Things I Learned From Publishing My First Book (And Second) Book

The post and other writings can also be found at my website, jclevelandpayne.net.

In 2014 I published two books, “Welcome to your Monday” and “So Forty Happened.” Their success was relative, as in they successfully exist in physical and digital form and are available for purchase. Critical or financial success wasn’t expected, but the $20 I declared in my 2014 taxes as royalties was a very much needed source of amusement to what turned out to be a very hectic year, personally and professionally.

The experience also became a turning point in my life as an ‘expert’ on things. I didn’t necessarily acquire any epiphany worthy new information to share with the world in 2014, but the new existence of the title ‘published author’ was enough to impress a few people for a few weeks. And it got others who have spent years purposely ignoring what I had to say to take just a moment and actively listen.

So what did I really learn from publishing my first two books last year? Well, here is a list. I hope it helps you, as it did me a lot of good just writing them out:

The Hard Part Was Getting Down All The Words — The truly difficult part of the journey into publishing a book, whether on your own or with the backing of a corporate entity, is getting started. Looking at a blank screen waiting to craft words with no real idea how it will end is frightening. People who participate in National Novel Writing Month every November are required to reach a mark of at least 50,000 words to count their book as ‘complete.’ That’s about 200 pages, which was the mental ‘standard’ I had to shake off to publish my first books. But before you can get to page 200, you have to complete page one, with the ability to ensure the narrative can still make sense on that final page.

Editing was a pain, but it couldn't happen until the initial batch of words were finally put on paper. And editing just made the work better (whether it was good from the start is relative). Self-publishing through Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing took trial and error to get the finished product as close as you desire, but you are just filling and re-filling forms.

Your Book Should Have A Purpose Other Than ‘Hopefully Will Make Me Rich — I have been actively working on publishing a book on something since High School, I just needed the right material to make it come together. After having crafted 18 months’ worth of weekly Twitter-sized missives, I had the perfect amount of source material to write “Welcome to your Monday,” and the right spin to make the book an enhancement to the material already released online. “So Forty Happened” answered a few challenges. The first challenge was to write a book about my view on my world and the greater world around me. It also stands as a legacy writing for my kids to someday cherish or be embarrassed by (only they will ultimately make that choice, and I intend to be dead by then so my vote won’t count for much at that point).

But none of these books were created for the sole purpose of putting money into my bank account, or they would have been complete failures. I intend on using what I have learned from the first two to ensure future book are more commercially viable, but if the point is just to make money, there are easier ways to do that which don’t set oneself up for as much public scrutiny, or can make so much money with little effort that you don’t particularly care. As a big fan of money, I’ll sell you as many books as you want to pay me for. As an effort spread a message to allow me to achieve some sense of intellectual immortally, that task is done.

You’ll Never Make Any Money If You Keep Giving Away Books — Friends and family need to help support your endeavor not by just reading your book and telling people about it, but by buying a few books and suggesting that other people buy them as well. To hit The Wall Street Journal’s Bestseller list, you need to sell about 3,000 copies of a book in the first week. For the New York Times Bestseller list, you need to sell about 9,000 copies of a book in the first week. By the nature of the internet, making Amazon’s Top 100 list is much easier, selling about 1,000 copies of a book within the first few days of its release, and top five titles average sales of 1,094 print copies sold across all of Amazon’s channels on a ‘typical’ day.

The current trend to make yourself into a bestselling author is to offer copies of the book ‘for free’ to your ‘tribe.’ Here, free equals cost plus shipping and administrative handing and the optional a slight markup so that you do make some money if you can get away with it. So this quote from Patrick Snow stating, “Bestseller” is a manipulated term. If you want to be a bestselling author, take out a $100,000 loan and buy 15,000 of your own books from Amazon,” is entirely too true. Unless you've got the backing of an established company trying to game the system, you need as many real people to buy your book as possible to make a blip on the radar for mid-level to major sellers to pick it up and give it a shot.

You’ll Never Make Any Money If You Are Not Willing To Give Away Books — See what I did there? You absolutely cannot hand out books like candy at a parade. But if you give a book to a person with real influence, along with a few extra copies for them to share and give away, you’re doing marketing and promotion, not just giving away the inventory. Your influencer will talk about your book and tell the members of their ‘tribe’ just how grand it is. And if they are paid for the endorsement (which most seemed to be these days), you can expect a glowing one, to be followed by a slew of low rated reviews from people who will on the back end feel scammed by the influencer. This is the nature of the game, but you get your sells and status, the influencer gets some cash and status, and the consumer get a product to consume, although it is your job initially to make the product worth consuming.

Trust me on this one. I work in radio, and have seen firsthand that the more tickets you give to a station to give away for an event, the more times the event gets mentioned. It is not free advertising. It is not ‘giving away a seat for free that I could have sold for full price,’ as many of our less successful promoter clients think they can convince us to believe. It is the most cunningly effective promotional vehicles that one could dream up. If you can provide a good enough product that people who can’t win will want to buy outright, those that don’t win will talk about it. And the more people you have actively talking about your event and asking questions, the greater the pool of potential full-price buyers grows, quickly outpacing the ones who just beg for more chances to win your comp tickets.

The More You Work At It, The Easier It Gets — Again, better is a relative term that is based solely on the person holding and reviving the product, but the ability to produce the product gets easier as you make more and more of them. The first book came out in the spring, and while the process wasn't difficult (allowing just about anyone with the ability to put 200 pages worth of words in book form the ability to publish and sell books), it did take a little time to figure out how to do it so that the final outcome was as appealing as possible. The first printed and e-book product were nowhere near perfect, but when I set out to abruptly publish the second book in the fall, it was much easier to process the information and set up the look and feel of the book to produce a better looking (but still not publishing house perfect) product.

I have at least three planned releases for 2015 (and yes I am very much behind on the sequel book, “Welcome to More Mondays”). The steps to get this thing done are now, well, all done. Oddly enough, the real holdup for this mostly completed work is finding the time for proper editing and reformatting. As I said earlier, the hardest part is getting the words out, but it doesn't make the finishing of the product a cakewalk by comparison.

Once You Hit ‘Submit,’ It Now Exists, For Good Or Ill — “Welcome to your Monday” and “So Forty Happened” are available for purchase on Amazon.com. There are a few dozen physical copies circulating the country, a few hundred living as data in the cloud of the Kindle e-book system, and a box of each title tucked away in a corner of my living room. Both books have ISBN numbers to make them ‘real.’ And As I mentioned earlier, I have received royalties for the purchase of copies of the book from people other than myself. So no one can take away my title as ‘Two-Time Published Author,’ even if that title means very little beyond marketing of myself.

On the flip side, my words and opinion at the time of their publishing are now an official part of the public trust. I cannot delight the stories I put into those books as false after stating in their initial publishing as true without severe consequences. After facing four awkward exchanges with girlfriends from long ago inquiring on whether I was writing about them as either ‘the one who really broke my heart’ or ‘the one who really got away,’ I was reminded that for a guy who couldn't keep a steady girlfriend in the past, I did date a significant quantity of women. But what means something to you reading this is the reminder that the words you say, write, or imply at the moment meant something specific at that moment. If you have them documented, you better mean them. And if you no longer mean them, you better have an explanation for your then words and your now words. You will never know how far in the future you will be questioned on them.