10 Questions to Ask Before Writing Your Book

One of the saddest parts of my job as a publicity expert is taking calls from authors who are almost in tears.

All the calls sound the same. The authors have spent a fortune writing, publishing and marketing their books—with few sales to show for it. Most of them can’t park in their garages because of the dozens of cardboard boxes of books that are in the way.

“What did I do wrong?” the beleaguered author asks.

I wish every author would talk to me before writing the first word. I’d ask them these questions—the same questions you should ask yourself, particularly if you’re giddy with excitement over the idea of being published. The truth is that writing a book is hard work. And marketing the book is even tougher.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you shouldn’t be writing the book because chances are good you won’t be able to sell it.

Here are the questions:

1. What is the purpose of your book? Answer in one sentence only. Don’t put the emphasis on yourself by explaining why you are writing it. Instead, put the emphasis on the reader.

2. Who is your target market for the book? If you don’t know who you’re writing for, then why are you even writing? Defining your target market NOW will help you write more clearly and convincingly because you can write directly to them, in language they can understand.

3. Why should people in your target market spend time and money on your book? Your answer should be short—preferably one you can recite in fewer than 10 seconds. That’s because lots of people will be asking you this question—publishers, publicists, agents, business associates, friends, and maybe even reporters.

4. Can your target market even afford your book? People in some target markets don’t read, period. Others can’t afford to buy books. If that’s the case, and those people are within your target market, you will have to come up with ideas on how to get the books to them.

5. Other than bookstores, how or where can you sell your book? Self-publishing guru Dan Poynter says bookstores are lousy places to sell books because your book is competing with thousands of other books for the buyers’ attention. So where else or how else can you sell the book? If this question stumps you, you need to research your target market. What media do they read, watch or listen to? What professional associations or clubs do they belong to? What newsletters do they subscribe to? What are their hobbies?

6. In what areas are you an expert, and are those areas directly related to the topic of your book? If you don’t know if you’re an expert, read The Expertise Imperative White Paper. Expertise builds credibility, something that’s imperative when it comes to marketing your book.

7. If you are not an expert in your topic, what must you do to become an expert? The White Paper mentioned above explains this.

8. What spin-off products and services can you create that tie into the book? If you don’t care about making money from your book, skip this question. If you want to make as much money as possible, you must start thinking about all the spin-off products you can create after the book is written. Those include ebooks, special reports, CDs and DVDs, tips booklets, seminars, mentoring programs, telephone consulting, workbooks, board games, wall calendars, greeting cards, coffee mugs, etc.

9. If you want to make money, would you be better off repackaging the information into informational products like those mentioned above and forgetting about the book? Publishing a book is expensive. Information products such as electronic special reports, on the other hand, can be created for next to nothing. If you already have a big mailing list of qualified customers, or an email list of people who will allow you to market to them, you might want to forget about a book and concentrate only on other products.

10. How much do you know about how to generate publicity for your book?
If you don’t know the ropes, start learning NOW. Sign up for my free ezine, read more than 70 free articles on publicity, and check out the “Authors & Publishers” category at my blog.

Don’t wait until after the book is written to learn how to publicize it. Note: If you have a publisher, knowing this information is still important because your publicist will be with you for about six months, then you’re on your own. (See “How to Hire the Perfect Publicist.”)

Authors must consider many more things before they write, but these questions are a good place to start.

Joan Stewart publishes the free ezine “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week,” which gives you valuable tips on how to generate thousands of dollars in free publicity. Subscribe at http://www.PublicityHound.com


  1. Tom Kidd says

    Really good points, Joan. I’ve been telling my clients and potential clients much the same thing for years.

    Fewer people listen to advise than even read these days.