So You Want To Be a Writer

I am a published author. When I was writing my first book I thought I would take great pride in saying that. I also thought I was going to make some pretty good money. The money part didn’t happen, and while I do take pride in the fact that I am a published author I find myself looking back at that time in my career with a little regret. I don’t regret writing books, but I wish I would have done it a little differently. It’s the old “knowing what I know now” scenario. Let’s take a look at the process. Writing a book requires somewhat of a “perfect storm” of finding the right topic, having the knowledge to write about it, finding the right publisher, finding time to write, and most importantly, getting the family on board. The payoff may be in the form of money or in the form of career advancement. It may be a little of both, but not usually.

Find a Topic

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it can be harder than you think. You probably have a technology in mind, but you need to consider the type of book you want to write. Will it be a general overview of the product? Will it be a design and configuration book? Will it be a “mastering” type book that will encompass all of the above? Review the books currently on the market and determine if there is a gap in knowledge that you can help fill. You may then need to consider if there is an audience for your book. That is where a publisher may be able to help you.

Find a Publisher, or Self-Publish

I have to admit how old I am here, because there wasn’t much of a self-publishing model in place when I wrote my books. There were a few options in place, but at that time none of them could get your book on Amazon or on the shelves at the big book stores. There are a lot more options available now for the self-publisher. You can place your title on Amazon and provide eBooks or print-on-demand physical copies.

A publisher was a good idea for me at the time because it helped get the book onto bookshelves at bookstores and online retailers. They also marketed the book and paid for all the advertising. The acquisitions editor is your first contact with a publisher. They will have knowledge of what the publisher is working on, what is planned, and they can help do research to help you determine if a book on a given topic actually has an audience.

If I were to write a book now I may go the self-publishing route for a few reasons.

  • There are more options now for getting the book into print form and on the “virtual” shelves at online retailers.
  • Up-front costs are much lower because there are print-on-demand options available that eliminate the need for buying copies of the book in bulk.
  • Self-promotion via social media wasn’t available at the time but is a very valuable tool today
  • Royalty rates are much higher

Find the Time to Write

Writing a book is no small task. I thought I could easily work it into my evening schedule since I travelled a lot at the time. I soon found that I was working on the book 5 to 8 hours an evening and one entire day on the weekend. My submission schedule was one chapter a week so it was a little aggressive. Aggressive schedules are sometimes needed because of the amount of change in the industry and publishers wanting to get the book on the shelves as early as possible.

I have found that an average plan for the writing schedule is 1.5 hours of writing for every page of content. If you are working with a publisher, the schedule usually goes something like this; the first week you write your first chapter. That chapter is then submitted to the publisher and is passed to a technical editor and a general editor for a “level 1” edit. You then start working on the second chapter. While writing the second chapter you may receive the level 1 reviewed copy of chapter one with notes of things to change or questions from the editor that need answered. You must work on these changes and edits along with writing the second chapter. After resubmitting the first chapter with the level 1 edits and submitting the second chapter for the first time, you start a new chapter. The second copy of chapter one (with technical and grammar edits in place) is then sent to yet another editor for review (level 2). While writing the third chapter (or any subsequent chapters), there is a chance that while writing the new chapter, you could receive technical edits, level 1 edits, and level 2 edits.

Profit

There is a profit to be found from writing. It may be monetary or it could be the gateway to new opportunities in your career. It was definitely the latter for me. I figured it up once and I made much less than minimum wage by the time all of the work was done. I still wouldn’t change anything, but I’m a lot choosier when deciding if I ever want to write again. There are writers out there that make some pretty good money writing but they are the people that took advantage of the “perfect storm” and found a topic that was in very high demand and had little competition.

I mentioned above that royalty rates are much higher when you self-publish rather than going through a publisher. In my experience working with publishers you usually get paid in the form of an advance, then a percentage of sales beyond your advance.

Using completely made-up numbers, it goes something like this. You get an advance of $15,000. Once the book is completed, published, and sold, then you start receiving royalties. You will probably receive around 10% of the cost of the book. Not the retail price, but the cost. Let’s say a book that sells for $59.99 actually costs $24.99. Each copy you sell puts $2.49 in your pocket. But… You have to pay back the advance, so the first $15,000 in sales do not put any money in your pocket. After you have sold enough copies to meet your advance, then you start to see royalty checks.

Another thing to consider is the effect on royalties for subscription-based services such as Safari Books Online or Books24X7. They follow a similar royalty percentage but they base it upon page views of the book from subscribers. If a book sells for $59.99 and they royalty rate is 10% of the cost of $24.99, then you have a royalty fee of $2.49. This number is then divided by the percentage of the book that is actually read by the subscriber. If the subscribers only reads 20% of the book, then the author receives 20% of $2.49 for his or her commission for that month.

Summary

For me, writing was a positive experience. Maybe not during the weeks where I had to get an entire chapter written while working with multiple level 1 and level 2 edits, but now that it is all over I find that it was valuable for my career at the time. If you have family, definitely make sure they are involved and they know the risks and rewards. Make sure you have a good support system because the schedule can be grueling.

Hopefully you can find the perfect storm and it fits into your schedule. If you have any further questions please leave a comment or reach out directly.