by D. J. Herda
Psst! Hey, Buddy, wanna know how to become a published author? I got a plan guaranteed not to miss!
And itís true. I do have a plan to get that first book of yours into print, to get your name on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Powellís and Borderís. Best of all, itís guaranteed not to fail. Want to know more?
Send $50 in unmarked bills to Post Office BoxÖ
Oh, yeah, okay. So, I forgot. Iím not supposed to do stuff like that. But Iíll bet if I could, Iíd make a fortune in no time.
Thatís because every writer longs to be published. Nearly every writer who longs to be published yearns to have his or her name on an honest-to-god paperback (or, even better, hardcover!) book. And why not? Publishing a book lends instant status to a person. And everyone wants to be, well, statisfied.
So, how do you do it? Simple.
First, forget about fiction. The market is and will always be nonfiction. Guaranteed.
Oh, sure, itís fiction that puts up the glitzy sales numbers, thanks to Stephen King and John Grisham and Anne Rice. But itís nonfiction that wins at the box office overall, year after year after year, outselling the total numbers of fiction books sold nearly ten to one.
What this means, of course, is that there are more publishers looking to buy nonfiction books than there are looking to buy fiction books. The fact that nonfiction books donít sell millions of copies apiece the way a few runaway bestseller fiction books do has no bearing on anything. Like every business, publishers pay attention to the bottom lineónot just for one title, but for all of the titles on their list.
Okay, then, assuming youíre committed to going with the flow and writing a nonfiction book for publication, what do you write about? Iím glad you asked.
There are several old saws that have been bouncing around for several millennia. One is that you should write about topics you know. Another is that you should write about something that has never been written about before. To that I say...
Hogwash! Publishers run from topics that havenít been written about before. They relish the thought of cashing in on a proven cash cow. All they ask is that youóthe writerópresent the same topic with a slightly different twist. How to make a million dollars without even trying has been done to death. How to make a million dollars without even getting out of bed hasnít. Get my point?
As for writing about topics you know, if youíre connected to the Internet (and I assume you are, or else youíre far too old, far too feeble, or far too distant from even a third-world country to access electricity and shouldn't be thinking about writing a book, let alone doing so), youíre an expert in the field. From psychology to anthropology, from space exploration to the history of the ancient Mayansóitís all there, and itís all free. If you really get serious (or if you donít want to take the time to run a Google search), splurge for a book or two on the topic from Amazon. I guarantee youíll become an expert nearly overnight.
One word of caution: I would suggest that, whatever topic you choose to write about, you should at least be mildly interested in the subject matter. After all, life is short. Why burden yourself studying something that bores you to tears?
So, how do you determine what topic to choose? And what factors are publishers looking for in deciding whether or not to write a contract on a particular title?
First, the subject has to be at least marginally marketable. The bigger the publishing house, the more marketable a topic theyíd like to see. Big sales translate to big dollars, which go to cover big payrolls for big numbers of staff members. See? And you thought this was going to be tough.
Second, it helps to present yourself to the publisher as some sort of an expert in the field. Sure, itís great if you work as an engineer for NASA and want to write a book about the future of space exploration. But itís also acceptable to be a ďlife-time student of space exploration and a contributing member to NASA's Challenger Space Center.Ē Itís terrific if youíre an open-heart surgeon and want to write a book about saving peopleís lives, but itís nearly as good (some might say better) to be an open-heart surgery survivor aiming at writing the very same book.
How do you know what you have to offer? Donít look only to your educational background: thatís a no-brainer. You can be a high-school drop out, but if youíre also president of your HOA, you have the qualifications to write The Coming Boom in Home Ownersí Associationsóthe Doís and Doníts of Property Management. You can be an ex-warden at a major U.S. prison writing on the deficiencies of our American penal system, but even if youíre an ex-con (or still in stir) who is a former spelling-bee champion, you have the qualifications to write An Insider's Tips for Acing Your Next Spelling Bee.
See what I mean?
Best of all, nine times out of ten, with nonfiction, you donít even need to complete the book before securing a contract and an advance. If youíve written a dynamite proposal (four or five paragraphs), a solid outline (chapter-by-chapter, including headings and proposed chapter contents), and two or three sample chapters, you can start sending your proposal around and expecting some good results in return.
AbsolutelyÖprovided youíre a good writer, have put together an enticing proposal, and are willing to back everything up with the hard work required to turn out a book on deadline.
Thatís really all it takes to get your name in printÖand keep it there. And, once you have established a solid name and loyal following as a nonfiction writer, you can always branch out into fiction, if you like, making this a real win-win situation. Until thenÖ
Smoke if you got Ďem.