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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thomas

“Can My Story Become a Book?”

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

I’m going to be completely honest: That question makes me nervous. Publishing is an extremely unpredictable business, and I’m always hesitant to answer the question of whether someone’s story can be sold as a book. Instead, I try to provide good information about the process that will help a potential author determine their next step.

That being said, there are two options: self-publishing and traditional publishing (through a publishing house).

I don't have experience in self-publishing because my business model is in traditional publishing. The small bit of knowledge I have about self-publishing is that it is most beneficial for people who have established means for selling books themselves, such as someone who speaks and sets up a book table in the lobby for selling books. Many authors lose money self-publishing because they don't have a way to sell enough books to cover their costs. One common mistake is to believe that being able to place a book on Amazon guarantees sales success. The last figure I heard was that there were more than 32 million books on Amazon – that’s a crowded field for selling a book!

For some who choose self-publishing, making money isn't important. Their objective is to tell their story and they aren't concerned with the number of books sold. An example would be someone publishing their story so that it can be passed around their family and down through generations. In this case, self-publishing is worth the cost and a good option.

Traditional publishing almost always requires that an author have representation, such as a literary agent, a publishing-knowledgeable attorney, or a manager who can get you to an agent or publishing-knowledgeable attorney.

Life stories fall under the autobiographies/memoirs category. Memoirs is my niche as a collaborator.

Memoirs is a competitive category. Most memoirs sold to publishers are by celebrity-types because the author has an established platform from which to promote his or her book. It's not impossible for a great story with no platform to land a publisher, but it is clearly the exception rather than the norm. I’ve collaborated on eleven memoirs, and ten were for authors who had established platforms (big names, TV shows, movies, family connections, etc.). The one who didn’t have a large platform had a couple of well-known people who had significant platforms to which he was able to attach, and his book has sold well.

Platform and story are the two most important factors in landing a publisher and, it seems, platform typically trumps story.

Non-fiction is sold through proposals pitched by literary agents. You need to know that legitimate agents do not charge any kind of fees until your book lands a contract – they work solely off of commission. An agent might tell you that you need to hire a writer or an editor, but run from an agent who offers to do that for you for a fee.

If the author is not a writer, it costs to have a professional writer put the proposal together. Some people who want to have their stories published are surprised to learn they must pay a writer for a proposal. I assume the person thinks he should not pay for a proposal that might not result in a contract. But established writers rarely work on speculation, because creating an effective proposal is time-consuming and a learned skill.

One important note: If you aren't able to turn your story into a book, don't let that delegitimize your story. I've talked to too many people who believed it would take writing a book for their story to have meaning. A book is only one way of telling your story. So remember that your story is important, and tell it however you can!

I hope that helps get you started on what you should research to determine your chances of selling your story. Best wishes!

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