I got an email today from a wife helping her husband publish and worried about the book’s potential success. Putting your book out there is scary. Spending a lot of money and not earning it back is a very valid fear. There are ways around it, but it’s mostly a gamble.
You can mitigate the risk by producing the book like a product (not just styling it up after it’s done, but writing it with readers in mind). But your fears are valid: there’s a very real possibility that you will spend more than you earn on your first book. She writes:
This is my response
Those are valid fears, and I often warn people against spending too much on a first book, because it probably won’t earn an ROI. Most successful indie authors put out several books, and improve their skills, before they figure out what works for them, and build their platform to the point where it will be successful.
A book can be a money earner if:
A) there is a big audience of readers who enjoy the genre and/or
B) the author already has a big platform to sell from.
Anything else will take a lot of work and time to build up a platform with smart content, guest posts, professional design, networking, etc. On the other hand, becoming an author is a lot like learning to drive: it’s scary at first, you don’t know what you’re doing, you may drive poorly and endanger yourself. But with time you get comfortable, confident, and things become easy.
You can’t expect to jump in the car and start driving like a professional racer, and you shouldn’t be hurt or disappointed just because the magic doesn’t happen the first time (it’s usually not so much about the book, but the lack of platform and unprofessional level of design, and the inherent barriers and challenges in trying to self-promote).
You want to do things right and learn what you’re doing, and do the best you can, but trying to protect yourself from getting hurt is like reading a lot of books about driving and then sitting in the car turning the wheel, without actually starting the engine and releasing the break.
You won’t learn and get better at publishing until after you do it. (Which is why I recommend micro-publishing shorter books, guides or articles at first, to get the hang of it and test the market, before putting out your major book).
Here’s the good news
Yes, a lot of indie author books are crap. But that means, actually, it isn’t as hard to stand out. A lot of indie books aren’t well written. If you are an amazing writer, and you have a good cover and get a handful of reviews up, people will start buying and then sharing your work.
You don’t need to have people “find” your book out of tens of thousands of others; Amazon is very good at promoting books to people that will like it. All you need to do is have a great book and get the ball rolling.
Here’s more good news: unlike a corporate job, which can fire you at any time, if you build up a publishing platform and learn to publish books quickly you can control your life and make your own income. Those skills (making a website, networking, online marketing) will be increasingly valuable and give you a lot of autonomy and freedom.
Is your first book likely to be successful? No – the odds are against you. Especially if you just put it out there and do nothing else. But if you spend the time to build a platform, write more books, learn from your mistakes and keep trying again and again, you’ll eventually get pretty good at writing and publishing.
That’s when things get fun, and easy, and the money starts coming in.
It’s a long term plan. Put the book out there but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t sell; maybe the universe is telling you it needs more from you than just one book.
Somebody else recently asked this:
I’m not the only one who’s thought this: “What if I never make it big? What if I never make the impact on the world I want to make? What if this is the best it gets? What if this is it for me? Will I be satisfied with that?” Ever thought this? Have a cure for this kind of thinking?
My answer: It happens. It doesn’t matter if you make it big; it matters that you tried.
Put in the effort. Do the work. Launch the projects you say you are going to. Be ruthlessly and overwhelmingly helpful to everyone you can. Think up huge amazing ideas that benefit tons of people and get them involved. Try, try, try.
You fail a lot, you learn a lot, you do things poorly, you do things better. Each year you’re in a totally new place of expanding empowerment. “What if I don’t make it big?” is like saying “What if I die?” There’s nothing you can do about it.
The answer is abstract and without meaning. You just live as if death / failure don’t matter. They are out of your control, so you ignore them, you do what you can – which is the work. Produce more. Build more. Connect more. Solve needs. Figure out business, blogging, marketing and sales. Make awesome shit. Be a hero and champion for everyone else. If you change the lives of a handful of people, who cares if you rack up the huge numbers you covet?
However: I wasn’t always this confident, and went through periods of depression. My cosmological questions led me to study philosophy and religion for a decade.
I’ve come to learn that:
A) believing your life and work have meaning and purpose helps, even if it isn’t really true.
B) long term depression, crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem are often less personality traits and more imbalances of brain chemicals (especially if you “used to” feel happy or confident, but now you don’t). Experiment with St. John’s Wort or light positivity boosters (I take a tiny bit of amitriptyline for migraines, and also keeps my mood balanced).
I’m a firm believer of using whatever means necessary to keep yourself at peak productivity – including drugs, diet, exercise, etc. Sure you need dark and sad periods, rough and crazy periods, and experience with mourning, loss and questioning the universe to be a really great writer. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer all the time. And don’t let your doubts or fears slow you down from finishing the work.