My two cents on book production

I bet to most people having a new book each two months, or each month is a crazy idea. It would mean that the quality of those books will be very poor and that there will be nothing interesting to read.

How is it even possible that someone is able to put out something as big as a book in so little time?

Don’t we all know that book production takes months, if not years? We often hear how this or that book took a year or two to write and another year to publish. Don’t we all know how the thing must circulate back and forth between several different people before it sees the light of day?

We all know it. It’s how the book publishing business always worked. There is this person called writer, there is an editor (or several different editors), there is a proofreader, a dozen beta testers, a book cover designer, a person who takes care of the layout (unfortunately I don’t know what this person is called, and am not ashamed of it), there is a book marketer, and of course a printer and bookbinder. Quite an army of people, isn’t it?

It’s unthinkable that they produce a book in less than 6 months (if they’re extremely productive and and if there are no delays, misunderstandings, failures, etc. — people understand each other perfectly and each person is able to satisfy other people’s expectations without fail every time they do their part).

In his book Linchpin Seth Godin wrote

I’ve produced more than a hundred books (most didn’t sell very well)*

[* He said I’ve produced more than a hundred books. He didn’t say he wrote those books (was an author of those books), but would it make any sense if he mentioned the books he didn’t write and if he didn’t distinguish between the books he wrote and only helped to write or publish? The full quote (paragraph in his book) was:

I’ve produced more than a hundred books (most didn’t sell very well), but if I hadn’t, I’d never have had the chance to write this one. Picasso painted more than a thousand paintings, and you can probably name three of them.

The fact that he compares this to the number of paintings Picasso painted to me means that he meant he wrote those books.]

Seth is 58 this year which means he had 57 full years so far at his disposal. Linchpin was first published in April 2011. In April 2011 Seth Godin was 51 (and spent 50 full years on this planet — I assume he spent those only on this planet, can’t be sure if he actually did). I don’t know all the details about him, but I’ll assume he started writing and publishing somewhere in late 1980s / early 1990s (when he was 30). That would mean 20 full years until the beginning of 2011. 20 years equals 240 months. 240 divided by 100 (at least 100) equals 2,4. So we can say that so far in his career as a writer he produced a book every 2–2,5 months. Not every 2 years, every 2–2,5 months! Heck, let’s assume he started writing and publishing when he was 20 (so that we don’t need to ask him, or so that people can’t say I made a mistake). That would mean 30 full years until the beginning of 2011. 30 years equals 360 months. 360 divided by 100 (at least 100) equals 3,6. So we can say that so far in his career as a writer he produced a book every 3–3,5 months. Not every 2 years, every 3–3,5 months. Still a very fast pace!

Seth Godin convinced me, through his books and speeches that in the era of the Internet book publishing doesn’t need to look the way it always looked (well, of course not always — the way it looked in the decades before the Internet came into our lives). That the Internet allows us to self-publish books and that there is no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of that.

Because most of us have our computers and because we have access to tools (apps) nobody would even dream of having access to 20 or 10 years ago, we can orchestrate all of it or most of it on our own. We can wear a hat of a writer, an editor, a proofreader, a book cover designer, a person who takes care of the layout (nowadays we have access to online tools that make those two jobs relatively easy for us and are offered at affordable prices or are free), a book marketer (most of it happens through social media or blogs today and we all have access to those too). And we can decide that our book (or our first couple of books) will be offered in digital form only, so we don’t need printing and bookbinding services (or we can take advantage of a new service in book publishing — book printing and binding on demand, starting from one copy of your book).

Although most authors discourage people from trying to wear all those hats (because they’re worried about the quality of the end result — assuming that one person will not be able to handle all of it) I’m of the opinion that most new authors shouldn’t listen to this advice and should do as much as possible on their own, betting on speed of book production, not perfection.

If your aspiration is to have only one book, by all means, join forces with the best people in book publishing (sell your car, borrow money from your in-laws, or save up, in order to be able to afford it) because this will be the only book you will be known for, and if that’s the case try to make that best first impression on people. Spend two, three, maybe even as much as 5 or 10 years writing it, care about every tiny detail (the font, the margins, the colors you use, everything — hire a person who has done research on the elements of book selling, and another one who is unparalleled in preparing and carrying out book launches). Do all that.

Did I forget something? Ah, of course, make sure the content of your book is outstanding.

Will it be a great commercial success, a bestseller? Maybe, if you’re extremely lucky and talented and if the people you teamed up with really are the best of the best.

That’s when you want to write one book in your life or one book every 5 or 10 years.

But what if you want to produce as many books as Seth Godin did? By the way, he not only is an example of a prolific writer and a skilled project manager and or a human orchestra if he managed to produce so many books in his life so far, but he was doing all this at the time when most people had no idea such things were even possible.

If you want to produce a book roughly every three months you have to do it differently. You will probably need to be this Jack of all trades at the beginning. At least it is a good idea to test what you can do on your own, without having to spend money on book production — try to have a new book every two or three months and spend even $1K or $2K on production of each of those books (which isn’t much!). Good luck! Assuming that you are not a Rockefeller I guess your career as an author will end very soon. And I won’t even mention the delays.

Of course, every once in a while you can decide that one of your books will be professionally produced and that you will spend significant amount on that. But unless your first book, or your second or third book (or all of them combined) sell in great numbers, and you were able to recoup the initial investment in the production of each of those books, you will feel discouraged to pour money in the production of new books. And because it’s a rare author whose first book, or first couple of books sell like crazy chances are (and those are great chances) that each commercial failure (each so called “unsuccessful book” — unsuccessful because nobody wanted to read your shit) will inevitably bring you closer to the end of your career as an author.

You will lose money, momentum, hope, confidence and eagerness to publish any new books. Whereas by putting out book after book after book in a quick succession, without worrying too much about making each of those books perfect (a bestseller) you will stay in this game a very long time, just like Seth Godin did.

I’m of the opinion that today book production can resemble music production. There are musicians who release new tracks each day (they upload it to soundcloud or YouTube for example). They don’t spend a year or two, or five years preparing a record (the way most or probably all musicians and singers did in the past). If they’re prolific artists they can have a new “record” every two weeks. How? By putting out new music each day. They don’t even need to think about the cover, dedicated marketing campaigns and things like that. They simply make music and it appears each day on their soundcloud profile or their YouTube channel. Filmmakers — similar situation.

With books it can work this way too. You write each day (say 500–1000 words), this post is 1967 words, you publish this content as a blog post on your blog or a story on Medium, or as a chapter of your book — if you write in places like Wattpad, and then, once every two or three months, you compile those posts, stories, chapters and release them as a book on Amazon or in other places.

Why wait? Why make it a huge project? If you had people who enjoyed your writing when they read it on your blog, or on Medium, or Quora, or Instagram, or Wattpad, they will probably also enjoy it in form of a book.

Will there be a few typos in the first edition? Probably! That’s the deal — there is always a sacrifice you need to make. And people (readers) will be aware of it too. It’s normal. If you’re a skilled or even decent writer and people usually understand what you have to say, you shouldn’t worry too much before releasing your next book. The only thing you should really care about is whether you have something worthwhile to say in your next book, if it’s not your previous message stated differently, or just a worthless crap.

Realize that if you want to publish many books in quick succession you can’t expect them to be the hallmarks of superior book production (magnificent book covers, world-class editing, great promotion, etc.). It won’t happen. But you will have ten books under your name instead of just one, and you can always upload an enhanced version of your book to the platform where it is available to people (I bet you will read this book for a fifth or tenth time, after it’s already published, because you will want to make sure the message is clear and there are no silly errors).

Nowadays you decide how long the book will be, in other words what the word ‘book’ stands for, (nobody can reject it when you self-publish), so having a book every two months really is doable — if you write each day that is. Although some online platforms may require that a book is not shorter than, say 10,000 words (I think I met with this requirement somewhere — can’t remember exactly where).