April 2nd, 2007 will go down
as a very memorable
day for me. I stopped at my PO box
on the way home from work, expecting my usual load of bills and mail actually
addressed to the previous boxholder, but instead got a surprise. A large manila envelope
was included on
this day, its return address partially obscured by a postal sticker. Curious, I pulled
the sticker off to
see a name I didn't recognize and an address in California. Opening the envelope,
a copy of I Want
to go to Mars came out, along with a note. A teacher who'd emailed me earlier about how much she'd
liked the book sent her copy to me, asking if I'd sign it. She included 19 drawings
done by her
class. I glanced through them
quickly, since I was standing in a post office, but one caught my eye because
the words "I Want to go to Mars too!" were written across the top. At
that moment, something felt a little strange in my throat, and I realized that,
in the future, I'd open such packages in the car or wait until I got home.
I am at best,
right now, a 3rd or 4th
shelf author, and if pressed I'd guess lower. When people ask how my books are selling, my initial
response is "Tom Clancy has nothing to worry about from me" though to
myself I usually add a hopeful "...yet." My book sales currently number in the hundreds, with many of
the sales directly attributable to me or my co-creator's efforts, and my tax
records show that sales revenue haven't matched my expenses yet.
So, why do I do it?
I hadn't thought too much about the reason I wrote in my early years of
doing so. My first efforts (still
hoped to be completed one day) are works of science fiction related to early
Mars exploration. As I struggled to
develop characters and a storyline that I thought was interesting, a friend
recommended a book to me entitled The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing. I found it
to be very useful. Even though I haven't self-published as
of today, I think the book taught me much of what I need to know in order to do
so, and some of the information it gave me has been useful as I've dealt with
my publishers. The book starts at
the very beginning of the authorship process, and doesn't even assume that
you've got a topic chosen to write about.
Early on, the authors ask the reader to ask themselves why they want to
write a book. Some suggested
reasons were: for fun, for ego gratification, advertising for other endeavors,
needing to get your word 'out there', trying to improve the lives of thousands
if not millions of people.
I chose to write Space: What Now? for the same reasons I've
done most of the things I've done in my life: I hadn't done it before, it looked like a challenge, and it
looked like it would be fun overall.
I had other motivations as well.
I participate in space activism, in an increasingly independent manner
and, for right or wrong, writing a book is a largely accepted standard of
having some knowledge on a topic.
Therefore, having a couple book titles to your name is a good piece of
information to have as part of your introduction in such an environment.
What I didn't expect was
some of the other benefits which I
can't completely quantify, but I will go as far as saying that having written a
book hasn't hurt me in any of my dealings. In the office, I've been tasked with projects dealing with
future architectures. As an Air
Force Reservist, my active duty counterpart asked me to help her write a speech
for a general. When we met with
the general, and they found out that I'd written a book, I found myself making
a sale of a signed copy. My
supervisor asked to borrow a copy 'for PR purposes.' I don't know exactly how, or even whether the book was used,
but I do know that the promotion board selected me for lieutenant colonel ahead
of schedule. On a more personal
note, it's fun to go back to high school and talk with old teachers. When they ask
what I've been up to, I
just smile and show them a copy.
There are some people who seem to believe that unless a
publishing opportunity has a chance of doing extremely well, the opportunity
should be allowed to pass. Based
on mainstream thinking, a publishing opportunity has a chance of doing well if
an agent is involved as well as a large publishing house that's well-connected
with book distributors, clubs, chain stores and smaller markets. There is no doubt
in my mind that a
book published under such conditions has a statistically better chance of doing
extremely well in sales, but I've met one author, who's book was published
under those circumstances. In the
end, she'd found out that distribution of the book was to stop, and she
contacted the publisher to purchase all the remaining copies. While this type of occurrence
heard about often, I'm willing to bet that it happens more often than the
number of times that a book becomes a runaway best seller.So my
advice to anyone who's had any inkling of writing a book is for them to do
so. Start writing now, and keep at
it. Read Complete Guide to
Self-Publishing for an overview of the entire publishing process and Steven King's On Writing
for pointers on the craft itself. On the way, take advantage of any
opportunities that come up which allow you to get your work 'out there' first,
whether it be internet publishing, magazine articles, journals, or any others
that arise as technology changes.
As your work progresses, you may come across an agent who'll take you
on. If not, look into publishers
such as Publish America, who published my first book. If you're uneasy with signing rights
over and have some technical skill (or know someone who does), you may want to
consider some of the other services such as Lulu.com who published I
Want to go to Mars.
In what I see as a riskier option, you can have hundreds or thousands of
your books produced and found your own publishing company. It is unlikely, but possible,
may join the legions of famous authors who started out as self-publishers. I will
guarantee that you'll learn a
lot, both about the marketplace and yourself as you go through the journey.