Among my many After 50 male and female readers, there is a lot of serious talk about writing books. People are writing sexy women’s fiction, a history of a formerly secret university society, travel recommendations, a practical handbook to learning new technologies, a collection of stories about falls in the shower, an imaginary tale of circumventing the globe as the only person left alive on the plant, how to be happy in retirement and leisure, creating new/later in life careers, what to do in the face of unanticipated “gray divorce”, parachuting out of airplanes on every birthday after 65, the importance of train travel in the New Normal, and a history of American liberty.
As many of you know, my newest book, How Do I Get There From Here When The Old Rules No Longer Apply? will be released by AMACOM on August 17. Since retirement is no longer a closing period of life and may be impossible or undesirable for many, mine is a timely topic. Planning life well looks entirely different than it did even 5 years ago. Copies of the book will be in book wholesalers’ warehouses around July 17.
The average African elephant is pregnant for 645 days (1.77 years). The metaphor is strikingly apt for me. Sitting here in early June, waiting for August 17, makes me the pregnant author/elephant. I can feel the contractions, yet it’s too early to push. It’s my responsibility to make sure everything necessary is in place from an author’s standpoint, yet pulling any of the publicity triggers would be premature.
This puts me in the experiential position of sharing some realities and making some recommendations to those of you wanting to pursue this exhilarating, patience-requiring, well-worthwhile path.
- Understand and act on what it will really take for you to complete a manuscript. In my own case, it always requires locking myself away alone in a remote location for 2 to 4 weeks to write (emerging only to buy a hot dinner at Whole Foods once a day), and being willing to look like an unkempt version of Professor Irwin Korey for extended periods of time, shunned by everyone you encounter.
- Care deeply about your content. Writing a book is hard enough work as it is so, if your topic isn’t important to you, it will be even harder.
- Remember that writing the book is the easier part of the publishing effort regardless of how much work it is. No kidding.
- It’s easy to fall in love with your project and later fail to understand why everyone isn’t equally enthralled. You need to become much more than a project-protective author.
- Listen to your writing muse. For me, at least, I can’t put writing time on my calendar and expect inspiration to show up as scheduled. Instead, my muse usually arrives about 3 a.m. to wake me up with just the right ideas and language. She’s in charge of inspiration, not me. I learned long ago that if I get up immediately when my muse taps me on the shoulder and start writing, some of my best work is done with her inspiration. If I roll over and go back to sleep, when I finally awaken all of the great language and ideas have evaporated and I’ve missed the Muse Boat, so to speak.
- Unless you are writing for the joy of it or for your grandchildren with no need for retail or bulk book sales, assume you will need to be the chief of your own business and more responsible for the success of your book than anyone else, including your publisher. For first time authors especially, whether you are self-publishing or going with a publishing house, put your business head on and keep it there throughout the process.
- Research the market and competition before writing your manuscript. You will need to understand your unique angle so that your book doesn’t sound like everyone else’s.
- Even given a great publisher (and I certainly have one), expect to hire and manage your own project-based team of highly networked freelancers. This team might include people with expertise in web sites, social media, editing (someone highly experienced who believes in your project and can give you rapid feedback chapter by chapter), a researcher (gathers facts that support your content), a public speaking coach (so that you are articulate at book events), a publicist, a graphic artist or great photographer or both who can contribute images to your web site and promotional materials, a corporate sales guru if you intend to go for bulk/commercial sales to organizations as well as retail sales, and an agent.
- Don’t isolate, except for the actual writing. Join a writers’ club and/or rely on the professional team you have assembled. It’s all too easy for authors, especially first time, to forget they have already led lives of accomplishment AND the success of the book project isn’t going to be the ultimate proof of a life well led. Your life does not depend on this book. The book is the frosting, not the cake of your life.
- Have as good a time as you can with your writing project. Think of it as a valuable experiment and opportunity to learn a pack of new skills with great people.
For those of you among my readers who are aspiring authors, I say “Go for it!!”. You aren’t alone. You are, or will be, a pregnant elephant. This too will pass, and the shiny new product of your hard work and imagination will be out there for the world to see.
What are you writing? How is it going? What other recommendations do you have to make to our writing colleagues? Let me know, please.