Wondering how to get the most out of self-publishing a non-fiction book? There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to book publishing. New non-fiction authors may find themselves reading generalized publishing advice, often geared toward fiction authors publishing novels.
But non-fiction publishers have their own needs, especially when they’re publishing to build credibility as a professional in their field. Non-fiction authors should approach each step of publishing with these goals in mind. If a publisher can’t offer a plan geared specifically toward your goals, keep searching until you find one that will.
Building a brand
Whether non-fiction authors are working on a topic like history, self-help, or a professional niche like finance or medicine, they’re building their personal brand as an expert. They could be aiming to start a career as an author or to further build an existing business, or a career as a consultant, public speaker, doctor, or other professional. Fiction authors don’t need to worry about establishing themselves as an authority—sure, they’re building a brand as an author, but that brand is usually based entirely on their talent for storytelling. After all, some of history’s greatest fiction authors were famously reclusive.
Non-fiction readers, on the other hand, want to know why an author is qualified to tell them about a topic or to give them advice in an area of their lives. In turn, publishing a well-received book gives clients more reason to hire a public speaker, trust an expert, or depend on the author’s business. It gives you the ability to say you literally “wrote the book” on your area of expertise.
When publishing a book with these goals, there’s that much more to consider as you move forward.
Publishing like a professional
Fiction authors have plenty of reasons to publish a book with professional design and editing. Potential readers won’t bother opening a book with a poorly designed cover. Poor editing or interior design can make it difficult, and less enjoyable, to read a book. Non-fiction authors share those needs, and on top of that, they must consider how the quality of their book could affect their professional standing. In this “book-as-business-card” approach, the stakes are even higher for the quality of your final product.
Non-fiction authors can’t cut corners on editing, design, or perhaps most of all, fact-checking (more on this later). Their books need to look professional, be well-written, and accurate. How can authors ensure quality throughout the publishing process?
Choosing a publisher
On one end of the spectrum, traditional publishers are highly selective about offering publishing deals for non-fiction books and often do so only for those with the widest possible market appeal. They also take most of your royalties in the long-run, call the shots on how to market a book, and normally won’t offer any help for authors to market their own personal brand.
On the other end of the spectrum is conventional self-publishing, where there’s no inherent assurance that you’ll get feedback, publish a quality book, have marketing help, or get taken seriously. You’ll also be competing with a vast number of other books of similar DIY quality.
Today, there’s an increasingly rich middle ground of hybrid publishers that bring a professional approach to the structure of self-publishing. By investing in their own book, authors can enjoy all the benefits of self-publishing while getting the same expert input they’d gain from a traditional publisher. But here too, authors need to be careful.
Lurking within the wide selection of hybrid publishers are misleading and sometimes deceptive vanity presses. The term is a holdover from a time when there were few alternatives for authors to get a book in print, short of a traditional publishing deal. Today, the term often refers to services in which authors pay to have their book printed, and get little in the way of other support or input. Unlike reputable hybrid publishers, they won’t provide feedback to improve your book, editing and design help will be minimal, and they simply won’t be invested in helping you publish the best book possible.
To make matters worse, today’s vanity presses often use misleading and high-pressure sales tactics to compete, and will generally charge the same as a quality hybrid publisher, for much less value. It won’t always be obvious that you’re dealing with one until it’s too late. So how do you spot a vanity press?
Spotting a vanity press
At Izzard, we hear a lot of feedback from authors that have dealt directly with these kinds of publishers. We’ve put together some pointers to help you avoid vanity presses. First of all, we highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Author’s Watchdog ranking list. You’ll see which companies come recommended and vetted, and which have racked up a record of complaints from authors.
But when speaking with a company, there are some signs to watch for as well. Sales tactics at vanity presses are often high-pressure, and you may be told that you need to sign up on the spot or risk the price going up. They’ll often want some form of payment before even discussing a publishing plan in any detail. It’s surprising how often we hear that representatives are rude or abrasive, putting authors on the spot and hoping they’ll commit. By the time they’re disappointed by what these services actually provide, they’ve already paid money they can’t get back.
Top collaborative publishers will allow authors to hand-pick a team of experienced professionals like designers and editors, and even legitimate hybrid publishers will provide credentials to show authors they’re working with talented professionals. Vanity presses, on the other hand, won’t reveal much about who will work on your book. They won’t give you feedback to improve your book. They’re praying on authors that will feel lucky just to get a book printed, who might not realize they can (and should) be selective about who’s working on their book. For non-fiction authors, and especially for professionals, these mistakes can defeat the whole purpose of publishing a book.
Make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for, and pay only when things get done. Establish whether a company acknowledges that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to book publishing. Will the plan and team suit your specific goals? Will the company provide ongoing support, or will they simply take your money, print your book, and be done with it?
Non-fiction authors should find a publisher that will personalize a publishing plan, help build their credibility, and stay invested in books for the long-haul.
Like other authors, non-fiction authors need to take care in editing, designing, and marketing a book. But there’s an additional, high-stakes priority when self-publishing a non-fiction book. Everything that’s said needs to be verified. Failing to ensure accuracy could mean a book will hurt your credibility more than it will help it. There have been plenty of high-profile examples of this in recent years.
Many authors might be surprised to learn that the financial and legal responsibility for fact-checking falls on the author, even in traditional publishing. So not only is there a risk to your success and reputation, but potentially a legal risk as well. This is especially sensitive when quoting, or making claims about, individuals.
There are two approaches here, and skipping fact-checking is not an option. Authors can hire a professional fact-checker, or he/she can fact-check their own work, taking a step back after writing and then coming back and double-checking each claim with your sources. Taking this task on yourself could save you money, but it can be tough to take a fresh look at your own work, and detail-heavy books that make specific claims about individuals would be best served by hiring a professional fact-checker.
An important step for any author, marketing takes on added importance when self-publishing a non-fiction book. For professionals, marketing helps to boost not only book sales but also the reputational gains that can come from publishing a book. In this case, marketing goals like media appearances become an end in and of themselves. Reviews and media appearances offer their own benefits on top of drawing readers. Reaching out to libraries, bookstores, and aiming for as much mainstream success as possible, will make your book that much more effective as a “business card.” You’re not just marketing a single book here, you’re making a long-term investment in marketing your business and personal brand. Find a publisher that can offer a plan with these goals in mind.
Self-publishing a non-fiction book
Throughout any publishing process, the key is to keep your eye on the prize. When self-publishing a non-fiction book, that prize is often a long-term boost to your credibility, whether for future publishing projects or for the rest of your career. Make sure your approach to publishing and promotion keeps you on track to accomplish these goals. Don’t settle for a publisher that won’t personalize a publishing plan for your needs. And perhaps most of all, don’t forget to fact check!