So, I wrote a book. I have been writing for a long time but did not foresee this. I am an opportunist, however, and when the opportunity arrived, I jumped on it and figured it out as I went.
I wrote Gamification for Product Excellence while having a full-time consulting job and switching companies in the process, being a dad and a husband, and clinging to the moments where I could set my fantasy baseball lineups.
As an author, I learned first-hand that writing a book draws on a whole toolkit of skills; it takes much more than just putting words on paper. Marketing, product development, time management, resourcefulness and perseverance were all capabilities I needed to harness. Here’s what I learned. Maybe you can learn from it, too.
5 Tips for First-Time Authors
- Start your research now. If you are even thinking of writing a book, start collecting material now. I had seven years of research and ideas in a Chrome folder before launching this project. It was truly invaluable.
- Start your marketing plan when you start writing. If I were to do it all over again, I'd begin the marketing plan concurrently with writing the book’s outline and seek external help much earlier. I’d even consider negotiating marketing support or reimbursements in the contract.
- Overcome writer’s block by switching gears. Instead of writing, edit, do some research, or change writing environments.
- Be the anti-Hemingway. I didn’t drink while writing the book. No amount of coffee or Red Bull can replace that kind of clarity. I did stock up on non-alcoholic beer, and cracking open a cold one relaxed my brain when I had deadlines.
- The end is just the beginning. Revisions and reviews can take almost as much time as writing the book.
Be Open to Opportunity
I get a healthy mix of spam and actual messages on LinkedIn. One bitterly cold day in early January, I opened one, not expecting anything of note. When I saw that the message was from Packt Publishing asking if I’d be interested in writing a book on gamification, my opportunistic instincts kicked in. This was the break I’d been waiting for, the chance to share my years of research and experience with gamification on a broad scale.
I looked up Packt Publishing, and they were legit. Yay! I met the team, heard an overview of what they were looking for, and asked how they found me, which was apparently because I had gamification listed as a skill on LinkedIn. So then I gave my pitch.
The takeaway? If you have a book in you, stay open to opportunity. It just might knock someday.
Consider a Co-Author
If you’re venturing into writing your first book, I wholeheartedly recommend having a co-author, especially if you have good synergy.
The journey of authoring a book can be intense, and having a partner helps share the managerial load of dealing with the publisher and enhances the brainstorming process. Additionally, a co-authorship can expand the network of potential readers and partners.
This collaborative experience was a pivotal chapter in my journey as a writer, and here’s why. The publisher wanted to find me someone who had video game development experience and who was more ingrained in the gamification world than me, then sent me a link to Bret Wardle’s LinkedIn profile. I reviewed his profile and saw that he did a TEDx talk on gamification. Whoa. Cool. We were introduced over video call and have been working together since.
We conducted our collaborative sessions every week via Google Hangouts, owing to our geographical separation; I’m based in Illinois and he lives in Utah. In these meetings, we exchanged ideas, discussed our progress and brainstormed new concepts.
Collaborating with a co-author significantly influenced my writing process, making it distinctly nonlinear. For instance, before delving into design and implementation, I first reviewed what Bret had written on the foundational elements of gamification — its history, theory and mechanics. While I was waiting for Bret, I designed one of my chapters to stand alone, giving me the latitude to work on it out of sequence.
Set Aside Lots and Lots of Time
The entire endeavor was extraordinarily demanding in terms of time. It took nine months of intense focus and sacrifice to complete the book, including many long weekends. My wonderful family deserves immense credit for their constant support during this period.
I reserved mornings for quality time with my daughter. Post-lunch until dinner was my dedicated writing time, conveniently aligned with my daughter’s afternoon nap to give my wife a much-needed break.
My wife would tackle grocery shopping and other errands on Sundays while my mom babysat. After my daughter went to bed, I’d resume writing, pushing the boundaries of my stamina. Across the weekends, I typically clocked in between eight to 12 hours of focused writing, sometimes less, sometimes more.
The publisher’s schedule and the complexity of each chapter dictated my workload, making some weekends more challenging than others. Winter offered fewer distractions, making writing more manageable, whereas baseball season and warm weather presented more hurdles. My workaround was simple: Claim the early mornings for personal time, then buckle down for writing by 1 p.m.
Traditional writing tips didn’t work for me, like writing a little bit every day. I couldn’t go through a full day of consulting work and have the mental capacity to be creative and insightful. So, part procrastination, part magic, I blocked out times on the weekend to get into the zone.
Be Prepared to Market Your Book
The book publishing journey doesn’t end when the book is finished. Marketing is the next crucial step.
Contrary to what some might expect, publishing companies these days are not one-stop shops that handle your marketing needs. Don’t expect them to fund expensive billboards or magazine ads, at least not for new authors like me.
As I neared the completion of my book’s first draft, I realized that driving the marketing campaign was squarely on my shoulders. Seeking professional help, I contacted several public relations firms, only to find their fees ranging from $14,000 to $20,000 — a price I hadn’t planned for and couldn’t afford.
Marketing a book is a mammoth undertaking that was almost entirely on my shoulders. From social media to securing endorsements to budget-friendly PR, promoting the book tapped different strengths.
What Does It Cost to Publish a Book?
You can accomplish writing a book with minimal investment if you want to call yourself an author. However, if you aim to become a bestseller or generate significant revenue from your book, be prepared to invest time and money. Here’s a sample budget.
- $3,000 for PR at the minimum for someone on Upwork, $14,000+ for an agency.
- $1,000+ for marketing and advertising to build a website, minimum ads and tools.
- $1,500+ for travel expenses to speak at conferences unless you already have established yourself as a speaker and they are willing to cover your costs.
Launch a Companion Website
Given my years of experience in consulting, I’ve learned the principle of “underpromise, overdeliver.” With that in mind, I set modest financial expectations for my book. Most authors typically receive commissions in the mid-teens percentage-wise, and as a first-time author, I’m on the lower end of that range.
To supplement this, I decided to launch a companion website.
The goal was to establish a community for product development professionals keen on enhancing their skills in product management, marketing and strategy through gamification and game mechanics.
We didn’t just write a book. We elevated the entire reader experience. On our website, you’ll find our bios, links for purchasing the book, and a mysterious secret code. Naturally, we gamified the book. Plug that code (if you can find it) into our website, and you unlock a treasure chest of exciting rewards.
Our website isn’t just a promotional tool; it’s a proof of concept. We’ve introduced various interactive options besides the essential features like bios and book links. For instance, we offer a certification program in product gamification, provide specialized learning tracks, offer personalized help and yep, there’s an online shop, too.
My book was scheduled to be published on October 10. The path to publishing has been full of twists, Easter eggs and secret passages — nothing you’d find in a typical author’s guidebook. Writing it required resilience, creativity, and an entrepreneurial spirit. My nonlinear nine-month journey reveals the demands of becoming an author and the immense rewards. So, consider adding this story to your product backlog.