#021: My Best Advice for First-Time Authors, Part 1 [Podcast]

In this episode, I share my best advice for first-time authors. Even if you’ve never thought about writing a book or don’t think you could, this episode is for you.

This Is Your Life Podcast, Episode 21

There are at least four reasons why you should consider writing a book:

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  • Reason #1: It can add value to others. Everyone is an expert at something. You may not be aware of it. Or you have forgotten that you know what you know. But you have something that could add value to others.
  • Reason #2: It can establish you as an authority. Nothing credentials you like a book. Not even a Ph.D. Having a book makes you an authority (at least in terms of the perception).
  • Reason #3: It can advance your career. It can help you launch a brand new one. A book often goes where you can’t go. It opens doors. It starts conversations. It creates opportunities.
  • Reason #4: It can create an additional income stream. Even if the book itself doesn’t generate a lot of money, it can be used to sell back-end services and other products.

The problem is that it can be tough to get published. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, I received—and still receive—a lot of email from would-be authors who are trying their best to get published. Most of them are frustrated, because they can’t seem to get anyone interested in their book idea or manuscript.

In this episode, I want to demystify the process a bit. I want to give you the same advice I would offer to a close friend over coffee.

Episode Outline

My premise for this episode is that becoming a published author begins by taking five steps. This isn’t everything you will need to do. These are just the first five. The problem is that most would-be authors try to skip these steps. As a result, they don’t make any progress.

  1. Step #1: Educate yourself.
    • Read books.
    • Follow industry blogs.
    • Read industry publications.
    • Attend industry events.
  2. Step #2: Start building your platform.
    • Reason #1: You will be more attractive to publishers.
    • Reason #2: You will be more likely to succeed.
    • Reason #3: You will more quickly find your voice.
  3. Step #3: Write a killer book proposal.
    • You need this even if you self-publish.
    • Don’t be surprised if this takes a while—it’s hard work!
    • Just get started and keep working on it.
    • Have someone review it.
  4. Step #4: Consider your publishing options.
    • Option #1: Traditional Publishing
    • Option #2: Assisted Self-Publishing
    • Option #3: Do-It-Yourself Self-Publishing
  5. Step #5: Find a good literary agent.
    • Benefit #1: Access
    • Benefit #2: Leverage
    • Benefit #3: Focus

Listener Questions

  1. Annette Trucke asked, “What were the mistakes you made along the way that you would avoid at all costs?”
  2. Brent Mayes asked, “How do I build a platform for two separate projects?”
  3. Dallon Christensen asked, “How detailed should your outline be before you begin writing.”
  4. David McLaughlin asked, “When do you fine-tune your writing—as you go or as a separate process?”
  5. Dayna Bickham asked, “Do you have any resources for writing or formatting an e-book only project?”
  6. Jaime Tardy asked, “Should I hire a designer to make my manuscript pretty before I submit it?”
  7. Sherry Meyer asked, “Where are publishers in terms of signing memoirs today from first-time authors?”

Special Announcements

  1. If you are ready to get serious about building your platform and taking your blogging to the next level, you can’t do better than launching a self-hosted WordPress blog. That’s what nearly all professional bloggers use. That’s what I use at MichaelHyatt.com. However, if you are a little technically-challenged and have been afraid to try and install WordPress, I have great news.

    A few weeks ago, I produced a free screencast called “How to Setup a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less.” This short video will take you through the process step-by-step. Trust me, anyone can do this. In the last ten days, I’ve had over 150 people use this video to launch their blog.

  2. I will be speaking in Ft. Worth, Texas tomorrow, August 9, 2012 for Cendera Funding as part of a lecture series called, “Business with Purpose.” I will do two sessions: “The 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership” and “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.” If you are in the area, come join me.
  3. If you are interested in having me speak for your event, check out my speaking page.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a transcript of this episode here.

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Question: What additional questions do you have about getting published? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/EditorJamieC Jamie Clarke Chavez

    Thanks for this mention!

  • Cornelis

    Step 1, Step 2, … There is
    a marvellous scene from “Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines” in
    which the German commander, having to take over their bi-plane when the pilot
    gets ill, who opens the instruction manual at page 1 while standing to attention in
    the open cockpit. He reads, ‘Step 1, Sit Down!’ Marvellous satire on step-wise

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    Your summary of the podcast is as long as many people’s blog posts!  Do you prepare this summary before the podcast (i.e. is the summary the outline you use as you record the podcast?).

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I do what I call ”show prep” before I record. It is a pretty extensive outline. Then I record and edit the show. Then I prepare the show notes. I sometimes mention resources that weren’t in my notes or deviate from the outline. That requires me to do the notes after-the-fact. Thanks.

    • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

      Thad, there are a lot of different ways to prep for a show. I follow some of Michael’s tips on my own podcast. I also prepare an interview script (I interview people or have co-host on most of my shows), but I sometimes deviate from that script. I keep the original list of questions in a Google document I share with the other party. 

      There are as many ways to prep for a show as there are podcasters, but I would say anyone taking their podcast seriously doesn’t “wing it” and does take the time before and after to make sure the notes are appropriately done.

  • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

    Thank you for including my question in the show! I just woke up and haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet, but I’ll do that when taking my son to school. Having the summary outline is already a big help. I love how organized the steps are. It makes reading your blog and podcast summaries a lot easier to follow – especially on an iPhone where I read a lot of my content!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dallon. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much. ;-)

  • Katie

    thank you for sharing so much helpful info! (:

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ Cynthia Herron

    Looking forward to hearing you speak in September at ACFW!


  • http://twitter.com/Berin_Kinsman Berin Kinsman

    This is good advice even for published authors who haven’t quite found traction yet. Thank you!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    Are there any contraindications to writing a book, or should everybody write one? 

    In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke said: 

    This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity…

    So what if my answer fails to ring out in assent? Should I, for reasons #1 – 4 given at the top of this post, push myself to write a book anyway?  

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      C-quill, I don’t have the ultimate answer but I will say that if you do decide to write a book you need to make sure you “love” your message. 

      I say that because there will be times that you’ll want to abandon the project altogether (I know I did). 

      Being tired of your message before you’ve completed the book seems to be a very common affliction to authors – yet one that must be pushed through.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Focus on your platform is awesome advice. I self-published and focused on the platfom and sold some books, the publishers came to me. This was a great episode, I can’t wait until part 2!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Me either Kimanzi and congratulations on your publishing deal!

  • Eric Preston

    Interestingly enough, after listening to your podcast this morning I was out at Barnes and Noble and asked the clerk to help me find a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents.  After doing so, the gentleman said to me, “I’d rather play in traffic than try to find a literary agent”.  When I inquired as to why, he responded, “Because I’ve tried and unless you’ve written ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, it’s hopeless”.  Personally, I think I need to refer him to your 2nd podcast in which you discussed “maintaining a positive attitude”and “watching your mouth”.  Meanwhile, I will head your advice form that podcast and avoid such “energy depleting people”.  

    Thank you for your motivational work.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Sadly, that attitude is more common than you might think. In almost any field, it’s the ones who stay positive and persevere who succeed. Thanks for your comment!

  • Eric Preston

    Interestingly enough, after listening to your podcast this morning I was out at Barnes and Noble and asked the clerk to help me find a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents.  After doing so, the gentleman said to me, “I’d rather play in traffic than try to find a literary agent”.  When I inquired as to why, he responded, “Because I’ve tried and unless you’ve written ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, it’s hopeless”.  Personally, I think I need to refer him to your 2nd podcast in which you discussed “maintaining a positive attitude”and “watching your mouth”.  Meanwhile, I will heed your advice form that podcast and avoid such “energy depleting people”.  

    Thank you for your motivational work.

  • http://twitter.com/WarriorCIO Warrior CIO

    Thanks for this episode. This was just what I was looking for. 

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  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Love the list of episode resources – that in and of itself is invaluable! As always, thanks for the “wow” content!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    One area I can really see a need for is editors who know the self publishing business. While I think an editor is essential to almost any publishing project, many do not know about formatting documents, typesetting, font choice, or cover design.  

    After going to a writer’s seminar and seeing a lot of self published books, I was blown away how many of these books had sans-serif fonts, horrible page margins, and gigantic paragraph spacing with 14 point fonts. 

    When I published my first book, I looked at a dozen popular, professionally published books, to come up with font ideas, type size, and page layout ideas. I was amazed at the differences. I actually read the first chapter of each to see how my eyes conformed to the different font choices, sizes, and paragraph styles. The other big difference was title pages and chapter indentations. I spent many days trying different combinations before I came up with something that looked good and was comfortable on the eyes.

    The bottom line, If the font is too small or hard to read, I’m not going to finish your book. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I agree, John. This and the cover are the biggest giveaway when a book is self-published poorly.

  • http://www.changevolunteers.org/ Change Volunteer

    I could not listen to the podcast at work, may be when I go home, but your summary was helpful. Thanks Michael. I feel reading, reading and more reading is the most important part.

  • David Smith

    Thanks for this pod cast Michael. I have a book and workbook idea I am working on. When you are considering a book idea and its content, how do you know if it is compelling enough for others to want to read? What thought processes or criteria do you apply to determine whether you want to invest your hard work and time? 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      This is one of the main reasons I blog. It gives you and opportunity to test different content and see if it drives traffic or creates engagement. I look for the place where my passion intersects a need in the marketplace.

  • Jim Martin

    Michael, this podcast is a keeper!  One of your best.  I’m glad you are doing this in two parts.   

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jim. I appreciate it.

  • Rakhi Author


    Dear Michael,

     I am experiencing the
    rejection process first hand as I speak. Thanks to your book,   “Get
    noticed in a noisy world” I was able to make corrections in my query letter. I
    would highly recommend the book to first time writers.  

    Besides getting motivated by your blogs, I also have a
    framed quote by Edison which says “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The
    most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”.

  • http://twitter.com/dailylifespark Life Spark Concepts

    Thanks Michael for answering my question. Great topic. I appreciate your desire to invest in the success of others! @davidbmc

  • http://www.danapittman.com/ Dana Pittman

    This list of resources is awesome. And a great podcast.

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    Thank you Michael.  I am not looking at writing a book, but having some ideas about the process is nice to have, plus the message of sticking with a passion reaches out in general.

    K, bye

  • Cheryl M. Jones

     I must say thank you for what you are doing. I already have your two ebooks for writing a non-fiction book proposal and ‘Platform’. They are excellent! I am learning from you and now taking the steps to move forward as I work on my first book. Will be setting up my blog as well.   

  • http://www.livebeyondawesome.com/ Jen McDonough

    Michael, oh my goodness, I actually linked this podcast on my website (I have you linked as well under leadership for my resource page at http://www.livebeyondawesome.com/resources/awesome-resources/). This was just AWESOME!!!! I get asked by a lot of everyday ordinary people who I got our books published. While I choose to go the self publishing route for some of the reasons you mentioned (as well as I wanted to OWN my content and repurpose as I wanted), it is so cool to be able to keep this podcast on hand just to give to people looking to learn more quickly. 
    THANK YOU! I am definitely saving it as a personal favorite as I learned a lot and will enjoy sharing it with others.
    Twitter: @TheJenMcDonough:disqus 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jen. I appreciate it!

  • Edward Thomas

    Hey Michael, the podcast is simply awesome,  just had a question, I have a script in my mind and thought of converting it into a book. Its all about fictional love and action. But, the only problem which comes is that I am only 16 right now. What are your opinions about it? Should I write?
    P.S. I currently own 3 blogs and I love writing them.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Your age is definitely not an issue. It could be an asset!

  • JulieSanders@comehaveapeace

    Love how you break this down into digestable pieces. I fall into that “frustrated” author category, and I feel like I’ve migrated to the “in a slump” group. Your steps this week remind me of how to put one word in front of the other. 

  • eventualmillionaire

    I was actually wondering if I should use a designer for my book proposal. I understand an editor wouldn’t want the manuscript pretty (that would be a pain!) but would potential publishers like to see a pretty book proposal? :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Not really. Professional, yes, Designed, no. You want publishers considering one variable, your writing, and not two, your writing and your design. Thanks for your question, Jaime.

      • eventualmillionaire

        Thank YOU. For everything, and also for replying on a Saturday night :)  (my book proposal is due very soon, and this helps save me time, so I really really appreciate that quick reply!)

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  • Matt Potratz

    very good info!  It’s encouraging to hear that even best sellers can be turned down initially.  I’ve got an incredible story of survival thru an avalanche and a month in a coma.  After 100+ days hospitalized and hours upon hours of, and ongoing therapy, I felt called to write a book.  I self-published and my reader feedback has been off the charts but can’t seam to get noticed or get a Literary Agent to pick it up.  Thanks for the encouragement to keep pushing!  http://www.mattpotratz.com 

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  • Jolly

    Thanks. Please keep posting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobbieroberta Roberta Renk

    I have used WestBow Press to publish my first book, “Love At Second Sight,” by Roberta Renk. It was mainly about my husband surviving stage four colon cancer for 13 years in spite of an eleven month prognosis. Now I am in the process of publishing my second book but I had to use a pen name in order for it to be published. I am not able to refer to my first book by it’s name because it will reveal my idenity. It is rather funny to me and it fits in with my story which is mainly about a crush I have on a guy who I was seeing professionally. I actually secretively gave him a copy of the manuscript although I have added two more chapters to the book since giving it to him. Those chapters are about what has happened since giving him the manuscript. He knows it is going to be published. He loves my writing and I know he wants my dreams to come true even if he and I never do have that romantic connection. We have had a soul and spirit connection for sure. My question to you is since I have to write under a pen name how do I promote the book without reveiling my idenity? Even now I am wondering if I should have identified myself so that is why I have omitted the book title and my pen name. This is so silly but it is also fun. Since my writing is all autobiographical I have now become the character in my book and it just adds to the allure. All the proceedes from the sale of my books are going to ICU Mobile which is a ministry that gives free Image Clear Ultrasounds to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies. Nine out of ten choose life after seeing their babies on ultrasound. I frimly believe God is up to something and will open doors for me to spread the word about this wonderful ministry. In my first book I wrote that God had some fun work for me to do after the death of my husband. I never dreamed I would be living this romantic adventure but God is a wonderful ingenious creator of all things. I give him credit for my life and my writing. Since I found this site, I think he has given me this opportunity to get some advice from you. So do you have any advice on how to promote my book? Writing is the easy part, promoting is an entirely different subject. I made a deal with God that I would write it and he would promote it. I just need to figure out how to get my foot in the door. I think I am to speak in churches and talk about my walk of faith and also about how God has chosen me to speak for the “unborn babies.” Believe me when I say this was not at all on my radar. That is how I know it came from God.

    I do not want to spend any money advertising my book. I did a press release and sold two books. It was an experiement. I also paid to have my book in a brochure at a Christian Counselors’ Conference and a Christian Retailer’s Convention. Neither produced any sales. In your opinion what is a good way to attract attention to sale the book. I gave away 1000 copies of my first book and hoped word of mouth would work but so far that hasn’t done anything to generate sales either. It did give me some good feedback that others were moved by my story. To be honest I think having lots of faith that God can move mountains is my best bet, but I was hoping to follow in Nicholas Sparks shoes. Just one break is all it would take. Any ideas?