Everyone Has Written a Book!

Contraband - Now Is Gone

Go to enough social media conferences (like two maximum), and you will inevitably have a conversation about the cliche, “Everyone’s written a book.” This meme references the seemingly endless proliferation of social media books published. Consider this author a two-timer in that sense. But in reality, the meme isn’t true.

It’s really hard to write a book. This brutal, laborious process takes months, including endless rewrites and revisions, all part of a difficult editing process. This commitment to write everyday for very little money also significantly sacrifices numerous portions of your personal life. It can endanger your personal relationships and your physical well being. Having completed four books (two business published, two unpublished novels), these texts took almost three years to write… Before editing.

Scores of social media bloggers have been asked to write books because they have already demonstrated they can produce content on a regular basis (in addition to the ongoing demand for subject matter knowledge). Publishers figure the blogger can actually put in the effort necessary to succeed. Writing a book requires the daily commitment that many bloggers have already demonstrated.

But if you think the actual book writing is the hardest aspect of the process, you are sorely mistaken. It is the easy part.

Moving $15 Books

Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra)
Amber Naslund discusses the Now Revolution at last Friday’s YouToo 2011 Conference.

Book marketing beats the spirit out of authors. It requires travel, events, clever blogging and updates with a consistent focus on the same thing. You feel like a broken record talking about the same thing over and over again. It takes great creativity to make the same topic seem fresh over and over again.

There is non-stop pressure from a publisher to move books. Publishers provide almost no support for marketing (their editing support is questionable, too), insisting that their authors do the work. Publishes ask YOU, the author to hire a publicist these days. If you can’t market your own book then it won’t sell.

As a result, very rarely do you see Gary Vaynerchuk types of book deals. Books don’t sell without significant marketing, and Gary has one hell of a following. In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. These days, the average book sells less than 250 copies a year. Most books fail, and the publishing industry won’t invest in the average book.

About the only thing publishers really do is provide access to Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and most importantly, shelf space at book stores. Unfortunately, distribution is hit or miss depending on the the publisher (and their faith in the book). Now that the Kindle and other readers are starting to dominate the market, brick and mortar book stores are closing throughout the United States. This in turn, even further diminishes the value that publishers bring to bear.

Given that so much of the work relies on the author, the very low financial reward, and the declining power of publisher distribution, self publishing makes more and more sense. It’s something that will definitely happen personally, if only for the novels (publishers see fiction as even less viable option than business books).

Of course, that truly means that everyone can write a book. Now if only they can actually write it; figure out the editing, publishing and distribution processes, and of course, market the book. That all assumes the book concept is actually interesting and worth reading. So since everyone has written a book, where is yours?

37 Replies to “Everyone Has Written a Book!”

  1. Excellent analysis of this topic, Geoff (some of those numbers are amazing!). In recent years the list of reasons to publish traditionally have been shrinking, and I think the main advantage is to be able to put “New York Times Bestselling Author” (or similar) in your bio for the rest of your life. Of course, if you have a niche audience you won’t attain that goal, so self-publishing looks even more attractive.

    Whichever route an author takes, it’s an arduous process that deserves respect. Kudos to you and “everyone” who’s done it!

    1. It’s getting harder and harder for me to justify publishing books with conventional publishers. Business books make some sense still, but novels really seem like a tough road to hoe. Seems like both of us have been noodling this issue, and I am sure experimentation with self publishing is likely… Looking forward to our chat!

  2. It’s pretty frightening, isn’t it? This is one reason – actually, MANY reasons – I have *not* written a book so far! :p So like Kellye, I too tip my hat to folks like you who’ve done it.

    1. It’s not an undertaking to be taken on lightly. Or viewed lightly. I respect people who take their time and sometimes choose not to engage in this process.

  3. I love how this post follows the other post where you rip on the social media experts who have written a book but haven’t delivered any real ROI for any companies. You just can’t be satisfied, Geoff! LOL. That being said, I think authoring a book is kind of getting a bit like a college degree – you need it as a requirement to obtain a certain amount of legitimacy. The fact is, there are just too many people in this space, too many so-called experts, so a book is a good way to filter the wheat from the chaff, even if it’s a bad book. It shows, as you said, the author can at least work hard.

    1. LOL, good point. I’m not commenting on the merits of the authors. Frankly a lot of them are chosen because they are popular and can demonstrate that they can write. Subject matter expertise and professionalism are not vetted usually, at least these days.

      As you know, once upon a time the purpose of a business book was to put ideas out into the marketplace, somehow, some way we got away from that. When popularity and “badges” mean more to writers than the subject, it is yet another sign that the sector is off its rocker.

      1. I LOVE that you SAY THIS OUT LOUD. Yes, the sector is off its rocker, for sure. But I suppose this is the course of growth. Do you agree? Is it because the Interwebz is so “new?”

        1. I think its because the book business can’t discern talent, and neither can communicators. Its too easy to get into the business and hang a shingle… And there are no fundamentals being taught. So “good PR” is perceived as being seen and talked about as opposed to helping organizations achieve goals with stakeholders…

  4. I have wanted to write a book since I was three years old. Gini at 3: What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to write a book! So it’s pretty disheartening to go to conferences and run into so many authors. But my mom, a few months ago said, “Gin, you may think everyone writes books because of the world you live in. But, out here in the real world, it’s a pretty big deal to have a book published.”

    So I applaud you! I’m coming up next.

    1. I think you would write a great book, Gini. You have a great deal of real world experience and perspective, something many of our peers who get the opportunity to write do not. I have a feeling it would be unique. I hope you get that opportunity.

  5. You are absolutely right on all of this. My experience exactly. (Except I published one book and have one unpublished novel – half your output:) And I’d do it again. I learned more in writing a book than any other professional experience. It was so hard, yet worth it for the knowledge alone.

    1. Writing books has its rewards from a reputation and opportunity standpoint, as well as from a thinking, logic and personal achievement level. I imagine its much like completing a rigorous triathalon and the personal fulfillment from that. I hope to do it again if I am so lucky. Thank you for your comment, Katya.

  6. I’m going to be a bitch. Sorry. You know me. It’s not personal.

    First of all, I was about to rip you a new one when I saw the title but then I saw the post. It really has nothing to do with your post and is unnecessarily inflammatory to authors who have written books and moved copies. I’ve sold 9500 units. Mine is 744 pages at second edition. It’s definitely tech, not social media, but the title of this article is unnecessarily cheapening.

    Second of all, I don’t even know what the point you’re trying to make is. Is it that it’s hard to write? Is it that self publishing is the future of the book industry? What’s the point? You’re not making one.

    This comment is not to critique your writing. You and I both know you’re good. Both on this blog and in your books. But are you just filling space because you have to? This article totally meanders and has a bitchy title.

    Sorry. Not personal.

    1. The point is when people say “Eveyone has written a book” they don’t know WTF they are talking about. That’s the point, if that wasn’t clear from the tone and the points made in the article, then I’m sorry. Thanks for the feedback.

  7. Great post. I watched my brother go through the publishing process and quickly realized how little support is truly available to the author. It’s disheartening to know so many great ideas are sitting on dusty bookshelves or in boxes in author garages. I love books, e- or otherwise, and hope the good ideas are found.I totally agree with your point about self publishing, too. Great reality check, Geoff. Thanks. See you at SobCon?

    1. I hope we see some innovative new publishing techniques and publishers go out there. It would be really cool to see this happen. eBooks make it possible. See you at SOBCon for sure!

  8. I have a friend who quit a job to write a book. For awhile, we’d ask him about it from time to time. He’d say it was going well, going OK. And after while he started saying, “You know, books are long.”

  9. I have a friend who quit a job to write a book. For awhile, we’d ask him about it from time to time. He’d say it was going well, going OK. And after while he started saying, “You know, books are long.”

  10. I have a friend who quit a job to write a book. For awhile, we’d ask him about it from time to time. He’d say it was going well, going OK. And after while he started saying, “You know, books are long.”

  11. I have a friend who quit a job to write a book. For awhile, we’d ask him about it from time to time. He’d say it was going well, going OK. And after while he started saying, “You know, books are long.”

  12. I haven’t written a book. I do have 4 chapters written and ready though. Fortunately, the book is my story. It’s the only thing I am truly a subject matter expert in. The probability of it ever seeing the light of day is minimal at best though.

    I don’t agree though that just because you can publish content daily you should be writing books. Most blogs are 500 words or less and make great stand alone ideas but lack the ability to be cohesively assembled in longer format.

    But then again, what the heck do I know about writing? I just do it for me and hope someone else gets value from it.

    1. Like a market research report, book writing is different than blog posts. However, publishers are correct in that bloggers can produce enough words to fill a book. One is not the other as you have pointed out.

  13. Publisher roles have evolved but most publishers haven’t. The need and opportunity is greater than before and proper author publisher partnerships will be what thrive in the future. Nice synopsis of the current state of the biz. Chris J Snook

    1. The time for publishers to respond may be over. We’ll see, but I do think Seth Godin’s Domino project was the beginning of a new era. We may see new, more competitive publishers rising up. It can be done.

    1. I do have a book idea in mind (well,10, to be honest) but nothing to do with social media, marketing, PR, communications, politics, current events, celebrities, sports… Probably a more evergreen personal development topic. Actually, last year I did create a short (60 pages) electronic document about mind mapping but I don’t see myself writing in that particular space again.

  14. I have been working on a children’s book for close to two years now. The process of editing and working with publishers has frustrated me enough to stop the process a few times because it just wasn’t fun anymore. Gonna try my luck with self publishing perhaps…

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  16. I am actually in the final stages of my book (NOT a social media book!), and I can completely relate to what you have outlined re: the amount of work the book has been to complete. However, I am thrilled. I have wanted to write this book for 4 years or so, and when Wiley approached me and asked me to write it, I got to work on it (while also working full-time and teaching).

    I am just digging into the book marketing part, and I know it will be hard. But as Gini’s mom said, I think we live in a special bubble where everyone appears to be writing books, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    But it is. Writing a book is a big deal, and I am very happy to have one, with my name on it, coming out this July.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Geoff. You rock!

    1. Thank you, Becky. I agree. It’s a major accomplishment and something I never imagined possible before, and I was honored to write the books, even if they were social media. I am sure they gave me new opportunities. I hope you’ll contact me when the new book comes out! Best wishes!

      Geoff

  17. Thanks for pulling back the curtain Geoff, and thanks too for the link to Amber’s excellent preso at YouToo. Congrats on doing another book. I want to write another one, but can’t get my head around it yet – at least until the tour for The NOW Revolution is over.

    I will disagree with you on one detail, however. I very much believed that access to physical bookstores (BN mostly + independents) was a huge piece of the game. What we’re finding, however, is that the VAST majority of our sales are coming online. Partially because our book is very topically focused, it seems as though people don’t browse a store looking for a book about organizational change via social media. They browse a store looking for a book about vampires. Or mojitos.

    I also found out that the airport bookstore thing is a totally different animal, and is 100% pay for play. That would come out of our pockets as authors, of course. We didn’t elect to do it, but my friend Kelly MacDonald has a new book called “Marketing to People Not Like You” (Wiley) and she’s doing a big airport push. It will be interesting to see if that pays off for her.

    1. Very interesting! Thanks for that tidbit, that’s good to know as I go out this May. Now I don’t feel so bad about my publisher’s crap distribution reach. The airport thing doesn’t surprise me, but that’s probably one not to pay for, IMO. Of course, proof is in the pudding so we’ll see how Kelly does. Thanks, Jay!

  18. Likes the stats re: book sales…and the need or endless promotion…intersting. My book(s)? I’d have to say they’re somewhere between sober/drunken scribblings in notebooks dating back to ~1997, my head, some old blog posts, and conversations/life events that have yet to happen.

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