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In my last post I encouraged you to get online and find out what other books are out there that are similar to your own. Understanding the market and the competition is key to getting started. But that doesn’t mean you need to conform to either the market or the competition. What it means is that you are starting out informed and prepared to stand out. But once you’re armed with this knowledge, what do you do with it?

Decide why it is you are writing this book.

If the reason you want to write the book is to make money, fine. But if that’s the case, knowing the market and how you will reach it is critical. In future posts, I’ll give more attention to that issue, but let’s start with this premise: if your objective is to make money, be prepared to change your topic to fit the market and to spend more time learning to market than to writing. That said, I am a strong advocate of writing good books, not shitty books, and far too many people spend tens of thousands of dollars learning to market their books, but don’t want to put much money or energy into developing the content of those books.

Bad idea. No matter what the book marketers tell you, you will need a quality product. That will mean either learning how to write well, organize your thoughts clearly, and revise, revise, revise until you have the best product—or hiring a ghostwriter to do that for you. If that’s what you want to do, I’m on your side. You can indeed write a book which will make you money, promote your business, or just bring in a bit of extra cash each month. And if so, it doesn’t even need to be a long book—my best money maker started out as a thirty-page article, and grew from there. Just be clear if your objective is to make money and if so, be prepared to accept a few cold, hard truths:

  • The chances of you ending up on Oprah or Dr. Phil are not much better than your chances of winning the lottery, no matter how many tens of thousands you put into book marketing programs. It might happen, and if it does happen, it’s either because you’re a really great writer with a really great book, or you’ve devoted more time to marketing than most people devote to a Ph.D.
  • Your book idea is probably not as unique as you think (read my last post, How to Write a Book—First Steps), it will be tough to publish traditionally and if it does publish independently, it’s not going to sell itself.
  • You probably won’t make a dime—unless you create a really good book of professional quality.

And now that I’ve proven to be a buzz kill, let me tell you the good news:

  • You can absolutely write a nonfiction, self-help book that will bring you in some steady money every month.
  • If you have your own business, you certainly should write a nonfiction book on the topic of your profession so that it will establish your expertise in the subject and serve as your “calling card,” and potentially bring you in not just business, but speaking engagements and media exposure.
  • If you want to write a memoir, it will probably make you no money, but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience and provide you with a powerful testament to your life and resilience to pass down to future generations.
  • If you want to write a novel, it probably won’t sell but it will give you a fantastic creative outlet that is far superior to watching TV or hanging out online and you will learn a great deal from the process.
  • It still is possible to write a memoir, novel or any other kind of book and get rich even if you’ve never written before and have mediocre talent. Fifty Shades of Gray was written by a woman who had never written a book before and didn’t have much talent as far as writing was concerned, and she never expected such success. But by tapping into the fan fiction of the Twilight series and writing the book as a twist on that story, she stumbled into a spectacular fortune. Harry Potter was written by a woman with considerable storytelling talent, but it was rejected repeatedly and the publisher she did find told her not to quit her day job. Chicken Soup for the Soul was a collection of pieces written by other people and went on to become an industry all its own. And The Secret was similarly just a collection of quotes other people wrote and didn’t have a spark of originality in its content but it was marketed so brilliantly the author can now afford to pay people to breathe for her, should that be her desire.

In short, writing a book for money is usually a bad idea, but it’s still possible. More importantly, even if a book doesn’t make money, the process of writing one can be far more rewarding than you ever anticipated—even if you end up hiring a ghost to write it for you. Writing a book compels you to think deeply about what is important to you, what it is that you want to leave your family and the world, and what it is that you have to say to your family and your world.

Everyone has a book, and I dare say an entire library, inside them, just waiting to come out. Think about what it is that you have to say and why you want to say it, and you’re ready to mark your place in the world, one page at a time.