an acquisitions editor, a production manager, a copyeditor, or a proofreader.

Because you’re an amateur at four out of five of the many jobs that need to be done to write, produce, and sell a book, your chances of success are almost nil. But even if you were expert in all those lines of work, you’re only one person: there’s no way you can do the work of five people and do it well.

That’s why you’re better off trying to sell your book idea or manuscript to a mainstream publisher. And it’s why, if you have a  lot of money to start with and are willing to subsidize your book project by hiring the talent needed to put it together and sell it, you’re likely to end up with a lot less money.

How to address this problem? In the next post, I’ve suggested ways self-published books can work in your favor. They’re not obvious: check them out!