Ep. 1. Setting Goals and Expectations

Episode 1

The following is a transcript of the episode. Further resources for the topic can be found at the end of the transcript.

Welcome to Book-a-Go-Go, your podcast that will guide you on how to go from writer to published author. Hi, I’m Sara Stratton.

And I’m Jenna Rose Robbins.

And we’re your hosts for Book-a-Go-Go, your go-to guide to understanding the nitty-gritty of what it takes to become a published author. On this podcast, we’ll explore the answers to common questions like “Why do I need an ISBN?” and “When should I build an author platform?” and take a deep dive into questions like: “What is the difference between developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, and design proofing?” and “How do I get blurbs for my book cover?”

The first two dozen or so episodes of the podcast will take you through the main steps of publishing a book, whether you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route. We’ll start with building your author platform, then move on to topics such as finding the right editor and using beta readers, then wrap up with some of the basics of marketing and distribution. Once we’re through the timeline, we’ll cover more general topics such as the benefits of writers’ retreats and ways to overcome writer’s block.

I first met Jenna in 2011, when I was helping build the DIY-publishing platform of a well-regarded ghostwriting firm. She and I worked on several projects together (Jenna writing and editing, and me publishing). Afterward, I left to start Redwood Publishing, a company I think of as a book-publishing concierge. I even helped Jenna publish her book, Faithful and Devoted: Confessions of a Music Addict.

After many phone calls where Jenna said to me, “Sara this belongs on a blog!” or “Sara, this is a topic for you to write about!” we decided it was time to combine our knowledge in the book world and create this podcast, Book-a-Go-Go.

Since 1998, I’ve been working intermittently as a book editor and ghostwriter, in between my full-time editorial gigs at companies such as AOL and Disney. For more about our backgrounds in writing and publishing, visit Book-a-Go-Go.com. But let’s jump right into our first topic: goals and expectations when writing a book.

When a new client comes to me for editorial help, they always have a ton of questions. What’s the process like? How long will it take? How much will this cost? But between the questions, I hear other, unspoken ones. When I hear a client say that they can’t wait to see their name on the bestseller list or they start making plans to buy a new home off the book’s profits, I always try to explain the realities of the publishing world, which is changing so quickly that the process I used for my book just three years ago might be considered antiquated now.

When deciding why you want to write a book, your goals should be realistic. Of course, everyone wants to be on the NY Times Best Seller list or sell thousands of copies of their book, but if that’s your only reason for writing it, you’ll lose passion before you even get to a final manuscript. You may even become disappointed or angry that you went through this whole process.

There are numerous reasons why you might want to write a book, but here are the eight most common and reasonable ones we’ve heard:

  1. Using it as a calling card of sorts: “I wrote the book on wealth management” or “I have developed a system to help my clients save money / plan events / DIY their own wedding / etc.”
  2. Establishing yourself as a professional writer or as an expert in your field. Or, using the book to become a recognized thought leader in your specific niche.
  3. To convey an idea and educate others on an idea that isn’t already out there — writing about their personal struggles, for example. I have a client who wrote one of the first memoirs about being dually diagnosed with bipolar and addiction. Conor Bezane saw a hole in the market and decided to write about his experiences as a way to help both other people who are dually diagnosed and their loved ones. The result: the book entitled The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool.
  4. Compiling information into one place. Another client of mine was always relaying the same information to his clients. He decided to take all the blog posts we’d created and compile them into a book, which he then used as a calling card of sorts for new clients. This not only made him a name in his industry, but he was also able to impress a slew of those clients with the fact that he was the man who’d written a book on the very topic they needed help with.
  5. Preserving your family legacy by writing your family history. Making sure your kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and so on, all know who you were, what your family did, and where they came from.
  6. Catharsis/therapy — some authors have gone through a traumatic experience or survived some kind of illness. Writing becomes a way to share their experiences and potentially help others who are in the same, or similar, situations. It becomes a way to form a group and remind people that they aren’t alone.
  7. Pure pleasure — writing is an art and, for many writers, they have something they want to say and have to get it out of their system. Many authors want to use their book to explore a new fictional idea or turn their real life into a fictionalized version of it.
  8. Have a finished piece of work you can take pride in. I can’t explain what it meant to finally hold my completed book in my hands. My years of work were finally tangible, and I loved the finished product. I finally understood what writers meant when they said that publishing a book is like giving birth. That bound and printed manuscript is indeed your baby.

Those are the most common goals that Sara and I have come across. But let’s talk about expectations. What is this whole process going to look like? I have to say, the process is far more time-consuming and involved than most people think. It goes way past just writing the manuscript. In that respect, I find that a lot of clients think that writing and publishing a book is as simple as fixing a leaky pipe. But in reality, it’s more like doing major renovation on your home. It’s that big of a project. For that reason, you should interview writers, editors, book designers, publishing experts, and everyone else involved in the production line, just as you would home contractors, because you’re going to be working with them for quite some time and you want to make sure you hire the right people for the tasks at hand. 

And just like with home renovation, timelines get pushed around and unforeseen problems arise. Instead of mold, there’s a release form that wasn’t signed and therefore your centerpiece interview for the book can’t be used. Or your beta readers come back and tell you that some other young-adult book with the same plotline hit the shelves six months ago. Or your niece proofread your book and her edits weren’t quite up to snuff. Or you go the cheap route for your book cover and hire someone on Fiverr only to find out you have to redo the entire design because the dimensions aren’t accurate and the book spine wasn’t included in your order. Or Amazon takes forever to approve your book and make it ready for purchase.

When the 2020 pandemic first hit, I had a number of authors rush to publish through my company, Redwood Publishing. My team and I were able to help several authors with quick turnarounds, but once it came time to publish, Amazon barred some of those authors from offering their books on its platform. Amazon had, overnight, created rules that would not allow books with certain phrases related to the pandemic to be published on their site. These authors and I had to revise the title, subtitle, rewrite some of the content, and one author even had to redesign his entire cover. So despite doing everything quickly, we had no way of knowing that Amazon would change their rules that fast — yet another example of an unexpected setback in timing.

So if you haven’t already gone through the book-publishing process, you may find that it’s not what you expected, especially in terms of timing. I had a potential client call me in September saying he wanted his book on shelves by December. Aside from the actual writing itself, the publishing process alone generally takes far longer than that. Could his goal have been accomplished? Sure. But at great financial cost and probably with some degree of sacrifice in quality. On the flipside, at the start of the pandemic lockdown, several authors I know were tapped by a publishing house to produce manuscripts within six weeks. Their books ended up being far shorter than traditional books, but they still made their deadlines — albeit with the resources of an entire publishing house behind them. Had they self-published their books, the time and money it would have taken to get their books out by such a short deadline would have been many times more than what it normally costs. 

Timing can also be affected by minor setbacks such as your wanting to change a design element of the book. For example, I am working with an author who, after reviewing the printed proof copy of his book, decided that he wanted to move the start of his chapter text up by about an inch on the page. And this was after he had already approved the final design of the book and the first printed proof! Ultimately, he decided this design change was that important to him and he asked my team to make the adjustment. However, moving the chapter up affected every single page of text, and so added an additional week and a half to the project timeline.  

So, how long does the full process actually take? No one likes to hear this, but it depends. For one, there’s the actual writing process, which might include research, interviewing people, or other tasks aside from just putting words on a page. When given all the necessary materials from the client — interview transcripts, research, etc. — I’ve written a full book in less than a month. In fact, I once ghostwrote four books in four months, although I have to say the materials the clients gave me were incredibly thorough and they were my only clients during that time. Most of my clients come to me with a blank slate, and I’d say the average time from our first discussion to the book’s launch date is two years. That’s an average. Some have taken a year, some have taken three.

Once you’re done writing, you’re not done. There’s still a lot more input needed from you, from the interior and cover design to deciding on distribution to marketing and PR. All of this requires input, which translates into time. Once I get a manuscript from a client, it usually takes me about six to eight weeks to handle all the tasks to get the book on Amazon. 

And then you’re still not done. You need to be promoting your book and, if you haven’t hired a distributor, fulfilling orders and making sales. And don’t forget to plan your book launch party!

In case you’re worried about missing one of these steps, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. As we mentioned at the beginning of this episode, we’re going to walk you through the entire process so you’ll know what to expect each step of the way. For a rough estimate as to how long each of the steps of the publishing process takes, visit the Timeline page on Book-A-Go-Go.com (PAGE TK).

Then there’s the expectation of price. And that factor will depend on the kind of writing help you need. Copy editors are generally the least expensive, while ghostwriters can command some serious cash. In one of my ghostwriting forums, the general opinion is that no one should accept a ghostwriting project for less than $75,000. Myself, I don’t usually offer flat rates for ghostwriting. I find it more beneficial and fairer to charge hourly. But that’s just me.

When you get to a stage where your work no longer needs any editing and is ready to be reviewed, you may decide to pay for beta readers, a lawyer (if your manuscript requires it), and, if you didn’t start working on your author platform already (which we’ll get to in the next episode), you may need to hire a web designer, social media expert, marketing and/or PR expert (if you decide to go that route), and any of a number of other professionals to make sure you’re on the right track.

Publishing costs can vary a lot. These costs include things like cover design, interior design, e-book conversion, ISBN/barcode purchases, distribution costs, printing, etc. We’ve created a chart of the different costs you might incur throughout the book-writing process. You can find this in the Further resources section of the blog post for this episode.

You can hire separate people to do each of these tasks or you can hire a company, like mine, to take care of all of it for you. If you do decide to go that second route, don’t be afraid to shop around and identify a couple of reputable companies to interview. Read reviews on them online, preferably posted by authors in author forums, or ask any author friends of yours who they used and what they liked and did not like. The best companies don’t try to fit you into one vanilla package: They listen to your needs as an author and then build out a service from there. Sure, every author needs a cover design, but some authors may be alright with a basic design (think business books — they do really well with one color, big/bold fonts, and maybe one image). And other authors may want the freedom to explore many cover iterations and versions (like fiction authors who may want custom illustrated covers). My company, for example, always offers a free 30-minute strategy session with any author. This is so that I can see if we would be a good fit and to make sure the project resonates with me (I don’t publish any book that comes my way). Then, I build out a suggested price for my services. 

We’re not trying to dissuade you from publishing a book. That’s not our intention at all. We’re just trying to help you understand what lies ahead. Once you better understand what the process looks like, you’ll be better prepared to jump right in.

Thanks for joining us for our first episode. For more information, including links to further reading and other resources, as well as a transcript of this episode, visit Book-A-Go-Go.com. Tune in next time when we discuss possibly the most important step in the whole publishing process, building your author platform. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter on our website so you don’t miss an episode. 

Further Resources

  • List of associated costs and cost ranges (TK)

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