Writing and Publishing
By Stephanie Mensh
President, Positive Power Publishing
Do you have a book “inside” you?
Many people feel the urge to create a work that expresses something inside, to communicate their feelings or experiences. People communicate with each other for information, entertainment or involvement. Writing is one form of communicating with other people. As a communicator, the writer must consider not only what he or she wishes to express, but also what the reader wants to receive. I believe that if you focus on communicating your knowledge, experience, and expertise, you will find your audience.
What is your expertise? And how can you communicate it effectively?
I’m a writer, a professional speaker, and own a publishing company. But what sells books and presentations is the expertise that I’ve developed in several areas. I’m an expert on federal government policies, specializing in health and disability programs, with a very special focus on program financing— ways that these very complex systems pay health care providers for services. I developed this expertise by working for various medical trade associations in Washington, DC. I developed my writing, speaking, and publishing expertise by necessity— I had to effectively communicate complex, vital information to the associations’ members.
If you are a writer who wants to see your work published, I recommend that you write about your expertise. This is true whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, white papers on the Medicare program, or a how-to guide for one-handed stroke survivors interested in pursuing hobbies.
As an expert, you can be successful in communicating your expertise by writing and publishing.
Here are 7 tips to get you started:
Tip #1: Participate and Read. Before you can write, you need to participate in your niche and read about it. You need to know what are others with your knowledge and experience are writing about, what are they doing, where, when, how, and how you can join them. You should know who and what are the best sources of information, and the most helpful resources. Who and what can you read and rely on to keep you up-to-date in your expertise? My marketing friends call this: knowing your industry, knowing your market/audience, and knowing your competition.
For example, my husband, Paul Berger, suffered a stroke at age 36, leaving him very disabled. Over the years, to maximize his recovery, he’s joined the American Stroke Association and other organizations, volunteered for national and local programs, read many books, and subscribed to numerous publications and electronic list serves. Paul has become a consumer expert in stroke, rehabilitation, and overcoming disabilities.
Tip #2: Define your niche. Understand who you are, what expertise you possess, and how to explain it. If you were writing your job description, or resume, what special knowledge, skills, training, and accomplishments would best describe you? What special angle do you bring to your niche that sets you apart from your competition?
Here are some achievements that set Paul apart from other stroke survivors: despite his severe disabilities, he has succeeded in returning to work, school, travel, and a fulfilling life, and has authored publications that communicate this information.
Tip #3: Start writing small and free. Write letters to the editor, short newsletter articles, and press releases to publications and organizations in your niche. This accomplishes two goals: (1) establishing you as an expert; and (2) helping to focus your thoughts on a very specific topic. Start making presentations to local clubs; join Toastmasters to learn to prepare a short speech. I’ve met some people who tell me that they don’t believe in doing anything for free. I respond by respectfully suggesting that they consider these activities to be part of their marketing plan.
By the time Paul and I had completed the first draft of our book, How to Conquer the World With One Hand…And an Attitude, we had published a number of articles, and had developed relationships with leaders in the field of stroke recovery. They willingly reviewed the book and provided quotes for the jacket.
Tip #4: Writing the book. Few, if any, first time book authors can successfully find a publisher by writing a book proposal. Even experts who have established their expertise may find this difficult. One reason is that publishers want proof that you can complete the project. Writing a book requires more than the time to write the words. It requires, among other things, managing how the book will be organized, style, tone, reading level, length, design, fact-checking and permissions, and the ability of the author to show passion in the subject (and in promoting the book). But most of all, it requires starting and finishing.
I recommend two ways to start. One way is to think of ten related topics or events that you want to communicate. Then write an article about each one. Maybe you can edit, expand, and update an article that you’ve previously written. Thinking about writing a series of ten-page articles is much more manageable than thinking about writing a 100-page book.
A different way to start is to sit down and begin anywhere. Perhaps begin with an explanation of how you became interested in the topic of this book and how you developed your expertise. After you’ve written a number of pages, you can identify the themes, organize the elements into potential chapters or sections, and continue from there.
Paul drafted his book by selecting the events that impacted his recovery the most. Then he wrote a description of each event, how it affected him, and how he felt about it. After considering various alternatives, we decided to organize the events chronologically and edit it down to half the original length
Finishing a book can be difficult, too. If there is an important milestone in your niche, aim for that date as a completion date, and count the months back. If it takes you one month to write an article (chapter), you would calculate 10 months to write the first draft of your book. Then one month to edit and reorganize it. An outside editor or reviewer should have at least a month. Depending on the reviewer’s comments, final re-working, editing and formatting could take another one to three months. Total calculations result in a minimum of 12-15 months to complete a manuscript. Add another 3 to 4 months to print it, if you decide to self-publish. Add another 3 to 4 years, if you plan to find a publisher.
Tip #5: Improving your writing style. Communicating your expertise requires that you write clearly, so that your ideas can be understood by your audience. Aim for shorter, simpler sentences and paragraphs. If you need help, I recommend studying the sports page in the newspaper to observe crisp, action-oriented copy. If you are writing about people and events, try reading plays for inspiration. Try to develop a “voice” or personal style.
Paul’s first-person account was written in a style aimed to capture the limits of his speech resulting from the stroke, as well as his straight-forward personality. When one friend suggested a poetic metaphor, we thanked him for his input, and decided that it probably wouldn’t work, since Paul wasn’t very poetic before his stroke.
Tip #6: Consider the pros and cons of self-publishing. Deciding whether to publish your book yourself (self-publish) or seek a publisher is a decision you should make while you are working on the draft, since there are many publishing chores that you can accomplish before the final manuscript is ready. Here are some pros and cons for self-publishing:
- You will have to do the market research and take the lead in marketing the book: first to an agent, then to the publisher, then to your target audience. If you self-publish, you save time and money by skipping the first two.
- Since the value of your book is in communicating your expertise, self-publishing will give you ultimate control over the content and the copyright, now and in the future.
- If you plan to continue to develop and build your expertise, self-publishing allows you to control the distribution and sell the books for months or years after initial publication. Most publishers have “choice” selling months (fall and spring), and give books only 3 to 6 months to prove themselves before they stop promoting them.
- Self-publishing allows you to keep all the profit, instead of the publisher.
- You can reach an international audience through the Internet, and on-line bookstores. Amazon.com has a program, Amazon.com/advantage, for small publishers. Your self-published book has the same “look” as any other book when readers search Amazon.com.
- You have to invest time and effort into establishing yourself as a publisher.
- You have to manage the book production details and negotiate rates with the printer.
- You have to pay these costs yourself.
- You have to turn other people away when they ask you to publish their books.
Tip #7: To sell and publish your expertise, you need to view it as a business. As an expert and a publisher, you need to take care of business considerations. These include:
- Reading about self-publishing. Start with Dan Poynter’s Para-publishing at www.parapublishing.com. Order his book, “The Self-Publishing Manual.”
- Contacting Bowker for ISBN & bar codes at www.Bowker.com.
- Contacting the Library of Congress for copyright at www.loc.gov/infopub/.
- Contacting Amazon.com at www.amazon.com/advantage.
- Setting up state and federal sales tax ID.
- Asking your bank about a separate checking account and a credit card sales merchant account.
- Developing a website.
- Developing your marketing & branding plan. Read “1001 Ways to Market Your Books for Authors and Publishers,” by John Kremer.
- Developing a public relations plan.
- Being dependable – when the trade association or volunteer group calls on you and you promise – you must deliver. If there isn’t a trade group for you – then start one.
One additional book that I found helpful in explaining the concepts of how to establish yourself as an expert is “Getting Started in Consulting,” by Alan Weiss, Ph.D.
Copyright © Stephanie Mensh
Positive Power Publishing P.O. Box 2644,
Merrifield, VA 22116 Ph: 703-241-2375