Professionalism, Please!

There is a lot of advice out there – good advice – about what do in publishing your book that will make your work look professional: have it professionally edited, beautifully designed, author-owned ISBN, Library of Congress control number, CIP data block, etc. The idea is to make your book look just like a traditionally published tradebook so that when put into the hands of a distribution professional, bookstore manager, or librarian, they will have no thought as to the credibility of its publisher. Intuitively, this seems like a good idea.

But in many cases, it is deceptive.

Many authors I have encountered want me to validate what they are doing, rather than advise them on what yet needs to be done. Most do not understand why a tradebook looks the way it does – and they don’t want to know. So I press on, venturing deep into the politics of trying to convince the client to up their game.

But today, I am stopping mid-project to reflect: If the book shepherd is working harder than the author to conform the details to industry standard, than something is wrong. And what’s wrong is in the realm of the author’s ego, enabled by deep pockets – and by a co-dependent book shepherd.

The book is your product, not your baby. You have to be willing to kill your darlings, and produce the book that distributors will want to sell, that bookstores will want to stock, that librarians will want on their shelves, that readers will want to read. Going into the project, if the author does not embrace professionalism, then we are wasting time and money producing a book that will not have an audience.

Your Point of Entry

Your desire is to have your book published. It’s a dream that has been growing in you for a long time. Now you’re ready to take action. Where do you start?

There’s no magic answer to that question. It’s a “what came first – the chicken, or the egg” question.

I often encounter aspiring authors who are anxiously trying to make decisions about publishers or agents or design or marketing, when they haven’t even finished their manuscript.

So while a little forethought is good, don’t do anything until you finish writing the book. Not much of substance can happen until you get that done. Which leads me to my list of suggestions for getting those chickens and eggs rolling:

  1. Finish the first draft of the book. It all starts with the manuscript. Nuff said.
  2. Have your manuscript read and critiqued by trusted beta readers. This does not necessarily mean asking your best friend to read it. She might be too nice. Have it read by at least 3 readers who will agree to be brutally honest. Writer’s groups can be excellent sources of beta readers. In addition, being in a writer’s group gives you the opportunity to be a reader for others.
  3. Rewrite your book. After your readers’ notes are in, evaluate the feedback and rewrite.
  4. Put the book away for a few weeks and think about your audience. Spend creative time visualizing who the ideal reader of your book will be. Conceptualize 3 or 4 ideal readers. Where do they hang out? Where do they shop? What are their interests? You don’t have to be perfect with this exercise. Be more intuitive about it than scientifically accurate. You will fine tune your marketing plans later in the process.
  5. Now pull out your manuscript and read it again with your audience in mind. Rewrite, or edit, as needed.

The bottom line at this point is to have a clean, well-edited manuscript, free of grammatical errors, saved in a universally accessible word processor file, such as Microsoft Word, ready to be laid out for print and ebook. A consultation with a coach can be helpful at any stage in the game, but it is advantageous to put your book through the above process on your own before ever spending a dime for professional help, or submitting to an agent or publisher. Also, keep in mind that until you put your book to bed at the printer, you may need to edit yet again! In fact, we often say a book is not written, it’s re-written.

Just to be clear: finish the book.

Check out this article by Carla King, “Types of Editing”


© Ralph Henley. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy Jaymantri @

Capsulize and Publicize

You self-publish a new book and in order to sell copies people have to know about your work. They have to. That’s a “no-brainer,” right?

“But I am not a smarmy salesman,” you say. I hear you. In my 40 years of working with creative people, I can verify this paradox: the very person who needs to sell the work, the writer, is the least-equipped person to do it, and resists doing so from the very core of their being. Believe me. I feel your pain.

But I propose that there is a very accessible zone of due diligence that falls way short of being sleazy, yet falls right into the hands of the writer turned self-publisher, and here it is:

1. Capsulize. Succinctly summarize the key information about your book and post it on your web page, with a link to where it can be purchased.  This posting on your website becomes the anchor for everything else you will do going forward.

Here is an example of a capsulization:

“As writers of fiction, we have godlike power to create worlds and populate them with beings. It’s a delicious feeling when we’ve done it successfully. Successfully, of course, is the key word. We have to know our characters’ desires, fears, beliefs, and motivations – the deep traits that persuade readers to follow imaginary people as if they were real flesh and blood. Since a believable story depends not only on who your characters are but also why, this book is a study in motivation and how to use it to create plot. Make the imaginary come to life. Write Deep, Believable Characters.” Available now on

Now that your book has a home on the internet you are ready for the next simple step:

2. Publicize. Make one reasonable effort to draw attention to the link to your product. For instance, just post a sentence or two about your book, with the link and a picture of the book, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Done. You are now initiated to the world of promotion.

That simple act of sharing the link, can be repeated over and over, and in multiple forms: book signings, speaking engagements, blog tour, more postings, etc. Whatever you do and wherever you are, you share the link. Easy-peasy.

This capsulize and publicize formula works for music and video projects, too.

In a future post, I’ll show you a simple thing you can do to leverage your capsulized post for greater visibility.





Data is Overrated

steeringwheelDriving your business with data alone is an adventure in missing the point. What was your gut telling you the day you decided to start your business? That intuitive, mission-driven dream will be way more accurate in reaching the “new world” than driving by the numbers. Vision has served humankind very well before the advent of the internet, it is serving us now (more than we realize), and it will be what leads us on to the future.

Can the data support your vision? Absolutely! Just don’t give it the wheel.


  • © 2016 Ralph Henley. All rights reserved.
  • photo courtesy

Your Platform Starter Kit

DiverPlatform-300Whether you publish with a commercial publisher or are self-publishing, as an author you will need what is called a “platform.”

An author platform is a constellation of three indispensable components: a passion position from which you write, a combination of social media formats on which you post, and a community of followers who resonate your passion. For instance, your passion platform may be that you are an expert in vegan food preparation, with a social media package consisting of a Facebook page, blog and website, all of which are followed loyally by vegan subscribers who are “fed” by your passion for all things vegan. An excellent real life example of a non-fiction passion platform is Brene’ Brown’s focus on the power of vulnerability.

If you are a  fiction writer defining a passion position may be a little tricky because your core passion and it’s utility may not be obvious. Perhaps there is a discoverable common thread in your fiction, a spiritual or emotional quality, that appeals to certain reader personalities or needs.  Examples of fiction passion platforms are Scott Orson Card, who has two successful series about gifted little boys coming of age; and, Stephen King, who is well known for his curation of the dark side.

A platform takes time to build, and there is no guarantee that “if you build it, they will come.” But if you don’t prepare for it, no one for sure will come! That is why I recommend including a platform starter kit into your publishing plan, to be installed in advance of the release of your book. Here’s how:

  1. Indentify the core passion of your work. Spend some time thinking through what your writing is really about, and draft a “mission statement” of sorts for your work. Condense that statement into a short paragraph that will sum up your intellectual position, or theme. You may or may not incorporate this statement into your “About me” page, but the process of crafting your theme will help you focus on what you are about, which will inform the next step:
  2. Set up three social media components.  I suggest always a webpage, and always a blog, and I prefer a Facebook page for their excellent demographic database (which I will discuss in a future article). Design your social media in name and look to be consistent with your core concept.
  3. Create a subscriber signup mechanism on every social media component that allows for it. Email subscription services, such as Mail Chimp, and Constant Contact, provide ways to easily add subscriber collection devices to your sites. Building an email list is a great way to begin to build and maintain contact with your audience.

For help in developing your platform, I highly recommend Dan Blank, who offers online courses and one-on-one coaching, and a free newsletter full of helpful tips on improving your contact with your readers.

What I suggest above is only the beginning. In subsequent articles I will give examples of how to cross-promote between the social media components of your platform to find and feed your audience.


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