So you want to be a bestselling author?

Being the author an HR
best-seller can only be good for your career . But before you rush to get your
name into print, Simon Kent warns you of what’s ahead.

There’s an old adage that
everyone has a book inside them. If yours concerns HR practice, how can you get
your ideas and theories out to an appreciative public? Could your recipe for HR
excellence make you the Delia Smith of people management?

How to make a pitch

You have an idea for a book.
It’s a great new theory (or more likely a twist on an existent theory) and will
take 60-80,000 words for you to explain it fully.

The first thing to do is put
that idea into as few words as possible: “We use the 10- second pitch,” says
Stephen Partridge, commissioning editor with Pearson Education. “If you can’t
explain the book in that time, people will not be interested.”

Titles must be short and snappy
(Mike Johnson’s Talent Magnet , for
example) leaving a short subtitle to explain exactly what the book does (Getting
talented people to work for you
, for instance).

Making a proposal

Publishers do not want to see a
completed manuscript immediately – even if you have one – but they do want to
know what they’re being offered. All publishers look for the same kind of
information from a proposal, even if emphasis changes between editorial offices.

“The proposal gives us a clear
idea of the writer and their work,” says Ailsa Marks of Butterworth Heinemann.
“It doesn’t have to be detailed but we need to get an idea of their writing
ability, what’s motivating them to write and why they think there’s a place in
the market for their book.”

The proposal should include:

● Your personal details:
a brief and relevant CV. This doesn’t need to show a history of writing but
should back up the reason why you are the person to write this book
● Rationale and approach: what will the book do and why?
● Proposed market: who is going to be interested in your book and more
importantly, who will buy it?
● Competition: Ailsa Marks says claiming there is no competition is an
immediate turn-off. If there’s no competition, is there any demand?
● Contents outline: chapters, subheadings and supplements.

How long will it take?

After a swift round of
negotiating your advance and royalties (see below) you have to actually write
your masterpiece. You will need to write in your spare time in the event that
your employer doesn’t see your literary career supporting the direction of the
business. How much spare time do you have and have you the discipline to stick
with it?

In most cases, you will be
given around nine months to submit your manuscript. This means that from the
time you make your first pitch to the time the book hits the shelf will
probably be just over a year – which in turn means your great idea will only
get the go-ahead if it is clear that it will be relevant at the time of

Getting on the shelf

● Submit your manuscript
● Your editor gives feedback and demands rewrites if necessary
● The finalised text is typeset and you receive a copy to proofread
● Once passed, the book is printed and bound

You may be asked to take part
in promotional activities – interviews, media appearances and maybe even
talks/signings depending on the profile of the publication.

Don’t believe the
(electronic) hype

E-publishing has yet to have a
significant impact on the business market. In general publishers use PDF
formats to offer downloads of sample chapters for marketing purposes. Digital
publishing means that few books published today will go out of print since
publishers can keep them electronically and print individual copies on demand.

Don’t give up the day job

Not wishing to pour water on
your burning ambition, you need to be realistic. The business book market is
not limitless and, as Partridge notes, it is individuals who buy books, not

Welcome to Catch 22. Some
publishers will not even consider your work unless you are represented by an
agent., but you can’t get an agent unless you have previously published work,
an undoubtable reputation or indisputable talent. Check out listings in The
Writers’ Handbook
, published annually by Macmillan to find individual
publisher’s attitudes to unsolicited manuscripts.

How much will you earn?

It’s highly unlikely that your
book will fund your retirement. Bestsellers may come once every five to 10
years, but even then could only mean 100,000 copies sold. According to the
Society of Authors, first time writers can expect an advance payment for their
work of between £1,000-£5,000.

Management gurus with a track
record and publishing history can net ten times this amount but no-one will
sell their idea for £1m as in the hyped world of fiction. The advance is
usually split into three payments: a third on signature of the contract, a
third on acceptance of the manuscript and a third on publication. At the lower
end, this means receiving £300 and nothing more until you’ve finished the

Depending on contractual terms,
the author receives royalty payments of around 10 per cent retail price or the
value of receipts, depending on the market. Getting 10 per cent of receipts
means that if the book is discounted to wholesalers – usually a reduction of
between 20 and 40 per cent of cover price – you will receive 10 per cent of
that price and not 10 per cent of the original price. There is a balance to be
struck here since discounts drive up the number of units sold, but drive down
each royalty payment.

Whether you ever see income
from royalty payments is another matter since this money will be counted
against your advance and a first print run usually only meets this amount. For
example, you receive a £1,000 advance. Your book retails at £9.99 and you’re on
10 per cent royalties netting 99p for every book sold. You will only get
additional money to your £1,000 advance if your book sells 1,011 copies. If the
first print run is only 1,000 it needs to sell out and prompt a second print if
you’re to see any further financial returns.

If your book is heavily
illustrated your royalties may have to be shared with the illustrator or used
to pay off their fee. If the book is part of a series, the series editor could
take 2 per cent from your royalties. If you quote extensively from other
sources it is your responsibility to get permission for use and your royalties
will meet any connected copyright costs.

Of course, if you have the
elusive idea that results in a bestseller the financial side of things will not
be a problem. But even if you have more modest returns, you still have the
status of being a published author.

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