• Marcus Teoh

I want to publish a book, I have so many questions, where do i begin?

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

Recently a buddy of mine Jason has been asking me questions on Facebook Messenger as he wants to publish his first book. I thought surely there are many more aspiring authors who have the same questions. Hence I hope my answers to him would also be helpful to aspiring local authors. More to add but for a start here are my answers:



Jason's excitement holding Marcus' "Now or Never"

Q1) Are there fixed structures to write a book? Like probably scientifically proven approaches on what topics to put in front first to gather maximum user interest?

When a potential buyer buys a book, it is likely they go from front cover to back cover before they open a book, given most book synopsis is on the back. High chance readers will then look at the table of content and jump to the chapters that catch their interest. Some may just start with Chapter 01. It depends on the book’s flow.

When starting, do not worry about the flow now. The first few steps in writing a great book is NOT to write but to first find two main purpose why you want to write a book. First purpose is a self-serving purpose. For example to brand yourself, to secure speaking engagements or to be a bestselling author. Some people stop here but I strongly recommend every author to also have a community (target marketing) serving purpose. Who would your book be helpful to? A book on entrepreneurship will help entrepreneurs achieve their business goals. A book on breastfeeding will help new mummies with their parenting role. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your hard work is also useful and meaningful for a larger group of readers?

Once you identify your two purposes, next is to identify your target audience and find out from them what help they really need. Without listening and knowing what the target audience want, an author could spend all the time writing only later to find out that not many are interested. Conduct a survey, interview the target audience, conduct research online and reach out.


The book must be marketed before it is completely written, contrary to what most authors are doing. This approach will greatly increase your chance of producing a bestseller!



Now or Never Ranked #1 in MPH Bookstores in October 2017. Book was Top 10 for 21 weeks


Q2) So many people are going for self-publication these days however they would probably feel like a very unknown journey for self-publication, any thoughts on it?


Self-publishing is getting popular as printing companies can accept smaller print quantities making it more affordable for authors to start. There are also many affordable options in the publishing process making it easier for authors to self-publish. In general, there are three options;


i. Traditional publishing (where authors engage a publisher, bearing minimal risks and receive a very small royalty, 10% and below),

ii. Hybrid publishing (where a publishing company does almost all of the work like a traditional publisher, but author pays a significant sum upfront but enjoy a much higher margin). The scope of work and investment varies across different companies and packages signed.

iii. Self-publishing (where author does everything, incur the costs and the risk fully and reap the highest profit margins among all three options).


The three main decision-making factors between the three would be the time you have to spend, the amount of money you have to invest and the risks you would like to bear.


You can read more about publishing options here https://ringgitohringgit.com/how-to-publish-a-book-in-malaysia/but please market the book first then only finish writing if you want to produce a bestseller without any hefty investment.


Note: If you are engaging any publisher, be sure to get professional help to understand the terms and conditions before signing any contracts. Writing a book is a big project and it is crucial to know what you are committing yourself to.


Q3) Many western authors rely solely on digital e-book writing these days, is there a difference in topics or writing style that my book has to be if it is used to publish digitally, or for the offline bookstore masses instead?


An e-book strategy is different although some e-books are published for just the same purpose like a traditional physical book. Many e-books are written to serve as a “lead magnet”. It entices a potential customer to download and read the e-book at very affordable price or even for free. Authors would then capture a new email address together with the permission to cross sell and up-sell other products and services. The e-book’s objective is to grow a database instead of making big profits. When a potential customer has experienced your introductory product (the e-book) the chance of making a purchase for the next higher dollar value item is much higher. Nevertheless there are also authors who make good money from selling e-books.


The writing style is supposed to be determined by your target readers together with your own, rather than the form of the book you are going to publish. If you are writing a novel for teenagers, an artistic and flamboyant style works fine as compared to writing a business book on I.T. and gadgets for tech professionals.


A book is an art masterpiece. Art should not be conformed to a format in my opinion. However, there are certain popular formats that makes it readable and easy for the readers. Be you, because your book should sound like.


Q4) Any hints on book cover design? Seen somewhere mentioned before an attractive cover is the war half won to conversion.


The book cover design is crucial to a book’s success. It is not possible to not judge a book by its cover when it is the first point of interaction, a visual stimulant. I totally agree. Authors should focus on producing a book cover that stands out, sends a message and attracts a passer by to stop and take out the book. Otherwise they may not even get a chance to read what you have written. The book cover is crucial in the online world too as it helps to get someone to click to learn more.


If your choice is to self-publish then hire a graphic designer. Affordable options can be found on various outsourcing platforms like elance.com or fiverr.com. Some very good designers who are still in college may also do it for a very affordable fee.



Engage your potential readers, this is how you indirectly market your book before it is ready. By the way the most popular photo was not used for the cover. More than 200 votes and 200 comments were received. Guess how many books were sold before it was published?


Q5) How badly do you have to profile yourself so that people would trust the book you are writing to be bought?


From my research, the main reason for someone to buy a book is the title and the content. The author plays a role but to most new authors, just take it that nobody knows them and nobody cares yet. Unless the author is someone already well-known then the public may pay attention to the topic because of the author.


When I published my book and I give talks, I enjoy asking who has heard of my name before and knows me before. I was not surprised at all when most of the time less than five percent of the audience know who I was. That did not stop my book going onto the weekly top 10 bestseller for 21 weeks in Malaysia’s largest English bookstore chain. My book even made it to MPH Bookstore’s Top 10 Business Nominee 2017 alongside books by Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Tony Robbins.



Now or Never was Best Business Nominee in 2017 in MPH Bookstore's Nationwide Rankings

The research and ground work is more important than the author’s profile. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you should only write a book when you are somebody. The opposite is more accurate, you write a book so you become “somebody”.


Q6) Is it good to have many illustrations, pictures, diagrams in the book?


That depends what kind of book you are writing. A comic book surely needs more illustration and images than any other kind of books. There is no hard and fast rule. Again, remember who this book is written for. Understand your target audience’s immediate needs and preferences.


Q7) Do you go all out creative artistic in the writing, or easy to understand language?


Same answer as above. Who are you writing this book for? What do they, your target audience like? I always recommend authors to write in simple language because a book’s primary purpose is to communicate. Unless it is a language literature then having artistic or bombastic words may help. Let’s keep things simple.


Q8) Is there a ratio to storytelling and factual sharing in a book?


Very subjective but generally human beings love stories more than facts. Isn’t a book that has a lot of facts known as a “textbook”? Unless you are sitting for an exam, it is unlike you would buy a textbook, will you? Stories are engaging. Stories sell. Stories make it easy for someone to share with another person. My book Now or Never - How to Start a Business with only RM199 had a story to factual sharing in a ratio of 6:4 based on my best estimate.


Q9) How thick or amount of pages do you think a person has to write a book in? What about amount of chapters, or issit a see feel thing?


It depends on how much you need to write to achieve your primary purpose. For books in bookstore, it should be at least 150 pages and above. This helps buyers to feel that they have received enough for their investment. Chapters and also be broken down to sub chapters and topics. It is common to see books having anything between five to twenty chapters. Then again, visit the bookstore to find out more about the type of genre you are going to write to get an idea. Always conduct a lot of ground and hands-on work.


Q10) Do I need a professional editor to tell me what is wrong with my book, what should move forward, what should move back, or do I interview my potential buyers on what they want to read instead and just totally follow their call?


It depends on the type of book you are writing. An editor helps to rephrase, reword and reorganize so there is a good content flow and is more readable. However an editor may also end up removing your original voice given the changes they make. I did not have an editor because I was sharing my entrepreneurial journey and my publisher wanted my original voice so my readers feel like I am speaking to them in person. However you need to have a proof reader, the person who will ensure you book is free or almost free from grammatical and spelling errors. It is crucial to credit to any sources that you have used for your book. As authors the biggest crime one can ever commit is Plagiarism. Do your due diligence. A good website to check if there is already anything out there being repeated is http://www.copyscape.com/


Bonus question thanks Sifu! =D


11) If you could answer my question on the book I’m writing I would love to put your response in my book =D I am writing something close to my career which is “Digital Transformation”. In your own thoughts and words, what do you think are the biggest challenge for a traditional business to be in the digital space? Do you think you are running a digital business? I know to a certain extent probably so with the extensive digital marketing involved =D


Traditional businesses are finding it challenging to understand a fast paced digital phenomenal that has shut down many businesses over this few years when they have very little clue what it really is. Businesses that have been doing extremely well may not pay much attention until the impact is significant and it could be too late. Who would have thought brand names like Toys R Us and Crabtree and Evelyn would go out of business? Or even Kodak or Nokia? It is a mindset shift then a skill set shift. The digital transformation presents opportunities to smaller businesses to catch up very quickly.


I am running an education business leveraging on digital platforms. I share marketing knowledge and experience from a platform that is also communicated through the same platform. This platform is known as Facebook. It could have been a phone. It could have been email. However it is this social media giant known as Facebook. BONUS: Here is a slide presentation I have used to deliver a talk to a group of 25 authors and aspiring authors on book marketing. One of the biggest marketing mistakes an author can make is to promote the book after it is published. The best time to market a book and to collect orders is BEFORE the book is printed. Download Zero Budget Facebook Book Marketing Presentation Slides (Updated November 2017)

Marcus Teoh is a an International Speaker, Bestselling Author and Facebook Marketing Trainer. Combining entrepreneurial experience with Facebook marketing expertise Marcus' book “Now or Never – Start a Business with only RM199” became MPH Bookstore’s (Malaysia's Largest English Bookstore Chain) Top Ten Bestseller List for twenty-one weeks and Best Business Nominee 2017 alongside books by Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Tony Robbins. This remarkable feat was achieved without a single cent spent on marketing. If you are looking for a coach to help you become a Bestseller, drop Marcus an email: marcus@marcusteoh(dot com).

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