So you want to write a book but aren’t sure if it’s worth your time. As a published author of both an ebook and a traditional hardcover book, let me share with you the pros and cons of being an author.
Given the success of my Wall Street Journal bestseller, Buy This, Not That, I’ve been given another book deal by Portfolio Penguin Random House. Therefore, this post will not only help you decide whether to write a book, but it will also help me decide whether to write another book too!
It’s funny, but the whole premise of Buy This, Not That is trying to decide between two difficult choices. With careful analysis, my goal is to help readers make optimal decisions to live their best lives and minimize regret.
So here goes another thought exercise for creatives willing to put themselves out there.
Deciding On Whether To Write A Book: Why You Should
1) Better utilize your mind and increase academic accomplishment
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve met more people who have told me writing a book is on their bucket list. Part of the reason why is that our bodies atrophy quicker than our minds.
When you can no longer play competitive tennis due to a bum hip or bang around the basketball court due to weak knees, the natural inclination is to better utilize your mind. As we age, we can spend more time writing, painting, singing, and playing musical instruments to find fulfillment.
For those of you who missed out on getting your PhD and becoming a professor, being an author may be a close substitute. After all, many academics publish research papers and books to showcase their research and knowledge. Hence, if you can go straight to publishing a book, you get to the same accomplishment without having to get your PhD.
Writing can be both cathartic and elucidating. As you explain your thoughts through writing, you may feel more at peace with your life. You’ll also learn new things.
2) Good to pass down knowledge to help others
As a nonfiction author, you can share your knowledge and wisdom to help other people. As a fiction author, you can entertain.
There are few things more rewarding than helping other people. Getting the occasional thank you e-mail or comment is one of my motivators for keeping Financial Samurai going since 2009.
Don’t let your experiences and valuable knowledge die with you. You can pass down stories through word of mouth. Or, you can write a book and let generations after you enjoy your work.
Authors write because we have something important to say. If we don’t write, we might go crazy! If you are just dying to get something out, you must do so, especially if there is a void.
3) Improve your social status
Although there are millions of books available to read, actually meeting a published author in the wild is rare. Given the rareness of the occupation, being an author is considered relatively high status.
Just think about how many techies, bankers, lawyers, money managers, and doctors you meet on a monthly basis. These are considered high-status occupations with high incomes. But they are also ubiquitous occupations, especially in big cities.
Among all the parents I’ve met at my son’s school and all my friends who play sports, I have yet to meet another published author. As a result, if you get through the gauntlet and write a book, you will turn into a rare bird.
You might even get invited to random parties because rich hosts need token authors to show they are cultured. Just be careful. Writing a book for status alone is a soul-sucking reason. Because at the end of the day, nobody cares longer than the initial encounter.
4) Help your children get into school and potentially find jobs
Most organizations like a diversity of people with different backgrounds. Given being an author is rare, your children will come from a rare family background. Schools and companies tend to covet more of what is rare, regardless of merit.
I’ve spoken to board members and admissions officers at various private grade schools. I’ve also spoken to hiring managers and CEOs. They’ve all said they are looking for a variety of people to fill their seats. They don’t want everybody who looks the same and comes from the same background. That would be too boring.
5) Generate passive income
Book royalty income is one form of truly passive income. If your book earns out the advance, you will then early royalties of between 10% – 15% for every book sold thereafter.
The more successful books you write, you could build a significant portfolio of books that generate royalties. If your book becomes an all-time classic, you could earn royalties for decades.
Just know that roughly 70% of books do not earn out their advance. But the more books you publish, the greater your chances of earning royalties.
6) Build your legacy
One of the great things about being in the arts is that your work tends to live long after you are gone. It feels good to have a finished product to show for your career, e.g. a book, a painting, or a song.
Whereas let’s say you worked in investment banking at Credit Suisse. You helped take a number of companies public. You also helped existing fund managers make more money. As a reward, you get paid and promoted to Managing Director. Amazing!
However, over the course of ten years, your company’s share price declines by 85%. Meanwhile, upper management decides to sell off your entire business department to cut costs. Perhaps the company ceases to exist altogether due to excessive risk taking.
Your legacy may be tarnished through little-to-no fault of your own. And as a knowledge worker who doesn’t produce a product, your legacy may be amorphous. People might actually wonder what you did all day if you can’t easily show what you do.
Hence, for those who work in the knowledge economy, writing a book as a side project is a very attractive proposition.
Why You Should Not Write A Book
Are you feeling pumped to write your book now? Not so fast! Here are the downsides of writing a book.
1) For the money
Only the top 1% of authors make a comfortable livable wage writing a book. Conversely, the vast majority of government employees and employees in most other industries can earn enough to live a middle-class lifestyle. Being a professional writer is brutally difficult.
Besides earning minimum wage at a retail or fast-food job, I can’t think of other occupations that pay so poorly. Most authors cannot survive solely off their book advance and royalties. As a result, most authors have day jobs.
The poverty associated with being an author is ironically one of the reasons why the occupation is looked upon favorably. You respect people who do what they love, especially if their work pays little.
Instead of being a full-time author, you can write a book as a side hustle. It may provide the best combination of achievement, satisfaction, and income.
2) If you want or need more time and freedom
Publishing a book will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. You have to come up with the title, design, idea, and outline. Then you’ve got to spend 1-2 years writing your book and working with editors to make your work shine.
For example, my publisher and I traded over 1,000 e-mails and spent over 100 hours on the phone or video during the course of producing Buy This, Not That.
But the thing is, producing your book may actually be the easier part!
Once your book is published you have to dedicate at least three months to marketing your book for it to have a chance of success. During this time period, you will feel extremely stressed. In marketing, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than going on live TV to deliver your message succinctly in under three minutes.
The reality is, you actually need to start marketing about three months before your book is published to gain momentum. The higher your and your publisher’s expectations of the book, the more marketing effort you need to put in. Further, you will feel more pressure to succeed with your first book if you are hoping to get a second book deal.
Given we pulled our boy from preschool for 18 months due to the pandemic, I had to constantly juggle homeschooling, writing on FS, and writing my book. If you want to write a book, you have to be supremely disciplined with your time.
3) If you don’t want to feel constant disappointment in others
The more time and effort you dedicate to writing your book, the greater your hopes it will be a “success.”
For some authors, success can mean selling more than 5,000 books. For other authors, success may mean winning a non-paid book award or making it on a national bestseller list. That’s right, you can get a book award if you pay a fee, e.g. pay $170 per category to get a Nautilus Book Award.
But given 98% of books sell fewer than 5,000 copies, the odds of “success” are low. Therefore, be prepared to be bitterly disappointed by the results. Authors need to temper their expectations. Most people simply don’t have the time, patience, or interest to read what you have to write.
If you hate asking people for help, you will find the book marketing process to be highly uncomfortable. Even getting your friends and relatives to share and leave a positive book review may be painful.
It is harder to sell a book today than it was thirty years ago. The internet has made everything free. Therefore, the vast majority of people expect everything they read from an author to be for free, even though people aren’t willing to do their own jobs for free.
Only between 1% – 3% of your online audience will ever buy anything from you. Even if you provide great value, peace of mind, and riches over a decade, the vast majority of people won’t be willing to pay $20 – $30 to support your work.
If you think about this sad fact, you may feel constantly demoralized and depressed when the people you thought would support your work don’t.
4) If you don’t want to feel embarrassed
The reason why many people don’t try to do hard things is because it can feel embarrassing if you fail. The embarrassment may linger for years. It may also become traumatizing as well.
Thirty two years ago, when I was 13 years old I decided to host a birthday party at my house in Kuala Lumpur. I spent two hours cleaning and clearing the living room furniture. We were going to have a dance party with lots of drinks and snacks!
Despite sending an invite out to about 30 people, only six people showed up. I thought at least twenty would come. My friends then decided to go to a different event after only 45 minutes or so. I felt like such a loser.
From then on, I stopped throwing birthday parties. The pain of disappointment was unbearable. I also promised to attend every birthday party I am ever invited so the hosts never feel what I felt.
Now that I have little ones, the birthday parties are endless! Hooray! So long as I shall live, my kids will always attend their classmates’ birthday parties, even if they aren’t close friends. Because as a parent, all we want is for our children to feel loved.
Just know that even if people don’t support your book, you had the courage to try. You will also develop a thicker skin to continue taking risks. Pat yourself on the back for putting yourself out there!
5) If you don’t want to be on anybody else’s schedule
One of the reasons why I left finance in 2012 was because I was tired of the inefficiencies. I felt like I could get twelve hours of work done in four hours. However, due to meetings and corporate bureaucracy, I had to put in a lot of face time.
As a self-published author of a severance negotiation book, it was relatively easy to write, edit, and publish the book in comparison to traditional publishing. The difference in time it took to create both types of books was eight months versus two years.
The simple reason for the difference is there are more cooks in the kitchen when you go the traditional publishing route. There is the content editor, copyeditors, marketing person, PR person, foreign rights person, and big bosses to work with.
As a traditional book author, you must learn to adjust your schedule and way of working to other people. For example, you might respond to e-mails within three hours, thereby expecting a similar type of response time. If the person takes days to write back, you need to suppress your annoyance and go with the flow.
Being able to control my own time is one of the best things about fake retirement. Writing a book is like taking on a new job. To be a good colleague, you need to be flexible.
6) If you don’t want negative reviews
No matter how hard you try to write the best book possible, you will always get a negative review on some platform. You could have 100 positive reviews, but that one negative review will still sting.
Readers will give you negative reviews for almost anything. Some examples include: 1) Damaged book due to the delivery man, 2) priced too high, 3) thought the book was going to be about something else, 4) too comprehensive, 5) too short, 6) not enough pictures, 7) misunderstanding of what you wrote, 8) or attacks from competitors.
For example, one negative reviewer for Buy This, Not That on Amazon wrote, “This book says I need $30 million dollars to become financially independent?! Really? If I had $30 million I wouldn’t need to read this book. Ridiculous and almost depressing.”
I’m not sure where the reviewer got this information. But let me guess.
Based on 25X expenses to get to financial independence, maybe he’s spending $1.2 million a year. If that’s the case, why is he mad at me for spending so much?
Based on 10X – 20X gross income to get to financial independence, he’s making $1.5 – $3 million a year. With that type of top 0.1% income, I wouldn’t feel like $30 million is unreasonable. I’d feel motivated and pumped!
Alas, you can’t change the way people feel. I’ve offered financial guidelines in my book. They aren’t the end all be all. But some readers will inevitably get upset and that’s just the way it is.
Go Ahead And Write The Next Great Book
If you are given the opportunity to write a book, you should take it. So few people have the opportunity that it would be a shame if you passed. Writing a book will test your limits. But you will feel beyond proud once it’s out.
Some female authors with children have described publishing a book like birthing a child. The incubation period is long and can often be difficult. But even if your book baby doesn’t turn out as expected, you will love it no matter what.
If I could snap my fingers and have four children and four books, I would. Alas, I’m too old. Good things are always easier said than done.
Should You Write A Second Book?
In the beginning of this post, I mentioned I got another offer to write a second book with Portfolio Penguin Random House. The book deal is actually not for just one book. It’s for two books!
Just thinking about writing two more books is overwhelming. It’s the reason why I’ve been contemplating the offer for almost two months. My hope is that by writing this post, I’ll gain some clarity and reader feedback on whether to proceed.
There are many things I will do differently the second time around. The writing and editing process will be more streamlined. I won’t go way over the target word count. I understand exactly what the marketing process entails so I won’t feel as anxious. Further, when you like an existing publisher, the process should be easier as well.
Once you become a bestselling author, there can be more or less pressure to write another bestseller.
On the one hand, you’re a bestselling author for life no matter how badly your second book bombs. There’s no need to pay back the uncovered part of your book advance either. You just won’t receive any royalties.
On the other hand, as a bestselling author, you may be expected to write another hit again. The world is watching whether you can catch another bolt of lighting. This type of pressure can feel disconcerting.
Many first-time authors feel pressure to hit their first book out of the park in order to get a second book deal. If their first book deal doesn’t sell enough copies, then their lives as an author may come to an end. Or, they may simply have to find a new publisher with a small book advance.
Therefore, writing a second book is kind of like playing with the house’s money. If you truly write because you love to write, it doesn’t matter how your second or third book does.
Writing A Book Is A Labor Of Love
As a middle-aged man now, I care more about sharing as much wisdom as possible to help people before I die. The pandemic created more anxiety that death could come at any time.
Can you imagine spending two years writing your book only to die before finishing your last chapter? Ack! Once my book came out in bookstores, much of my book-related anxiety dissipated.
Sure, there was a trough of sorrow moment. However, it felt good that much of what I wanted to say will live on forever.
Given I have little kids, I also see writing books as a way to participate in their academic journey. My hope is that if my kids see their father also writing, learning, and producing, they will also take their academics more seriously. I hope we will have fun learning together.
You likely won’t get rich writing a book. But you will gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction of accomplishing a hard task that adds value to the world.
If you have the opportunity to write a book, give it a go! You won’t regret it.
Reader Questions And Recommendations
Readers, have you considered writing a book? If so, what avenue did you take? If you’ve written multiple books, what was it like the second and third time around? What would you have done differently?
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