Over the last 10 years, I have written five "how-to" books, which are books that teach people about aspects of business that they would like to learn more about and improve on. Everyone who visits my Web site or sees my business card -- which lists the five books I've written -- asks me what it takes to write a book and get it published. They ask me why I write books to begin with.

Writing books is very rewarding on many levels, but it is a lot of work for typically very little money. The average advance for a first-time writer is typically $5,000 to $10,000, and it takes about 16 hours a week for a year if you are fast. That translates into $6 to $12 an hour, so financial gain is pretty low on the list of benefits. It's certainly on my list of 10 reasons I write books, though:

  1. Learning: When you write a book, even if you are an expert in the area, you tend to learn new things about your craft. Writing a book makes you think about parts of your business that you may have overlooked.
  2. Accomplishment: Few experiences in business give you the high that seeing your book on the bookshelves of a bookstore or on the Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Borders Web sites.
  3. Educating others: It feels great to know you are having a positive impact on other people's businesses by providing information that they can use in their business.
  4. Fame: I love it when people read my books and send me emails. I like it when people ask me for autographs.
  5. Media coverage: Books are a great way to generate media coverage. I have been featured in magazines and have been a guest on radio and television shows and on Internet sites.
  6. Business contacts: Through writing books, I get to meet a variety of experts who can provide me with information I can use for my clients; I also get to meet interesting people.

  1. Referral sources: Through writing books, I have gotten new business from people who have read my book and asked me to do work for them or their clients.
  2. Speaking engagements: People love to meet authors, so organizations like to invite them to speak because they are a big draw.
  3. Multiple usage: Many writers take their books and chop them up and use them as columns for publications and their own Web sites. I have sent pieces of my books to my clients as a way to educate them on various subjects.
  4. Revenue source: It's nice to bring in another source of revenue, but it has to be the last consideration. In fact, every publisher I have dealt with has expected me to reinvest my advance in hiring public relations professionals to drive sales.

Now that you know the various reasons for writing a book, you'll want to know the process to obtain a contract. It's not easy. When I spoke to acquisition editors at various publishing houses, they told me that there are upwards of 2 million submissions a year from aspiring business writers, and only 60,000 of those get published. That is a 3% chance of getting published.That daunting statistic notwithstanding, there are some steps to getting your book published.

Step one: Develop a one-paragraph description of your concept and then see how many books on Amazon.com cover the topic. If there are too many books on the topic, then you know there is little chance someone will want to publish the book because there are too many competitors in the space. In general, if you can easily find more than 10 books on your subject, the market may be saturated.

That said, if it is a hot new topic some publishers may want an expert on the subject matter to put together a book to fill out their own offerings.

Step two: Find out how many books have been sold on the topic. Contact the Association of American Publishers, which can point you in the right direction.

Step three: If there aren't too many books, or the space could use some additional choices, then you need to develop a proposal. The proposal looks like a business plan, and should include the following information:

  • mission of the book;
  • target market;
  • competition;
  • author's marketing plan;
  • author's sales plan;
  • book outline; and
  • sample chapter.

Step four: As a first-time writer, unless you are a famous corporate leader, getting an agent is next to impossible. Agents typically get 10% to 15%, and when first-time writers are only getting $5,000 to $10,000, that percentage isn't worth the effort. Once I had two books published, I had agents contact me because it was easier for them to get me contracts of $25,000 or more. Therefore, you have to buy the Writer's Market or go to the Web sites of various publishers and contact the editors through the Web sites.

My suggestion is to mail proposals to every publisher who would consider printing your book. It's a long, arduous process. The editors are typically young English major graduates with very little understanding of business. If all of the responses are negative, then you might consider self-publishing.

I have known authors who self-published after they failed to get a contract. Through their hard work, they proved that their concept had potential and managed to get a publishing contract. Just remember: It is a process, and like any start-up business, you have to persevere.

Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.

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