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The Friday Five

So, You Wanna Write a Book? Five Tips to Help You Get Started

By Tatia Gordon-Troy

These book writing tips from an editor will help you get clear on your goals and strategy for being a published author.

Writing a book can be time-consuming, but it also can be rewarding — both personally and financially. Books are a great marketing tool and can have a great return on investment. They tend to open new avenues, primarily by attracting new clientele. A long-time client author has seen a return on his investment every year by more than 300% from having attracted clientele willing to invest long-term in his firm’s services.

Other authors have written books to start side hustles or share decades of wisdom in a memoir. Whatever your reason, here are book writing tips for getting started on penning that tome.

Five Book Writing Tips

1. Know what message you want to convey and to whom

Most authors make the mistake of writing to suit everyone. The truth is when you are writing for everyone, you are writing for no one. Being too inclusive in your writing can dilute your message. When you have a specific audience in mind, you can tailor your content to that audience.

For example, you may write a book with a primary audience of pre-law students, law students and new lawyers. The key is to know who your primary audience is and to focus your efforts on attracting them to your book. But writing to satisfy a specific audience doesn’t mean you won’t attract others. Another or secondary audience might find the book helpful, such as readers with an interest in politics, history and law.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are the people you are trying to help?
  • What do you want your book to do for your reader?
  • How should your reader feel after reading it — inspired, confident, renewed, empowered, enlightened?
  • Should the reader take some sort of action after reading your book, such as developing a marketing strategy or taking steps to advocate for access to justice?

When you begin with knowing who your audience should be and what their needs are, it will guide your writing style and keep you from veering off course. Once you’ve nailed down the message to your primary audience, others will follow.

2. Know what you want to accomplish for yourself

Before you start writing, get clear on what you want out of it. It’s OK to be selfish as you ask yourself, “What’s in it for me?” Lawyers write books for all sorts of reasons — from personal accomplishment to landing a TEDx talk; from launching a side hustle to expanding the firm’s business; from landing a movie deal to leaving behind a legacy.

It could be that you simply want to become a published author before you turn 90. Knowing your personal motivation will help you stay committed to the job. This is a crucial step because writing a book worth reading isn’t something you do in a weekend.

3. Don’t be cheap frugal when it comes to professional editing

Not enough authors place the proper amount of emphasis on this. Find an editor for your manuscript! Do not trust it to a friend or colleague. Even more important, do not try to edit your own writing. It rarely ends well. Authors are too close to their writing and tend to think everything they’ve written is important. It’s not. A good editor experienced in your genre will be worth every dollar you spend.

How do you hire an editor? Depending on your needs, there are different types of editors you should look for:

  • A developmental editor will evaluate your manuscript and tell you where it stands among others like it and how you might improve it. This editor examines all the elements of your writing with the book’s purpose and audience in mind — from the book’s title to the individual words and sentences to its overall structure and style. A manuscript can change significantly during this stage. The amount of change depends on the manuscript’s original structure, its organization, the wording and the author’s writing ability. Developmental editing provides authors with what they really want and need — a book worth reading.
  • A copy editor will generally address grammatical or punctuation errors; perform some fact-checking; and search for anomalies, inconsistencies and glaring typos. Overall, the purpose of copyediting is to ensure that the language supports the writer’s intent — while also creating the most readable version of a manuscript.
  • A proofreader gets the manuscript just before it’s published. This person should have a keen eye for detail and the ability to spot errors in punctuation and grammar — from missing or misused commas to misused homophones. Proofreaders also look for typographical and layout issues, such as the wrong typeface in a chapter heading or awkwardly spaced lines within the text.

Professional editing is such a crucial step that this tip bears repeating. All authors can benefit from working with a developmental editor, albeit the most expensive of the three. But it’s worth the cost. A poorly constructed book can harm sales and readership. Trust a professional to see the “big picture” and not to simply focus on whether “peak, peek or pique” is being used correctly.

4. Never settle on a title before you write the book

Many clients have come to me with a title for their books before they’ve written a word. That’s fine, but only if you’re not wedded to it. I can’t count the number of times a book title has had to change because the content itself has taken a turn. Choosing a great book title takes time and needs to be led by the content. A book’s title is as important as the cover of the book, both of which (working together) serve as your book’s introduction to the reader.

When choosing your book’s title, bear in mind:

  • It must convey to the potential reader what the book is about.
  • It should use words that resonate with your primary audience.
  • It must catch the reader’s eye as he or she scrolls through thousands of thumbnail-size covers on Amazon or other online stores.

When asked to evaluate books because they’re suffering from low sales and lackluster reviews, I have found in some cases that the book’s title connotes one thing while the content connotes something different.

One particular book’s title gave the impression the book was for a more advanced audience, yet the content was rudimentary. The confusion was evident in the poor reviews left by readers who scored the book low because it didn’t meet their expectations. This didn’t mean the book was poorly written, it simply meant the book was poorly focused. A change to the book’s title and description corrected the problem and the book began attracting the right audience.

5. Marketing starts before the book is published

An author pours her heart into her book and calls it a labor of love. And when the first copies of her book arrive in the mail, she feels a deep sense of personal accomplishment. Is that all there is? Sure, it’s a personal accomplishment, but do you think she doesn’t care whether the book sells? No one wants to be read only by friends and family. Whether it’s a personal triumph or a book written to market your expertise, you want eyes on it.

If you haven’t thought about how you’re going to market your book or whether marketing is necessary, I’m here to tell you it is. What purpose does your book serve if no one but you is going to read it? Without a plan, prepare to place most of your copies on your home office bookshelf; and don’t forget to dust them off occasionally. A colleague of mine used his book as a doorstop, while another colleague gave copies as holiday gifts to his immediate family and the postal carrier.

Most authors believe the hard part of writing a book is writing the book. But what happens after you’ve written the book? Regrettably, many authors who self-publish never consider marketing to be part of the publishing process. They think readers will simply find their books hidden among the millions of other books on Amazon.

Here’s something to think about: Did you know that marketing is as much about the author as it is about the book? Most book sales rely heavily on how well-positioned the author is, which is why marketing starts months before the book is published. Authors must sell themselves in order to sell the book. This calls for an investment in both time and money.

As an author, learn how to sell yourself to the audiences you want to attract to your book. Everyone has a backstory. Figure out how to share yours and to whom. Build your “hook” and those book sales will come.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Tatia Troy Tatia Gordon-Troy

Tatia L. Gordon-Troy is a Maryland attorney and a career publisher with more than 20 years of experience developing books for lawyers and law firms, and building content-based marketing strategies in the form of magazines, newsletters, monographs, blog posts and white papers. Tatia runs her own consultancy and author services company, Ramses House Publishing LLC, through which she helps attorneys leverage their expertise to market themselves and their practices. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @tatia_troy, and search Clubhouse @behindthebook.

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