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Business owners share book-writing tips

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Publishing a book is a dream for many, and businesspeople aren’t immune.

A writer can take a variety of paths for his idea, spanning from ghostwriting to signing with a publisher to self-publishing. Just ask Hal Donaldson, Shawn Askinosie or Mary Valloni.

Each has worked on a nonfiction book project recently, and each took a different route to publishing.

Donaldson, president and co-founder of Convoy of Hope, wrote many of his books as a ghostwriter, meaning he was hired to write a book credited to someone else and based on their idea. The others were produced through a publisher. He’s worked on over 30 books, including his latest released last month: “Your Next 24 Hours: One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything.”

Donaldson began ghostwriting when he graduated from San Jose State University with a journalism degree. He would get paid $10,000 to $20,000 per book and wrote a book about every two months.

Askinosie, founder and CEO of Askinosie Chocolate LLC and co-author of “Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business and Keep Your Soul” coming in November, took the traditional publishing route. He chose agent Lindsay Edgecombe, with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, who was referred to him by a friend. He worked with her to develop an outline, write a couple of chapters and create a cohesive message. The agent then proposed the book idea to multiple publishers. In Askinosie’s case, several publishers were interested in his book and offered him contracts. He chose New York-based Penguin Random House Co., which offered the largest advance and was most on board with the story Askinosie wanted to tell.

Askinosie received an undisclosed advance for the book and through the deal both him and the agent will earn a percentage of the book sales. The publisher then provides all the necessary tools to complete the product: the editing, packaging, printing and marketing.

Valloni, an independent fundraising consultant and a new author of “Fundraising Freedom,” took a hybrid path to self-publishing. After an extensive application and interview process, she joined Author Academy Elite, which provides writers with resources to publish and market books on their own. Valloni, who built her nonprofit career in Springfield before relocating to St. Louis, declined to disclose the cost of the program, but said it allows her to keep all the profits of the book instead of giving a percentage to an agent or a publisher.

By signing with a publishing house, the author receives an advance from the publisher and the author gives about 15 percent of that advance to the agent of record. On book sales, the author and agent typically each receive 8-15 percent royalties of the retail price, according to Writer’s Relief website.

Released in January, “Fundraising Freedom: 7 Steps to Build and Sustain Your Next Campaign,” has sold a couple hundred copies so far, becoming a No. 1 new release on Amazon during its first day.

Message over money?
Earnings seem to be elusive – maybe even a nonissue – for these local authors.
Donaldson puts it bluntly: “You don’t do it for the money, you do it for the message,” he said.

The rest might follow.

One of Donaldson’s most popular books was “Midnight in the City,” which he wrote after spending nights on the streets in eight cities in the United States, encountering gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes, runaways and the homeless; the book was not ghostwritten, but published by HigherLife Publishing. Donaldson said he made no profit off the book – it was written to represent the mission of Convoy of Hope, which provides children’s feeding initiatives, community outreaches and disaster response. Today, it’s a nearly $130 million global organization.

In other works, including Donaldson’s “Beyond the Soiled Curtain” in 2007, he was a ghostwriter and earned between $10,000 and $15,000. He said in order to be invested in a ghostwriting venture, one must pour his heart and soul into the topic and care more about the message than the money.

Askinosie was approached by multiple agents over the past several years to write a book, but he said he had no interest. Eventually, something began to stir within him. He began to realize his message. In summer 2016, Askinosie and his co-author, daughter Lawren, signed a deal with Penguin Random House.

“The main goal of the book is to take our little company and to take the little light that we shine and try to magnify that light a little bit so that other people can find useful tools that we’ve used in our business, in their own business,” Askinosie said.

He said he doesn’t fully understand how much he’ll receive in royalties once the book starts to sell, but that doesn’t concern him. He cares more about getting the message out.

Valloni of Mary Valloni Consulting LLC started her business in 2014 after working for 15 years with nonprofits such as the Special Olympics, ALS Association and American Cancer Society. In 2009, she brought the ACS’ Cattle Baron’s Ball to southwest Missouri, consistently raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Valloni said she knew she was supposed to write her book for 10 years, but hadn’t taken the steps to execute it until two years ago.

“My passion has always been for nonprofits and fundraisers,” Valloni said. “When I started my work at the American Cancer Society, I really kind of had this ‘aha’ moment where the fundraising steps all kind of came into play for me.”

Those steps became her book – her message. Valloni said her dad was one of her biggest inspirations in getting the book off the ground. He died from cancer in 2013, but left behind a legacy of charitability. She realized it was time to share his legacy, and her message.

“You have to be passionate about what you do,” Valloni said. “You really can’t go into it for the revenue side of it. If it comes, it’s amazing, but for the most part, the content that you share really should be a passion.”

The hard parts
The reality is it’s not easy getting published – even with a message, a passage and a good story.

“It’s a very crowded space, so very competitive,” Donaldson said. “Publishers are a little more careful than they were in years gone by, so they’re not as likely to take a chance on an unknown writer.”

To combat the competition, he said writers need to establish their voice online: develop a brand, a blog and a following on social media. Then, he said, come up with a great idea that hasn’t been done before and write about that. Upon publishing a book, the online audience will invest in the book because they believe in the writer.

Being a writer can be very lonely, something Askinosie said he wasn’t prepared for when he began his book.

“Some days it’s just you and the computer and you just don’t know what to say,” Askinosie said. “There’s also a beauty that sort of falls out of you, even though it may be clunky, clumsy, poorly written. It’s really special when it does happen.”

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