Once you’ve published your book, your goal is to sell books and make contact with your readers, so you may be surprised when you find that a lot of the attention you receive is from other would-be authors asking you questions about how you got your book published and wanting you to help them with publishing their own books.
You can help everyone and soon be overwhelmed, or you can take advantage of the situation while separating the serious from the non-serious future writers.
The next time you are approached by an author wanting your help, here are some questions to ask and responses to make to their questions. Let me first make it clear that my purpose is not to dissuade any author from writing a book, and it is not that I want to stop anyone from giving or receiving help, but we are all only human and only have so many hours in a day, so we have to use those hours wisely. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, so if someone wants to write a book, he or she needs to be serious about it because it is a serious, expensive, and time-consuming task.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WOULD-BE AUTHORS
When asked for help by would-be authors, here are a few initial questions to ask to determine whether the person’s interest in being an author is real and whether or not you will be wasting your time by trying to help.
How much of your book do you have written, and when do you plan to have it finished?If the book is not three-quarters done and the author does not have a timeframe in mind for completing the book in the next few weeks or months, you will be wasting your time trying to help someone who is unlikely ever to finish the book. If the person says that’s the problem-he’s looking for someone to help him with writing it, run the other way. You may suggest he find a ghostwriter, and there are people who do a good job of ghostwriting, but it is tasking on a person’s energy to ghostwrite a book, and ghostwriters deserve to be well-paid. If the person is insistent, ask:
What kind of budget do you have to pay for editing (or ghostwriting)?
Of course, the cost of doing either will depend on the length and type of book, but a fair number to begin with is at least in the high hundreds-after all, think about how many hours it will take and what you deserve to be paid per hour. If the would-be author says he doesn’t have money or he needs to make payments, depending on how well you know this person, you may want to run in the other direction.
Of course, you may not be an editor or ghostwriter, but if the person hasn’t considered getting the book edited and is resistant to the idea when you suggest it, chances are he isn’t serious about producing his book.
What kind of marketing plan do you have?
If the person doesn’t have a marketing plan, suggest he get one. Tell him to do some research and come back to you when he has a list of ideas and strategies written up for how to sell his book to his target audience. You might refer him to a few books to read or publications or even a writer’s group for him to join where he can share ideas with other writers. But don’t do the work for him.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WOULD-BE AUTHORS WILL ASK YOU
In the end, no matter how you try to weed people out, they are inevitably going to ask you for your time. Here are some responses you can make to their questions.
Would you have coffee or lunch with me so I can ask you a few questions?
Without hemming and hawing or blinking an eye, state upfront, “Sure. I charge a consulting fee for offering publishing and marketing advice. My fee is $X.00 for one hour.” I’ll leave it up to you what kind of a fee you want to charge. The first or second time, you might settle for the other person buying you lunch, but after that, start with something you feel comfortable with, but don’t shortchange yourself. $25 an hour is reasonable for beginning. If the would-be author tells you he doesn’t need a full hour of your time, just a few minutes, tell him it’s not that easy to publish a book and to come back when he has an hour worth of questions so you know he is serious. That may sound harsh, but if you don’t make it clear upfront that you are serious about being paid for your help, one question will lead to another as he constantly seeks your free advice.
Would you be willing to read my book and tell me what you think?
You can approach this question a few different ways. A lot of traditionally published authors will say “No” to such a request because their publisher or agent has told them not to read manuscripts from fear they will later use something in another author’s book as an idea in their own book. You can take this same tactic.
However, if you’re interested in consulting, tell the person there are two options available in terms of your giving help:
- You will read the book and provide a manuscript evaluation, meaning a list of suggestions, as well as what you think are the book’s strengths and weaknesses, for a reading fee.
- You will do a sample edit of a few pages and look over the general organization of the book for free so you can come up with a price for helping the author. You will then do the full edit for said price.
If the author is serious, he will agree to pay you for one or the other. If he wants you to read the book for free, you know you will be wasting your time.
I would never agree to work with an author without seeing a sample of his or her writing. I hate to say it, but a lot of would-be authors out there can barely put two words together to make a readable sentence. If that’s the case, unless you are going to do serious rewriting and editing for the author, you probably don’t want to get involved. And if the author is a terrible writer, you should be upfront, although kind about it, with the writer and let him know that he will need you to help with all the other writing involved beyond just the book manuscript to promote the book.
Make sure you and the author are clear from the beginning on what you will do as editor/consultant and how payment will be made. If you’re just doing consulting on the phone or a one hour lunch, then ask for a check upfront. If you are doing a large project, such as editing a book, then ask for half the price upfront and half when the project is finished. Depending on the project, you may agree to break up payments into three or four monthly payments. If you do so, make sure you have reason to trust the person you are assisting, and you may want to draw up a contract you both sign.
Remember your boundaries. Just because you agree to help an author with his book, whether it is reading it and offering advice, editing it, or assisting with marketing it by writing marketing pieces or simply giving advice, you are not ultimately responsible for the book’s success. Once you finish the task you have agreed to do for the author, do not let yourself be roped into continual extra work without payment. For example, if you agree to edit the book, don’t agree then to write the press release, the sell sheet, the marketing brochures, and the text for the website without being paid additionally.
You and your potential author clients can have satisfying and successful relationships that are profitable for both parties, but you will save both of you a lot of headaches and frustration if you initially weed out the less than serious and potentially high maintenance clients from the future professional authors who are willing to do the necessary hard work to make their books successful.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
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