How to Write and Publish a Best-Seller

Hey you! You with the interesting life! You’ve got a book in you – that you know. But how do you get it out, onto those frighteningly blank pages? And then, how do you put those pages together into a coherent (see “Word to the Wise,” below), fast-reading book? And once you’ve done that, how can you make your book a bona fide best-seller? I’ve wanted to be a best-selling author almost as long as I can remember.

My earliest fantasies did not include literary prizes. They were strictly about money – cars full of it – and adoring readers – female. I’ve written a few best-selling advertisements in my time, but never a breakaway book. Now that “Automatic Wealth” has been on a few best-selling lists, I’ve been enjoying the experience and thinking about doing another book. What about you? Have you ever thought about writing and/or publishing a book? If so, you will be interested in what I’ve learned about the process.

First, recognize realities. For most would-be writers (including me for many years), there are two substantial obstacles to success. One is that you don’t have access to a publishing company. Normally, an agent provides access. But as an unknown writer in an industry teeming with writers, it’s very hard to get anyone to answer your letters, let alone agree to represent your book. The second big obstacle is usually you – your inability to get that damn book finished. You’ve written the book in your head.

You’ve imagined the way the cover will look. But the actual words on paper? That’s just not happening. There are effective ways to overcome both of these obstacles. Getting access to a publishing company is easy once you have a “platform” to market to. (I’ll explain what that means and how to do it in a minute.)

Getting your book finished can be accomplished by employing one or several of the following techniques – all of which I’ve either used or have seen used:

1. Make writing the first thing you do every day. I’ve talked about this many times in past messages. Writing your book will almost always fall into the Important-but-Not-Urgent category on your to-do list. Those types of tasks will never get done unless you force them into some sort of priority position. The most effective way of doing that is to schedule them as the first thing you do every morning. I’ve used this technique several times in the past five years, each time with complete success.

The first time was when I decided to write, direct, and produce my own movie. I did it again to launch Early to Rise, and again to write “Automatic Wealth.” And I’m using it now to revise “After Midnight” (a screenplay) and complete a collection of short stories. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you give the first couple of hours of your day to a specific goal.

2. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just get it down. Years ago, I used to write my stories the hard way. After getting down a page or two on Monday, I’d spend most of my writing time on Tuesday revising it. On Wednesday, I’d revise it all over again. My idea was to continuously improve what I’d already written while pushing forward with new material. The reality was that I often ran out of steam and never finished the stories. Now, I make it a policy to push forward with the first draft, ignoring its weaknesses, until I have the story finished. Bolstered by that feeling of accomplishment, I find it much easier to make revisions.

3. Be honest with yourself. If you are not completely up to the task, get someone to help you. Maybe you don’t have enough time. Maybe it’s a lack of skill that’s holding you back. Don’t let either stop you. There are thousands of talented, skillful writers out there who’d be happy to help you write and edit your book – and many of them will be happy to work for practically nothing.

You can find help by going to any of various online writing websites and asking for it. Spend some time choosing your co-author. You will want to select someone whose writing style you admire. Be sure to specify from the outset how you want the byline to read – whether the book will be entirely in your name or, if you will share the byline, how that will read. (“John Smith and Jesse James” or “John Smith with Jesse James.”)

Getting a working writer to help you finish your book can provide three benefits: You will finally get it done. It will be better than it would have been had you done it yourself. You will enjoy the process of collaborating with a pro. If you make your book a priority and get someone to help you, there is no reason in the world why, six months from now, you can’t have a first draft completed. Now, let’s talk about platform publishing, because that is the future of the book publishing industry.

As a consultant to direct-to-consumer publishers, I’m outside the world of conventional, trade-book publishing. There was a time when I owned a business that put books on bookshelves, but my partners and I sold that for a tidy profit years ago. I was able to get John Wiley & Sons, the world’s largest investment/business book publisher, to take on “Automatic Wealth” because I had something they wanted: a way to reach thousands of potential readers.

Because of ETR, I was able to hire my own agent to say to them (and to several other large publishers): “Look here, this guy writes an e-zine that reaches more than 400,000 people who are interested in wealth building. What are the chances that ‘Automatic Wealth’ won’t sell at least enough copies to make back all your production and marketing costs?”

Book publishers, you see, are using a very antiquated business model. You might describe it as throwing a lot of crap against the wall and hoping that some of it sticks. That which sticks (i.e. sells well) pays for all the crap that didn’t. That’s the reason conventional book publishers can’t afford to pay much for new writers. Chances are, those new books will lose money.

That’s the reason, too, that it’s so hard to break into the publishing world – because everyone (publishers, agents, and distributors) knows that most new books by new authors fail to sell well. Book publishers continue to publish new writers because they are hoping to find the breakthrough that pays for all the losses, and then some. But all that is changing. With the advent of the Internet, publishers are looking for new writers who come equipped with their own audience to which they can market their new book. This audience – the writer’s platform – virtually guarantees a certain number of sales.

In the case of “Automatic Wealth,” it was difficult to imagine that we wouldn’t sell at least one percent of ETR’s readership. One percent equals 4,000. Four thousand sales brings in enough dollars to meet costs. What we were hoping for, of course, was to convince a much larger percentage of ETR’s readers to buy “Automatic Wealth.” And we did. So far, it has sold about 60,000 copies. With more to come. That makes Wiley very happy with our deal. They had virtually no risk going into it – and sales are now in the million-dollar range. USA

Today recently did a piece on what it takes to have a best-seller. The single most important factor in determining how well a book will sell, they said, was the “reach and reputation” of the author. Stephen King and Hilary Clinton don’t have to worry whether their books will top the charts. The only question is if they will sell 100,000 copies or 10 times that many. And any book that Oprah recommends is bound to become a best-seller. Other than that, the only surefire way for an ordinary writer to hope (with confidence) to get his book published and sold is to build himself a platform. Building yourself a platform used to be a lot of hard work.

But today, all you have to do is begin writing little e-mail messages on a subject that interests you and gradually develop your own following. Once your readership reaches about 50,000 or so, you will have a very good chance of getting a publisher to give you a book contract. If you want to find out how to build your own platform of 50,000 readers in a relatively short amount of time, you must sign up for the Agora Model Internet Conference that will take place in July.

Agora’s top Internet marketers will be showing attendees how to become list-building champions themselves. Just three of these marketers have sourced almost five million e-mail names over the last five years, accounting for $200 million in sales. At this conference, they will tell you exactly how they did it. That’s about it. That’s what I’ve discovered so far about the science of creating a best-seller. I’ll continue to pass along what I learn as we try to push “Automatic Wealth” over the 100,000 hurdle and I get my next book written and published. In the meantime, rearrange your priorities and get going on your book.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]