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A recent event at a post office reminded me of the reason I've chosen to write.  I thought I'd write about it.

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 isn't 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 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, that you 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.  

The Updated Past, Present and Possible Futures of Space Activity