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Write a How-To First

An Article by Patricia L. Fry

President of Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN)






Are you eager to write a novel, a memoir or a children’s book, but you are intimidated by the enormity of the task? If you’ve done your research, you know that publishing is a daunting undertaking. And there are no guarantees that your book will be successful.

Countless people become authors without knowing the ropes. And many of them fail.

That’s why I suggest to clients and SPAWN members that they start by publishing a sure thing. A sure thing in publishing, you scoff? Absolutely. Produce a how-to book or booklet on a topic that you know well. Self-publish it and distribute it through familiar channels.

Let’s say that you grow kitchen herbs. First, do some research to see if there is a need for a pamphlet or booklet on how to grow a kitchen garden, how to cook with herbs, simple medicinal products you can mix at home or 10 crafts you can make using lavender.

Maybe you have small children. You could put together a booklet featuring rainy day activities for kids, local day trips for families or teaching tips for keeping your kids minds sharp during the summer break.

If you raise goats, respond to letters to Santa, collect vintage clothing, love to ride roller coasters, have patented an item, love gardening, have a disabled child, work with the blind or rescue injured birds, you have information that others don’t have and possibly need or want. Producing a pamphlet or booklet is an excellent way to share your knowledge while learning the publishing ropes.

What if you don’t have a particular skill, talent or area of interest? Choose a subject you’d like to know more about, do the research, conduct interviews and write about it. I’ve written about numerous topics in which I didn’t have vast experience, including chain letters, journal-keeping, long-distance grandparenting, intuition, scrapbooking, therapeutic gardening and how to work with an irate customer, for example.

Once you’ve chosen a subject for your booklet, write a book proposal. A book proposal will help you to determine whether you have a valid book idea at all. You’ll learn who your target audience is. A book proposal guides you in locating outlets for your book. This is an excellent opportunity for you to experience the book proposal process. And when you are ready to write that novel, memoir or children’s book, you’ll have a model to use

How does one go about promoting a book? In the case of a booklet on herbs, perhaps you belong to an organization related to herbs, have a Web site featuring herbs, produce a newsletter for herb enthusiasts and love to visit other herb groups when you travel. Plan to use these means to promote and sell your booklet.

Promotional opportunities for the rainy day activities booklet might include a point-of- purchase display at local toy stores and children’s shops. You could design and write a column for a new regional parenting magazine. Obtain a mailing list of young parents and offer your booklet through mail order.

Your 20-50-page booklet could become a home-grown product with you doing the cover design, page layout, printing and assembly, for example. Or pay a local business center to print and saddle-stitch the book.

While no two projects are the same, this publishing and marketing experience will provide you with the skills and tools you need for future projects. And it will give you the perspective to more clearly evaluate the potential for the book of your dreams, the courage to change the focus if you feel it is warranted and the confidence to proceed.

Patricia Fry is a freelance writer, author and writing/publishing consultant. She is the author of 25 books, including, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book," (Matilija Press, 2006). Visit her informative blog at