72. Essential Lessons from Traditional Publishing

Self-publishing is a fantastic option for most new authors.

But there are still some crucial lessons all authors can learn from the realm of traditional publishing.

In this episode, you’ll get the scoop on what my traditionally published clients already know that can help you write and publish a world-class book more successfully.

For more writing tops and inspiration, follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/candiceldavis/

Mentioned in This Episode

Jump-Start: A free guide to help you jump-start your nonfiction book.

1 on 1 Author Coaching

Episode Transcript

Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.

I hope your week and your writing are going well.

I love the way self-publishing has removed the barriers to publishing so everyone who wants to can publish a book.

If you really want to, you can publish a book in the next twenty-four hours.

Self-publishing creates a way for people who would otherwise not have access to create and get their work out there for themselves.

That being said, traditional publishing still has a lot of value for many authors.

And in fact, about half of my coaching clients are publishing traditionally. In other words, some acquisitions editor at a publishing house has said yes to publishing their book.

While traditional publishing is definitely not for everyone—and we can talk about why on another episode—there are lessons every author can and should learn from traditional publishing.

Today I’ll share 5 of them.

5 Lessons from Traditional Publishing for Self-Published Authors

Lesson #1 – You need a plan to write AND sell your book.

When traditional publishers buy a nonfiction book from an author, they almost always buy it based on a proposal.

A proposal has several sections, but it mainly focuses on what your book will include and how you’ll sell it.

Traditional publishers want to know:

  •       What content your book will include
  •       Who your audience is
  •       Why you’re the right person to write this book
  •       Why the marketplace needs your book right now
  •       How you plan to get your book in front of the right audience (in other words, how you’ll market and promote your book)

These are elements of writing and publishing every author should think through even when you’re self-publishing—or maybe especially when you’re self-publishing.

Doing this planning work upfront will keep you from making a lot of mistakes, like targeting the wrong audience or failing to have a marketing plan in place for your book.

If you invest the time to go through this process, you’ll also find it informs what you decide to include in your book and what you choose to leave out.

Lesson #2 – Your outline is crucial, but it’s not written in stone.

Every one of my coaching and co-writing or ghostwriting clients who has a traditional book deal included an outline in their book proposal.

That’s expected. The publisher needs to know what the book will include.

But almost every one of my clients also changed their outline somewhere along the way.

Sometimes, they changed it at my suggestions.

Sometimes, they changed it at their editor’s suggestion.

And sometimes, they changed it because as they got into the writing they realized how they could make their book better.

The outline was a starting place, but they allowed themselves the flexibility to switch things up when they needed to.

I spoke to a woman on a consultation call earlier this week. She had started writing her book several years ago, but she got stuck in the middle and had no idea how she would end the book.

Your outline will keep you from getting stuck.

It will keep you from writing on and on, when your book should have ended chapters earlier, or from just dropping off because you haven’t thought out a conclusion for your book.

I don’t care if it takes you six weeks to craft a strong outline. The time is worth it.

And just know that, as you write, you always have the ability to make changes.

Lesson #3 – Get feedback before you get too far into writing your book.

Authors who are traditionally published have a chance to get feedback on their book idea, their outline, and their writing before they get too far into writing their book.

Many traditionally published authors work with author coaches like me, so they get that feedback along the way.

But they also get feedback from the acquisitions editor who buys their book on the publisher’s behalf.

Keep in mind that most nonfiction writers only submit 1 to 3 sample chapters of their book with their proposal.

Based on the feedback they get, they can and often do make changes to the rest of their book.

Even if you’re self-publishing, you can (and should!) get feedback on your book.

You can work with an author coach like me.

You can join a writer’s workshop.

You can even take a writing class.

Feedback is incredibly valuable because it’s hard for you, as the author, to see the holes in your story, to see what’s missing from the way you plan to share your process in your book, to see the subtle ways you can improve the writing, or to see where the flow of your book can be improved.

I highly recommend getting feedback from someone along the way before you get too far into writing your book. That way, any changes you make in the early stages can be carried through the whole book with much less labor on your part.

Lesson #4 – Deadlines make a huge difference.

Most of my traditionally published clients are given anywhere from 6 months to a year to write their books.

Once they receive a contract and some portion of their advance from the publisher, the clock is ticking.

These people have full personal and professional lives. Most of them don’t have a lot of extra time on their hands.

But their publisher expects the manuscript to be ready by a specified date.

Often, the balance of the advance won’t be paid until that author turns in the balance of the manuscript.

Fair enough, although I’m still a fan of full advance paid upfront, but that’s a different topic.

Either way, traditionally published authors have a contractual obligation to turn in the manuscript.

I know it can be hard to set deadlines for yourself and really feel the importance of meeting them when you don’t have as much on the line.

But I encourage you to do it anyway.

Don’t set a ridiculously short deadline to try to pressure yourself into writing your book quickly.

Instead, set a reasonable deadline of 4 to 6 to 12 months, depending on how complex and how long your book will be.

Factor in your lifestyle, so you’re not unrealistic in your expectations of how much time you’ll commit to your book.

And then find a way to get some support in reaching your deadline.

I hesitate to say get accountability because, let’s face it, the only person you can truly be accountable to is yourself.

I’m hesitant to coach authors whose primary need for coaching is accountability. I’ve found that it just doesn’t work. All they have to do is skip our coaching sessions and ignore my emails. So how much can I really hold them accountable?

Traditionally published authors often work with an author coach to help them meet their deadlines.

Our regular coaching sessions do serve as mile markers and reminders to get the writing done.

But we also talk through anything that’s keeping them stuck.

I coach them through the tough parts so they can keep writing.

Regardless of how busy they are, my clients work aggressively to hit those deadlines and they get support to do it.

So yes, share your deadline with someone, but understand it’s not the magic pill for making sure you do the work.

Seek out a relationship in which you can have help staying focused on the deadline, yes, but in which you’ll also get help over the obstacles that inevitably arise.

Lesson #5 – It takes a team to publish a phenomenal book.

This is a hill I’m likely to die on, friend.

You cannot self-publish a phenomenal book on your own.

(And fine. I know someone out there in the world has done it, but it’s a rare and elusive thing. Don’t try to be a unicorn.)

Traditionally published authors work with ghostwriters much more often than you know. If they don’t have ghostwriters or co-writers, they often have author coaches.

These authors aren’t necessarily professional writers. They’re experts in their own niche, and they’re wise enough to pay someone who is an expert writer to help them get the job done.

Traditional editors get feedback on their content from their acquisitions editor.

They have a copy editor who goes line by line through the manuscript.

Professional layout designers and cover designers make traditionally published books look fabulous.

A proofreader catches typos and errors that would otherwise slip through.

And when they’re very lucky or very smart, traditionally published authors also have marketing professionals in their corner, even if they have to pay for that team themselves.

I can tell you many of my clients pay for their own PR, they run their own Facebook ads, and they invest in marketing their books because they know whatever their publisher is doing for marketing is probably not enough.

You, my friend, also need a team when you publish your book.

And you can create that team on any budget, so don’t let money be an excuse.

Start setting aside money for your team from the moment you conceive of your book idea.

Do some research to see what you’ll have to spend.

One of my clients brilliantly went back to her alma mater and offered marketing internships to a couple of students.

Their job was to promote the launch of her book.

She took the time to create a formal program, outlining their learning objectives. The students got class credit, and my client got free marketing help.

Don’t decide you can’t have a team because you don’t have enough money.

Budget and save for your publishing team.

And get creative, as my client did when you need to.

So those are 5 essential lessons you can take from traditional publishing.

Lesson #1 – You need a plan to write AND sell your book.

Lesson #2 – Your outline is crucial, but it’s not written in stone.

Lesson #3 – Get feedback before you get too far into writing your book.

Lesson #4 – Deadlines make a huge difference.

Lesson #5 – It takes a team to publish a phenomenal book.

That’s all for this episode, my friends.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on IG @candiceldavis.

Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m Your Author Coach, Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.

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