How to Write Nonfiction Books that Sell (Part I)

How to Write Nonfiction Books that Sell (Part I)My first three nonfiction books were published in 1994. Thirty-seven books and compilations later, I am still working to perfect my technique in order to write nonfiction books that sell. Like most authors, I have made mistakes along my path to make a solid living from my craft. Even so, after selling a couple hundred thousand books, I feel that my journey has provided ideas and techniques that are valuable for other nonfiction authors. That is why I write this blog and I want to share tips on how to write nonfiction books that sell with you in this article.

Let’s get started by examining the process that I use when I decide to create a new nonfiction book. You can use a similar approach in designing your own book writing plan. If you apply similar steps, you can write nonfiction books that sell on virtually any topic.

Select a marketable topic. Often, nonfiction authors choose book topics on which they already have knowledge and expertise. The beauty of writing nonfiction books is that you can easily observe trends in society and the world to identify information and material that will interest readers. These observations lead to solid content for nonfiction books that sell.

Before I get into the actual writing process for my books, I spend long hours conducting research on my desired subject area. I do quite a bit of research on the Internet or in books and articles, interview some other experts, and attend conferences where speakers address your subject matter and the ideas usually start flowing. The key is not to select a topic on which there is an abundance of material already available.

When you begin your research, make sure that there are not competing books that take the same approach in addressing the topic that you plan to use. Also, ensure that your topic is viable and has large market potential through Google searches for the topic. You can also visit Amazon and other booksellers for titles on the subject and search newspapers, periodicals and articles on the Internet.

Identify the reader audience. If you are going to approach a traditional publisher for your book, the question of who your target audience is will be one of the first they will ask. They want to ensure that any money they invest will result in an adequate profit margin.

I cannot overstate the importance of audience identification in the writing process. If your goal is to write nonfiction books that sell and generate revenue, it makes little sense to jump into a writing project simply because you think that you have a great idea. A key point in selling books is to make sure that you identify your reader audience before you start writing. You need to do thorough market research before you invest time and effort into putting words into a computer or on paper. This will help ensure that your content and the approach you intend to take in communicating it will address the needs, wants and expectations of a large enough target audience. Failure to do this can lead to wasted time, effort and money and not make the venture worthwhile.

Provide content of value. Once you have selected a topic for your book, you must start considering how you will cover the content in a manner that will attract the attention of your audience. You cannot simply put words on a page. Nonfiction books typically provide information that satisfies a variety of reader needs. A partial list of longings that material in your book might address includes:

  • Desire to learn more about a topic or event.
  • Help in solving a problem.
  • Opportunity to increase the reader’s personal body of knowledge related to a given subject area.
  • Expectation that readers can improve their professional knowledge or skills in order to perform at a higher level.
  • Assistance in identifying a list of ideas or resources that will aid in a project.

Create a writing plan. As an author, one of my primary goals is to write nonfiction books that sell in order to generate a primary income stream. That means developing a vision and having a designated result in mind before I start each book.

Like a road trip that you might take in life, you should also have a map or plan to get to your writing destination. In order to provide content that your readers want, you have to start with the basics. That means developing an outline of what the book will include. I generally draft out a working title, which typically changes several times as I move toward content completion. I also jot down tentative chapter headers and potential sub-headers and develop a working synopsis for each area. This skeletal outline will be used as a basis for my content research later. It also helps keep me on task because I refer back to it periodically as I write.

One thing that I learned early in my writing career is that my outline is a guide and not a final document. There are many times during the writing process, when additional ideas come to mind. Often, additional research prompts a thought of content that needs to be added, updated or changed. Also, when I do an initial read for editing, points that I need to add, change or clarify usually come to mind.

A fellow author once shared a useful book outlining technique with me years ago. Once she creates her working outline, she puts the chapter titles and sub-headers on sticky notes and posts them in order on her office wall. As she writes and moves through her manuscript, if she realizes a sub-header works better under a different chapter heading, she simply relocates it on the wall. Similarly, if she decides to change a header or sub-header, she simply writes a replacement sticky note and throws the original away. This technique easily keeps her writing progress and flow visual for her.

These four phases of my writing process show you how I write nonfiction books that sell. In part two of the article, I’ll share additional strategies for creating a profitable nonfiction book. You can also search this site for more articles on nonfiction book writing. They provide tips and techniques for creating, marketing, and publicizing you creations. They also share ways to build your essential author platform. If you want more ideas on that topic, check out How to Make Money Writing Books: Proven Profit Making Strategies for Authors.

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Book Cover Design Secrets That Help Sell More Copies

Book Cover Design Secrets That Help Sell More CopiesWhether your book is traditionally or self published, the book cover design is a crucial element in helping guarantee sales. Obviously good book content is critical, but the first thing that a potential reader encounters will be your cover. For that reason, the book cover design should be a priority when creating your masterpiece.

If you go with a traditional publisher, they will handle the majority of the design process. Depending on he publisher, they might allow you to have some input. Typically, they will control the process and make the final determination.

Should you decide to self publish your book(s), you are strongly encouraged not to handle your own book cover design, unless you have a solid graphic design background. Even in that instance, getting input and feedback on several book cover design options from others is important.

The following are some book cover design secrets for making sure that your final product grabs reader attention and stands out from the competition.

Title. Make sure that your title stands out against the background of your front cover and that you select a font and size that offers contrast. Avoid putting light or dark colored font on a similar background. If your selected color does not jump off the page, try putting a shadow effect around the lettering or finding a different color for either the font or background.

Ensure that your title is the most prominent thing on the cover. Unless you are an internationally-known author (e.g. James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, or Steven King), your name should be secondary in size. A good way to determine if your title is sized correctly is to reduce it to a one-inch image on your computer screen, then try to read the title. If it does not stand out, change it. This is because, when it is placed on a website for sale, the image will be about that size. If customers cannot read the title, they may pass it by.

Front cover image. Select an image that corresponds with the title and sends a visual message related to the theme of the book. Make sure that the image(s) you use are high quality and at least a resolution of 300dpi (dots per inch). This is the minimum quality standard used for effective printed documents. Lowering dpi degrades the quality of the image.

Regarding image selection, if you did not take or create it yourself, you must get written permission from the photographer, since they retain copyright. Even if you purchase a license to use an image, ensure that you pay for all the rights for the use you plan for it in writing. For example, if you are going to use it in print and email versions of the book, create marketing materials, develop a print advertisement and create derivative products, get permission to do all those things. Otherwise you could end up in a copyright infringement lawsuit and have to destroy unauthorized products. When buying rights, get the largest size image available even if you are not planning to use it in print. This is because if you buy a smaller image in order to save money and then want to print or use in other formats, the image will degrade as it is enlarged. That does not happen when reducing the image down for a smaller project.

Book spine.  The spine of the book is the only thing that most potential readers see when looking on a bookshelf in a bookstore or library. Without print on the spine, libraries will not stock your book.

The font should be bold and follow the same guidelines as the front cover related to color and font type. Text should be readable from about 12 feet away. This is the distance an average bookstore customer is standing as they look down a shelf. To get a sense of the proportion of your text, place it flat on a table with the cover side up and stand back twelve feet to see if you can easily read it.

In addition to the book title on the spine, add the author’s last name (in all capital lettering), and a small version of the publishers logo at the bottom of the spine. A missing publishers logo is often an indicator that the book was self-published and some stores might not carry it. If the book is in a series, put the number of the series above the publisher’s logo so that readers know which version they are getting.

Back cover. Typically, after someone pulls a book from the shelf, they will then look at the cover before flipping it over to read information on the back. That is why the information that you put there is so important. This is your sales pitch to pique the readers interest and get them to open the book for further exploration.

Starting at the top of the back cover edge, place the BISC (Book Industry Standards and Communication) code name(s). This identifies the category into which the subject falls and aids libraries and bookstores in locating a book in the proper section. For example, “Reference,” “Romance” or “Psychology.”

Along with the BISC, you will include a concise synopsis of the content which includes keywords or metadata that will be used to aid in online searches for the book. For example, if you are writing a book on sales techniques, you might use a keyword phrase like “sales skills” in the description.

Book Cover Design Secrets That Help Sell More CopiesYou should also add at least two short reader reviews and a bar code. This the lined box with numbers above it along with the book price. Many publishers are now adding a QR (Quick Response) machine-readable optical barcode that, when scanned by a smartphone or other reader, connects to a website where additional product information can be found online. Here is one of the codes from my latest book. Scan it to see what I mean.

Like every other aspect of the book design and development process, quality matters. It is worth the time and money to find a professional to assist in creating a quality product. Do some comparative shopping and ask other self publishers for their sources. Anything less than professionalism reduces your chances of winning book awards, getting into sales venues and generating revenue streams with the book.

What tips do you have for creating an outstanding book cover that will help sell more books?

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Build Your Nonfiction Author Platform to Sell More Books

Build Your Nonfiction Author Platform to Sell More BooksWould you like to have an established list of potential buyers for your next book before you even write it? Would you like to have other people selling your book for you at no cost by sharing information about it with their networks? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” I suggest that you build your nonfiction author platform to sell more books before you get started on your first manuscript. This is especially crucial if you do not plan to self publish and will be contacting a potential agent or publisher. In today’s highly competitive nonfiction book market, one of the first things they will ask for is information about your author platform.

You might ask, “What is an author platform?” Simply put, it is a vehicle that you use to get information about yourself, your expertise and your book out to potential readers. Your platform covers any means that you use to come into contact with possible customers who will buy your book(s). It includes presentations that you conduct for groups, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media and websites through which you put forth information and interact with others. It also includes your professional website, sites on which you publish articles, printed publications in which your material appears, and any other place where you share information.

To begin your journey to build your nonfiction author platform to sell more books, consider taking a quick assessment of what pieces you already have in place. The following are some common elements that you will need to put in place as you proceed to build your nonfiction author platform.

Create a contact list. You likely already have a contact email list that includes people you know and with whom you have done some type of business. This is a good starting point, but you will need to consider formalizing your list a bit. You will need to segment those people who are truly potential readers or followers as you move forward with your writing efforts. Also, consider how you can grow and maintain your list. A simple and inexpensive starting place is MailChimp. You can set up a free account to get started. Just remember that there are laws requiring that anyone on your distribution list must agree to receive your messages. Even if they initially opted in to receive correspondence and information, you must put a statement at the bottom of any email message giving them to option to unsubscribe.

Develop a website and blog. There are differing opinions about whether authors should have a personal/professional website, a website dedicated to their book, or both. This is really a personal choice. Obviously, a professional site can have a page listing and selling your book(s), a blog and other information about you and the products and services you offer. Obviously, multiple sites means more time, effort and money to develop and maintain them. Personally, I have an assortment of sites that I have developed over several years – website, several blogs linked through my website home page menu, and several book sites. All of my sites link to one another and to my social media pages. I use this concerted effort to help Google and other search engines find me when people search my name and books. This is one of the key reasons I have gone to the trouble of creating a broader worldwide web presence with multiple sites.

Become a resource. Nonfiction authors who have products and services, or who offer content designed to educate or help others, can benefit by becoming recognized as an expert resource. You can do this by networking through various organizations (e.g. professional, business, social, hobby and religious). To maximize your exposure, volunteer with organizations and get on committees and boards in order get and stay in front of others. Regular active engagement helps people know and trust you. They are then more likely to recommend or use your products and services when the need arises. You can also speak at conferences, organizational meetings, libraries, schools or anywhere else you might identify. Share information on topics that you research, blog or write on and that will benefit others. Make sure that you notify local media and publicize your appearances on different Internet and electronic platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, or other favorite site). Certainly post dates, location, summaries and photos of your speaking on your blogs and social media. This helps potentially increase attendance, adds to your credibility and aids in search engines finding information about you.

As you see from this brief overview on the topic, there are simple ways to increase your opportunities when you take the time to build your nonfiction author platform to sell more books.

What strategies have you used or heard of that can help in building a successful author platform?

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Starting a Nonfiction Book Writing Business

Starting a Nonfiction Book Writing BusinessThere are many things to remember when starting a nonfiction book writing business. So that you do not forget anything, use a checklist and tap into the volume of free and inexpensive resources available on the Internet and through other resources. Here are some key steps to help during your journey, along with resources to get you started:

Write a business plan

Before you start any trip, it is a good idea to know where you are going. By creating a business plan that outlines elements such as finance, budgets, resources, marketing strategy and other key business elements, you increase your chances of success. Plus, if you plan to apply for financing, you will need to submit this plan for review. Check with the Small Business Association SBA and SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives) for assistance and possible guidance. Both organizations are immensely helpful for new business owners and there are many resources on their websites.

Choose your business structure

You will need to decide the best business structure (e.g. sole proprietor, partnership, and corporation) based on your own situation, needs and goals. Each type has legal and financial pros and cons which you need to understand. Again the SBA can help, but you should consider consulting a local business lawyer and accountant.

Identify necessary business licenses & permits

Once you choose a name, you will likely need to check local and state regulations about registering and paying appropriate fees and taxes. You can search under for the appropriate office for registration requirements at the SBA site. Starting a nonfiction book business and registering your name also provides opportunities for federal financial assistance in some instances.

Determine sources of finance for your business

You have a variety of options when it comes to financing your small business. Explore your opportunities that range from traditional loans to grants and bonds. Check with local banks, credit unions and online.

Identify tax and business filing requirements

If you are selling products rather than paying a distributor, you will also likely need a state tax identification number and account. A good starting point again for information is the SBA. It is important to decide how you will handle these important elements of running a business. Consult an accountant and/or business attorney.

Decide on staffing requirements

You will have to decide whether you want to hire employees, contract services from other businesses, tap into potential interns at local colleges or trade schools, or ask friends and family for assistance. You might also create bartering opportunities with other individuals or companies.

Everyone starting a nonfiction book writing business is going to have differing levels of knowledge and expertise in the business world. There is no one answer on how to get their business up and running. The key is to ask other authors what they have done, spend time networking and researching information from a variety of sources, and take time to create a business plan before starting.

Do you have ideas, resources and knowledge that you can add to this list of must do steps when starting a nonfiction book writing business?

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Essential Resources for Writers

Essential Resources for WritersIf you are like me, you sometimes pause when writing a sentence in an article or book and try to recall a rule of grammar, syntax, or punctuation. Obviously, we want to get it right. More importantly, readers who know the correct way to spell, punctuate or create a sentence will potentially form a negative impression of us if we are wrong. While we can get by with an occasional error or omission related to proper sentence construction, we must know how to effectively write if we want to develop and keep a reader following. All of this led me to identify the following list of essential resources for writers. I hope you find these resources as useful as I do.

10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals

Archives for the ‘Misused Words’ Category –

Archives for the ‘Expressions’ Category –

How to write for the web: 23 useful rules

Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers –

Learning with ‘e’s

Quotes for Writers

Rules of Grammar

Rules of Punctuation –

Rules for Writing Numbers

Six Rules for Rewriting

Spelling Rules

Writers Resources Online –

Have other useful essential resources for writers that you have discovered and use online? Share them with a comment.

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The Business of Writing Nonfiction Books

The Business of Writing Nonfiction BooksMany people say “someday I am going to write a book.” For a variety of reasons, most never accomplish that vision. Life takes over. They have kids, work two jobs, encounter medical and family issues, and the list goes on. The reality is that many people simply do not have the drive, determination, or ability to set a long term goal and stick with it. The business of writing a nonfiction book is hard work. And it IS a business. It involves a process that requires knowledge, time, and effort to effectively  put thoughts into words and words into meaningful content that others will want to read. You must use effort before, during, and after your book is written to market and sell it.

From a business standpoint, there are three things that you must do to achieve success as an author:

1. Become customer-focused.   Your readers are your customers. If you are going to successfully produce and market content to them, you must get into the mindset of serving their needs, wants and expectations. That may mean that you have to read articles and books on the topic of customer service. This will help to identify ways that stellar customer service professionals succeed in dealing with customers from all backgrounds.  If you think like a customers (reader) while writing, and then again as to look for ways to sell your creations, you are more likely to successfully navigate the process of becoming an author.

2. Embrace technology. The reality is that most people do not have all the time that they need to do everything that they want or should do. The same is true as an author. If you are not currently comfortable with technology and social media, you will need to learn as much as possible. Do this quickly and embrace rather than dread it. Technology is the way of the world today. Successful companies are learning how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other platforms to get their message out. You will also need to learn how to embrace technology if you want to let people know about yourself and your book. This involves personal branding and building of an author platform. Whether you decide to use a traditional publisher or become an independent publisher, marketing books with social media will a big part of your road to success.

3. Consider yourself a “business.” A third thing that I encourage all authors to do is to become business-minded. Before you attempt to become an author, you should realize that are a “business.” As such, you will assume at least the following roles, plus others. While you may not be an expert in each, you should at least understand the roles required. This will allow you to recruit resources with the expertise you need to handle each facet of the business of writing. To help in that effort, I have hot linked each role to resources that can assist in enhancing your knowledge of what the role entails.

To get additional related to the business of writing and how to build your author platform and enhance your opportunities to sell more books, check out Make Money Writing Books: Proven Profit Making Strategies for Authors.

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Ways to Succeed As a Nonfiction Author

Ways to Succeed As a Nonfiction AuthorThere are a variety of ways to succeed as a nonfiction author if you take time to plan ahead before you start writing. Like many other things in life, writing a successful nonfiction book takes more than just a dream. Some people have the mistaken belief that writing a nonfiction book will bring them fame and fortune. While there have been many exceptions (e.g. Jack Canfield, Dale Carnegie, Truman Capote, Maya Angelou and Stephen Hawking) the average nonfiction book averages less than 2,000 copies in sales over its lifespan, according to an article by publisher Berrett-Koehler. Even though all of the authors I listed above have sold millions of copies during their lifetime and later, they is not the norm.

I do not want to dissuade you from writing, but if you are looking to create a primary stream of income from writing you will have to prepare. I suggest that you start by doing some research on the number of books published each year and prepare for your competition. For example, if you search for “nonfiction books” on Amazon, you will get a listing of various genres totaling over three million titles.

The following are several ways to succeed as a nonfiction author.

  • Do your homework. You can quickly get an idea of what you are up against by researching similar titles to the one you have planned. Look at competing titles from the standpoint of content, format (e.g. size, print, eBook, and design), quality, pricing and other factors that will impact sales. 
  • Objectively assess your reasons for wanting to write a nonfiction book. People write for different reasons. For you succeed, you should first objectively and honestly decide why you want to write. Some typical reasons are personal or business credibility,fame, fortune, to help others, you have something to say, you want a creative outlet, to leave a legacy for future generations, or for brand identification. Whatever your motivation, it is important to set realistic goals based on it. Research shows that people who put their goals in writing and refer to them regularly are more likely to attain them. Put a not next to your computer or on the refrigerator to visually remind you of what you want to accomplish.
  • Create a viable plan of action. To succeed in attaining your goals, you will need to develop a plan of action in the form a project or business plan. You also have to dedicate the hours required for all phases of the writing, production, marketing and selling processes. If you take these simple actions, you significantly increase your chances of success and for providing a decent income for yourself and your family.

What are some of the steps you have taken to become a successful nonfiction author?

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Robert W. Lucas to Speak at Florida Writers Association Mini-Conference

Robert W. Lucas to Speak at Florida Writers Association Mini-ConferenceAuthor Robert W. Lucas to speak at Florida Writers Association mini-conference for nonfiction authors at the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs on June 25, 2016. Along with Bob, other successful authors and other writing industry professionals will conduct sessions designed to help current and aspiring authors build their knowledge related to writing, producing, marketing and selling books and building an author platform.

Bob’s three- hour session, The Business of Writing: Turning Your Ideas into Profitable Words, will address strategies for becoming a successful nonfiction author, how to produce, market and sell books, and ways to create an author platform and enhance an author’s personal brand. For more information and to register before June 23rd visit the Florida Writers Association website. For information about the presenter, Robert W. Lucas, visit

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Proven Tips for Successful Author Book Signings

Proven Tips for Successful Author Book SigningsThere are many ways for authors to effectively market and sell their books once published. Many authors and self publishers have relied of author book signings to gain exposure for themselves and their book(s). If planned and executed properly, these events are helpful in letting local bookstore personnel, potential readers and the media know about your latest masterpiece. You can also potentially sell some books in the process.

Following are three simple tips for planning and executing successful author book signings:

1. Make yourself memorable. Think of things that you can do that will help the bookstore manager, staff, and community relations coordinator remember you and your book. Certainly, you want customers to remember you. A simple way to make a positive and lasting impression is by being personable, smiling, and enthusiastically greeting anyone with whom you come into contact or who passes by your signing table. Many authors are introverts who prefer writing to networking with others. A book signing is no time to sit behind a table and wait for people to come you. They likely will not unless you are a noted best-selling author.

To demonstrate your enthusiasm, stand up, talk to people and, if someone stops by, put a copy of your book in their hands as you discuss the benefits of it to them and give your 30-second “elevator speech” about the book. If they stop talking to read the back cover or open the book to see what it is about, stop talking briefly and then ask a few brief questions that might seal their interest. For example, for my book 231 Ways to Say I Love You…and Mean It, which focuses on fun and practical strategies for enhancing communication, building trust, and adding the spark into a relationship, I might ask, “When was the last time you spent a set a goal of doing one thing a day to let your spouse or significant other know how much you love and care for them?” Based on a response that they do that regularly, I might tell them how commendable that is because most people do not think to do these things. I would then add that the book offers 231 proven ways to communicate love and caring and that it also has a self assessment and list of resources in the back. I would point these areas out in the book that they are holding to make my point visual, since some research shows that between 40-65 percent of people are visual learners. If they say that they do not regularly make an effort to share their feelings or thoughts, I might offer some of the statistics that indicate that people in strong caring relationship live longer, and then share a couple of ideas from the book that they can easily do to strengthen their relationship. The key to this whole process is to listen and then respond appropriately to your potential customer.

2. Provide the store’s event coordinator with information. Make sure to get information about yourself (biography, list of awards, or upcoming local presentations) and your book to the community relations person at the bookstore. At least, provide a brief description of the book, several copies of your book cover, and other marketing pieces (e.g. page markers, postcards with book cover and description on them, business cards, flyers and brochures) for use in promoting your book and the event. Get this information to the coordinator at least two months in advance. Most stores will create a poster with your book cover and information about the event for display at the store entrance. If they do not, have your local print shop or office supply store reproduce a 27 X 35 inch laminated cover image with the time, date, and location on it. Get this to the community relations coordinator and ask that it be displayed in a prominent location.

3. Help promote the event. Get the word out about the event through all your social media sources multiple times before the scheduled date and ask friends and relatives to do likewise. Next, contact local news media (e.g. newspapers, radio and television) to let them know of the event. Also, check with local libraries to see if they will allow you to post a flyer on their bulletin board. If you are a member of a local religious, professional or nonprofit organizations, ask if they will announce the event in their newsletter, on their website, or through any other potential channels. Do likewise with local companies or businesses with which you have a personal or business relationship (e.g. your doctor, hair stylist, dentist, veterinarian, car wash, shop owners or others). Some supermarkets have community bulletin boards at the entrance and allow flyers about local events that can be posted for short periods of time. The key is to think outside the box about where the most people will see the information.

For additional ideas on how to enhance your personal brand, promote and sell books and related products, check out Make Money Writing Books: Proven Profit Making Strategies for Authors.

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2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist – Robert W. Lucas

2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist - Robert W. LucasI am excited to share that my first self-published book, Make Money Writing Books: Proven Profit Making Strategies for Authors was selected as a Finalist in the Writing/Publishing category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

The book shares best practices related to my writing and promoting thirty-seven books during the past two decades. It covers strategies and ideas for:

  • Financially succeeding as an author and independent publisher;
  • Branding yourself and your books in order to increase book sales and make more money;
  • Developing strategies that will effectively promote you and your books;
  • Using today’s technology to build a strong image and following for your book(s).

For additional information about the Make Money Writing Books: Proven Profit Making Strategies for Authors, Bob Lucas and training programs for authors and self-publishers visit Robert W. Lucas Enterprises.

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