Now that my second book has hit the presses, we’re doing the promotion. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and my version of marketing looks an awful lot like “talking with hundreds of people while drinking coffee.”
The first lesson: “15 years of effort to an overnight success.”
We’ve all seen the apocryphal starving-author stories about rejection letters and discouraging book reviews. I went through that with my first book and I gained the valuable experience of patient persistence. While I was learning about self-publishing, I developed the self-confidence of writing for my readers instead of for gatekeeper publishers.
A (very) few readers made me question whether writing was worth the effort. If you want to collect discouraging book reviews, try convincing people that they can save and invest for financial independence. A very vocal (yet very tiny) minority would prefer to blame their financial challenges on your writing skills instead of their lifestyle. Their criticism used to offend me, and I’d spend way too much time discussing it. (“But I can convince them!”) Today I know that it’s better to wait for the hostile skeptics to decide that they’re ready to change their lives. I’ll be over here, patiently working on my next book.
In retrospect, I was slow to recognize that many more people had questions about raising money-savvy families. I was still enjoying the victory lap from my first book, attending financial conferences, and learning about slow travel. While I was nerding out about savings rates and asset allocation, it took me months to realize that opening Roth IRAs for 14-year-olds was a hot topic.
My most important epiphany between my first and second books was using an editor’s feedback to clarify my reader avatar. (I failed at this during several drafts of my first book.) Editors are guides who can point out the potential destinations for your writing, not just critics who know grammar. If an editor doesn’t see the compelling value of your writing, then it’s going to be a problem for your readers too. The solution to that problem involves doing more research and writing better, not being frustrated with editors.
Between starting my first book in 2005 and publishing the second in 2020, I’ve
written keyboarded millions of words. I’ve learned to type a little bit every morning (right after waking up, along with my first cup of tea). After all of these years, the phrase “Just write it” still applies.
I’m perpetually exchanging e-mails and social-media comments with readers. I’ve also learned from other authors. (Thanks, MK!)
I’ve written over a thousand blog posts, about half of which are still online. (The rest have been recycled elsewhere.) I’ve posted hundreds of thousands of times to social media and online forums.
My two manuscripts (so far!) came from crafting a half-dozen drafts before editing and publishing, and I still have a couple of new drafts awaiting my attention.
The ratio of <words written for your next book> to <words in your published book> is at least 10:1. I’m only counting the words that you’re willing to show to other people, too.
Why in the world do I keep going? Well, I am
obstinate persistent, and the occasional success certainly creates more sustainable confidence. At my core, though, I can’t stop writing. It’s perpetually challenging and fulfilling, and I get to do it at my pace. The more I write, the more I produce. My family is also very grateful that I can focus my words on the entire Internet instead of just them.
Someday I’ll have to update that header to “30 years to an overnight success.”
The second lesson: “Not all those who wander are lost.”
I’ve wandered metaphorically and literally all over the world. I started drafting my first book over 15 years ago, and I had no idea where I was going. Before I started that, I wasn’t even trying to get somewhere.
I’m a computer nerd raised in the 1970s with mainframes and teletypes. Our family got online in the late 1990s, and I started poking around USENET. I discovered a whole new world of people talking about financial independence. As J.D. Roth can tell you in his “History Of FI” post, this conversation has been around for centuries, but it rarely happened among my co-workers or neighbors. I’d find an occasional shipmate to dive into saving and investing, but we all thought we’d need paychecks until our 60s. And of course, the writing I had to do at work completely killed any desire to write recreationally.
I retired from active duty in 2002 to “spend more time with family & friends.” By then I’d moved from USENET and bulletin boards to forums, and I stumbled across Early-Retirement.org. In retrospect I’ve realized that I got to write when I wanted, and there were no more deadlines. I never saw that coming when I was in uniform.
I enjoyed learning more about financial independence (to verify that I wasn’t making a horrible mistake), and in 2005 Bob Clyatt asked the forum a series of questions that eventually became the book “Work Less, Live More.” (Today Bob evokes both of those verbs with his sculptures.) I asked the military members of the forum a bunch of similar questions about military personal finance, and over the following months we crowdsourced “The Military Guide.”
I also spent a surprising amount of time reading about… writing. If you think I write better today than in my forum posts of the early 2000s, you should see what I was writing in the 1990s. (Or maybe you shouldn’t see that.) Answering thousands of questions on a forum helps you explain stuff better.
I still leisurely created a chapter every few months, and I actually set aside the draft several times for family travel or other projects. I spent nine months simply getting through the query letters with traditional publishers.
Now that the self-publishing industry has swept away the gatekeepers, it’s much easier to see your book in print… or in electrons… or in audio. Yet you still have to write it, and that still requires a certain amount of learning about writing & publishing along with researching your book topics.
The third lesson: All the editing is worth the effort.
Carol and I built the outline together, and then we each wrote our side of the story. It sounds like a collaboration, yet in execution, it was Carol writing at top speed with me scrambling to keep up.
At first, I e-mailed her my part of a chapter. She responded with the equivalent of “That’s cute, Dad”, and sent me the link to
her our Google Doc. From then on we both worked in the Google Doc, sometimes simultaneously in our sections. We chatted about the draft in highlights and comments, and it was fun to watch her paragraphs grow as I wrote mine.
As a good co-author (and a parent), I knew not to touch Carol’s words. We’d discuss our parts of the outline, but her words didn’t need to sound like mine. After a while, I realized that our discussions helped me quite a bit to improve my writing. After talking with her I’d usually end up re-writing a lot of my words.
I also knew better than to complain about how hard writing could be. While Carol was raising my writing skills she was also leaving active duty for the Reserves, moving across the country with her spouse, growing a tiny human, giving birth, and raising their baby. I certainly wasn’t going to whine about the surf.
MK Williams of ChooseFI Media kept this book alive. She rescued us from our swamp of accidental (“oblivious”?) trademark infringements and well-meaning epigraphs of unauthorized Disney lyrics. At the start of each chapter, we’d list the goals (thanks for suggesting it, MK!). At the end of each chapter, we’d write a summary reviewing “our” advice, along with a call to action. And then she pointed us at the editors. These days she’s tracking due dates and metrics and rallying the ChooseFI team along with the printer and all of the distributors.
One editor pushed back *hard* on Carol & me at our aspirations of a back&forth narrative with chapter epigraphs. The editor recommended a traditional combined voice (with more authoritative parenting advice) instead of “stories around the kitchen table.” Carol and I immediately doubted our self-confidence, and we defaulted to checking with our readers. (It included social-media polls.) Our readers are overwhelmingly in favor of back&forth narrative (including our favorite chapter epigraphs), and their support boosted our confidence to tell the editor that we’d do the extra work. The editor was totally professional about the whole discussion. Once we’d made our decision, they supported us– and they held us to the harder standards of that back&forth style.
MK (and the other editors) helped us stay in our lanes. There were times when I’d obliviously tell Carol’s side of the story along with mine, and times when Carol would bounce back & forth unpredictably between her “kid” and “adult” perspectives.
Editors also ask questions like “Who’s writing your foreword?” It really helps your book’s credibility if you score a foreword from an international best-selling author like JL Collins. Especially when his foreword starts with “I should have written this book.” Jim, we really appreciate your time and your thoughts and your recording for the audiobook. I hope you’ve leveraged your wisdom to another 100,000 readers!
After all of that editing, we still had a typographical error sneak through. It’s my fault– I was convinced that I was remembering the correct words, and it never occurred to me that I should fact-check them. When I did, it was too late to change the print editions.
Thankfully it’s one word that’s relatively easy to correct. We’ll add it to the typo list that the printer will fix on the next run.
Other lessons re-learned:
4. It’s really easy to spend all day clicking on your Amazon rankings. It’s a lot more fun than watching blog statistics or podcast downloads. But it doesn’t help with answering reader questions… or creating the next book.
4.a. Someone in an author’s house still has to clean toilets and do heavy yardwork. I’ve checked with my spouse, and apparently it’s still me. Maybe I need to stop clicking on Amazon rankings.
5. I answer a ton of questions online (Linkedin, Reddit, Facebook) and it takes a few hours a day. I’ve answered questions since USENET– I regularly show up and give away my time & experience. Those practice hours make me much better at answering the same FAQs, and eventually I collect enough Q&A for a book.
If you’re surprised that I’ve responded to your e-mail or message, it’s because your question is helping hundreds of other readers. Ask me anything.
6. My audience told me to write this book for months before I was ready to listen. I never thought that I’d
sucker persuade a co-author to join me. When Carol lit up, I’m glad that I was finally open to the improv comedy technique of saying “Yes, and…”
I thought a co-author would be half the labor, but it was actually double the writing (and audiobook recording, and podcasting). Better yet, it was 10x more fulfillment than being the only author. Or maybe that’s simply the fun that comes from spending more time with family.
For me, this book is passing a torch. Or maybe I’m helping her light a new, bigger torch.
What’s next for me?
Personally, I’m going back to my writing roots with updates to The Military Guide. The first task is an audiobook edition. (We never got around to that with the first printing). I even have my own podcasting microphone and editing software and everything.
While I’m working on the audiobook, I’ll also collect new material for the second edition of the print and eBook versions. The audiobook will have that bonus material, and we’ll update the second edition for all the things that the Department of Defense has changed since the first edition went to print. Yes, the book is still evergreen, but the next edition will add the words “Blended Retirement System” along with some words about not getting suckered into lump-sum pensions.
After we launch those, I have a third book in me about the long-term sustainability of financial independence (tentatively titled “FI For Life”). And yes, my spouse told me “Nords, you have to write that book too.” She did it while we were attending FI Chautauqua 2019 in the Douro Valley of Portugal, and we actually brainstormed most of the outline there with people who know a lot about sustainable FI.
Finally, I want to write several 100-page summaries of various parts of military insurance programs. You readers are telling me that it’s worth the effort. I’ll do that after the third book, although I’m allergic to deadlines.
Well, by “after”, I also mean “after I catch up on surfing.”
Keep reading this site. This is where I’ll write the posts that get combined into book chapters!
Enough lessons. What’s your call to action?
Please test-drive the book from your local library before you spend the money on it. I’m financially independent, and we’d rather that you spend your money on the book after you know that it’s worth the cost. We want you to refer to our advice over and over again.
When you read the book, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. If you like it and leave a five-star review, that’s great! If you hate it (and leave a one-start review) then please let us know what needs to change to turn it into a five-star review!
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About “Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence”
Update To The Post “Just Write It.”
Starting a Roth IRA For Your Kid
Learn more about self-publishing from MK Williams at Author Your Ambition
Slow Travel Is Wonderful, Yet We Still Had Challenges
During Retirement: You Will Change. Your Plans May Change Too.