My book has been out for four months. I’d tell you to envision me sitting poolside at my new fancy mansion, checking an ever-increasing bank balance, but that would be a disservice to both of us. My editor is delighted with sales, and the book has gotten good reviews, but here’s the truth: I didn’t turn into an overnight bajillionaire. Quitting my full-time job is not an option.
But I have reason to suspect people think otherwise. “Are you going to move?” both my husband and I have been asked. Repeatedly. “You still work?” someone remarked with surprise at a bookstore reading. A half-dozen book clubs have made the assumption I would be available any weekday for a leisurely afternoon gathering. And I’ve received cross-country invitations to speaking events, though the organizations expected me to cover airfare and hotel. It’s as if people believe I am equally flush with cash and free time.
I try to give them slack, though, and answer questions with kindness and transparency. I probably harbored some of those same perceptions before learning the realities of publishing.
So, let me share a few things I’ve learned these last few months:
Publishing a book is a numbers game.
In 2015, 338,990 books were published in the United States (new titles or re-editions).* That’s 928 new books every single day of the year. 38.7 new books every hour. One new book every minute and a half. By the time you’ve finished reading this blog post, two more books will have been published. Consider that fact with kindness because each new book represents years of work. Each new book represents an author’s total commitment to that project. It’s tough to compete with so many other titles on the market.
Publishing a book might not change your financial life. In fact, it probably won’t.
Even in traditional publishing, there are expenses to bringing a book to life. I paid thousands of dollars to a developmental editor, thousands more for promotion, and spent countless hours writing and editing—time that could have been spent pursuing paying client work. And I did all that fully aware of this frightful statistic: the average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.**
Publishing a book requires fierce dedication, commitment and sacrifice.
The writing process, especially while holding a full-time job, requires a complete, give-it-everything commitment to the project. Ready to give up television, time with friends, time working out, cooking for fun, or whatever it is you do for recreation? Writing a book requires hundreds—if not thousands—of hours of time at your desk (and inside your own thoughts) when you might otherwise be doing or focusing on something else.
Publishing a book requires thick skin.
I’m still trying to find the vitamin that will help me grow it. Ready for rejection? Multiple rejections in a single day? Ready for every single person you meet to have an opinion about the book’s structure/pace/ending/tone/content/language or cover design? Ready to read breezy reviews written by people who only seem to have a marginal comprehension of the facts of the story? Or those who judge the book against criteria of a different genre? It will happen. But if you keep in mind the reason that compelled you to write the book in the first place, the harsh opinions seem to sting less.
So, if publishing is financially unrewarding and emotionally taxing, why did I write “Marcel’s Letters”? It was important to tell Marcel’s story. I chose to commit time, energy, and money to the project to ensure his story wasn’t lost to time. Even if I never break even on the project, I will tell you it was worth every dollar, every ounce of effort.
Publishing a book has unexpected and delightful rewards.
Along the way, I’ve befriended other writers who are equally committed to telling their stories. I’ve launched myself far outside of my comfort zone. I’ve met passionate readers. I’ve seen both tears and joy (and tears of joy) on people’s faces as they talk about the book. I even received a handwritten note from my Kindergarten teacher congratulating me on writing a book. I’ve been buoyed by unexpected cheerleaders. I’ve gained a sense of satisfaction knowing for a few hours I transported people to a different time and place. I’ve been told I’ve inspired people to write, to design, to pay attention to typography, to think big.
Do you have a story important to tell? Tell it! Start writing today. Go work on it now. Seriously. Right now. If that story inside of you is so big, so strong, so full of life that it is going to gnaw its way out of you with or without your help, figure out how to make time to write it down. Start crafting a work of literature, not just a number. Start cultivating thick skin. Start believing you can.