Friday 27 April 2012

10 Facts I'm Ignoring About Book Publishing

As I write the introduction and conclusion of my book, my mind is wandering to the next phase: getting published. It's easy to get discouraged when reading facts about the book industry. Most statistics-based articles say "it's really, really hard" and "don't get your hopes up." I can't think of a better underdog challenge!

It takes optimism and tenacity (and skill) to achieve great things, so I will be ignoring  the following: 

- Over one million books were published in 2009
- has 74,000 change management  and 640,000 change books
- In the first quarter of 2011, the number of print books sold in Canada dropped by 10.9 percent
- Book industry sales declined by 5 percent between 2007 and 2009 in the U.S.
- Less than 2 percent of published books are commercially viable
- 70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance
- 80 percent of book sales are controlled by five publishing conglomerates
- Out of 1.2 million books tracked by Nielsen Book Scan (as of 2004), 950,000 books sold fewer than 99 copies, and another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies
- The average U.S. non-fiction book sells less than 250 copies per year
- A book has less than 1 percent chance of being stocked in a bookstore

I know rejection is part of the process and that many successful authors have lived through it (Jack Canfield, William Faulkner, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss...). So, like any goal in life, I'll persevere until it is accomplished. But I am getting ahead of myself: first I need to finish my book so that I don't become part of a "books that were never finished" statistic.


Friday 20 April 2012

Advice From the Big Chair

The empty 'Big Chair'
On Wednesday, my friend Mel and I attended a "meet the author" session with Wayne Johnston, a celebrated Canadian writer. He is one of my favourites and I intended to ask him for advice on approaching publishers, my next mountain to climb.

Everything was going well: I confirm the session, my camera was charged, and we arrived twenty minutes early. As we were waiting in our second row seats (we chose not to run when the doors opened), I decided to buy a copy of "The Custodian of Paradise" for Wayne to sign. I also was going to ask him to include his favourite motivational saying, something I had asked Mark Tewkesbury, gold medal swimmer from the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, when he was a mystery guest at a business conference. He wrote, "Why not me?" It didn't really make sense until I started writing my book. 

Mel at the book seller's table

At the start time, an empathetic co-ordinator informed us that Wayne had not yet arrived and they were trying to locate him. Every ten minutes she updated us on their efforts to find him until forty minutes had passed when she said they still could not find Wayne and  she would try to reschedule him for the fall season (she did a great job). 

My new paperweight
All was not lost: I had a great time with Mel and we discussed a few open items about my book. You can find advice and inspiration in many places and often the best guidance is not planned.


Friday 13 April 2012

Stories Part 2: Too much, too little, or just right?

Each of the one hundred case studies I wrote was difficult to write. You would think that the ones I personally experienced would have be easier than the ones I researched, but that wasn't the case. I tried different approaches to make the process easier  from creating a detailed outline to writing quick drafts  but they all required many versions. They were all hard. 

"Just the facts ma'am."
Initially, I omitted the organizations' names, which made the stories impersonal, nebulous, and appear censored. It took months and expert feedback to realize that context is critical to learning, especially when presenting how organizations have managed change. 

Also, I struggled with how the reader might view these stories, seeing them as overall critiques of the companies instead of the actions that were taken at a point in time. I decided to make this distinction in my introduction.

Another challenge was finding the "sweet spot" between too much and not enough detail. Too much information bogs down the story and obscures its purpose, and too little makes the story unclear and dull. 

A Writer's Nightmare
Expert editing has been invaluable to finding the right balance. Questions such as, "Does it really matter that the company has 5,327 employees?" and "So, who won the court case?" have helped me shape the final versions. I expect to revisit my decisions until the ink on my first edition is dry: Is it too much, too little or just right?


Friday 6 April 2012

Ending With the Beginning in Mind

One of the first lessons my editor, Ken, taught me was that you write the introduction after you complete the book. I will call the one I wrote before meeting him "draft 0." It now makes sense since my book has changed shape almost weekly and my early thoughts on what the introduction would say have also changed. 

There's a lot at stake with the introduction. It has to grab readers as they scan it  and convince them that the book is worth their time and money. It must clearly state:
- Who the book is written for (who will benefit from reading it)
- How it will help them
- Who I am and how my experiences qualify me to write it
- What I believe are the broad themes about successful change management
- Why the book is structured in the way that it is
- Why I wrote it

Basically, the introduction has to convey the essence of my book in a few pages. With only six short case studies to write before I complete my book's content, I have been psyching myself for my next challenge: to nail the introduction. It's time to tell my story.