Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is your passion for telling the story or for selling the story?

Do you have a story you must tell the world? Are there people out there whose lives you could save if only they knew what you went through and how you overcame it? Is it your burning desire help everyone who has ever faced what you faced?

Cool. Now what?

I applaud you for having the courage to write what’s in your heart. If the act of writing it all down—itself a deeply therapeutic endeavor—is sufficient to calm your soul and extinguish your fire, stop there. You’ve written it down. You’ve accomplished what you set out to do. You’re a success! Now go on to do other successful things in your life, and put your manuscript in a safe deposit box for your heirs to discover.

But if just writing it all down wasn’t enough and now you want to tell the world, that means you want to publish your story (literally, make it public).

You can accomplish that by putting it all on a blog or a dedicated website. Total cost: approximately $0. (You might have to pay a small hosting fee, or you might decide to use a free service.) You can do this without paying an editor, although the services of an editor may be helpful, depending on how clearly you write. You can do this without paying a designer. You don’t need a printer or distributor or retailer. No money goes out, and presumably no money comes in. But you can reach a worldwide audience with your story. And if you publicize it through social media and by optimizing your site for search engines (something you can learn how to do by reading about it), you will have accomplished your initial goal of reaching out to others with your story.

For most personal stories—personal memoirs of struggle and redemption, of surmounting oppression, of exposing the corruption of the medical or legal system—telling the world about it free on the Internet may be the best possible approach.

Only if you want to sell your story and have the commitment and energy to market it to a defined audience should you take the next step and publish it as a book. Because a book is a product. As the publisher you are taking on the responsibility to develop and market that product profitably. If you’re not going to follow through with the hard work of marketing, why do you want to invest in developing the product?

Of course, it’s less expensive to develop an e-book than a printed book. You still need an editor. You still need a cover designer. But in many cases you can get by without a designer for the interior of the book. And you can test market an e-book through Smashwords at no cost. A printed book costs more to develop, and then you have to pay the cost of printing it. So maybe you want that to be something you take on after you see how well the e-book sells.

I edit and design books. Why am I suggesting that a printed book should be your last choice? Isn’t that driving away potential business? I suppose it is. But I don’t take people’s money under false pretenses; I don’t suggest that all they need is a printed book and their next stop is a private island in the Caribbean, paid for with the profits. Publishing is a business, not a get-rich-quick scheme. I like to work with clients who understand that.

Figure out where your passion lies and then decide how far you want to go with your story.

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