Matt Browne's personal experience
and advice on writing and
publishing a book

  1. Resist the urge to think writing your own book is a crazy idea. It's not!
  2. Don't get discouraged during the process when you get the feeling that you'll never be able to finish.
  3. Accept that writing a book takes a lot of time, especially when it's a new experience for you. Think of it as a project with milestones and unexpected challenges down the road.
  4. Your personal project will take even longer if you're fully employed and have a very demanding day job.
  5. So be patient. It can take five years or more, but you won't regret it. The experience will broaden your horizon, regardless of whether your book becomes a bestseller or you manage to sell a few hundred copies.
  6. If you are a commuter—like I am—buy a dictaphone or some other small sound recording device. A long daily commute can be a real waste of time. Try to develop the story of your book inside your head. Grow and enhance your characters. Think of how to make the plot more suspenseful. Try playing with alternatives. Use the dictaphone, so nothing gets lost. You can always write it down later.
  7. Take breaks. When you've rewritten a chapter several times, let it rest for a few weeks, or even better, for a few months. Wait and take a fresh look then. You'll be amazed about new viewpoints and new ideas being generated. It'll allow you to make more meaningful changes and the quality of writing will improve further.
  8. Conduct all the proper research, especially when you're writing hard science fiction. Build a network of subject matter experts and like-minded people. Access material on the web from a variety of sources.
  9. And don't forget: You should read at least 30 to 40 books a year (both fiction and non-fiction). That's crucial. Writers who don't read much will have trouble creating a great book.
  10. Audio books are also a great invention. It's another means of spending quality time during your daily commute.
  11. Work with peer reviewers. Ask your friends if they're interested in getting involved. A lot of people greatly enjoy offering critical assessment and valuable feedback. Even small observations and contributions count. The reviewers all become part of your project and part of your story. Working with them can also deepen your friendships.
  12. For everything around language, vocabulary, grammar, style and so forth: there are great online resources on the web. Use them! Try out different ones and find out which ones work best for you. Try to master the art of self-editing. The professional editor will come into play later.
  13. Delete, delete, delete! This is probably the single most important tip. Delete words, delete sentences, delete paragraphs, even delete entire chapters. Every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter has to add value. If that's not the case, get rid of it. Readers are annoyed by redundant or unimportant parts. Readers don't like to be slowed down, especially when your book should excite them and maintain its suspense.
  14. Buy and read the following book: Sol Stein on Writing - A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. The paperback version is available for less than $15. A very good investment, I think!
  15. Go through several cycles of rewriting and self-editing.
  16. When you feel your manuscript is ready for publication, ask your peer reviewers for an opinion.
  17. If you're ready to take your project to the next level, accept the fact that from now on it gets even harder. To publish your book choose one of the four option listed below. By all means, stay away from option number 5 !

How to publish a book

  • Option 1: Large publishers have got the best marketing teams and a large sales force at their disposal. When signing up with them, it's much easier for you to be considered for highly visible book reviews. If your book sells well during the first three to six months, large publishers will channel additional marketing money into the campaign and your chances will increase even further. So were's the catch? It's plain and simple and quite sobering: Far less than 1% of all manuscript submissions will get accepted. Finding a literary agent willing to take you on is even harder. Many publishers only accept submissions handled through an agent. So if you want to go for this option, you need a lot of patience and you should not get discouraged by a growing mound of rejection letters. Very often literary talent and the quality of a new book gets overlooked, because many publishers look at books from a purely commercial point of view. If Boris Becker or David Beckham writes a book, regardless of the content publishers are very interested. Why? Because potential customers in bookstores will recognize their names. So if you're not well known, you should still keep trying. Eventually you could get lucky winning the lottery and a large publisher will offer you a contract. But it's also possible that you're tempted to give up completely having tried for so many years.

  • Option 2: Small publishers might be easier to approach, especially when your book's genre is quite unique. For a non-fiction book this works even better, if you're one of the few subject matter experts of a new topic, a new trend, or a hot controversial debate. In general, however, the low submission acceptance rate is more or less the same as for any of the large and well-known publishers: not even 1%. And you have to understand that for a small publisher the financial risk is even greater for a potentially unsuccessful book. So they've got to be very selective during the manuscript selection process. You might have written a remarkable book, but the publisher is not willing to take the risk.

  • Option 3: Over the recent years self-publishing has become a quite successful alternative. It means that you start your own little company and manage the whole process yourself. This of course requires financial investments on your part. For a high-quality book you need to hire a professional editor and a cover art designer. You need consulting about formatting, typesetting, and you need to pay the printing press. There's also significant administrative work involved for issues such as copyright handling, ISBN registration, wholesale book directories, online stores and so forth. Print on demand makes the actual sales part quite flexible, lowering the risk of potentially unsold copies. You keep all the revenues and do not have share them with any publisher. That's what it makes quite attractive for a lot of aspiring writers. There's an excellent book by Dan Poynter called the Self-Publishing Manual. The paperback is available for less than $15. Again, a very good investment. Yet, keep in mind that a considerable amount of time will be necessary to set this up. If you don't have the time, you might want to consider the next option.

  • Option 4: Full-service self-publishing means that you're in a way outsourcing the overall coordination. It's a model that requires an even higher investments on your part than the previous option, because you do not only buy editing and printing services and so forth, but someone else manages the whole process. Put simply, the author and publisher share the risk. There are only a few reputable publishers in this segment. Those publishers have a proper submission process and on the average they accept about 20% of the submitted manuscripts. Now 20% is a lot better than 1%, but this system still filters out low quality work. The publisher is interested in the book's quality, because all royalties are shared. There are different models for this and the author share might range from 20 up to 50%. As a result the publisher is interested in high volume sales and will carry out a reasonable marketing effort. If your books sells well, say several thousand copies the first year, it's actually possible to shift from option 4 to options 1 or 2. Sometimes publishers approach new authors if there's enough buzz around their book (see book promotion). At some point even you can take the initiative and approach a larger publisher of your choice.

  • Option 5: Stay away from the so-called vanity publishers! They will accept any submitted manuscript and print it, no matter how stupid the content or how poor the quality. There's a large one time fee without any professional editing, typesetting or cover art design. Such companies basically just forward your electronic copy to a print shop and charge a lot of money for doing this.

  • Okay, you've settled for one of the first four options, what comes next? Marketing and book promotion!

  • Regardless of the publisher you're working with, you need to complement the publisher's marketing efforts with your own campaign. Even bestselling authors hire their own consultants, who handle the book promotion.

  • If you decide to develop your own marketing strategy, perhaps the next page can offer you some useful tips.

How to promote your book

  1. Get a small paper-based notebook to write down all your promotion ideas, planned activities, done activities with follow-up tasks.
  2. Setup your own website that features the book - think of good titles for each page and include the proper META tags.
  3. Get feedback about your website.
  4. Offer site search for your website - regularly check search terms entered by your users.
  5. Keep in touch with fans of your book.
  6. If your website is interesting and adding value, other websites will link to īt.
  7. Put your website's URL into the book itself, in all of your correspondence, email signatures and so forth. Even put the URL on the back of your car. Make sure the letters are large enough. Traffic congestions can actually be a blessing for you. The driver behind you gets bored and might stare at your URL repeatedly. Be sure to use a name easy to memorize.
  8. Print flyers with the front cover or your book, the blurb, the URL of your website, and information how to order the book - ask friends to give flyers to their friends.
  9. Start your own blog the moment the book is available.
  10. Write a press release (news release) and submit it to both online and print media.
  11. Ask for book reviews and book testimonials.
  12. Write articles for newsletters dealing with your subject area.
  13. Encourage people to write Amazon reviews.
  14. Ask your peer reviewers to spread the word - the word of mouth is still one of the most powerful ways of promoting a book.
  15. Get entries in library journals.
  16. Get an entry in online directories such as dmoz.org
  17. Hope that someone creates an entry in Wikipedia (you can't do it yourself).
  18. Stay in touch with other writers. Ask for their advice. Offer your support to them.
  19. Explore the possibility of 'co-operative marketing'.
  20. Sign up for Amazon Connect - consider their Search Inside program.
  21. Be careful with email campaigns - very often this will be considered as spam - think about highly targeted campaigns (people who are interested and active in your subject area).
  22. Try to make new interesting contacts in Xing and LinkedIn, try to get connected to other writers, editors, organizers of conventions etc.
  23. Become active in online communities such as Fluther, Facebook or Myspace.
  24. Target other countries - English books for example are not only read in the United States or the United Kingdom.
  25. At some point consider foreign translations.
  26. You might also think of producing an audio book.
  27. Ask yourself: Can the story of your book be turned into a movie script?
  28. Take advantage of the so-called local bookstore syndrome - ask for an appointment and introduce yourself as a writer who lives in the area - many bookstore managers are very sympathetic.
  29. Contact special bookstores, e.g. ones that sell science fiction only.
  30. Don't spend a lot of money on advertising - many readers are suspicious of this - but you might consider buying Google AdWords. Try to think of unique keywords related to your book and don't compete with generic terms such as thriller, bioengineering, programming, or travel. Click on image to look at my own examples:

Useful resources for aspiring writers

Writing.com Online Community Lulu Writing Community
Google Directory Listing Yahoo Links for Creative Writing
Dictionary & Thesaurus Lookup Library Spot: Grammar and Style Guides
About Fiction Writing Publishing Central
Athena Press Publishing Services Writers Corner USA
The Editing Process (POWA) SFWA Worldbuilding Questions