How to publish a useless nonfiction book

HTWB serious catWell, yeee-hah … these days all you need to do to magic up a nonfiction (e.g. business, self-help, etc.) book is to scribble some stuff down, or perhaps just chop your blog posts together (or buy some software that does it for you), upload it or pay some kiddie to set it up and voilà – you’re a respected, admired “published author.”

Since people published books in tablets of stone, it has never been easier for just about anyone to become a “published author” and use that handle to enhance their status and prestige.

A poor quality book is about as useful to your reputation and marketing as a conviction for shoplifting…

If you know your way around Amazon and its systems you can set up online publishing at a few (dozen) clicks and not even worry whether your original material had spelling, grammar or other goofs in it. Who cares? And you get to be an “Amazon author” too. What an honor!

Of course if you haven’t time to do that, there are myriad organizations lurking around that will take all your unedited stuff and compile it into a book for you, at a price of course, and publish it – even as a print book, but especially as one of the increasing incarnations of eBooks online.

But don’t expect them to edit it. Or lay it out properly. Or have it printed properly. Or even make sure it reads OK in eBook format.

small__3205395016You get what you pay for, of course. Simple.

Is this what you really want as a promotion for your business or cause?

This is not exactly rocket science; the more crap that gets published online (or offline for that matter) the more the status of being a “published author” gets trashed.

Ergo, even if you do write and self-publish a good book, you may still get tarred with the same brush that rightly gonzoes all the inferior self-published bullsh*t and mocks its writers, publishers and promoters as being cynical upstarts.

Is a published book still a good marketing tool?

Yes, but it has become a severely qualified “yes.”

Readers, audiences, customers, clients et al  have become savvy about the true value of a “published book” sold at the back of the room with a cookie-cutter cover design that uses freebie art as an illustration, poor typography, poor quality printing that’s often crooked on the page, etc. In the digital versions you’ll see unreadable text, hysterical pagination, links that don’t work, etc.

And even if all the mechanical bits work OK, if the “published author” isn’t too adept with the spelling / grammar / punctuation etc. and hasn’t employed an editor to straighten out his/her mess, readers can be hard pushed to understand what the hell s/he is talking about in the first place, never mind getting a positive impression of her/his professionalism and expertise.

So what’s the answer?

small__8070968914No surprises here. I’m not personally touting for business because I don’t do comprehensive publishing services which are probably what you need if you’re going to do a good job of your book. However several people I know do, and do it very well – from producing and uploading the simplest of Kindle eBook to the whole caboodle of print and Kindle editions, full distribution, etc. I’ll be glad to pass on appropriate recommendations to you if you’re interested – give me a shout via the contact form on the sidebar to the right on here.

In the meantime should you need some help with getting a nonfiction book on the road, you might like to check out one of my books – How To Write Winning Non-fiction. It’s good; based on my own experiences and a lot of lessons learned the hard way.

Key criteria if you want to self-publish a book that stands out from the crap

Avoid these breezy auto-compilation packages. They suck. By the time you’ve edited what they collate and got some sense out of the whole thing, you’ll find it probably would have been easier and faster to compile the book yourself, by hand.

Writing/compiling a book isn’t a piece of cake. Face it. Put in the time to do it properly … it will be worth it. Promise.

Take your time over writing it. I really throw my toys out of the pram when I read about people offering you a course that “gets your book written in just XX days.” How many days does NOT matter; what matters is the end product. And that’s even more important now that there are so many useless, badly and hastily written self-published books out there. Forget how many days: think how much quality.

Get it professionally edited. Even I, the Great Grammar Nazi, overlook stuff. (Just ask Lucy, our fiction columnist, who edits some of my books…)

Get it professionally proofread. Ditto. When you’ve been working with a manuscript for a few weeks/months you can miss many small goofs if only because you have developed a bit of word blindness.

Get it professionally designed. Athough you may think that the font and type size used for your book don’t matter because your subject matter is so riveting, uh-uh. Readability is very  important, online and offline. And make sure your designer doesn’t get carried away with too many twiddly bits; plain and simple may sound boring, but it’s usually more inviting to read. More about readability in this article

Make sure it’s professionally printed. Some (printed) self-published books look like they have been printed out on toilet paper with covers made out of egg cartons, and trimmed using grandma’s pinking shears. Not the sort of quality you want to be associated with.

And as for marketing…

…that’s another ballgame and one which I want to look into further now, because ways to market nonfiction books have changed even since I last wrote about that a couple of years ago.

In the meantime, what experiences do you have with self-publishing (for your own books) and with self-published books (written by other people?)

Would love to see your thoughts.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50 (less than £2.00!)

photo credit: The Story Lady via photopin cc
photo credit: Shannon Archuleta via photopin cc




  1. It’s a bit of a doubled edged sword:
    On the one hand I think it’s fantastic how easy it is to publish your own book. It allows me to do something I never thought I could.
    On the other hand ….. I have read some appalling books, rubbish content, bad grammar, spelling etc …
    So I’ll continue to write and check and rewrite and check until I can publish a well written book that is not printed on toilet paper 😉

    • You’re right there, Angelika, and it’s precisely that freedom and ease with which you can publish your own book that has allowed such a lot of crap to get out into the readersphere. I wish all self-publishers were as professional and conscientious as you obviously are! Good luck with your publishing.


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