People get so romantic about the idea. “One day I’m going to grow up and write a book on the topic.” We even think the book might become a screenplay or get mentioned by Harvard University in a study.
These fantasies are so ridiculous for someone like me who works in the industry. I teach writing as my career and have published multiple highly successful books. I also have a business partner who is a self-publishing and Amazon book ads genius.
The big authors call him the book publishing whisperer.
So every day I get emails from writers. Most of them want to publish a book. And many of them love self-publishing because it cuts out the middle man. What drives me nuts is 99% of these writers fail.
- No one reads their book.
- They make no money
So … they write more books (the definition of insanity). Here’s the reason their self-published books fail.
The book is the least important part of the process
I can hear the high-brow types spitting out their corn cob pipes and throwing their pens at the wall. Their black cats are looking at me in horror while they munch on snacks their master gave them.
Publishing a book is easy.
You write the book. You get it edited. You slap on a cover. You get friends to proofread it. You pay an editor to clean it up. You might even pay for the book to be formatted. Then you upload the book to Amazon.
Congrats, you should get a medal. Not!
The reason self-published books fail is because the authors have no audience, so the books have zero distribution.
The #1 thing every writer should do first isn’t to write the book, it’s to build a damn audience. I can’t believe how obvious this is.
Why don’t most writers do it? It’s hard. And they’re afraid.
- Afraid to fail.
- Afraid to get rejected.
- Afraid no one will care.
But that’s life.
We’re living in a world where attention spans are getting shorter. Someone isn’t just going to pick up your book with some obscure title and start reading it for the next 10–20 hours.
They have better things to do.
Your book is a huge time investment, so unless you have an existing audience, no one will trust you enough to read the book. Therefore you’ll make zero sales (or less than 100).
If people can barely sit through a 2-minute TikTok video, what makes you think they can sit through your 20-hour book that has no data-backed ideas in it and is a wish no better than hoping to win the lottery?
And if you think Penguin Random House will publish your book for you, then you’re more delusional than I thought.
Big book publishers only publish authors with existing audiences. They are not in the book casino business. They need guaranteed hits.
It’s the harsh truth. Sorry to tell you.
Before you publish a book, here’s what to do
Let’s go beyond dreams and move to reality.
The solution is simple. You have to rip off the band-aid and publish online as a digital writer. That means choosing your favorite writing platform or social media app and hitting publish.
I don’t care whether it’s under your real name or a pseudonym. And I don’t care what your niche is or whether you have one — or whether you feel ready or expert enough.
Without a portfolio of online work you don’t have data-backed ideas. Once you start to publish more readers will give you feedback. You can see what parts of your writing work and don’t work. And you can iterate on your ideas and make them sharper for your eventual book.
Many of us think we have great ideas. Writing online teaches us we’re initially wrong. The longer we publish the better we get.
The more we engage with readers the more we know their true problems — not the imaginary ones we think they have.
The only other step is to funnel those readers of your work into an email list. That way you own the contact details of your readers and haven’t built an audience someone else owns.
This email list is what you will pre-sell your eventual book to, even before you’ve written the book! Wild, I know.
As the email list grows you’ll share a weekly newsletter with either your writing, or a curated list of other people’s writing. That’s how you’ll stay in touch with readers until your book is ready for them to buy.
If you want to amplify your social media and email list efforts, then later in the process you can see if a book publisher can help compliment and amplify your audience-building efforts.
But remember that they take a big chunk of money for doing so, and it might still be better to self-publish.
Stop procrastinating and avoiding hard work by publishing a book. Start building a portfolio of online content that eventually becomes your book.