View Full Version : write that book or not?

11-10-2004, 10:29 PM
Hi there. Some questions for those published non-fiction book authors out there: how did you decide to write that book in the first place? How do you determine if it's worth the gamble of your time vs. just continuing to work on selling articles?
I have been selling articles for a couple of years now and have an idea for a book in a series by a certain book publisher. My questions are:

- how can I estimate how many my title might sell
- how can I judge how much time it will take to research and write
- if the book is published, how much time will I need to devote to promotion, and is it possible to fit this in if you work fulltime Mon-Fri 9-5 in a day job?

Overall, has it been more profitable to write and sell a book or more profitable to stick with articles, where at least you know up front how much you'll earn?

Is a book credit worth a lot to your writing career, or no?

Many thanks for your comments!


11-10-2004, 11:46 PM
303030, what kind of nonfiction title do you want to do? Will it be regional-interest, or appeal nationally?

I have two regional history books published now, and both of these appeal largely to Cincinnati readers, but their themes appeal to people interested in mass transit all over the country. So, my topics are more narrow-focused, but the first one, The Cincinnati Subway (http://www.allensedge.com/cincinnatisubway.html) is still selling very well and is entering its 5th printing after being out for a year and a half. The subway book is regional to be sure, but it has a lot of information and photographs that appeal to railroad/street railway fans across the nation.

The second book is Cincinnati on the Go (http://www.allensedge.com/onthego.html) came out a couple of weeks ago, and so far readers I've spoken to really like it. This second title is a pictorial history of mass transit in Cincinnati, so it's not text heavy like the first book.

Now from this perspective, to answer your questions:

How did I decide to write the book? Simply put, it hadn't been done, and I wanted to write a whole book. I was interested in the story of the subway, but there wasn't any information on it, except for a few newspaper or magazine articles. No book. The subway was built in the 1920s and was never finished or ever used. Many people around Cincinnati have always wondered about the subway, and my book was the first--and only--book about it. The publisher is thrilled with it and it sells very well. I decided to do Cincinnati on the Go so I could expand on the mass transit pictures in the subway book.

I was working a full time job and writing articles on the side for a radio trade magazine that paid fairly decently. I knew I wouldn't make a fortune writing the articles, but did it anyway because it was fun and I knew the subject matter. With royalties coming in from the book, that could also supplement my income, so why not write the book?

How do you estimate how much your title will sell? Again, it depends on your subject matter. If you're writing a book on the history of agriculture in the Northwest, then it will probably sell OK, but not put you on the best seller list. If you're doing a comprehensive book on the Civil War, then you will probably do well, but you'll have to outdo Shelby Foote and the other many titles on the Civil War. How well you'll do depends on the subject matter, what else has been written about it, what kind of distribution the publisher has, how the book is marketed (which you'll be doing largely yourself), and many other factors, including if book buyers are familiar with your name. If your name is Tom Clancy, and you're coming out with a nonfiction book on submarine warfare, then you're going to do really well. If your name is Joe Nobody, then you'll have to really work at your marketing.

How much time to research and write? Figure at least six months to a year, maybe more, depending on the subject matter. You'll be working every evening and weekend. If you're married and/or with kids, you'll have to work out some compromises with them. After working on the subway book for several months, my wife allowed me just one hour a night to do that so I could spend time with her and build a happy marriage.

How much time for promotion? I don't know, several hours a week? Maybe more, maybe less. Get the book on your website, contact bookstores and arrange signings, while you're at work, think of additional offbeat ways to promote your book. Once it's out, don't let it die on the shelves. People have to know about it to buy it. Try to get on local radio and or TV morning shows. (I never was able to do this, and I tried tried tried). Send out press releases to any paper you can think of. Alert the columnists in your local papers who might be interested in the subject matter. That worked getting the word out about the subway book.

So far I've received more in royalties for the subway book than I've gotten for writing recent articles, but I haven't really been writing all that much. It's easy to write a 1500 word article--takes me about five hours of actual writing. It's hard to write a 50,000 word nonfiction manuscript--took me over six months.

And yes, my book credits are very important to my writing career. A published book shows that my words are not only publishable--by a real publisher, but they can make money, too.

Hope that answers your questions.


11-11-2004, 12:06 AM
Thank you underthecity for your comments. I appreciate it.

aka eraser
11-11-2004, 01:07 AM
You might as well consult a fortune teller for the estimating-sales question. ;)

That's really the province of the publisher. They'll determine an initial print run and you can hope demand eventually requires a 2nd, 3rd...(here's where we enter dream territory.)

The time-to-write factor is full of variables too, especially since you're juggling a full-time job as well; how much research is involved, whether the series is 40,000 words or 65,000, and your own ability to be productive in bursts.

If your book is picked up by a national publisher how much, or little promotion, will be largely up to you. The best promotion is simply having it placed in bookstores nationwide by the publisher's salesforce. I'm terrible at self-promotion; never arranged a signing, never sought an interview, never even called my local paper to do a puff piece. If you're comfortable doing that sort of thing it can only help sales.

I would have made more money by focusing on articles but there are valuable perqs that go along with being a "published author" that aren't all quantifiable. Along with being taken more seriously by new potential mag markets, there's immense satisfaction in seeing a major project through from conception to birth and holding the results in your hands. There's a permanence to books that just doesn't exist with magazine and newspaper articles.

If I were you I'd get going on it. Write the first 50-100 pages and see how it goes; how you feel about it. If the passion remains then it might be time to contact the publisher with your proposal and be ready to back it up with some sample chapters.

Tish Davidson
11-11-2004, 12:57 PM
Many non-fiction books are sold with a book proposal rather than a full manuscript. You might consider going that route.
And yes, a book published by a well-known and reputable publisher is a big career boost.

11-11-2004, 11:10 PM
Thank you for your comments. I've been doing some estimates and think I will put this on the back burner for a while. Seems like a lot of effort that might not pay off, or pay very little.

11-12-2004, 04:37 AM
Thanks for the insight, Under the City.
It's always good to get advice from someone who has actually had a book published.
I see where Arcadia added a "book proposal" form to their website, or perhaps I just missed it when I checked out the site before.
I guess you really need those pictures to present to them, but it seems to me like a classic "chicken and egg" catch.
If they reject your proposal, you'll end up with a lot of disappointed people who thought you were going to write a book about their town.

11-12-2004, 09:45 PM
For a proposal, Arcadia requests maybe ten representative photos. They are interested in local histories of practically anywhere, so if you've got an idea, please let them know and tell them I sent you (I've got some clout now! Subway has sold over 4000 copies now.)

Give it a try if you want. They've published books for several small communities around the Cincinnati area that I probably wouldn't have considered myself.


11-13-2004, 05:41 AM
Under the City,

Thanks for the generous offer.
I also know two others who have published with Arcadia.
I did make an e-mail contact with them (hope that wasn't a mistake) and I am waiting for a reply.
The book proposal on their websites asks for 20 photos with captions like you would use in the book, so I am in the process of trying to obtain photos and do more research.
I'll let you know what happens.