Saturday, 12 October 2013

How To Write a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts

Over the years, I've met an awful lot of people who have had thoughts about writing a book.  For most of them, it's just an idea rather than something they will ever do.  And this is sad in one respect because it's possible that one or two of them would produce something that's really worth reading.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a book published, particularly novels.  Mainstream publishers want novels that will fit into their genres, so anything that's a bit unusual and doesn't fit neatly is likely to be rejected, no matter how well written.  And, even if you're lucky enough to find a publisher, the chances are that a failure to promote the book once it's in print will result in very low sales.

I read yesterday that the average book sells under 250 copies per year, and less than 3000 over its lifetime.  That's certainly what happened to two of my books, which were published by Penguin.  Despite glowing reviews, the book was neither well distributed nor promoted.  I live on the outskirts of a town with a population of a quarter of a million people.  At the time my second book was published there were four or five large bookshops in the town.  I went round all of them - and found two copies in one shop and none in any of the others.  When it came to the third book, there wasn't a single copy in any of the shops.  Friends living in other parts of the country, who had read reviews and had tried to get a copy of the book, had also been unable to find it.  Looking at the list of all the books that Penguin published that month, I found that it was huge, which might have explained it.  But I was never able to figure out why a publisher would invest in a book and then fail to promote it.

With Is Acupuncture Right For You?  (originally entitled Acupuncture for Everyone), I was more fortunate.  Published first by Penguin, it sold very few copies (for the same reason as the other two) but it was then taken up by an American publisher and in the last 13 years has sold over 13,000 copies.  However, in case you're thinking that's made me rich, think again.  The standard royalty on a copy is six per cent on the selling price.  My literary agent then takes her commission.  My total income from the book, over thirteen years, is about £5000.

Fed up with the whole thing, I published my most recent book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights as a Kindle.  It's sold a few hundred copies but at least I get to keep most of the proceeds.  But how do some people manage to write books that become best-sellers?  I read quite a few novels and, to be honest, some of them are really badly written and have fairly awful plots (but I have fun writing criticisms in the margins!).  Certainly, a good percentage of these fall into popular genres (such as Da Vinci Code clones) but, even taken with a large dollop of good luck, that can't be the whole story.

Overall, I was becoming pretty disillusioned with the world of publishing and, although I've got a number of ideas for new books, had got to the stage of thinking that it really wasn't worth investing the time necessary to write them.  Until yesterday.  That was when someone told me about the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors.

Organised by Stephanie Hale - former Assistant Director of creative writing at Oxford University, former adviser to The Arts Council of England, and founder of Oxford Literary Consultancy - she's been through the writing mill herself.  After publishing two books that earned her peanuts, her third sold out within eight weeks and earned her over £1 million.  And now she's passionate about helping other writers.  Because, as she says, "I can't bear to see the waste of talent and effort."

Over the course of three days, twelve best-selling authors are going to be talking about what has helped them to be successful, sharing tips and techniques and 'know-how' - stuff that 97% of authors don't know about.  I read the details of the bootcamp with increasing enthusiasm and, when I got to the bottom was astounded to discover that, for a limited time, the ticket price has been reduced from £297 to just £37.  No wonder they're expecting to sell out quickly.

If you're in the UK and you're thinking of writing a book - or you've written one that you can't get published - I strongly recommend that you have a look at what this three day course is offering.  I've booked my ticket already!

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