Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Writing: the ultimate communications skill

Let’s see a show of hands. How many of you reading this blog want to become a published author at some point?

Of all the forms of communication that we use, I personally feel that the written word is one of the more important ones. In particular, writing allows you to mold, shape, and edit your thoughts. As a result, the person on the page can be a lot more worldly, interesting, and articulate than even we ourselves are in the present moment.

I also love writing because good books change lives. I can look back on several as turning points in my professional or personal life, and my own love of writing popular business and communications skills books dates back to an even greater love of reading and learning from them. When you become a writer yourself, I feel that you join a very important dialogue in society.

Today, I am no slouch as a non-fiction book author: eight nationally-published books released or coming soon, four book club selections, two books with peak Amazon.com sales ranks in the 2000s, and gross sales of about half a million dollars and counting. As a result of this, I am increasingly finding myself coaching and mentoring other budding writers nowadays.

So what are your chances of getting a nonfiction book published? Probably better than you think.

If you check out resources like Writers Market, you will find some truly daunting statistics – for example, many agents and publishers accept less than 5% of the authors who approach them.

Now, here is the good news. Probably half of the queries and proposals that get sent to publishers are truly awful. They are poorly written, do not fit the publisher’s list, or cannot thoughtfully explain why a few thousand people or more would actually buy their book. Still more are good proposals in areas where there is simply no market.

So if you have a good idea, aimed at the right publishing houses, that is well-written and fits the style and genre of other books in the field, double this 5% and then consider how many agents and publishers might want to see it. If you do the math, I would put your chances at a solid 50-50 or better.

Which brings me to my next point. Becoming a published author is a learned, procedural skill. Do you study the style and format of good books – and lousy ones – to help you develop your own voice? Do you do a competitive analysis of what books are similar to your own ideas, and why yours would be better? Do you think like an editor and consider how large a target audience your project could attract? Do you talk with other authors and study how the profession works? If you do these things, move to the head of the class!

Stay tuned in the near future for an exciting new website and resource center I am planning for people who want to become better – and publishable – non-fiction writers. In the meantime, keep learning and keep writing!

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