Friday, January 24, 2020

The Marathon that is Writing, Publishing, & Selling a Book

This is the tweet that began the creation of the book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials: The Space Aspirations of a Rising Generation. It was just a thought, an idea that popped into my head. I never thought of myself as a book author. And yet a little idea kicked off an almost four-year process of researching for, writing, and publishing my first book.

“Are you writing this book for fame or for money?” a few people asked me along the way. Ha, neither! I knew from the start this would be a niche book with a tiny customer base: space-interested millennials and space-interested readers of other generations to some extent. I never dreamed this would be a New York Times Best Seller or that it would make me thousands.

True to my nature, before writing the book, I researched how to publish a book. I read a lot of guides and personal accounts. I was under no illusions. According to a statistic I found, most self-published books sell fewer than 250 copies ever. Knowing how tiny my market is for this book, I decided I’d be pleased if I sold 10 books. Last year I ran a Kickstarter fundraiser and pre-sold 34 books, so I increased my goal to 100 books. Selling 100 books does not bring fame nor fortune.

So why write it? Because no one else had. It was a topic I was interested in and there was no other resource out there like it. Millennials get a bad reputation due to stereotypes filled with half-truths that didn’t ring true to me. My goal was to give my millennial peers a voice. I wrote the book for myself and for them.

Being a scientist, the first thing I wanted to do was collect data. I interviewed over 100 millennials (101 to 103 depending on how I count it) with a set of questions covering topics ranging from space inspirations, work preferences, connectivity, and space goals. I’m a physical scientist, not a social scientist, so creating interview questions and interpreting the answers stretched me. I did the best I could to represent their views.

My initial introduction draft contained all kinds of statistics. Workforce demographics in the US, at NASA, and at companies such as SpaceX. Statistics about my millennial interview panel. A look at how millennials compare to previous generations. I come from a scientific background and I approached the presentation scientifically. But that doesn’t make for good storytelling. Book writing is entirely different from the technical writing I’m used to. I scrapped that version and instead focused on individuals’ stories and the trends as a whole. I wrote the book with a space-interested audience in mind but with a clarity that could be understood by anyone.

One of my biggest downfalls was impostor syndrome, the fear that I’m not worthy to be doing what I’m doing. After all, I have no formal training in book writing and I’m not famous. Why would anyone want to read a book I wrote? Why would people spend money on my book? How dare I think my writing is good enough to be read by the masses. This fear still plagues me. The only motivation that pushed me forward was reading so many bad books in the past couple of years. I’ve disliked or felt ambivalent about most of the books I’ve read for pleasure recently, both modern and “classic.” Yet those books were still published and sold, recommended to me, and ended up in my hands. If they could do it, so could I.

Unfortunately, negative feedback did paralyze me. Approximately 3 years ago, before I had even begun writing, I presented my initial research results to a local AIAA chapter. The room was filled with members of the silent generation and baby boomers, maybe a generation Xer or two. Aside from me, there was only one other millennial in the room. I presented direct quotes from my interviews and explained some of the trends I was beginning to see. They hated it. They disagreed with it. They fought back on everything I said simply because it was counter to their worldview. Nothing I said helped them to overcome their initial biases to understand the material I was presenting. I left my own presentation early, feeling dejected and disillusioned. If I couldn’t convince a space-interested crowd of the value of my material, why write the book?

Time passed. I suffered a computer crash and then another. I lost files. I built up my business. I got pregnant and had a second child. In the passing time, I had moments of motivation that encouraged me to work on the book, but that never lasted long. The book was largely shelved.

Eventually I realized if I didn’t motivate myself, all my hard work up to that point would be for nothing. So last year, on my birthday, I ran a Kickstarter campaign. I created draft cover art and a promotional video. I asked people for help in acquiring initial funds to pay for art, editing, and publishing. My goal was $1,000 and I raised over $2,300 which also gave me enough funds to create an audiobook. The support was truly motivating! Plus, I knew if I took people’s money in pre-sales, I would finish the book.

But it still took time. Last year was the busiest yet for my small business. I got pregnant and had a devastating late miscarriage. Progress was slow and I needed an end date. I had planned for April, which got pushed to the summer, which got pushed back even later once I realized how many Apollo anniversary books were flooding the market. Finally, I settled again on my birthday, January 17. Book launch day.

Before I knew it, it was November and my manuscript wasn’t yet completed! I worked as best I could for weeks, finally getting it to my publisher in December. I knew I was cutting it close.

My initial dive into self-publishing reading almost 4 years ago led me to believe self-publishing was easier than traditional publishing, especially for a first-time author. The freedom, flexibility, speed, and increased royalties in self-publishing appealed to me. I doubted I could get a publisher to agree to my tiny niche market book. And yet, nothing about self-publishing is easy! I learned the hard way over and over that first-time authors who self-publish have a lot to learn.

I hired a freelance artist to redesign my cover art and to make a spine and back cover. At the time, I did not know anything about trim sizes and page numbers. After a few iterations, I was pleased with the final product. Only much later did I realize the dimensions of my cover art were all wrong! Cover art unexpectedly ended up being the most frustrating part of the entire book publishing experience. After 6 or 7 tries, I think I’ve finally gotten the cover art to where it’s supposed to be, even if it is a little stretched.

Last-minute I decided to hire another artist, a talented young woman in the space industry, to create interior art. Working with Caroline was a breeze and my chapters now begin with her beautiful little illustrations. It’s the details that make the book format so enjoyable over a blog or other plain text communication.

I expected editing to be tough, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had done a fair amount of proof-reading ahead of time. But it’s always humbling to see just how many mistakes I made without even realizing it. My editor Bart offered so many wonderful suggestions, the hardest part was implementing them all in the time constraint I had. Although I know I missed some mistakes, including an embarrassing one I caught during the typesetting process, I’m pleased with the quality of the book. I’m never pleased with the quality of my writing, but it is what it is. I’ll never be as good of a writer as some, but I’m better than others.

I hired another freelancer to format and typeset the book for print and ebook formats. He did a decent job, but after a few iterations to fix all the little mistakes, I really felt the time crunch. It was under one week until book launch!

I also learned last-minute, as I was preparing my book launch webpage, media kits are expected. I knew of press kits from rocket launches, not book launches. In the final days before book launch day, I created a media kit with a press release, photos, information, and even a mock interview.

As much as I had read and read about self-publishing, I was not prepared for the nightmare that is the publishing process on Amazon. Publishing the ebook (both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) was fairly straightforward and I had that task accomplished days early. But print publishing was another story.

For such a huge company that almost holds a monopoly on self-publishing, Amazon’s instructions are atrocious. I give them a D for unclear and contradictory information, vague error messages, and long response times (approximately 20 hours between submissions and rejections). Finally, a day late, the paperback was on sale. But it was an early customer who informed me the art wasn’t great and I needed to fix it. So, finally, now the paperback is on sale and in good shape, no thanks to Amazon.

Amazon conveniently ignores Prime user status when selling author copies. So not only do I need to pay for shipping boxes of books, I also need to wait longer than the standard 2-day delivery. It’s embarrassing to me I still haven’t shipped out pre-order books, let alone the autographed books that have been ordered over the past week since book launch. But, it will be done by tomorrow morning when I can finally get to the post office.

After doing even more reading about marketing, I’ve come to understand book sales are a marathon, not a sprint. Book launch is just the beginning. I did a little bit of organic social media marketing before book launch and over the past week, plus documenting my findings and experiences in this blog. My goal to sell 100 books has almost been reached. As of this writing, I’m 90% there.

I did three podcast interviews about the book prior to its release and I have a radio interview lined up soon. I’m giving my first live audience talk about the book at a conference in March, specifically about how to market space and space business to space-interested millennials. I plan to turn that talk into a guide to publish for free on my company’s website. Marketing will continue until the book topic is no longer relevant, which may be when millennials really are running the space sector.

Publishing Space Millennials isn’t over yet. This weekend, I’ll play with my new microphone and pop filter. I’ll download audio recording software and try to get an idea how to create an audiobook. Over the next few months, I’ll record myself narrating the book for the readers who prefer to listen.

My dabble into book writing and publishing isn’t over yet. For over a year now, I’ve had an idea for a second book, but I haven’t allowed myself to pursue it until this book is completed. The topic: how to prepare and what to expect as a space tourist. Wish me luck!

To purchase Rise of the Space Age Millennials and help me reach my goal, visit: .

Edit: Goal of 100 copies sold achieved in the first 9 days. Thank you all!

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