Veteran business writer Carol Tice is the founder of MakeaLivingWriting.com and The Freelance Writer’s Den. She coauthored the book How They Started: How 25 Good Ideas Became Great Companies, and recently got her first solo book byline when Allworth Press published The Pocket Small Business Owner’s Guide to Starting Your Business on a Shoestring a few weeks ago (Carol’s book trailer is embedded below).
Earlier this month, Carol and I had a candid discussion about the state of the book industry, how she’s promoting the book, and more. What follows is an excerpt of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us how your Pocket book came about. Did they approach you or vice versa?
They approached me. Both of the traditional print books I’ve done I was recruited and I think that traditional publishers are increasingly looking at who is popular. They’re Googling writers. They’re going on LinkedIn and searching for writers and they’re looking around at people’s portfolios and what they’re doing online. I think in both cases the publishers thought I had an audience, mostly from my blog for Entrepreneur, not my own blog, but I think that was a big factor.
If you want to write a nonfiction book, I highly recommend making your audition online rather than writing a book proposal and shopping it around. I get the sense that Internet is increasingly driving what they even decide to put forward as book titles, what topics they even want to cover.
Was it challenging to make the transition from articles to a longer book?
I don’t think that it was. To me each book chapter is like an article. With How They Started, each chapter was the story of how one business started and that, to me, was like a feature magazine article. And then in The Pocket Small Business Owner’s Guide, each chapter is an aspect of your business. The way I conquer the projects is I get in this zone where it’s like, “this week, all we think about is how Twitter got started.” And that’s the only way I can do these because
I’m the sole supporter of a family of five, and so I had to keep posting for Forbes and writing for Alaska Airlines magazine and doing a million things.
Do you use outlines of each chapter? Or do you just know in your head what it’s going to cover?
I had to submit and have an outline approved for the Pocket Guide so we kicked it back and forth and added a couple chapters and then the order of the chapters started to shift as I went through it. When I got to each chapter then I would sit down and think “what are all the different things I need to say about market research?”
The big, big thing about writing a nonfiction book is you need to tell a lot of stories. Business books have to not be boring. We have a lot of information to impart but it has to be fun to read.
How involved have you been in the book marketing process?
I am the marketing of it and that was fairly clear from the beginning. If anyone retains illusions that if you get a traditional book deal, it means a big marketing burden will be lifted from your shoulders, let me end that fantasy now. Unless you are J.K. Rowling or James Patterson or something, some big phenom, no one is going to help you market the book.
I strongly recommend that you spend a hundred or two hundred bucks to build a book website if your publisher will not. In the first case the publisher did build one but they didn’t get it up in time for it to really be useful. It’s really on you to kick their rears and to make things happen like I had to do a battle with them to get the right to send 50 PDFs of it to people to read to get early reviews because they only barely understand the importance of that. We hesitate to do that, to get early copies floating around. They don’t like that because they think it suppresses sales. They don’t understand that you will make no sales without doing this.
Do you expect to earn royalties from this?
We’ll see. The advance was low, like most general business books will be. It was $1,500 and I’m glad I got them to pay me half of it upfront because they still haven’t paid me the back half and it comes out next week, so I told them pretty soon they can’t call it an advance. This is not money you want to count on paying any bills with. I view it as almost a symbolic payment.
If the advance was so low, what is the value to you of doing these books? Is it building your platform for other opportunities?
I certainly hope so. The direction of my freelance writing business now is that I’d like to ghost CEO’s business books. So they say that before you ghost a book you need to have written a book. I had a cobyline on How They Started and this was an opportunity to get a solo byline and I loved, loved, loved the topic and knew it would be fairly easy to write. I think that’s something really key to think about when you get these kinds of offers because they don’t pay immediately: is this something you would really enjoy writing? And does it take your career where you want it to go?
Any other advice for writers?
Blog on popular blogs. Just raise your visibility as high as you can get it everywhere online because you won’t believe who is watching. You’ll be surprised. For How They Started, it was a UK publisher who was huge fan of my Entrepreneur blog. You do not know who is reading you, who might really take your career to another level, so just post your best stuff. I always took the attitude from the beginning of my own blog…and even more so when I guest on big places like Copy Blogger…that I’d write it like I’m writing a $1/word magazine article. I think a lot of people tend to want to just slap something up there and I think that’s really a mistake. I think if you post really quality it will get you amazing leads that will move your freelance career forward.