In response to the finest whines of nonfiction book authors

Photo: Linnaea Mallette

Authors love to complain. (Well, everybody loves to complain, but the complaints of authors are more erudite and literate.) From my post as editor and coach, I get to hear it all. And I take your whines seriously, friends. So here’s a call-and-response that may help you cope.

I cannot believe how much work it is to be an author. This is so hard.

Art is hard. Being a smartass expert is easy, but researching your perspective and putting the words together is not. If you don’t like the work, quit. Freelance smartass work is plentiful.

I want to write a book but I don’t know what about.

Well, I want to be a rock star but I can’t sing. Dreams are cheap.

I think I have an idea but I don’t know if it’s good enough.

Tell everyone you know. Get their perspectives. Join a Facebook group, or start one. Give a track session at a conference. Blog. Test those ideas out.

What if someone steals your idea? Well, you could sit alone in the dark with your precious little idea, worry about people stealing it, make no progress, and then whine some more when someone else comes up with the same idea. Or you could get it out there and take a few shots that will make it stronger. Your choice.

People love the idea but I don’t know what to do next.

Hmm. How about having a title brainstorm, writing the flap copy, identifying case studies that prove your point, doing interviews, assembling a table of contents, or crafting the speech.

Of course, you could just do nothing. Much easier, and it allows you to keep whining indefinitely.

I need an agent.

No, you need a proposal. Some agents will talk to you without a proposal, but that’s just talk. Write a killer proposal and the agent will help you.

The publishing industry is stacked against me.

Yup. It is. It’s risk-averse. Publishers want a sure thing. That means unless you have a huge following or have written other successful books, you’ll have a hard time getting their attention. Luckily, there are alternatives: hybrid publishers and self-publishing.

My publisher is so slow. I won’t see books for two years!

That’s how it works. If you don’t like it, why’d you sign the contract? Hey, if you have a publisher, you got an an advance. That’s your pay for waiting.

My hybrid publisher is so expensive.

That’s how it works. You’re paying for everything, including printing. If you want a hardback book without waiting forever, you’re going to pay. If you don’t like it, self-publish.

Self-publishing is so much work.

That’s how it works. You want fast and relatively inexpensive, you’re going to have to worry about everything yourself, from covers to page layout to editing to promotion. You wan’t somebody else to do that? Get a publisher!

Writing is way harder than I thought it would be.

You need research, interviews, case studies, and statistics. Gather all that stuff up before you start to write. Then you’ll be crafting chapters, not just staring at a blank screen.

I can’t get time to write.

Do you have time to brush your teeth? Cook dinner? Go to the gym? Watch Netflix? How’d the time for those things get into your schedule?

Unless you block off the time to write, you won’t write. It’s a matter of setting priorities.

My company isn’t helping me. They’re an obstacle.

Well, that’s something you should have worked out before you started writing. They’re under no obligation to support you. Have you tried explaining what’s in it for them?

I write, but it sucks.

Get an editor. Editors help. They also cost money. The better they are, the more they cost.

No, you don’t understand. Everything I write sounds like crap. Editors can’t help.

Maybe you’re not a writer. Give up. Or, if the idea is still sound, get a ghostwriter.

I can’t seem to get to the end.

Write one chapter at a time. Finish a chapter before you start a new one. Don’t go back and tinker with chapters until you’ve written nearly all of them. If you’re having trouble with finishing chapters, remember what I wrote above about assembling research, interviews, and statistics.

I’m afraid I’ll get sued for misquoting people.

Do fact verification. Make sure they agree that they said what you said they said. You could record your interviews, too.

I turned in the book, but it’s full of typos.

Get a copy editor.

It’s ready to launch the book, but I’m worried no one will buy it.


What did you do to build up your social media following? A blog? A podcast perhaps?

Did you do outreach to others who can help promote the book?

Did you solicit people to write Amazon reviews?

Did you line up speaking gigs to talk about it?

Did you consider hiring a publicist?

Those were things that you needed to do six months before the launch. If it’s a week from now, well, I hope you don’t mind that you put in all that work of writing for nothing.

I thought the publisher did the promotion.

It’s not 1988 any more, bub.

They can help. A little. Most of the promotion is your responsibility.

All authors complain about publishers. What does that tell you?

I just went into Barnes & Noble and it’s not on the shelf there.

Be honest. When was the last time you went to Barnes & Noble to buy business books? Do you see the problem?

They mostly stock only the books that are already selling, are by famous authors, or are about very exciting topics, like the financial crisis. If you want to be in Barnes & Noble, sell a lot on Amazon.

If you’re in an independent bookstore, you may as well forget it, unless you know the owner. They’re not very into business books.

If you’re in an airport, you’ll see plenty of business books there. Every one of them paid to be there. Unless you’re a very big deal, your publisher isn’t likely to want to pay for that. Of course, you could pay for it yourself . . .

I just finished the book and I want to write another one.

That’s very nice, but now is the time to promote. Not to write another book.

Holding the book in my hand is making me very emotional. People are listening! They’re asking about my ideas. They’re writing about me. I’m getting offers to speak. This is so awesome.

Assuming you’re not dreaming, congratulations. Now, could you talk to all the other whiners in this post about the work it took you to get here?

5 responses to “In response to the finest whines of nonfiction book authors

  1. I’d totally buy a 400-page book of your tough love. Even better if the book has pages like this post that are duplicated and removable, like handouts! There’s a conference idea for you, and I won’t whine if you use it.

  2. Exposed! Been there, done most of that, escaped some, but my personal actual nightmare is of falling into the black hole of rewriting a chapter a thousand ways and can’t reach escape velocity to get to the next black hole in Sisyphean writing hell. That always sparks me to get on with it already.

  3. Make it 300 pages including the Index and Bibliography.

    Use the same book design as WWB. (font, paper, page design,etc.) I don’t need heft. Your words of insight into the true nature of things are invaluable to me as a seventy-year-old working on my first nonfiction book.

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