This year, I want to write. I want to write the things I’ve always wanted to write but had neither the time, nor energy, nor strategy to write before. In all, I’m looking to write a little more than eight books, in addition to daily journals and this blog.
I’ve written books before. I’ve published two with publishers, another two as ebooks through Amazon. I’ve ghostwritten four others that were either self-published or done with big New York publishers. My second book, “And Now We Shall Do Manly Things,” was published by the William Morrow imprint of HarperCollins publishing, arguably one of the biggest of the big New York publishing houses.
I still remember that day, when my agent called me and told me that HarperCollins wanted to buy that book. It was surreal. It felt like I had made it as a writer. I felt validated and proud. I felt like being recognized for my efforts by the literary version of Hollywood or Silicon Valley was an accomplishment I wanted to build on.
Over time, I’ve changed my mind. It’s not that I had a bad experience with the people at HarperCollins. Quite the opposite actually. My editor, Adam Korn, remains one of my most dear and close friends. The publicist who picked me up from my hotel at 5 am on a Saturday to take me to an interview with Fox & Friends was sweet an accommodating and managed to get me on the radio in places from Baltimore to Seattle. The editorial assistants and designers were great to work with and receptive to my ideas.
It’s just that, having gone through the process of working with a big publisher, I’ve realized the value of their recognition, while important to me at the time, was fleeting. Publishing, like any other industry, is a business. It’s a business with huge pressures for massive revenue generation. It’s a business where standing still is an option. Editors are pressured to find the next John Grisham or Stephen King or Malcolm Gladwell with every book they buy. And, if you’re not Grisham, King or Gladwell as an author, it’s easy to get overlooked.
The stakes are too high. The bar for success is too high. You either hit it big right away or you’re not likely to get a second chance.
My agent is fantastic. He keeps taking my phone calls, keeps asking me for ideas. And my book didn’t sell terribly, but it wasn’t great either. Not by New York standards. Not by big publishing standards.
With both my books, I’ve found that a smaller group of people develop real attachment to it. I publish my e-mail address in all my books and I still get notes. “Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry” came out in 2010 and has been a hit with older people who like the mix of history and memoir. It’s been six years and I still give regular talks to groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution. I still get notes from people discovering the book for the first time.
The same goes for the Manly Things. It came out in 2012 and I was featured just last month on a BBC World Service story about hunting. I get emails from people who have gone through the things I talked about in the book, who have similar feelings of being the odd person out in their family. One reader even, astutely I think, pointed out that the book actually had little to do with hunting but was a love story about me and my wife. Yes, it is.
All this has gotten me thinking about what I want to do as an author and I come to some pretty shocking – to me at least – conclusions. I don’t want to publish my books with big publishers anymore. I want to publish them myself and promote them myself. I want to own the process, the audience and the expectations for success. And it’s never been more possible to do that than it is now.
A friend of mine helps edit a friend’s books. The author had never written before, but the story goes that personal tragedy inspired her to put fingers to keys and start writing romance novels. She published herself using Amazon’s CreateSpace and has found overwhelming success. One of her books, as the story goes, has even been optioned for a movie.
The point is that she focused not on the recognition of a publisher, but on telling the story she wanted to tell and finding an audience on her own. Social media, Amazon, self-publishing services – they all make this possible now in ways never before imagined.
And that’s what I want to do.
I’m writing eight and a half books this year – two novels, two chapter books for younger readers, three and a half non-fiction books and a book about creativity that I’m working on with a famous musician. My plan is to own the process and the outcome for all of them.
But I’m going to need some help.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be setting up a crowd-funding page to help cover the publishing costs of my first novel, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” It’s a mostly true story about two people finding each other in painful, funny and conflicting ways. I love the story. I’m going ask my friend and editor Adam to work on the project with me and my friend Ryan, who has made feature-length films on crowd-funded budgets, to help manage my campaign. I’ll be using CreateSpace to help with line-editing, interior and cover design and physical publication of the book. All told, it’s going to cost about $2,000 for me to publish it.
I could find a way, somehow, to cover the cost myself, but I don’t want to. First, that’s a lot of money to find when you’re a single income, five-person family. But second, and more importantly, I want to involve the people I know and love, the people who follow me, who have made a connection with me or my work to be a part of this new approach to my career as an author from the beginning.
I won’t ask for more than what is needed to get the book done. I won’t make any money. I’m not crowd-funding an advance. The only way I’ll get paid for my work is if people buy it. But I’ve run the numbers and I have set my goals. I don’t need a huge audience. I have not Everest to scale. With 5,000 readers, I can be more profitable than I was with a big publishing contract.
Which is why I want and need your help.
I’m not asking for anything now, except that if you read my work and like it, share it with your friends. I’m banking the success of my writing on the fact that people who are able to connect with my work will share it with people they think will connect with it. Tell me how I’m doing. Tell me what you like and don’t like. Give me your stories, I promise I will listen.
When the time comes, I’m going to be asking readers to help contribute to the publishing of my books. Consider it. I won’t beg, but I hope you’ll hear me out. I’m going to do this for each of the books I’m working on this year and my hope is that you’ll see value in helping bring them to life.
It’s a risk, for me, to turn away from what I always thought I aspired to; to make the decision that recognition from a publisher is less important than connection with people like you. But it’s a calculated one and one I’m excited to make.
I’m putting my faith in you. I’ll hope you’ll do the same.