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Henry Willis

Author of Earth’s Future Climate

Published by Llumina Press


In the Beginning

            This is a “down and dirty” primer on how to make money by writing a book.  All who come to a print-on-demand (“POD”) publisher do so for two reasons.  The first reason is the ability to say, “I have a book in print.”  That is good for bragging rights and academic promotion.  However, most come to a POD publisher with a dream.  That dream is to make money from writing.

            I am certain every writer reading this believes they have at least one “great American novel” within their soul.  Write the book, and they will come.  News releases will be well received; book signings will fall out of the sky; and there will be a stampede of people offering lecture tours.  All of this leading to the sale of many copies of your book.

            Think again!

            There are 50,000 books published in the United States each year.  Of these, only about 20 books become best sellers.  This means for an unknown author there is approximately a 1-in-2500 chance of becoming a best seller.  Also, with so many books being published each year, bookstores, newspapers, and publishers are overwhelmed by requests from new authors. 

Unless some notoriety is already possessed by the writer such as a well-known artist, politician, scientist, and the like, the chance of the new writer “breaking in” is slim to none.  The people doing the reviewing simply do not have the time to review everything.

Fear not!

We are fortunate to live in an age of mass electronic communications, particularly that of talk show radio and the Internet.  If you are a POD published author, you are already somewhat tuned into that fact.  Properly worked, these two media can lead to recognition as a writer, and it follows that recognition as an author in turn leads to book sales.  It is a backdoor process of gaining the recognition necessary to sell a book.

Keep in mind, this is not a commentary on how to promote and sell a book.  It is a commentary on how to make money from writing a book.  They are not one and the same. 

The steps are fairly simple to follow. 


Step 1: Know What the Readers Want to Read

            This is an obvious point that many writers who want to make money ignore.   

            There are many different markets for a writer to enter: westerns, science fiction, mystery, and historical, to name a few.   Each area has its following, and it is possible to make a living in a particular writing market.  Some have the fortune to gain that level quickly.  For most of us, it is a slow process, starting with short stories and working up to the eventual novel.

            There is a faster way.  It is to write a book on a “hot topic.”  A hot topic is something that has generated the public’s interest or imagination.  A book on a hot topic is not the great American novel.  Rather, it is a book that is designed to sell quickly because of known interest in the book’s subject content.  The question is how to find a current hot topic.  This is where the great Seven League Boots of our age, the Internet and talk show radio, come into play to conduct market research on what are current hot topics.  Best of all, it’s free.

            First, join as many Internet news groups as you are able to handle.  These news groups can be found on such web sites as Yahoo, Google, and the like.  Check the site’s news group directory, which lists the news groups by category.  Look for the categories with news groups that have the most members.  Pick the top news groups in 10 to 15 categories, and join each news group. 

Monitor and keep notes on what the people are posting in these news groups.  Let these people reveal what they consider to be hot topics.  When you find a topic that strikes your interest, there is potentially your next book.

One very strong suggestion: do not use your private e-mail address for news group postings.  Instead, establish an e-mail address on Yahoo or HotMail, for example.  It will be easier to review the news group postings, and more important, it will keep the spammers away from your private e-mail address.

Second, monitor all the radio talk shows as time permits.  Listen to what the callers are saying.  Many current radio talk shows are political in nature, but even those radio talk shows sometimes get into other subjects.  If non-political talk shows are available in your area, such as health, finance, alternative science, and the like, tune into them also.  Note carefully the subject of any guests to the show, and above all, listen to the comments of the callers.

There is one other new, but old, area to explore.  It is letters to the editor.  Read letters to the editor in as many newspapers and magazine as time and access permits.  Fortunately, many newspapers and magazines now post their publications to the Internet, and most allow free access.

The concept of this market research is to get a “feel” for those topics in which the public has an interest.  This is tedious, time consuming research.  But, if you do your research on hot topics, it will open many media opportunities for your book. 

Keep in mind, the media, particularly radio talk shows, wants hot topics.  It improves ratings, and ratings are the name of the media game.  Give them a book on a topic that improves those ratings, and even if you are an unknown author, you will gain media exposure for your book.

This concept of “hot topic” is key to making money by writing a book.  Do your research well and everything else will fall into place.


            Step 2: Beginning Promotion-Local Radio Talk Shows

            A hot topic was found; the book is written; and Llumina Press has put the book into print.  It is at this point the question is asked, “How can people be told it is a great book so they will buy it?”

            First, purchase 5 or 10 copies of the book from the publisher.  If the publisher is Llumina Press, Llumina Press gives a 25% discount to authors purchasing their own book.  These copies of the book are necessary for promotional purposes.

            The next step is to begin listening to local and regional radio talk shows.  Stay away from syndicated, national radio talk shows for the time being.  Those shows generally tend to interview authors with a reputation, and in order to build that reputation, one must start small. 

            The building of the reputation starts with appearances on unsyndicated local, and if possible, unsyndicated regional, radio talk shows.  The hosts of such radio talk shows are always looking for unique topics that will build up their listening audience.  The name of the game for all radio talk shows is the listening audience.  The larger that audience, the greater the ad revenues.

            Here is the wisdom for writing a book on a hot topic.  The radio talk show host, if he or she is worth his or her salt, will know your book is a hot topic and of interest to their listening audience.  So they will be interested in having you appear on their program.  This provides the opportunity for you to promote you book and gain media exposure, which in turn should generate sales.

              Again, research must be done.  Listen to all local radio talk shows that appear on radio stations within two hour’s drive (approximately 100 miles).  Carefully review which ones appear to have a format that fits the topic of your book or radio stations that routinely conduct book reviews with the author.

            When you have found 2 or 3 radio stations that appear to have a talk show that could promote your book, write a letter (do not e-mail) to the show’s host and include a copy of your book.  Be direct.  Say you want to appear on the program because you are of the opinion the topic of the book is of interest and/or of importance to the show’s listening audience.  This direct approach is o.k.  The show’s host will know what you are doing, and he or she will appreciate your honesty.  Get right to the point in the letter and don’t make it too long.  These are busy people.  Important, the quality of writing in the letter will suggest to the host the quality of writing in the book.  Make it good!

            The chances are good if the hot topic is “hot” a radio appearance will happen.  When it does, there is a serious consideration, and that is the telephone call.

            Never offer to pay for a call to the talk show, particularly if it is a long distance telephone call.  Always offer to travel to the radio station’s studio.  If the interview must be conducted by telephone call, have the radio station call you.  If this is the arrangement, make sure you are in a place where you will not be interrupted and there is no background noise (such as babies crying, T.V.’s, lawn mowers, and the like).

            The reason for these suggestions is simple.  Long distance telephone charges will quickly eat up any return received for books sold as the result of an appearance on a local radio talk show.  At this level, it is good if the appearance sells 10 to 20 copies of the book.  These suggestions are made to keep cost down and profits up.

            Of course, as it is in many cases, there is an exception.  If you are a new author trying to break into the market and your finances permit, you may wish to go ahead and pay the long distance telephone charges.  It is my position for first time authors that they should do whatever they can do to gain name recognition.  It is sometimes necessary to sacrifice profit on the first book to gain name recognition in order to make a good profit on the second book.

            There is one last point that applies to this step and each the following steps.  Let’s say, the unfortunate experience has occurred that 5 or 6 local talk show radio show hosts were approached, and there is no bite for an appearance.  It is time for a reality check.

            This is the hardest thing an author has to do.  A lot of work went into writing the book.  Sometimes in spite of the best research there is simply no interest out there in the topic the book presents.  If 5 or 6 local radio talk show hosts have been approached without an offer of a program appearance, then the author must take a serious look at whether he or she wants to throw good money after bad.  It may be time to cut loses and proceed to the next book.

            The author may proceed with the other steps listed below.  However, without the initial recognition that local radio talk shows provide, it is unlikely the author will have much success.  That’s just the way it is when seeking to sell a book through this method.


            A Quick Review-Script Summary

            Interviews on one to three local radio talk shows were successfully completed.  It is now time to design a Script Summary for your book.  A script summary is an outline of information about you as the author, and about the book that the radio talk show host can use in developing questions to be asked during a radio show interview. 

            A script summary is not an option.  It is mandatory.  The accuracy of the information presented must be at the same level as that of a resume, because the script summary is your resume to the radio talk show host. 

            Script summaries are not exactly necessary when approaching local radio talk shows, although it will be appreciated if one is enclosed with the letter of inquiry.  Above the local radio talk show level, a script summary is mandatory.  No exceptions.

            Script summaries should minimally include the following information:

            1.  Author contact information.

            2.  Book publisher information, including an Internet URL and telephone number where to purchase the book.

            3.  An author bio of no more than 200 words.
            4.  A listing of media appearances, to be built upon as they occur.

            5.  A chapter-by-chapter outline of the book in one sentence highlights, with the key point for each chapter noted.

            6.  A proposed set of 20 questions to be asked by the host about the book.


            Step 3:  Internet Radio Talk Shows

            The next step is to obtain interviews on Internet radio talk shows.  The Internet radio talk show is a new media, less than five years old.  Today there are thousands of Internet radio shows broadcast everyday and a good portion of those shows are talk shows.  The competition among Internet radio shows for a listening audience is “cut throat.” 

All of this is good for a new writer trying to gain media recognition.  It means Internet radio talk shows are constantly seeking new, original, and unusual material.  Since these shows are not regulated by the FCC in the U.S. regarding content, they have little constraint regarding the material they use.  The downside to Internet radio shows is that most have small audiences (less than 2,000 listeners).  The upside is the ease by which an appearance on the show can be gained, which in turn builds up the “Media Appearances” section of the script summary.

            There are two forms of Internet radio broadcasts.  The first is a live broadcast.  This is a broadcast that is made in real time.  There is a real downside to appearing on such a program, and that is the Internet bandwidth available to the show.  Unless it is a well-funded show with a larger server, the number of people who will be able to listen to the show will be limited to the hundreds.  Also, the show goes away once it’s over.

            The second form of Internet radio show is the one that is posted to the Internet.  This form is tape recorded ahead of time, and then the show is “posted” to the Internet.  The posting of the show to the Internet means more people can listen to it at the cost of less bandwidth; people can listen to it at a time of their convenience; and more important, the program usually stays posted on the Internet for at least a week, if not longer.

            The research technique for Internet radio talk shows is basically the same as it was for local radio talk shows, except the research is conducted across the Internet.  Be warned!  This research is time consuming beyond all belief.  But the potential benefits are huge.  

            Use an Internet search engine for this research.  I recommend www.hotbot.com because this is an umbrella site for four of the largest Internet search engines out there: Fast, Google, Inktomi, and Teoma.  www.dogpile.com is another good umbrella Internet search engine.  Suggested “key words” are “Internet talk shows,” or “Internet radio talk shows.”

            Unlike local radio talk shows, with Internet radio talk shows, it is accepted that communication is initially conducted by e-mail.  Be prepared, and have an eBook version of the book available for an e-mail attachment.  However, if a postal mailing address can be obtained, this is the better form of communication for the initial letter of inquiry.  It may require a telephone call to obtain a mailing address.  Above all, at this level, a follow up telephone call should be made regarding the initial letter of inquiry.

            At this level, expect to sell between 100 and 500 copies of your book.


            Step 4: The Big Time-The Nationally Syndicated  Radio Talk Show

            You have several local radio talk shows and several Internet radio talk shows under you belt, and hopefully corrected noted on your Script Summary.  It is now time to try for the nationally syndicated radio talk show.

            The presentation here is the same as for Internet radio talk shows: a letter of inquiry, a Script Summary; and a hardcopy of the book.  DO NOT send your presentation directly to the host. 

These people are overwhelmed with such inquiries.  Instead, send your presentation to the producer of the program.  A quick search of the Internet can obtain minimally a telephone number for the program’s producer.  In the alternative, contact local stations airing the show in order to find at least the telephone number to the producer.  The producer may be involved in several programs, so you should be prepare to accept any offer made.  Again, the concept is, get on the air any way you can.

            Follow up your letter of inquiry with a telephone call approximately one week later.

            An appearance on a major syndicated radio talk show should result in the sales of approximately 5,000 copies of your book.


            Step 5: The Really Big Time-Obtaining an Agent and Major Publisher

            Once you have gained one or more appearances on syndicated radio talk shows, it is now time to go for the really big time: the acquisition of an agent and publication with a major, main stream publisher.  Again, make the same presentation: a letter of inquiry; a Script Summary, and a copy of the book.

            There is a publication found at Barnes & Nobel, or any other similar bookstore entitled, 5,000 Agents.  It is found in the same section as the Writer’s Market.  This publication lists all book agents in the U.S. by subject content.  It is a “must have” for any author.

            The process is simple.  Choose an appropriate agent and send your presentation packet to that agent.  Be sure to emphasize on the Script Summary radio appearances and the number of copies of your book sold to date.  This will indicate to the agent that you have a book of interest for which there is a demand. 

            Television Considerations

            Rather than go the route of the agent, you may wish to first try to promote your book in the T.V. market.  I encourage you to do so.  However, keep in mind that the T.V. market is highly competitive and seriously cut throat.  The tools for making a successful presentation into this market have already been provided to you here.

            First, research the market as to which program upon which you wish to appear.  Second, find the mailing address for the producer of the program.  Third, send the producer a cover letter, a copy of your book, and a copy of your script summary.  Fourth, send everything out via postal priority mail.  Fifth, follow up the mailing with a telephone call one week later.

            This is the basic formula for all applications for media appearances.  For T.V. appearances, I wish you the best of fortune.  It is a real “duck shoot” regarding your ability to break into this media.  Good fortune and news worthy circumstances will play an important part in your ability to break in here.

            Some Concluding Considerations

            Keep in mind that radio talk shows have the requirement of 10,000 interviews per week.  Persistence and hard work is the key.  Keep at it, and you will eventually get a radio talk show appearance.  Remember that radio talk shows live and die by audience participation, so develop a presentation that will increase that participation for the show upon which you appear is important.  If you do that, radio talk shows will beat a path to your door.

            Non-fictional works have a better opportunity in gaining access to radio talk shows, but fictional works, if they hit, will sell better.  This is not to say, if you have a work of fiction, you cannot get on a radio talk show.  It will be much harder for you do so.  But if you do succeed in getting on a radio talk show with a work of fiction, you will sell many more books.

            Lazy authors who have POD published books do not sell their books.  Always remember that under the concept of POD publishing the responsibility rests upon you as the author to promote your book.

            One last point that has been said many time before.  Nothing replaces excellence.  The quality of the book must be excellent. The quality of the author promotion of the book must be excellent.  Absent these two factors, no matter what you do, the book will not sell.

            I know you may be asking how I know these things.  I will tell you.  Using the principles presented here, I went in a period of six months from an unknown author to a nationally recognized author.  It took me over six hours per day for a period of time of over two years to accomplish this.

            Writing for money is a full time job.  If you are not willing to make that commitment, then don’t do it.  On the other hand if you are willing to make such a commitment, the rewards are yours to have.


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