This is the replay of the Facebook Live I did on Thurs 31 May 2018 for the launch of How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words. I answer questions from a live audience about how to write, publish and market non-fiction. It’s very jolly – there may have been a G&T involved 🙂
You can listen, or watch the video here on YouTube, or read the notes below. There are timestamps if you want to jump to specific questions.
Want to write non-fiction and turn your knowledge into words?
Want a step-by-step guide through the mindset, business aspects, writing and editing, publishing and product creation, as well as marketing a non-fiction book?
Check out How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words, out now in ebook, print, large print, workbook, and coming soon in audio format.
I also have a multi-media course, How to Write a Non-Fiction Book, which expands on the material. You can get US$50 off by using coupon code: LAUNCH, valid until 30 June 2018.
[Because of the intro in the audio, please add 1 min 30 secs to the timestamps below.]
02:30 Organizing in advance – setting up pre-orders once the draft has gone to the proofreader – cover design here
06:30 How to get the personal touch into a book when it’s on a technical subject
10:39 On workbooks and healthy print sales
11:20 On using pen names to teach the algorithms about readers for different genres
12:27 Tools for organizing yourself including Google calendar and iPhone (and later I mention Things App)
14:25 On non-fiction ideas that warrant writing and imposter syndrome
17:00 Using story principles in non-fiction to keep readers turning the page
18:48 Walking the edge of fear to bring writing alive.
19:21 Should writers read others’ book on non-fiction subjects?
20:50 The principles of writing non-fiction
22:38 On the content in the How To Write Non-Fiction multi-media course
23:44 Choosing a subject to write about and what we reveal about ourselves
24:56 Can you use a pen name for non-fiction?
27:21 Writing about the things we want to instill in ourselves
28:26 Can you only publish if you’re an “expert”?
29:27 Writing memoir and using a theme and including personal transformation
31:25 Checking sales and taking a long-term view of your author business
33:41 How to write a book involving someone you know without having them recognize themselves.
36:02 How do you build a platform and develop authority in your niche?
39:15 Formatting for non-fiction in ebook, print and workbooks
40:26 Specifics about content for a workbook
41:13 Organizing your writing using tools like Scrivener
44:02 What is a suitable length for a non-fiction book?
47:57 Differences between formatting for fiction and non-fiction
50:08 How do you validate an idea for a book?
51:24 Pricing for non-fiction books and perception of value.
52:25 Co-writing a book with a family member
53:40 How many books sold is a success?
54:00 On box sets for non-fiction
55:37 Do you tailor your books for your audience?
56:34 The beginnings of Joanna’s author journey and mistakes made / lessons learned.
57:50 It IS possible to write and publish your book and serve your community.
Check out How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words, out now in ebook, print, large print, workbook, and coming soon in audio format.
Transcript of the Q&A session
Hello, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I am doing an ask-me-anything for the launch of my new book, How to Write Non-Fiction, which is out now in ebook, print, coming soon in audiobook.
I'm answering your questions on writing, self-publishing, book marketing, or making a living with your writing.
I'm going to start by talking a bit about the book launch because this will be relevant to you however you publish, whatever genre, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. I've been writing and launching books now for a number of years and this is what I've done to launch, How to Launch Non-Fiction. And I thought that might be a good way to start.
Launching a Book
I had two main points with launching a book at this point in my career and I hope it will help you, too. The first one is organizing everything in advance. Now, I think as indies, we sometimes get this idea that we finish a book, get it edited obviously, and then upload it and it's all done.
But what I've done with this launch is try and get everything much more organized and try and make it so that I have a lot of stuff going on at the same time.
I've done the ebook. And while I got the print book done and then I got a large print done and also a workbook edition which I definitely think if you write non-fiction, doing a workbook edition is a great idea.
In terms of what I organized in advance, I had the ebook on pre-order and pre-orders I know are a little bit pros and cons for indies in terms of ranking.
But this is my second big point, is this a long-term project. And even though I'm doing this AMA right now, day of launch and everything, I haven't even checked my ranking yet.
I set up the pre-orders and I also scheduled most of my marketing in advance.
- I scheduled my Facebook advertising
- I scheduled my Book Pub ads
- I recorded a video on YouTube, which I scheduled.
- I scheduled my email blast.
I scheduled loads stuff and so I had time to get it all right because you just don't know what's going to happen on the day of launch.
If I was starting out, I would have organized guest posts and podcasts. But as I have my own blog and my own podcast, I just put blog post up, I sent an email, and I've been talking about it on the podcast for a while now.
Content marketing remains the cornerstone of my non-fiction marketing.
This is an evergreen book. It should not need updating. There is some stuff on marketing but I'm hoping that that will stand the test of time. So that's a bit of what I'm doing on the launch and, of course, you can ask more questions.
I'm here for you this evening so you can just start ask me anything. Right, I'm going to start with Julie's question.
Q: Julie writes about school funding, so she asks, “I'm really interested in how to get the personal touch into your book when it's on a technical subject. I'm finding it quite difficult.”
A: This is a great question. A few months ago, I started writing in February after I wrote my last script, and then I started writing. I know people want this. They've been asking for it for ages.
Then I got really bored. I got bored with my own book and I just got to the point of thinking, “Do we really need another book on writing non-fiction?” I was tired and I was reading quite a lot of other people's books.
So I asked myself, “How do I make this personal? This is a how-to book, as many might know, but how do I bring this alive?” And that's the question.
I don't want to see anymore non-story-based, non-fiction books. Like let's start with the prescriptive how to, and that was when I went back to my journals again. I have a lot of journals and I started going through my journals, trying to figure out what has changed my life in terms of non-fiction.
What are the moments in my life where I've read a book and things have changed? There have been quite a few. In the book, I share some personal moments.
Julie, this is the answer to your question. You need to look at our life and then put your own stories into the book. And this is true whether or not it's a memoir.
Of course, if it's memoir it's going to be your story. Even things like The Healthy Writer that I co-wrote with Dr. Euan Lawson, it was my personal chapter on dealing with sugar addiction and how I wrote a letter to sugar. That chapter has had more questions than a lot of the medical studies stuff.
We can touch other people with our personal stories if we go to the heart and we try and tap into emotion. So what you have to think about, Julie and everybody listening.
Why do you care about this topic so much that you want to write a book on it? Yes, it might add some money into your income streams but it has to be more than that. There has to be heart in it. And that's why in How to Write Non-Fiction, I spend the whole of the first part of the book talking about this, really, about how you have to go deep.
You have to feel nervous like I feel nervous about this book release, more nervous than I felt about The Healthy Writer, because I feel like my heart is on the page and I want it to help people.
Writing emotion and tapping into your emotion and other people's emotion is so important. Okay, so, oh, thanks.
Q: Kate says, “Is your new book geared for non-fiction writers of all topics or more for non-fiction about writing?”
Oh, Kate, it's definitely not about writing a book about writing. It's about writing a non-fiction book on any topic.
Career Change, the first book I wrote back in 2008 about how, if you really hate your job, how do you work out what you want to do with your life. And that's the model for my non-fiction books, that transformation.
And that's a really important point too. How do you want the arc of the reader to go? What do you want to change in their life?
Absolutely, the book is for non-fiction on any topic. (I would say it's not for academic textbooks, definitely not. There are very clear ways that you have to write textbooks.)
Q: Linda says, “I love workbooks.”
I love workbooks, too. It's amazing how many of them sell and many of you know I've had a bit of a conversion experience around print and with all the news recently about KDP and KU, and things like that.
I think having healthy print sales are actually brilliant because they sell on so many platforms around the world, especially if you use IngramSpark to go wide. Amazing how those print sales really grow when you add on multiple streams of income.
Q: Kelly Lee says, “Do you use a pen name for non-fiction? First time I've seen this.”
One of the main reasons I use multiple names is to segregate my brand on Amazon and the other stores so that the algorithms can learn the genre that my readers like. So many of you will read my non-fiction but you're not interested in my thrillers or my dark fantasy.
There are some authors who say it's not a problem but I think with big data and the increase in the way algorithms are driving sales, that being able to clearly segregate also boughts, works very well.
And a little tip there, if you're doing Amazon ads and you have very clear also boughts, the automatic Amazon ads work quite well. Whereas, they don't really work for my fiction because I write crime, dark fantasy, action adventure, a bit of horror, so that's a bit mixed.
Q: Andy says, “Do you have a particular app or software to help you schedule and multi-task?”
I have an iPhone. I use the Google Calendar. I'm just a Google Calendar freak these days. I schedule all kinds of things. Today I had the time things would go out and so I could monitor those over time. I have personal stuff; I do actually send my husband, Jonathan, invites to dinner with my parents or different things like that.
I do schedule a lot and I think that's the secret to getting things done. However, I don't think I multi-task, as such. I will schedule and do a single task in that period.
I've been really focused on this book over the last couple of months and I haven't written any fiction. I've been plotting my time, not actually plotting the book.
But I'm off to Spain next week, to Madrid to finish the research on the next ARKANE novel. So I've planned that time in my diary so that I would have that after this finished.
Q: Harley says, “As a fiction author, I spend my time developing characters and plots. I've considered writing non-fiction but struggle with the idea of putting a story on the page in a non-fictional way, sifting through my real-life stuff. Perhaps this boils down to a shift in mindset but I'm struggling to come up with a non-fiction idea that warrants writing.”
There's a good point right there; a non-fiction idea that warrants writing. That's hilarious because with writing fiction, why do we feel that writing non-fiction or fiction warrants writing? They serve different purposes.
This is the, “There are too many books in the world, why should I write another one?” argument.
The reason we should write books is because we have something to express, something to share. We're going to entertain people. We're going to educate people. We're going to inspire people.
In terms of going off on a non-fiction tangent about something that will end up adding no value to the world, I think that's so great, Harley, because I totally felt this way. And again, I address this right at the beginning of the book.
When I did a survey on How to Write Non-fiction, a few months back, this was one of the top things.
People worried: “I'm an impostor, I'm not an expert. There are too many books on this.”
Everything we write can add value to the world even if it's helping us first. Even if it helps nobody else, writing down our feelings and whatever we wanna share helps us. So that is one reason to do it if there's things that are burning on your heart.
The second thing is that as a professional author and wanting to add multiple streams of income, writing non-fiction in your niche and it could relate to your niche. For example, I'm definitely going to write some dark books.
I've got ideas for non-fiction I want to write under JF Penn that will lead people into my fiction. So that's probably what I will do.
In fact, “The Shadow” book which I've talked about a lot, the writing from the dark side that I will be doing at some point. That book, I may even publish that under J.F. Penn. I'm not sure yet but we'll see how that goes.
Q: Liz says, “How do you use story principles in non-fiction to keep readers turning the page?”
One is character. So this is really important. This comes back to what I said earlier around what Julie's thing was, which is you are the character in your non-fiction book.
In a novel, you would say, “This character has this character arc.”
In a non-fiction book, you are showing your character through your author's voice, through the way you speak. And I hope those of you who've got the book or any of my non-fiction books, know that this is how I write as well as this is how I talk. There's no screen or anything in between us when I write my non-fiction.
And secondly, the reader as character following an arc. So, obviously, “How to Write Non-Fiction” is about taking you from someone who hasn't written a non-fiction book or maybe has and it hasn't been that successful, to someone who has finished a non-fiction book.
That is the arc of the reader journey. Also showing not telling.
In the book, I show a few stories, one particular one in Bali. And instead of saying, “I went to Bali and this happened,” I actually say, “Bali, 2008,” and then I actually write it as if it was a scene in a novel although it was true.
So bringing stuff alive is the way forwards.
Linda says, “OMG, me too. I'm getting bored with my own non-fiction.”
When you start to feel like that, then the reader is going to be bored. So you have to do something to bring it alive.
I think it's that edge of fear that will bring it alive. Now that might be a little scary but there's a quote Neil Gaiman in the book and it's something like when you feel that you're walking around in the middle of the road naked with your writing, that's when you've got it right.
When you're scared to put it out there because you've shared your soul, that's the way forward. So if you're bored, scare yourself.
Q: Melanie asks, “I'm wondering whether I should read or research other people's books first or will I lose my author voice? Should I read them after?”
Great question. I get emails about this almost every day. And, again, this is true whether you write fiction or non-fiction.
Personally, this is an opinion, but I think you should read as much as you can in the genre you're writing. Just before I was having a bit of a rest and I'm reading a horror novel by Graham Masterton. I love reading dark books and it really informs my fiction.
And for non-fiction, I absolutely believe you should go deep in your genre because how else are you going to write something different? How are you going to find your voice and find something original unless you look at what's already there?
Otherwise, you put the book out and then go, “Oh, crap, someone's already written that.” I think you should definitely read as much as possible in every genre and thus we are a self-sustaining industry which is very cool. This is why I think everyone in the world should be writing books all the time because well then, we'll buy more and it'll just grow and grow.
I definitely think you should be reading other people's books, take notes, and also if you'll see with all my non-fiction books, I quote authors all the time and I have a bibliography. And I'm always referring people to other people's books and that's the way to do it.
Q: Andrew asks “What aspects of non-fiction do you cover? Memoir, travel writing? Do you focus on the craft of writing?”
The point is with the book, the principles of writing non-fiction relates to all genres in my opinion except for the academic stuff. For example, one chapter is on truth, and how true is non-fiction?
And I think this is a fascination question because if you're writing memoir, then shouldn't it be the truth of your life? But is there any actual truth? Or if you're writing a book about religion or if you're writing a book about politics, what is “the truth” anyway?
Or if you're writing a history book about a medieval saint, how do you know some of that is truth?
The book is relevant for whatever genre you're writing within the non-fiction space or if you're thinking of writing a book.
Q: When will you release an audiobook?
I have uploaded the book to ACX but it takes a while to come through. So that's one thing you can't control, unfortunately. Hopefully it will be in the next week or two.
Q: George asks, “Does the multimedia course include things that are not in the book?”
The multimedia course, I take the chapters of the book and then I do a presentation around each chapter.
It's not an audiobook version, it's a video course like this with slides and some extras. But the main thing is that I'm talking like this.
Now, inevitably when I'm presenting slides, I actually end up extemporizing on things. So you're never going to get exactly what's in the book. You're going to get extra stuff and me talking about bits and bobs as I go through, and personal experiences, and stuff that.
I'm happy to share within that course space. Definitely does include things that are not in the book. And, of course, the multimedia course has a 30-day money back guarantee so you're welcome to try it out.
Q: Anthony says, “How much do you come into non-fiction from having a pre-defined sense of what you want to write versus using the blog and the podcast to see what the audience responds to?”
With this book I've been working backwards in my journey. And one of the first non-fiction books I wrote for writers was How to Market a Book, mainly because I was figuring it out for myself.
Business for Authors, for example, that's one of the books that I wrote when I just moved into full-time business as an author.
I tend to write books when I want to learn about things when I want to embed my knowledge. And with the non-fiction, it was something I've been thinking about for a long time, and I felt just ready.
The Healthy Writer probably released quite a lot of things for me because I've definitely started to share a lot more personal stuff. Maybe it just takes us a long time to find our groove but there was some things I was ready to talk about with the non-fiction book that I haven't really talked about before.
The Successful Author Mindset came from a blog post. I wrote a blog post on the roller coaster of being an author. “I love writing, it's the best thing in the world. It's just amazing,” to, “I hate writing. It's so tiring. I'll never make any money.” It's just that kind of roller coaster that we have.
That was a blog post and it got so many shares and it got so many comments that I ended up writing the Mindset book because of that blog post. So hopefully that answers that question.
Q: Kelly says, “Sorry, I should have been more clear. Can you use a pen name for non-fiction?”
Yes, absolutely. You can use a pen name whenever you like. Just be wary of using too many like me. It's a bit of a pain to do email lists, to do websites. And you don't have to do all of that but it can definitely help with your branding and everything.
When you do a pen name, just to be clear, when you self-publish, you can still have one account, so one bank account where your money goes, but you can add different author names.
You don't need different accounts, you also don't need different legal companies if you're running one. Doing different author names is absolutely cool.
I actually personally don't write too many J.F. Penn a year. I think I only do usually one or two J.F. Penn books a year. So the next book will be an ARKANE novel and then we will see. It will probably be the next one in the Map of Shadows series.
The next Penny Appleton is coming probably in August actually. So that will be fun. And we've got a Christmas wedding book coming which is gonna be brilliant at Christmas. I still don't really understand romance but the Christmas wedding idea I think is just gonna be fun.
Q: David says, “Definitely have learned to write about the thing that I most want to instill in myself.”
That's totally true. I think we almost write non-fiction to get there ourselves and to figure out what we think about things.”
That's certainly this Shadow book that may well take years to write is because I'm trying to work out myself. How does this happy, positive woman have a shadow side?
Q: Lisa asks, “Isn't it easier to self-publish if you're not an expert? It seems to me that traditional publishers want only experts.”
I do question the word expert in the book because what is an expert anyway? Do you have to have 10 PhDs, do you have to have 50 years experience? If you write a book about raising children and you've only had one child, is that enough? Do you need to have had five children?
I think the word expert is difficult. And potentially in this political environment, it is a hot potato, the word expert.
But if you write a book and you research something that you're interested in, that you care about, then the book will help make you an expert. Obviously don't write a medical book if you're not a doctor. Be sensible, but obviously, none of you are going to do that.
Q: Crystal asks, “How do I best write a memoir? I feel like publishers aren't interested in them anymore.”
I think with memoir you have to come up with a theme. I've thought about writing a travel memoir. I've got lots of notes on this, another one of my books in progress. But basically, I've traveled a lot in the world and I've written novels and things about my travels.
There have been places in the world where I've had particularly spiritual experiences and just felt like that place has something about it, where the veil is thin as I say in my novels, and I want to write that as a memoir.
Now, that's a theme or a thread that goes through my life. I think the memoirs that are kind of boring are the ones that are almost like biographies. So they are, this happened then this happened, then this happened.
Whereas, a memoir that's transformational, if you read something like Wild, by Cheryl Strayed or Eat, Pray, Love, which I write about in, How to Write Non-Fiction. These are about transformations.
I think the key with memoir as well as the rest of non-fiction is personal transformation and to pick out the things that feed into that.
And to be honest, I think all of this, the non-fiction is about curation. It's about taking aspects of your research, your life, and curating them into your effective book that help the reader.
Q: Andrew says, “When you were starting out, did you find yourself getting too focused on checking your book sales and the income numbers? How have you dealt with this?”
When I started out, when I self-published in 2007, 2008, there was no Kindle, let alone the international Kindle which came later. So when I self-published originally, it was print books in my garage and then eventually I was able to self-publish through Smashwords, and then Kindle opened up to the world.
And then there were hardly any sales on anyway because nobody knew about it. So, when I started out sales and ranking was very, very different. There was nothing like the kind of hype that there is now and there were not the tools that we have now and there were not the number of authors.
Indie publishing had a massive stigma when I started. So why I think I've always been able to not really look at that is because I've always had a long-term view.
And that goes back to what I was saying right at the beginning of this session which is if you have a long-term view of your author business, then the individual launch day like today, it's wonderful that the book is ranking because frankly, it would be embarrassing since I wrote a book on how to market a book, it would be embarrassing if I couldn't hit some rankings.
But my point is this book is, I'm intending to sell this for many, many years and the course for many, many years. So I've never really had much of a short-term focus.
Now I have at different times. So when a number of us decided to hit the New York Times and then again when I hit the USA Today on my own a couple of years ago, that was I am deciding to hit this goal. I am going to do this goal and then I will forget about it again.
I think it's very much about deciding what's important to you, what your longer term goals are, and then fitting things around that.
Q: Deborah asks, “What if you want to share a story about a person but you don't want that person to know it is them?”
This is one of the top questions that I get asked almost every day. And it's in the book near the top because it's so common. This can be a legal question, and is really important.
You have a couple of choices.
One, and I quote from Mary Karr who has a brilliant book, The Art of Memoir, and she says something like, “If you want revenge, get a lawyer.” Do not use your writing as any kind of revenge.
But if you have a story about a person and you want to hide it, you do have to get rid of any distinguishing things and that can be very difficult. And this is why I have the chapter on truth because how can you write non-fiction and make it true but still make it up.
That's often called narrative non-fiction which is that side of memoir. So what you need to basically do is fictionalize it in some way and then essentially hide them.
So either don't use them entirely or hide them in some way and really make sure that they can't recognize themselves. So changing their physical appearance, changing their gender can be a smart one. Changing where they live, changing whatever that makes it still your truth but doesn't blow up your family situation. Unless you want to blow up your family situation, which is what Mary Karr talks about in “The Art of Memoir.”
Q: Besides writing a book, what are some other ways to build authority and a non-fiction platform in your niche?
Great question. And my love, love, love is for content marketing. Now, hopefully, you've noticed this because of the podcast which is up to like 370 episodes now. I still believe in blogging. It's still the best SEO in your market.
If you do a podcast, use a transcript. And I talk a lot about transcripts and dictations, and things in the book. I kid you not, the transcripts on the Creative Penn bring traffic to the site every day.
By having keywords around your niche in non-fiction, you can develop an authority website. You can have a YouTube channel.
I have a YouTube channel but again, everything goes on the blog with a transcript so that I embed the video and I still have the article.
If you think about SEO, search engine optimization, what's become fascinating to me about my business is that since 2015 SEO and organic search have dominated. I don't pay for traffic to the Creative Penn unless I have a short-term launch like this or a webinar.
The traffic, which is now over half a million unique hits a month, is mostly organic search; it's 99.99 organic search. So that's pretty amazing and that comes from years of posting content. The way of developing authority is to choose your niche and then to write about it, podcast, video, whatever you like to do, and you could do Facebook Live.
In fact, if you do Facebook Live like this, I'm going to take this video, put it on YouTube, do a blog post with show notes. And maybe even put this audio on the podcast, so I'll be using this content in multiple ways.
And this is what I'm also hoping to do with my fiction platform over time, is basically start writing, start developing authority around the topics I write about.
Q: Joe says, “Do you do book tours? Please say yes.”
No, I don't. This introvert struggles with just doing Facebook Live. Book tours are a nightmare. I am speaking a couple of times this year now in Philadelphia for the BookBaby Conference because I want to go to Washington, D.C. and also the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, those who like body parts will enjoy. And also one at NINC, Novelists, Inc. in Florida, so that should be fun, too.
Q: Karen asks, “Have you used IngramSpark for your print and did you do the layout with Vellum?”
I actually use a wonderful formatter, the same wonderful designer, Jane Dixon Smith, JD Smith Design who does my coves for all my books now. She also does my interior formatting.
Non-fiction formatting is actually a really big deal. It is much more in-depth than fiction formatting. So I do my own formats really for fiction. I do my own ebook formatting on Vellum and there is a Vellum tutorial, if you're interested. If you go to thecreativepenn.com/formatting you'll find a video tutorial on Vellum which is fantastic. But I use Jane to do all my print design, interior design, and she did also the companion workbook and also the large print edition.
I do use IngramSpark, but I don't use Vellum for print formatting.
Q: Linda said, “Do you like to add more content in the workbook version? Is it simply providing writing space?”
For the mindset book, I left the content in and added questions. For How to Write Non-Fiction the workbook edition hasn't got the content, it's just got the questions and some sort of introductory comments.
Q: Annie Lynn says, “Over the last couple of years, I probably wrote over 250,000 words but I don't know how to organize it. I study everything but it's not clicking.”
If you have 250,000 words in writing and actually this question applies to any kind of organization and that is something I definitely cover. If you are researching a non-fiction book, you need a way to collate your research.
I use a Scrivener. Scrivener is my organization tool for both fiction and non-fiction, and I also use it for writing in. So when I come up with an idea, like the shadow book which has been a Scrivener project now for a while, I just dump ideas, research, links, one-liners, quotes.
I just dump all of that into a Scrivener project. I also use Evernote as a place to save URLs, links when I'm finding them when I'm on the internet. I save links that way. I also use Things app as a to-do app. So if there's something I want to follow up, I will look on there.
But basically, I use Scrivener. That is how I organize.
I'm in Madrid next week doing, looking at and going to Toledo which will link into New Orleans and San Francisco. I shall not tell you how, it will be a surprise. I am going to find that out and then I will add my research for Madrid and Toledo into the Scrivener document.
And then I will split the pane and I'll write the chapter, I'll write notes into the document for the actual chapter while still viewing the research.
I also take a lot of pictures. And then when I write descriptions of buildings and stuff I'll look at my pictures.
We haven't really talked about money yet. But a whole section on the business side and positioning your book in the market and that has a lot of space for answering the questions.
Q: Jim asks, “What is a suitable length for a non-fiction book?”
The answer is, whatever it will be. But that's a bad answer.
You need to decide what your work is. And this is where I talk a lot about speed and quality. The word quality is just a classic one in the publishing world and the indie space to be fair. I thought I was going to write a short book.
I thought I was going to do something that was quick and simple and would serve my audience, you guys, but would be prescriptive. And then what happened is it turned into something a lot more, and that will happen.
Successful Self-Publishing is a very short ebook. It's 20,000 words. It is useful and it's a free ebook. The point of me writing that was because every day I get questions which are, “How do I self-publish a book?” And I'm like, “Well, you could read my blog or you could get this free ebook on any platform.” So it was really so I could answer a lot of repetitive questions with a book.
Amazingly, it sells in print. I didn't think it would but it does. But that book is very short, 20,000, 25,000 words, useful to the customer and it makes some money.
S.J. Scott writes short, useful books and writes lots of them and sells them for $2.99 U.S. and Steve makes a very good income. So you can definitely write short, useful books in a niche and you can do fine. Maybe you're a speaker or maybe you want to go deeper into it, and then the book will be longer.
And then a book like, How To Make a Living With Your Writing, that is again another short book. It didn't take me very long to write. And hilariously, that's the book that makes the most money in my non-fiction space.
So it's completely up to you. And similarly with fiction, it will depend on what you want to write: a novella, short book, or a longer book, and it also will depend on your genre.
Q: Dave asks, “What are the differences between formatting for fiction and non-fiction?”
If you look at a novel, it's just chapters of plain text with chapter one, plain text, chapter two, plain text. There might be some ornamental breaks between scenes but that's it.
Whereas non-fiction, you're going to be using a lot of sub-headings, that's really important. So sub-headings, quotes, maybe tables, bullet points, all of that type of thing.
If you're writing something that has tables or anything more technical, the print version will have those. And this is actually a really good point that I definitely want to mention. For non-fiction, if you have images, tables, anything that might inflate the file size, that potentially will impact your delivery charges on Amazon which will cut into your royalties. So definitely watch that. And I don't think you need images in your non-fiction ebooks.
And this is another good point. You will redo the content of your book per format. So, I do the ebook first, then I do the print book.
For the print book, I take out all the hyperlinks obviously and turn them into easily typeable links. So if you have the print book in there will be thecreativepenn.com/vellum for example. That's my affiliate link to Vellum software.
Instead of using the really long affiliate link, I use the plugin Pretty Links to create easy URLs.
Then for the audiobook, I remove things like lots of bullet points, difficult to read aloud. Again, too many URLs sound weird in an audiobook.
There are some things like the word ‘read' that you could change to ‘listen'. You will adjust your content depending on the format that you're producing.
Q: John asks, “How did you validate that there would be a readership and course attendees for this? Did you use surveys?”
Yes, I did a survey, but I knew that my audience would be interested in a book on non-fiction. It's something that I get asked about a lot.
If you have an audience already you can ask them. I did start doing the book before I did the survey. And then when I got bored with it I decided to ask the audience what I should do.
That's how I came up with different chapters and things like the truth chapter. I didn't really think about that and then it became an interesting point. So, if you don't have a readership already, the best thing to do is to research on Amazon or whichever store you're interested in selling on.
And also look at keywords, look at blogs, popular blogs in the niche, look at podcasts, look at what's doing well and think about why is that doing well and how could you tap into that and make sure it overlaps with your interest.
Q: Jules says, “Wondering about pricing for non-fiction. Some of them seem amazing value but also it's not charging much. Is there a perception of value which might mean prices could be higher?”
Great question and that relates to the earlier point around length. What you will find is that the shorter books are cheaper. If you write like my 25,000-word books, they are cheaper.
How to Write Non-Fiction is 7.99 because I'm not discounting this. This is a good book. I've put a lot into this so I'm not discounting it.
And non-fiction holds higher prices than fiction because I think non-fiction readers expect to get value from a book, so they are more happy to pay for it. When I buy a non-fiction book, I'll pay sometimes 15 bucks for a Kindle non-fiction book, and I will expect to find one or two, or ten things that I can highlight and that will help me.
And if I get that I'm satisfied to pay a high price. And sometimes I get pages and pages, and pages of notes which I hope you'll have with my book,
Q: Jason says, “How do you manage to write with your mother without cringing, laughing, or wanting to yell at her?”
It's interesting you say that because I was saying to my husband, Jonathan, the other day. He's been working with me now for three years and, of course, this is the fourth book with my mom. I've helped my dad write a book and basically a lot of the time you want to kill the other person but you have to look at the bigger picture. And my mom is brilliant.
She absolutely respects my authority in the publishing space. And realizes how good she has it. My mom has the dream life. She just gets to write and I do the rest. I do all the publishing and the marketing, so she literally has a dream life.
Gary asks, “How many sales for your first non-fiction book would you call a success? I launched my first in March and it's only sold 500 to date.”
Gary, 500 is brilliant. The statistics for books is something like most books only sell like 500 copies and up to maybe 5,000 in the lifetime. So you're doing really brilliantly. That is lovely.
Q: “What about a trilogy of non-fiction?”
I did box set for non-fiction a while back and then I decided to pull it because I update my files quite a lot for non-fiction, so it just became a bit of a pain. So I stopped doing that.
But definitely you can pick, I mean I essentially have a series that way. I have a series on writing for writers, so yeah, you can definitely do that.
Q: Nicky is also asking about the writer trilogy advice for non-fiction.
So, just to go further into that, Successful Self-publishing is actually my lead gen, my permafree lead gen into the biggest series for authors. The idea being that most people are looking for self-publishing books in the writing space.
I get a lot of downloads on that but then it leads into other books. So you can definitely do similar ideas to the fiction space for sure.
Q: Zia asked, “Do you tailor for your market as you go? How much does it dictate your direction?”
Great question and to be honest, I gave up my job that I hated because I hated every day and that was because I had no control. And this is part of what being an indie is, the control side.
I don't let anyone determine my direction. For example, how to write a novel, I know there'll be a book on that eventually but, again, not yet. That is not something I'm doing because my direction is now back on the fiction. I am so desperate to write a novel. I feel like please, can I write some fiction? And I just can't seem to do both at the same time.
Q: Donna says, “Do you feel the same with this launch as with your first book?”
That is a good question. Do you know what, I had no clue, zero clue with that first book. It makes me weep to look back at myself. But again, remember, it was in a time before Kindle, before global self-publishing. I was in Australia, I knew nothing.
There were thousands of books that I printed and they were in our lounge. And I thought that I would sell them all and make a million. I really did, I was that person. And then I didn't, I discovered that you have to learn about marketing as an author and that started my journey.
And then things started to change in the scene and so the difference, of course, is that back then there was nobody. There really was nobody. I made so many mistakes that first year but there was no one to see them.
There's this thing when you do your first book; just try stuff because nobody is watching. And in a way that's kind of scary but if nobody is watching, then why don't you just try stuff? Just put the stuff out there and you won't feel terrible.
I think the reason I get so scared about doing stuff like this is because it's difficult to forget that there are people there like you guys, you're there. I think I feel differently about launches now because I've seen evidence that this works.
And perhaps that this is how we'll end this evening. But this does work and I know it can be hard to see it if you're at the beginning. But you can write books and make a living with your writing and multiple streams of income along the way.
It is possible for you. And so when I look back on that first book, Career Change, I just think how much things have changed in the last 10 years. By writing, by publishing, by putting yourself in the world in whatever way you like, by serving the community, and this community is amazing. I love you guys. I love the indie community.
By doing that consistently over time, you will be able to make a living writing if that's what you want or you will have your book in the world and you'll hold it in your hand and say, “I made this.” And that's the best feeling in the world, isn't it?
If you want to check out the book it's available on ebook, print, workbook, large print, multimedia course and soon to be audiobook. Thanks for coming this evening and happy writing. Bye-bye.