My friend, who is a bright, talented, and outgoing person, approached me recently about a book idea she has. As a publisher and writer, I get approached often by would-be writers with book ideas. Hers was pretty good; a non-fiction book in the fitness/health genre, with spirituality added in. I liked it.
We talked at length about how she should “get started.” I suggested writing an outline, a synopsis if you will, with each chapter listed and a summary. Then I suggested that she write a chapter a week, and perhaps get a writing group together to get feedback.
I realize, now that this out-of-town houseguest has left, that I didn’t do her any favors by telling her these things. She wrote in college, and of course she could write a very decent book if she put her mind to it. But if you have to put your mind to it, and your entire soul isn’t in it and you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night to take notes and constantly researching and thinking about your book, maybe you aren’t meant to be a writer.
In the same way haters gonna hate, writers gonna write.
The other reason I did my friend a disservice is because when she texted me later in the week to tell me that she was excited about proceeding and that she wanted to make my company money, I felt bad. Does she even know what that means? Our company drops about 5k per writer to get a book from submission to publication, a process that takes about a year and a half to two years for a book that doesn’t need too much editing. That money goes into editing, proofing, formatting, cover design, galleys, ISBN, advertising, distribution, etc.
So my company doesn’t really make a dime until the five-thousand-and-first book sells. For self-published and small press authors out there, we all know how hard it is to sell 5,000 books. It is hard to sell even 500 books. It takes time, guts, determination, thinking outside the box, ingenuity, and good old fashioned willpower and drive to sell your own book. And in today’s publishing industry, that is the norm: The publisher publishes, and the author sells.
Now of course my company does set up readings, marketing opportunities, press releases, and we keep the book current on social media. But that doesn’t really add up to 5,000 in sales. What it takes is something more, what Malcom Gladwell calls “The Tipping Point.” People talking about it, bloggers blogging about it, reviewers raving about it…that creates a tipping point. And getting a book out there for those things to happen is the key.
Marketing a book is a full time job. On top of writing, editing, formatting, publishing, and my “real” life outside of work, I am a marketer. Everything I see in PW and other media inspires new creative ways to try and get my company’s books out there. My business partner and I have long crazy talks about “what if we did this?” in our attempts to market our company’s books. Being the little fish in a big pond full of man-eaters is not the best scenario, but as the “little company that could,” we perservere.
In the meantime, I owe my friend an apology. Not that there is anything about me that is “doom and gloom”…I am a very positive person. But to encourage a nice person with a good job and a beautiful family to uproot her peaceful existence by becoming an author in today’s market seems, on hindsight, just plain cruel.