Everyone wants to be an author these days. I guess some see it as a natural extension of blogging, another marketing channel to reach a bigger audience and grow their platform, whatever that means. Others have a cause or a calling they think will change the world and a book, they reason, is a good place to start.
But the real age-old reason is that it’s sort of cool to see your name in print on a book cover. There’s a good chance it’s the closest you’ll ever come to being famous. As for the second part of the fame and fortune equation, that’s another story. The vast majority of authors don’t make much money doing it. C’est la vie.
Since we all seem to have any number of titles living inside us, the question of how best to move one of them to the outside inevitably arises. The main consideration of course is whether you should even attempt the arduous task of landing a real publisher or just bite the bullet and do it yourself.
While there are quite a few good articles explaining the tradeoffs (you can read a couple here and here), in my view, they tend to miss the big picture and therefore the most important consideration: what’s the best way to write a great book that’ll reach the most people?
No matter why you’re doing it, shouldn’t your primary goal be to put out the best product that’ll reach the biggest market possible? Of course it should. Why else would you put yourself through the agony of sitting in a chair for six months and trying to get the chaotic mess you call a brain to generate 75,000 coherent words?
Trust me when I tell you, if it’s a lousy concept or you can’t write for beans it’ll all be for naught – not a great result for all that hard work, not to mention the chronic pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s why it makes sense to choose the path that offers the best chance of turning out a great first product and hopefully many more.
And that path, my friends, isn’t self-publishing. How do I know that? Here’s a story about how I landed my first book deal that will explain everything:
Soon after leaving my last senior executive job and starting a management-consulting firm, I began to feel an itch that needed to be scratched. After 23 years in the high-tech industry, I realized there was a book inside me just dying to get out. This remarkable page-turner would be filled with stories from the halls of Silicon Valley and beyond.
Sure enough, once I started banging on the keyboard the book practically wrote itself. As the floodgates opened and the stories came to life in double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font I could barely force myself to stop typing at 2 am so I wouldn’t be brain dead for my day job as a consultant.
Somewhere along the line I decided the time was right to get online and figure out how to land a literary agent and then a publisher for my masterpiece. I wrote a passable query letter that got the attention of a few second-tier agents but, once they read my lousy proposal, it was one thanks-but-no-thanks letter after another.
Related: How I Won My First Big Customer
So I made some changes to the book, modified the proposal, and finally managed to land a first-time agent. Long story short, he couldn’t sell it. I went through that process twice more – once with an agent that ended up filing for bankruptcy and then with a belligerent butthole who I think had a drinking problem – before giving up.
Let me cut to the chase. That was more than a decade ago. A few years later I started blogging and writing columns, was pretty successful at it, and ultimately reached the conclusion that I’m now an OK writer.
A few years ago I decided to re-read that first manuscript and couldn’t get past page 10. What a piece of junk.
Over the years I’ve occasionally bounced around a concept or two that crossed my mind with some agents and publishers I’ve since come to know. I dipped my toe in the water a few times but, for one reason or another, it never worked out.
Last year I finally came up with the right idea, connected with a top-tier agent who helped me refine it, and landed a publisher. This time, it feels right.
As a former marketing chief I know exactly what it takes to win big over the long haul. It takes great products that reach and excite lots of customers. When you enter a new business it takes some trial and error to get to the point where you’ve achieved professional validation and are positioned for success. Publishing is no different.
Granted, it didn’t have to take this long; I’ve admittedly been busy with my day job. But the truth is, without all that feedback along the way I never would have gotten to where I am now. And had I self-published that first book, I know it would have flopped. And if I were a reader, I never would have bought another book by that author again.