How to Publish a Book

Most professionals know that a book is a key element to building a reputation as an expert, but what they don’t know is how to write and publish a book. This guide explores the elements of a book proposal, ghost writing, other editorial services, understanding your publishing options, and how to determine which option is best for you.

A book is by far the best and most effective way for an expert to share his or her knowledge with others. A book is a resource, an uninterrupted communication tool, and an effective way to sell the expert as a superior thought leader in his or her field. A book is also a jumping off point from which to create other ancillary materials such as workbooks, audio, eBooks, and other items that enhance a professional’s career. Unfortunately, actually publishing and distributing a book is a daunting task and many professionals don’t know where to start.

Where To Start

Before you can approach the idea of developing a book proposal, you need to know what it is you want your book to be about. Start by organizing your thoughts and honing your message. Pull your thoughts together, and identify your key message, sub topics, talking points, and supporting evidence.

The first thing you need is your key message. What is the big idea you want someone to take away from your book? Is it to eat healthier, be more frugal, become more organized, or some other idea? Your key message is the end goal and the umbrella under which all of your efforts will fall. For example, let’s say you are a physician specializing in integrated medicine—your key message might be something like “treating the whole person and not just the symptoms” or “complete wellness.”

Next you need to brainstorm sub topics. Sub topics are the next level, or hierarchy under which you will organize the information, strategies, and tips you will share to help achieve your key message. Often these are represented as chapter or section headings. Using the integrated medicine example above, under the key message “complete wellness,” we can establish the following sub2 topics:

  1. Pitfalls of Traditional Medicine
  2. Overview of Alternative Medicine
  3. Integrating Traditional and Alternative Medicine
  4. Listening to Your Body
  5. Achieving Total Wellness

After your subtopics are established, you want to list the talking points that you will discuss under each subheading. Examples, case studies, strategies, and other evidence support the talking points. Using our outline above, we will fill out the talking points for #1, Pitfalls of Traditional Medicine:

1. Pitfalls of Traditional Medicine

a. Band-aid Solutions: Focus on symptoms, rather than the cause

b. Overmedicated: Pros and cons of modern pharmaceuticals

i. Statistics on the number of medicines on the market

ii. Statistics on the number of lawsuits or claims from side effects

iii. Numbers on the reduction of serious diseases through vaccines and monitored treatment

c. Increasing Expense: Rising cost of healthcare

i. Prevention over treatment

2. Overview of Alternative Medicine
3. Integrating Traditional and Alternative Medicine
4. Listening to Your Body
5. Achieving Total Wellness

As you can see, we have already started to form an outline. This outline is what the author will use to create the book proposal, which will also be used to develop the book. Be sure to include statistics, anecdotes, graphs, case studies, and other important information that will help support your points, as these items are key selling points for your proposal.

Elements of a Book Proposal

Unlike fiction, where an author must have a completed manuscript ready before they approach a publisher or agent, a nonfiction author only needs to develop a proposal to submit to publishers and/or agents. The proposal should answer the following questions:

1. Content: What is the book about?
2. Market: Who would be interested in this idea?
3. Competitive Titles: What other books already exist on this topic and how does this one differ?
4. Platform: Who is the author, why is the author the best person to produce this book, and what are they doing to engage with potential readers?

Content: What is the Book About?

This section of the proposal is usually 1-3 pages, unless you include a sample chapter which can range anywhere from 5-20 pages. Length is not as big of a concern as the quality of what’s included.

If you completed the steps in the section titled “Where to Start,” you should already have an outline for the information you want to cover in your book. Based on that information, you want to come up with a brief, one sentence pitch that captures the soul of your idea. For example: “Affordable and complete wellness.” This is the hook of your book—the key message we discussed earlier.

Next you want to create a short summary paragraph that goes into slightly more detail about how the book will achieve your hook. For example:

This book is a guide for achieving complete wellness in an affordable and holistic way. It explores the pitfalls of the modern health care system and identifies ways to integrate alternative medicine techniques into traditional medical practices. The book educates the reader on current practices and arms them with new resources and techniques to achieve total wellness.

If you have a startling statistic that stresses the importance of this message, by all means use it here. That information will help sell the importance of your topic to the prospective agent or publisher.

Once your opening summary is developed, you will follow it with your outline. Your outline identifies the chapters and the key topics they will address. Identify any compelling facts, strategies, case studies, or information you will use to support the ideas in each chapter. You may include a sample chapter if you choose. Some publishers and agents require one, but many don’t. It really depends on whether you will be the one actually writing the book (we will discuss ghost writing later), and on the agent or publisher’s requirements.

Market: Who Would Be Interested?

This section can be anywhere from 1/2 of a page to 2 pages. Here you identify the market for your book both in qualitative and quantitative terms. To determine who your audience is in qualitative terms, ask yourself the following questions:

• Who would be interested in your topic?
• Where do they live?
• What kind of work do they do?
• What are their hobbies?
• How do they get their information? And so on.

The key is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to say your book is geared toward “men” or “businessmen.” For example, this paper is not geared to all professionals. This paper is for professionals who are considering publishing a book, but who may not necessarily be writers. Instead of “businessmen,” one could say “middle managers of Fortune 500 companies” or “solopreneurs in the retail sector.” Not only does this help you identify marketing opportunities for your book, but understanding your market helps the publishing team cultivate your content so that it speaks to and meets the needs of your audience.

Quantitative information is a bit more time consuming to locate, but can be valuable in determining the strength and validity of your topic/idea. If there are a large number of potential readers, publishers will consider a project. Specialty or niche topics that appeal to a smaller group are more difficult to place with a publishing house and are even more difficult to distribute nationally. To help you, here are some resources for locating numbers on specific groups:

1. Go to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics at There you can locate demographic information including numbers and geographical saturation.
2. Contact organizations that cater to your market and ask for data on the number of members and their demographics.
3. Identify the top magazines your audience reads. Go to their advertisers page. Often, there is an advertisers kit that includes demographics and audience size.

Competitive Titles: What Other Titles Exist on the Market and How Does This One Differ?

In your proposal, it is important to note the top 2-3 related titles and how your project is different from them. Not only does this help identify the potential sales numbers for your book, but it also helps the publisher identify exactly where you fit into the market. There are several ways you can locate this information:

1. Go to the bookstore and talk to a bookseller responsible for the section your competitors are shelved in. Ask them which titles are “evergreens” and which titles have a good sales history. Though local trends can vary, it’s a good place to start.
2. See which relevant titles are listed on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.
3. Nielsen provides a service called Bookscan. It lists the sales for each book title, including each edition of every title. Publishers pay to have a subscription, but individuals can purchase sales history on individual titles for $85.

After you have identified the top 2-3 titles, compare them with your project. How are you different? It’s extremely important that your book be different in at least some way. Readers do not want a rehashing of existing information. They want something new and fresh. You can set yourself apart in a number of ways:

1. Do you challenge any of the assumptions or strategies those authors make?
2. Do you have a fresh approach or new information to add to the discussion?
3. Do you have a more engaging voice?
4. Do you have more credibility or experience?
5. Are you more specialized, or more comprehensive? Knowing the answers to the questions above will also help you to further hone your message and develop your marketing strategy.

Platform: How Will You Sell Books?

What is an author platform? Essentially, it’s the base of people who have a builtin interest in your book and who would regard you as an authority in your field. Your platform is your audience; your publicity plans and other promotional activities will be targeted at them.

The author platform is essential because it is what sets you apart from every other author in your genre. Publishers and media always look at the author platform, sometimes even before they look to the content of the book itself. Just like a physical platform, an author platform raises you above the crowd. The platform is what will cut through all of the millions of advertising and media messages and carry your book to readers, and in turn drive sales. If your platform is not strong, active, and growing, publishers and media will move on to the next author who does have one.

You don’t want to wait until you have a book to start building your platform. You need to start right away, so you can have a built-in readership and momentum to build upon with more platform-building activities after the book is published. There are many ways to connect with your potential readers so you can build a platform. The best platform strategy integrates several if not all of these elements:

• A website: You need to have a well-designed, content rich website both for you and your book.
• Blogs: Blogging lets you create current, fresh content on a regular basis. Pull content from your book and use it to develop brief blog posts. Comment on current events, news items, or trending topics. Answer questions or pose questions to generate interaction with your followers.
• Social Media: Outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others let you promote your media efforts, blog, and book, and enable you to stay connected with your audience. Applications such as Spredfast and Twitterfeed let you easily manage your social media without spending a great deal of time or money.
Speaking/Teaching/Appearances: Authors are viewed as experts, and experts share their knowledge with others. Speaking on topics related to your platform, teaching others the skills you either used to develop your book or that you illustrate in your book, and making appearances on television and radio shows related to your topic all help you engage your audience.
Organizational involvement: Being involved in writers and trade groups, charities, and local organizations lets you keep in touch with the people you want to connect with. If you are involved not only will they be more interested in what you have to say, you will also learn more about your audience and what they are looking for (here is where you get ideas for blogs, new books, and media appearances).
Articles and sourcing: Authors write articles on their subject and often serve as expert sources for journalists. This helps build the author’s credibility as an authority figure and trusted source, which, in turn, helps drive book sales.