This may sound like complaining to some, but I assure you it is not. As a first time author without having a platform, something I will discuss later, I have been very fortunate and I have had a few breaks. But if you read this and still want to publish a book, then you have what it takes!
My first act, after deciding I had something important to say, was to research and put my thoughts on paper. It was years of part-time work and countless thousands of hours, but this was the easy part. I just didn’t know that the really hard realities were to come. When you are working in your own bubble, the bubble is all yours. Then you have to go out into the world.
The real work began after I finished my first draft having pulled together hundreds of notes, organizing them, and struggling with paragraphing and other technicalities. It was ugly! My daughter, a summa-cum-laude graduate of journalism school, and my first editor told me so--as gently as she could. She never once tried to edit a sentence. It would have been like using a Glade air freshener at a garbage dump. So the reconstruction and the pitfalls began.
Following are the pitfalls!
1) A Time Thief
It’s not the time you give to the book that you regret. It’s the time it takes away from other activities and people. Things that are important to me include my family--particularly my grandchildren, my favorite hobby of photography, exercise, my farmhouse that needs loving care, and time for my wife and me to relax there. Relaxation becomes a source of guilt because there is always something more to do, both pre and post release.
2) Income Stream? Ha!
Writing a book to make money is like buying a lottery ticket thinking you will get rich. Sure, a very few bettors win the lottery and a very few authors make outrageous money, but it won’t be you. Of course, I knew this going in. I wasn’t in it to make money and I was willing to lose money. But how much should one sink into editing, printing, advice, and especially promoting? I’ll talk more about promotion later.
3) Publishers, what's good and bad
Getting a true publisher, not a company that helps you self-publish, is very difficult for an unknown first-time author. While they can save you some expenses on editing and printing, you will pay for it later when you only get 6% to 10% of every book sold. My publisher is Familius and I love what they have done for me! Their involvement has given me the credibility I desperately needed. They further edited my book after I had already paid a handsome sum to my two independent editors, and you can NEVER get enough editing. Familius also sold rights to a publisher in China and has distribution in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia--huge advantages over self-publishing. They also paid for eBook versions for Nook and Kindle and an audio version on Audible.com. This is more than I could have imagined! So what is not so good? See “Promotion is a bitch”.
4) Building a platform – like that’s easy
A platform is the proof of your legitimacy. A Ph. D., past successes, expert status are examples of this. If a pediatrician writes about childhood diseases, he has a ready-made platform. If he writes about art, his status as a pediatrician means nothing. My platform is the simple facts that I was a child who needed his father, and a father myself, not very unique experiences, (The title of my book is “The Power of Dadhood: Become the Father Your Child Needs”). The difference was this, I studied fatherhood. Other than that, my history as an engineer and a pilot meant squat. I further extended my platform by authoring this blog, which folks can read to decide whether I know what I’m talking about or not.
5) You work very hard for the likelihood of disappointment
Unlike the lottery where you gamble a couple of bucks, writing a book is quite an undertaking. Also unlike the lottery, lack of the success you want is felt much, much, more. It’s personal when your book seems to be ignored. It’s not really being ignored, it’s just difficult to find, and the author focuses on it much more than anyone else could. I’ve had some success and great reviews, but like Junior Mints, I always want more. Every effort to push it that fails is a disappointment. Again, see “Promotion is a bitch!”
6) You can become an annoyance
You want to talk about your book to friends and family plus you want them to help. The problem with that is you can become an annoyance very fast.
7) Competition – Short attention spans, information overload, and billions of books
You’ve heard about how difficult it is to get attention. Even the attention you get fades very quickly. This is good for politicians who get into trouble and bad for authors. There is so much competition for your interests and dollars. Going viral is common with the flu, not so with books. 1,000,000 books are published each year and average only 250 sold. Not to mention the billions of books written in the past. For more disheartening info, see The 10 Awful Truths about Publishing.
8) You feel like you’ve never done enough
Getting away from promoting is very difficult. No one cares like you. Just when you say I’ve got to get away from this for a while, a glimmer of something good happens and you get pulled back in. The time thief lurks around every new idea.
9) Promotion is a bitch!
I don't use the b-word lightly. Outside of initial release, publishers do very little promotion. If you want to sell your book, you must spend a lot of time and money to get a return of $0.80 to $1.00 per book. For instance, I paid a lot of money for a publicist to get media coverage and it was successful from a visibility standpoint. But I would have had to sell 1800 to 2200 books based on that publicity to break even. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but I wanted my message out. As another example, I recently spent $100 to sponsor my blog on social media, which cross-promotes my book. My blog received much more attention, but not one book was sold by Amazon during that promotion. The bottom line is this, you have to decide between your ability to pay for promotion versus your desire to get your message out. There is no economic sense for yourself to promote your published book through advertising. Publishers get 90% of each sale you promote and as a published author, you will likely never get back in sales what you spend on promotion. You need luck more than anything!
I knew I would not profit from publishing a book. Of course, I do get royalties, but they won’t catch up to my expenses. What I didn’t know is how much of my time my book would take after publication. When you put so much into a project, it is difficult to turn your back on it. Finding your target audience is crucial. And although I have donated over 200 books to various family and fatherhood organizations, they have yet to respond, except for a couple.
Despite all of this, I am very happy I wrote and published The Power of Dadhood! The topic was something very important to me and I saw it through to the end. If just one kid or father or family is helped by reading my book, then it was well worth it to me. So here is my advice to virgin authors.
If you can afford the expense; if you have a decent platform; if you can give it the time it needs; if you can handle the potential disappointment, and if you have something important to say, write the damn book and self-publish if you have to!