Two Devastating Truths for Aspiring Best-Selling Authors

Two Devastating Truths for Aspiring Best-Selling Authors

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Jill Tietjen, president and CEO of Technically Speaking, Inc., who shared her advice for aspiring authors. As an author of nine books and an inductee into the Colorado Author’s Hall of Fame, she had a lot tell me and my readers about what it is really like to be a writer.

Jacquelyn Adams (JA): Jill, what would you say to all of those hopeful dreamers who wonder, “Will my book sell millions of copies and be a New York Times bestseller?”

Jill Tietjen (JT): In all likelihood, the answer is no. Less than 1% of all books sell more than 1,000 copies. It takes a great book, a tremendous amount of marketing, and mass market appeal to sell millions of copies and become a New York Times bestseller.

JA: Yikes! Then how much money should an author expect to make per book?

JT: Often, instead of making money, it will cost you money to publish a book.

JA: Then why write a book?

JT: As a nonfiction writer, I write because I am passionate about my topic. Another reason might be that the author has learned something significant and wants to share it with others. Or because an idea keeps coming into their head and they don’t think they will get any peace until they write it down. There are myriad reasons, and your reason doesn’t have to be the same as anyone else’s.

I have been told by people who write fiction that characters and/or plots start forming in their heads. The book begs to be written and the plot line and characters become an integral part of their lives.

JA: So, for all of our readers who haven’t become completely disenchanted, what are the steps to take for writing a book?

JT: After you have decided on non-fiction or fiction and the genre, the next step is the most important part: START. Start writing. Start researching. Start making notes. Start an outline. But whatever you do, START.

Determine if self-publishing is the way for you to go or if you will want a traditional publisher and a book agent. With a book agent or traditional publisher, you will need to write a book proposal. There are many good books on how to write a proposal, or you could find guides online. If you go this route, the publisher will handle the distribution. If you self-publish, you will be responsible for handling, or finding someone to handle the distribution.

Regardless of the mode of publishing that you choose, you need to know that you will be marketing, marketing, and marketing your book.  I have heard, and I believe that, as much work as writing the book is, that is only 5% of the work effort. Ninety-five percent of the effort is in marketing. Decisions here include whether or not to hire a publicist, how to get your book reviewed, and how to get in and on local and national print media, radio, and television and online.

JA: That sounds like quite the process. How do you have the time to write a book and all that it entails?

JT: Just like everything else in life, writing a book has to be a priority for you to get it done. If you want to do something, you figure out how to make time for it. One way to do this is to either set aside an amount of time per day, or hold yourself accountable to writing a specific amount of words per week.

If you don’t have time now, get a notebook, and when an idea or thought or chapter comes to you, write it down or type it into your electronic device (using your notes section on your phone is a great way to do this as you’ll always have it with you). Be sure to keep all of the notes together so that you can find them when you are ready to move forward with your book project.

JA: Alright. Last question, are there any habits you use as a writer to be more productive in your work?

JT: The most important habit is to be committed, unwavering. You have to do what needs to be done. As I said before, starting is the most difficult part.  And, don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first time. It won’t be. Getting the first draft done is hard. It is always easier to edit a first draft (and, trust me, you will edit it many times — and if you don’t, others will!).

So, to all my stouthearted readers who made it past our depressing beginning, now is actually a great time to take Jill’s advice and put in the work — because #quarantinelife. Not to be all Pollyanna Sunshine, but this can be an opportunity to reassess our priorities and make time for things we have put off. Even if we simply repurpose the time we would normally spend commuting, it would allow for 30 minutes to two hours of writing each day. It’s time to put down the remote and pick up a pen (or laptop). You’ve got this.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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