My first book comes out tomorrow (June 22). It’s been a fun process to write it and quite a learning experience. Here are a few lessons learned:
1. Writing is a skill that can be improved. No one is ever going to be able to learn how to become the next Bill Shakespeare, but I’ve found writing is something that can be improved upon through practice. In high school and college, I hated writing papers. It turns out I just wasn’t writing about topics that interested me. Ever since I started this blog I’ve learned to love the writing process. I still don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a learner through writing. It’s now part of my daily routine and it’s served as a huge educational tool for me. My rate of learning has increased exponentially because I write.
2. The best way to improve your writing skills is by reading. The more I write the more I am interested in learning. You have to find your own voice as a writer, but I’ve found that reading the work of others you respect is a great way to learn how to become a better writer. And it’s not only finding great finance voices that has helped. I find reading fiction is more important from the standpoint of understanding how really great writers operate.
3. Marketing yourself is important. Writing a book is the easy part. Selling it is much harder. When I was contacted by my publishers on the prospect of writing a book, it wasn’t just an idea I had to pitch to them. I had to sell myself, my blog, my message and my audience in terms of what kind of book sales I could drive for them.
I was never much of a self-promotional kind of person. Whenever I would write a cover letter and resume in past job searches, my brother would always remind me that I needed to sell myself and my accomplishments more. It’s something I’ve had to work on over the years. Some people think any type of sales tactics are shady, but no one’s going to sell yourself better than you are.
4. Amazon is the gatekeeper in the book business. I learned a lot about how the publishing industry functions throughout this process. One of the more surprising takeaways was just how much power Amazon has in the book business. Not only did I have to make a sale to my publishers, but Amazon had to sign off on the book as well to show they were comfortable selling it.
5. Self-publishing will continue to gain in prominence. There are many ways in which using a well-known book publisher can be an advantage. My publisher is Bloomberg, who is the finance arm of John Wiley & Sons. It helps to have those names attached to the project. But it’s still a very slow process. From the time I was contacted until the release date of the book it’s been well over a year. For many it can take 2-3 years from start to finish.
With self-publishing (also, through Amazon) you don’t need anyone to sign off on your book. Anyone can write one and get it published. Self-publishing gives an author more control and allows them to get their material into their reader’s hands much quicker. You’re on your own from an editorial, design and marketing perspective, but my guess is we’ll see a continued push into self-publishing, even from more established writers who would like more control over the process.
6. People are willing to help and share advice if you ask. I reached out to a handful of authors who have written some of my favorite books over the years. I was pleasantly surprised to get some lengthy, very helpful advice from these titans of the financial advice-giving business. I’m amazed by how willing people were to share their experiences and offer guidance along the way. I don’t know that I could have written the book I did without some help.
7. You have to be willing to tell your own story. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to make the book my own — to find my own voice and tell personal stories. So that’s what I did and I’m really happy with how it turned out. (The other piece of advice I received right off the bat was don’t think that you’re special just because you got a book deal, a useful humility check.)
8. Being well-read is a huge advantage. The majority of the research for the book didn’t start after I signed my contract. It began well over a decade ago when I read my first investment book — The Intelligent Investor — along with everything else I’ve read or researched since then. I’m convinced that being well-read and understanding yourself is more important than being blessed with above average intelligence for most things in life and business.
9. Apparently there’s not much of a market for books that cater to average investors. My publishers told me at the outset that average investors simply don’t buy investing books, so I should focus more on the professional crowd or more sophisticated investors. My goal here has always been to explain the complexities of finance in a way that anyone can understand them. Really my book is about making better financial decisions, which is something that I believe investors of all levels can benefit from. This book isn’t restricted to one group. I tried to make it appealing to a wide audience, no matter how you invest.
10. Life is always surprising. My book comes out tomorrow. I can’t tell you how crazy that sentence would have sounded to me just a few short years ago. I never set out to write a book. I didn’t really even think anyone would read this blog when I first started out. I’ve had a few people tell me over the past year or so that I basically came out of nowhere in our little niche financial blogging community. No one is more surprised by this than me. I’ve met and interacted with a lot of really smart and interesting people because of it. I am extremely appreciative of all of the people who read my blog and blown away at times by the feedback I receive.
If you like my blog posts, I think you’ll like the book even more. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Here’s a link to a page I created for the book with more information: My Book. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.