by Maya Chendke | Featured Contributor
As a self-published author, one of the most frequent questions that I get is why I didn’t work with a large, traditional publisher. But I also get asked how much it costs to self-publish, and how fast a writer can expect to be on the New York Times Best-Seller list.
While we’re both waiting for a call from the Times, here is the story of how I got my first book published.
When I started writing Awake but Dreaming back in 2007, it was truly a labour of love. I was expressing and daydreaming, squeezing out pages on lunch breaks at work or into the wee hours of the night. I wrote relentlessly, feeling driven to share the amazing dramedy I had built up in my imagination.
My 500-page book – note, less is more – took me about a year and a half to write while juggling a full-time job and life’s other commitments. But it was what I could manage, and so it came about in a slow and steady way. Many writers that I’ve met started out this way, too, as it’s a big risk to abandon a salary and dive headfirst into low-paid (or unpaid) writing work.
As I was getting close to completion, I began having conversations with potential agents in the US and Canada, where I live. There was interest, but the book wasn’t quite yet done, and I was overwhelmed by the back-and-forth – and lack of response from many – during the querying process. I made a lot of stupid rookie mistakes, like typos or frankly, total dipshit-sounding query letters. There were times when I wanted to hide under a rock.
Takeaway: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Before you decide to set out to find the agent of your dreams, read “mistakes 101” agent-search articles on the internet. There are steps and expectations and you’ll save time and anguish if you know how the process works before you start making calls and firing out letters.
Editing & Producing
Disheartened by the closed-off book publishing industry, I quietly set about finishing the manuscript and then sat on it for a while, futzing over it, editing compulsively. Eventually I came across a self-publishing company and I impulsively set the wheels in motion without fully understanding what I would get in return or where my book would be distributed. After getting halfway through the production process, I realized that their distribution wouldn’t work for me, and I switched to another company. But in doing so, I lost a few thousand dollars and had to re-start production. Fortunately, as a self-publishing author it was only my own money, so I ate the cost and continued on my merry way. And on April 1, 2011, my book went live on Amazon, and it felt like all the stress and heartache was worth it.
Takeaway: Take a beat and understand what you’re getting in to. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of thinking you found “the one,” especially after feeling rattled by the traditional process. But it’s important to read terms and conditions thoroughly, and understand how distribution will fit with the marketing plan. And naturally, you’ll have generated your marketing plan well in advance, right? Right?
Some people may be intimidated by the writing of the book, others may be more overwhelmed by the promotion of it, and promoting it is no easy task. It is supremely important to have a marketing plan in place to sustain public interest in your book once it’s released. When it first comes out, all your friends and family will want a copy, but how are you going to get strangers to buy it?
I started out strong with guest blogging, industry parties, and workshops, preaching the sermon of self-publishing. I attacked my grassroots hustle like a boss! But when my time and attention shifted to other areas of my career and personal life, it became next to impossible to sustain the effort. I wanted to sell the book to film, work on sequels, and take up more guest-blogging residences. But I couldn’t do it all, and I had to accept that, life had shifted, for the time being.
The thing is, in my day job, I am passionate about helping small businesses with their marketing. I learned that, as an author, I needed help with my own – because an author is effectively a small business, too.
Takeaway: If in doubt, reach out. Finding people to help you is crucial; you need to build a backend that lets you do more. Once you start publishing, the biggest asset you will create is your following, so invest your time and resources wisely.
Today, in addition to building my entrepreneurial work in marketing and digital, I’m working on two new books – one fiction and one non-fiction. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and I’m not opposed to re-visiting the traditional book-publishing arena, now that I understand exactly how much time, effort, and resources are involved in bringing a book to life. I have a few literary agents on my wish list and may explore that avenue again. But ultimately, the first step is to just write it out.
Marketing consultant, entrepreneur, writer and horse mom Maya Chendke is going through a powerful start-up year. Her company, mPath Creative Consulting, works on website, marketing, content and social media projects that flex her signature hybrid style of creative/analytical. She is also part of a virtual anti-agency, Horsefly Group, where she leads clients with clever ideas and her color-coded iCal.
Her entrepreneurship track record includes a couple of start-ups and a self-published novel (Awake but Dreaming). A rogue introvert, you’ll spot her at start-up meetings sporting riding breeches and a messy bun as the Woz to her Jobs-like partners (or the Sandberg to their Zuckerbergs).
Maya has an MBA from the Rotman School of Management where she was a standout presence in the male-dominated business school environment. She has a certificate from the Stanford Graduate School of Business Summer Institute for General Management and a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University.
She loves to help people make the most of their marketing budget and has an addiction to analytics. She is always on the lookout for great talent and great projects and loves to facilitate introductions.
In her downtime, she’s diligently rehabilitating her rescue horse and reads ~20 books a year. Tweet her @mayachendke