Book Review: How to Write, Publish, & Sell Your Own How-To Book

by Mr. Cheap

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I was happy to get a copy from a friend of John T. Reed’s “How to Write, Publish, & Sell Your Own How-To Book” which I’ve been wanting to read for a while.  In articles, and in other books, Mr. Reed has discussed that he got started on writing “How-To” books when a friend suggested them to him, he was surprised at how profitable they were, and he’s been doing them ever since.

John Reed takes titles seriously, and typically they tell you EXACTLY what the book is about (writing, publishing and selling a how-to book in this case).  He goes through the process in depth, for example explaining what type of paper or cover design he recommends and why.

I’ve had a goal to write a book at some point, and was surprised at his approach to the actual writing.  He recommends writing about something you know, writing the way you speak, makes some suggestions about length and that’s about it.  He suggests that past English teachers, and their negative feedback, can safely be ignored (like Stephen King, he never got any encouragement from his teachers to write professionally), but that if you have writing talent, your friends will probably have noticed and complimented you on it.  Failing that, he suggests to just barrel through and, in the worst case, dictate what you want to say to a recording device then transcribe it.

To a degree this reassured me that there’s no “black art” to it, or “literary police” I need to get permission from before I start writing.  He basically suggests typesetting as you go (work on it in the form you’ll eventually publish it in) and just get going.

A large part of the book is a diatribe against the publishing industry (and why you should avoid them).  He’s used to being looked down on as a self-publisher, and strongly feels that being published by a typical publisher is such a bad deal that people only do it for the vanity of seeing themselves in a book store (and convincing their friends that they’re a “real” writer).   I’m not sure if I feel as strongly about it (and would love to be offered a publishing deal like Squawkfox – yes, I *AM* green with envy).  But, I also like to make more money, so I’d be tempted to get into self publishing if it was more lucrative.  He has done both and is a strong advocate for self-publishing (and distributing).

He recommends printing the book and binding it yourself at home to start, and once you’ve gotten enough orders to justify it, do a print run with a publisher for a year or two’s supply of books (and print more as needed) to sell through your own website.  I was surprised that he didn’t mention “on demand” Internet publishers (like Lulu.com), either to recommend or criticize them.  I’ve read on-line reviews of some of his “early edition bound-at-home” books, and customers seem pretty under-whelmed by them.  I think on-line, on-demand publishing might be the way to start, then switch to larger-scale when and if the volume supports it.

That’s probably the one big criticism that can be made of John T. Reed, he’s very forceful and direct about what he believes and why, and its great 99% of the time, but occasionally he has blind spots (and refuses to acknowledge them), or gets misinformed and can’t shake the incorrect information (I’ve read repeatedly some funny ideas he has about XML).

While how much money you make depends entirely on how popular the book is, Reed’s experience has been that his books do well over a long time (they keep selling year after year).  He suggests that they’ll be the type of coveted “passive income” vehicles that take a large amount of upfront labour, then pay out year-after-year into the far future.

I don’t like linking to books we review.  Since we never set up an affiliate system, it doesn’t make any money for “the Mike” (watch out Trump!), and some readers will think we’re getting a commission which will bias the review.  Since you can ONLY buy this book at John T. Reed’s website (he discusses the rationale for this in the book), I’ll include the link here (but we don’t make a dime if you click on it and / or purchase the book).

I finish course work this term, and am thinking about a few possible side-projects once I switch into full-time research mode.  Writing a book is definitely one of the contenders.  Ideas I might write about include:

  • A romance novel about a frugal man (and the women who love him)
  • A super-basic, introductory personal-finance book
  • An introduction (and how-to guide) for Canadian dividend reinvestment plans (DRiPs)
  • A travel-log about my cheap backpacking trip across Europe (there’d be a bit of romance in this one too, although sadly no where near as much as I’d hoped there would be when I started the trip).
  • A travel-log about my experiences living in Taiwan (and teaching English there)
  • A layman’s guide to the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act, written for landlords and tenants, translating the legalese into English (with examples). I’ve been meaning to fully digest the act at some point, and doing so to write a book might be a good way to combine two projects.
  • A guide to graduate school, suggestions how to: get in, decide where (and whether) to go, outline the differences from being an undergrad, how to get up to speed in your research area, basic research and teaching skills, how to relate to your supervisor and fellow grad students, etc, etc.
  • A introduction to computer programming, using building a simple game (think Tetris or Space Invaders) with a real programming language as the core “project” and explaining proper software development techniques (and their rationale) throughout.

Which of my books would you buy or do you think would be the most popular?  What would you write a book about?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

Neat info. I have actually signed up for some book affiliates (ie amazon) but I rarely take the time to set up the links – one of these days!

Affiliate book sales don’t make much $$ especially when both you and I emphasize that the library is the best place for most books.

I honestly don’t know which book you should do – I’m thinking the more general appeal ones (travel) might do better but they might have more competition as well.

2 Canadian Dream

Mr Cheap,

Speaking of the library there are a ton of books out there on writing and self publishing (mostly US). Look up Dan Poynter’s books. One I got that is specific to the Canadian Market is Self Publishing in Canada by Suzanne Anderson. It focuses more on the publishing end more than writing, but it is a very good guide.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned so far is you can’t just write what you want. You have to write what you can sell. That is the primary gauge for getting a book published.

Best of luck with what ever you write,
Tim

3 ObliviousInvestor

As somebody who has self-published a few books, I can say it’s worked out pretty well for me. (It’s how I make a living.)

I’d suggest going with Lightning Source rather than Lulu if you decide to go print-on-demand. Lightning Source is the printing company that Lulu (and most of the other POD self-publishing companies) actually use. If you cut out the middle man your profit margin goes up by somewhere in the ballpark of 25% of the cover price.

If you do end up deciding to self-publish a book, please feel free to email me with any questions. 🙂

4 nobleea

the one about the ontario tenant act would probably be the one with the biggest market. or best chance of selling.

i can’t think of what I might write a book about. maybe my adventures in online dating.

5 Mr. Cheap

FP Mike: Ah, neat! You can’t buy Reed’s books except through his site, but I’ll start adding a link (with your affiliate code) to any future reviews.

Tim: Reed actually talks extensively about Poynter’s book (and says that it has a lot of good info in spite of some major shortcomings). I’ll definitely check out his book and Anderson’s, thanks!

Rob: Thanks for your suggestion! Perhaps a special report would be the way to go. I agree that there’s credibility from being in a book store (which Reed already had when he started self-publishing).

OI Mike: I’d seen your books but didn’t realize that was how you made your living (I assumed it was a side gig for some reason). Very cool to have you as a contact, thanks very much (and you’ll definitely be getting some e-mails from me 🙂 )! Thanks for the tip to check out Lightning Source.

Nobleea: That’d be a fun book (the online dating book). I think you’re right that the tenant act book might have the largest market (and people who wanted it / needed it would probably be willing to pay a premium for it, whereas with some of the other I’d have to price it comparably to other “leisure reads”).

6 Hollie

The book idea sounds great. Just to let you know included you in my list of Top 10 Canadian Blogs that Help You Save Money.

Hollie

7 Melanie Reformed Spender

Interesting book ideas…

-The romance novel might be a tough sell
-The travel logs sound very interesting
-Could be wrong since the others seem to be interested, but the tenancies act sounds too specific to me, even if it is reality very large. It would be more convincing if it were part of a bigger guide.
-Guide to grad school I’d love to read on blogs but would probably be to cheap to purchase
-Both introductory books would need to be extremely well done to stand out amongst the heavy competition.
-The DRiP book sounds like a great idea

I have to admit I’m a little intrigued by the frugal romance.

About the comments… Don’t forget about small publishers. Akin to indie labels, a small publisher can offer a lot of support and more promotion that you’d get from a big one. Plus, though no one ever wants to give up creative control, there’s something to be said for the editing process.

8 ObliviousInvestor

Well, they were a side gig. Then last October I looked at the numbers again and found myself thinking, “Hmm…I could be doing this full-time.”

So that’s what I’ve been doing for about 6 months now.

It’s obviously less income than side gig + job, but it’s enough. And I enjoy what I’m doing. 🙂

9 Mrs. Micah

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while because I like his guru pages…

I think you’re right to point out Lulu. He’s probably got a system going and doesn’t pay any attention to new possibilities because his works for him. Pity he left it out, however.

As for books, I vote for the frugal romance!

10 Jeff

Now that you’ve read John T Reed’s HTWP book, are you interested in selling it used? If so, let me know. 🙂

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