With The Empty Confessional coming out at the end of this month, I’ll soon be the proud author of four books: one business book (The Ultimate Startup Guide) and three novels (Left for Alive, The Devil’s Breath, and The Empty Confessional.) The business book was published in the traditional manner (by Career Press), the novels all self-published through Amazon KDP.
The reason I cite the above is to give my credentials in the writing/publishing world because I’m approached on occasion by the earnest author-to-be who ‘has a book in me’ and wants to know whether and how best to go about getting it published. Here’s my advice to them—and you.
Labor of Love: God, that’s a trite phrase. But when it comes to writing, an accurate one. The hours that you will have to put into the process—even if you write fast and well—are significant. Versions, editing, proofing, then participating or overseeing the details in moving from manuscript to printed book—that’s what you’re signing up for. So you better love what you’re doing, because it’s like working out: there are days you just don’t want to do it. Which is fine—take a day or two off. But if those days stretch into weeks, take a look at why.
Why you’re writing it in the first place: This is the most critical question of them all. Let’s consider different options:
- For the money. If this is your primary purpose, pursue it aggressively. Write it for as large an audience as possible and be prepared to do as much work promoting it as you did in writing it. Even if you’re self-publishing and managing most of the back-end processes yourself, you’re going to have to recoup your initial investments before you’re in the black. It’s not impossible by any means, as any number of testimonials on your favorite site will attest, but it’s not likely.
- For the fame. See #1 above. You’ll need an outstanding publicist or you better be an outstanding publicist. If either fame or fortune (or both) is your primary goal in undertaking your endeavor, my advice is to spend ten minutes in your favorite bookstore. Look at the number of titles you’ll be up against, not to be bought but to be placed. The competition for your potential reader’s eyes and wallet is overwhelming.
- For your family. This was my primary goal. My kids only knew me as a guy who launched startup companies (which meant little to nothing to them), so I hoped that writing a book would give them a different, more rounded view of me—that it would be part of whatever legacy I left. Well, neither of my daughters has finished any of my novels, though they love telling their friends that their dad is an author. So I guess I’m halfway there. And my wife has never read a word of any of my books, saying that she doesn’t want to be asked what she thinks of them and have to give an honest answer. That way, in her mind, lies tension, perhaps even divorce.
- For your friends. Now we’re getting closer, in my case. It matters what they think of me, and my books are an extension of myself.
- For yourself. In my case, this turns out to be true reason. If it was just to show my friends and family that I could write, I could have stopped after The Ultimate Startup Guide (or Left for Alive, if I wanted to show that I could write both fiction and non-fiction). But I’m now retired and I don’t golf. And there are only so many Sudokus and Wordles you can do in a day. So I write.
- Intellectual stimulation. Writing is a challenge, a puzzle, whatever metaphor you want to use. You need to get from A to Z—and if you do it too obviously your readers lose interest. So it’s not only getting from A to Z, it’s making the letters in-between interesting. That’s a challenge that takes a lot of work, from imagination to execution. There’s also, in many cases, the intellectual rigor of research. I’ve been fortunate (or lazy) with my first three novels, since I was somewhat familiar with the three topics. But the novel I’m currently working on is requiring me to do quite a bit of research, either in interviews or online. It’s both intimidating and fascinating.
That’s it for the motivations behind writing a book. In the next one I’ll outline the steps—and their associated costs—so that you know what you’re getting into, even if you’ve got the clearest of motivations.