Since you didn’t ask, I thought I would give you, my lone reader, a personalized insider’s view of the hows, whys and wherefores of writing a book. I have done this 12 times in the past and I still don’t really know how it happens and I certainly haven’t learned how to not torture myself through its completion.
Ok, you’ve decided you want to write a book. First thing we must know is why? Writing a book, writing anything, is really hard work. If it isn’t, you’re not a good writer. Sometimes writing can be just work but often it is hard work and more times than I care to admit it is really, really hard work. And your reward at the end? Chances are there is no reward at the end. There is self-satisfaction and a profound sense of accomplishment when you finish but there won’t be anything flashy like a new car, thicker hair or added personal charisma. And yet, writers write, books and articles are produced, digital files are filled and the world reads.
Why would someone put themselves through the uncertainty and trials of writing a book? It certainly isn’t for fame. If you don’t count your friends and family, there are relatively few people who are going to read your book and fewer still who will remember it and that includes your friends and family. Fame, what there is of it, is local, mostly uncomfortable and blessedly fleeting.
You may be able to parlay your new book into a reading or presentation at a local bookstore but while this sounds delightful and affirming, it is more often frightful and alarming. A few stories for your entertainment: I once did a book signing at a big university bookstore. It was a very nice offer until I arrived and found that I was to do the presentation and signing in a storage room! The few people that came were directed to the back of the store, ushered into the room and asked to sit on stacked boxes of books. The slide screen was terribly placed in front of the door and under a red, emergency exit light adding a horrible crimson glow to all my photos I showed. It wasn’t delightful or affirming.
But that wasn’t the worst book signing I have ever done. I once did a signing at an Orvis branch store in New York City. The store had a narrow layout with a long center aisle — Men’s on the right, Women’s on the left. I projected my images from one side to the other side over wool socks, rubber boots, lounge wear and across to fleece mocs and slippers on the far wall. Store customers just walked through the projector’s beam oblivious to what was happening. Only one person, a young woman, showed up to watch the show. I made my presentation, told my stories and cracked my jokes as if the room was full of engaged happy fans. My audience of one was quiet, intent and stayed to the very end. She seemed happy, so I was too. When I asked if she had any questions, she made it clear, in a language I didn’t know, that she didn’t speak nor understand English. Oh, well.
Nor is writing a book for fortune. You will never get paid for all the hours, months and probably years you put into creating your book. You might earn enough money to account for the pens, paper, notebooks, toner, highlighters and post-it notes you used but money you spent for travel, food, flights, references and visits to your therapist and liquor store will never be seen again. This is why you must have another job, a big bank account or a spouse with a good income and low expectations to support your life while you craft your ideas into a book. You may get a small amount of money, an advance, from the publisher when you sign a contract, but the amount is never enough to cover all your costs and you pay the advance back to the publisher once the book begins to sell. If you want to write for profit, be a journalist or a blog influencer.
So, it looks like you are not going to be famous or even mildly known, it’s going to cost more than you can imagine and the entire time creating your book will probably be full of frustration, doubt, resistance and very short periods of utter amazement. Then why do it? Anyone would have to be crazy to even think about writing a book. It is obviously not worth it, you will gain little, it will take you months or probably years and during it all you will have little to nothing to show for your efforts. Perhaps crazy is too kind a word. So why write?
I write because I have an idea that turns into a passion, that turns into a story that that turns into an imperative that I can’t ignore. The idea must be developed, the story must be told. It is that simple. If it’s not that simple, you shouldn’t write. I write because the story I am pursuing has grown to be part of me; it is me. To not write, to not share is to deny who I am. My stories are me. Doesn’t matter how many people will read it. Doesn’t matter how much time I spend or how much money I won’t earn. All that matters is that I tell the story as best I can.
There are two ways to publish a book. One is for you to do everything yourself — create, design, print, market, distribute, restock and promote. Good Luck! This is the most expensive, the most work and least likely to be successful strategy for getting and sustaining a book in front of the public. The second strategy is to find a publisher willing to do everything but write the book. This has the greatest chance of success but also the greatest chance of extreme frustration because choices will be made that you won’t like but that you have no control over. Whomever pays makes the decisions. All my books have been published by a publisher and while there have been some huge disappointments in the layout and marketing of a few of my books, I’ve been proud of each of them. I wouldn’t ever consider ever self-publishing.
Here is the truth about deciding whether to self-publish or find a publisher. If your idea and words/images are good enough, and by that I mean good enough for the publisher to make money on your book, you will be able to find a publisher…eventually. If your idea and words/images are not good enough for a publisher, then self-publishing is the only option. I think of the process of finding a publisher as a fitness test for my ideas and presentation. The more I work at honing my book the stronger and more fit the idea becomes. Eventually you will reach a level of fitness worthy of a publisher. Without this fitness test you have no idea of how worthy your book really is and that’s a problem. It is easier to skip the fitness test but better to pass it.
The most fundamental advice on how to write a book and probably the most honest is to start by writing a sentence and then another sentence and then another. This will soon lead to a paragraph and then, perhaps, to a second. If things are going well you may end up with a page full of words. You have now started to write a book. When I am first starting to write I never think that the words are the first of my book. I don’t even think ‘book.’ Writing a book is very intimidating and it is something really, really, smart people do. I’m not one of those people so I simply think about getting my thoughts and ideas down on the page. The next time I write I will get more thoughts down and maybe write another page. If I continue to do this, I may eventually have enough pages to make a book.
But where to start? First word, first paragraph, first page. Right? Wrong! The beginning of a book is the last thing I write. This is because I generally don’t know where the beginning is until I’ve come to the end. I typically start somewhere in the middle, anywhere in the middle, anywhere to just get started. When the middle is finished I write the end because I generally know where the book wants to end. When that is all done then I figure out how it all got started and where the beginning should be. The end will tell you where the beginning is but the beginning will never tell you where the end is. And you need the middle to get to the end so let’s start there. A bit odd but it has always worked this way for me. The beginning is the hardest part for me to write and it is the part that I will rewrite the most.
I consider my books to be my offspring. It is something I’ve created, nourished, watch grow and then take on a life of its own. I never have any idea how the book is going to turn out once I get started but I am happy to be along for the ride. For me, the ride is all-consuming and equal parts exhilarating and suicidal. It is the process, the discovery of things inside of me that I never knew existed that I find fascinating. This is the creative process and there is nothing more addictive. Story frames this process; it entwines my mind and my heart. Story is what makes me who I am. I am the stories that I tell, that I live, that I imagine, that I dream. So are you.
I think, I imagine, I dream and so I write. I create, I write, I struggle, I share. Sharing gives life, gives purpose, gives power to your story. When you feel this way, when your idea turns to passion and then to story the only choice you have is to create, is to write.
This make sense? Yes? Grab a pen. Its time.