February 2, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver
“I am the fourth-generation CEO of our family’s agricultural services business. I want to write a book about our history, the people who have been at the helm for over 100 years, and show our business community just how dedicated to their needs we have always been, so there is a PR benefit I’m trying to achieve.
“Candidly, I don’t know a thing about what’s involved. Have you some suggestions on how to get started and how to not get taken advantage of by the internet ads I see about giving them two hours of my time and they will create a best-seller? Thanks, ‘Scott.’”
Advice from a Book Collaborator
I ran Scott’s question by Caroline Lambert, who is an internationally recognized ghostwriter and book collaborator. She provided down-to-earth recommendations for anyone who is thinking of writing a non-fiction book.
Lambert began our interview with these cautionary statistics and highly focused questions an author must not fail to answer:
“Only 10% of all books sell 10,000 copies in the first year, which pays for the publishing costs. Below that, a publisher does not make back its money. Statistically, few books even sell 1,000 copies. Very few sell a million copies. If someone goes into it thinking to sell millions of copies and become famous and rich, their odds would be better in Las Vegas!”
Still, she points out, there are valid reasons to write a book that may only sell just a few copies — such as family memoirs. Whatever your motivation, it is critical that you do not fail to ask these questions:
1. Why do you want to write this book?
2. Who is your audience? What do you want this book to do for your readers?
3. What questions do you want to answer for them, or what problems are you trying to help them solve?
4. What do you want this book to do for you? What are you trying to achieve?Are there some ideas that you want to share? Is your purpose business promotion, services that you want to sell? Or are you writing just for your family?
The answer to the why is that you need a central thread that ties everything together so that you never lose track as to what this book seeks to accomplish and who you are writing it for.
5. How much staying power do you have for this? (Hint: It takes more than just time.)
Writing a full-length book by yourself requires a lot of staying power. Besides skill, it takes effort and time. Unless you are clear as to why you are doing it and have a compelling reason that gives you a desire and motivation, at some point, you may hit a roadblock, such as getting stuck on a structure issue or some other frustration.
6. Do you have what you need? Do you have enough material, or do you need to do research? Are interviews needed?
How much time do you have to write?
Do you have the skills to write a book by yourself?
7. Should you consider working with a ghostwriter or writing coach?
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who writes on your behalf — and “becomes you” in terms of style and voice. Authors who don’t have the time or skills needed to write a book often go that route.
Even though it is faster than doing it yourself, don’t expect your book to be written in a week, however. It can be a long process.
Reputable ghostwriters will have a proper contract that sets out the various rights and responsibilities each of you have, including whether their name will appear on the book cover with yours.
A writing coach supports you through what, for many, is the challenge posed by writing itself, but you hold the pen.
8. What kind of publishing will you do? Traditional, hybrid or self-publishing?
If traditional publishers aren’t interested in your book, or you’re not interested in traditional publishers, then you can self-publish.
Self-published authors are responsible for all of the costs in book development: production, printing, distribution and marketing, but retain all of the profits (if any!).
You can do it all yourself or turn to companies that can help with self-publishing. Beware of publishers who advertise “Give us two hours and we will write a bestselling book for you.”
Research, research, research them. Use your business judgment. Are they reputable? Do they produce good-quality books? (You can read more about this in my article You and the Law: Author in search of a publisher? Beware!)
If you’re aiming higher on the quality scale, then hybrid publishing could be the right choice, as it is often described as a partnership with shared responsibilities, guidance and control throughout.
Authors still cover most of the costs, but hybrid publishers typically bring expertise honed in traditional publishing.
Lambert concluded our interview with this observation: “Never forget the why.”
Find out more about her and what she does on her website, carolinelambert.com.