The November 23 edition of “On the Media” (Publishing: Adapt or Die) focused on recent developments and trends within the publishing industry. (It was an update of coverage from April 2012, so some portions were a repeat).
I recently had someone share a book idea with me. It was about him dealing with a tragedy. If you want to write your story about a personal struggle, here are some questions to ask:
Are you emotionally able to write?
This man was in the middle of his struggle. He was on edge and barely hanging on. He could journal about it or make notes for later, but I doubt any good writing could take place now. Time is needed for healing before writing.
Why do you want to write?
Writing can be a catharsis, but that doesn’t necessarily make it worthy of publication. Are you writing to heal, to understand, or to share with others?
What’s the main point?
A book needs one theme and only one. He had several, with the only connection being they emanated from the ripples of his experience. He had enough themes for several books. Clarify and focus before writing.
Has your idea already been published?
Do some serious online research to learn how many others have written about the same thing. If too many books have been published then there’s likely no room for one more. Conversely, if nothing’s been published, there’s probably a reason why: from a business standpoint, there’s not enough interest in your topic. (Personally, your book is significant, but publishers will approach it as a product they must be able to sell and turn a profit.)
Are you able to complete the work?
Writing is easy; writing well is hard. It requires work and perseverance. It takes time to hone your skills and letting others see your work is a baring of your soul. Are you at a point where you can do that?
Are you able to follow through?
Finishing your book is just the first step, not the last. You need to find a publisher or agent—and sell them on your idea. Rejection is common at this step. Next, your book will be edited. Will you be able to have someone correct and change your words? Once it’s published, you will need to promote it. Publishers focus their marketing efforts on the big-name authors who will sell a million copies, not people like you or me.
This may seem overwhelming and discouraging. That’s the point. Know what you are facing before starting. But if you do proceed, know that books are published every day, so why can’t you be one of them?
I attended my first writer’s conference over two years ago. Aside from the presenters, not one attendee had published a book. Some were talking about it, others were working on it, and a few were seeking an agent, but no one had published anything beyond an article.
How discouraging. No one had a success story to share; no one had a book deal to show it could be done. It was an overwhelming feeling that cast a pall over the entire event.
I left discouraged.
The second writing conference I attended was the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. The attitudes and atmosphere there was quite different. Although most attendees were in the not-yet-published category, there where an encouraging minority who had. They shared their successes, not in a look-at-me manner, but with an inspiring you-can-do-it-too perspective.
I left motivated. The conference was what I needed. I knew that with hard work and perseverance I could be like them.
Although we write alone, we need others to encourage us on our journey; they can breathe life into our writing.
I read of a published author who advises writers on how to snag a book deal through blogging. Another says social media, specifically Facebook, is the key, while a third advocate the aggressive use of Twitter. Then there’s the countervailing strategy to not waste time online.
Others say give your work away, either for a while or forever, (which reminds me of the one-liner: “We lose money on every sale, but we make up for it in volume.) Then there’s newsletters and email marketing. And don’t forget self-publishing.”
Each of these self-proclaimed experts has empirical evidence to back them up: their own experience. “It worked for me,” they reason, “so it can work for you, too.”
But one success does not a strategy make. A singular occurrence may be a result of good timing, a confluence of factors unlikely to be repeated, or other unidentified causes.
Their path to success may be unique to them and not normative. As the fine print warns, “Individual results may vary.”
Until their advice can be reliably repeated, their experience is little more than an anecdote. Unfortunately, once a particular tactic can be quantifiably verified, it may already be passé and no longer viable.
So instead of chasing the latest “get published quick” scheme, focus on the time-proven strategy of producing really great work and being patient.
I’ve heard that having a published book is more highly respected than having a Ph.D. I’m not sure if this came from research, the author’s opinion, or merely emerged as a clever quip. But, it does give me pause.
In completing a PhD there is (usually) a dissertation to produce. A dissertation is the length of a book and is much more tedious to write. And upon its completion, the dissertation is published (albeit in the technical sense). I’ve done this twice.
Writing a book is much easier than a dissertation or thesis; it requires less time and effort. I’ve done this, too. And it’s not hard to publish a book either, assuming you self-publish. (In the past, many notable authors self-published.)
However, it is much harder to go the traditional route and find a publisher who will produce mass quantities of your book in printed form and distribute them around the world. I have yet to do this.
What’s interesting is that in non-fiction, publishers look for writers with the authority to cover their topic; they seek credentials. A Ph.D. in your field is a prime credential.
So even though I consider earning a Ph.D. harder—and therefore more worthy of respect—publishing a non-fiction book often requires a Ph.D. anyway.