Successful author and friend Chris Brogan asked me to pen some thoughts the process of writing fiction works versus penning business books. My gut response was that it hurts more than nonfiction.
How can writing a book hurt you ask? I think most people who have accomplished the task will agree that it’s a laborious two-year process (give or take six months). For every accolade you get, you’ll invest hours of your time. Most authors make very little money.
After my last business book I felt a great emptiness, a lack of purpose in my writing. I needed to turn back to my heart’s desire, writing fiction (as opposed to developing books about social media and marketing).
When I published Exodus, I released a demon that had bugged me for decades. I gladly sucked it up to make the dream come true.
Why Novels Are a Personal Journey
Image of my first business book Now Is Gone by Dave Barger.
Exodus had little financial pay-off — in actuality, I published it at a loss. So today I find myself focusing on business needs first. Consequently, Exodus became my stepchild of published works. It was poorly marketed, but still moved more than 3000 units in spite of me (it’s true, I am not Stephen King).
Still, I published a novel. I finally wrote the book that I always envisioned would be my calling card as an author. No one can take that away from me.
With a successful business book there is usually some sort of a pay-off, including developing new business, introducing new ideas to the marketplace, garnering speaking gigs, or positioning yourself as a “thought leader.” These are the reasons to write a business book, in my opinion. While I am much less inclined to jump at the opportunity to write a business book these days, I probably will write a couple more before my career ends.
The pay-offs are much less obvious with novels. For most successful novelists, it takes a catalog of books before they start seeing strong financial gains. It requires real commitment, and it’s one of the reasons why I admire Brian Meeks‘ steadfast focus on his fiction career.
This lack of any significant financial gratification makes publishing a novel something you do to fulfill yourself. Most publishing houses are reticent to sign new fiction authors. These days most aspiring authors are going to have to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher and share the financial risk.
After the First Novel
I still want to write novels, but it’s less about fulfilling a lifelong inner need. Now it’s about being who I am, an author. In fact, I am still working on the last draft of book II, now titled Perseverance, and I believe it will be released this summer.
After Exodus was published, it became clear I had room to grow as a writer. Character development and style were all in need of mechanical improvements. So I set out to write a better novel, one that shows the lessons learned from experience. I owe it to my readers and myself to improve.
But because the pain has no obvious reward and I am not getting paid to publish the novel, I treat book two like a hobby and am taking my sweet time. Novel writing is a second tier priority compared to family and business.
This slower pace makes it less likely I will become a mainstream novelist anytime soon. That’s OK. Since I see novel writing as a personal act of art rather than a career, there is no sense of loss with that. The slower pace mitigates the pain and intensity of a major work, while allowing me to meet my responsibilities.
What are your thoughts on writing novels versus business books?