The Complete Writer
Section VIII: The Writing Life:
Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay?
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Turning Failure into Success
They say failure can help turn your losing experience into a successful endeavor. That became evident from the erotica publishing enterprise, which after a couple of years appeared to have joined the 50 percent of small business start-ups that fail within five years.
On the surface, what I learned from that is not to try to sell anything unless you have some very strong marketing skills and are willing to spend uncountable hours using them. However, something far more positive is coming out of it.
These days, I have more work than I can handle. People are lined up at the door trying to get me to edit their golden words or advise on publishing them. And one of my clients hired me to help him self-publish a memoir that he intends not for the public but for family and friends.
By way of saving money on design for him, I mocked up three draft covers for his delectation. One of them turned out looking pretty darned nice. Another would be even better if the quality of the image were better—it has a couple of flaws, one of which probably resulted from dirt on the lens and the other of which appears to be a data issue. We used his images, taken with a variety of cameras over forty years.
As I remarked in Chapter 33, there are any number of good reasons to use print-on-demand or e-book technology other than trying to trying to publish a best-seller. In fact, trying to publish the Great American Novel is the worst of all possible reasons.
One of several things I learned a-sailing the Amazon is how to create a nice-looking paperback through print-on-demand technology. As a result, I now have the skills and tools to take a book all the way from manuscript to print. And that process can be modestly lucrative.
Three projects like the client’s private memoir would recover all the losses I’ve enjoyed in the book publishing enterprise.
I’ve also learned of a Mac app that allows you to create really attractive .mobi, ePub, and iBook e-books fairly simply. I may try this on the client’s MS just to see what happens. If it can handle images (not an easy trick), then I would be able to offer e-book formatting of fairly complex documents, too. This would further enlarge the opportunities to make a profit helping other people publish their projects.
I would never advise a client to spend a vast pile of money self-publishing what he or she imagines is the Great American Novel. But if the person has a good reason to create a book-length document for a business, for a nonprofit organization, for patients or customers, or for family and friends, self-publishing can be an economical and relatively easy way to fulfill certain specific needs. And if you’re just a hobbyist—and you know you’re a hobbyist—writing a book because you get a kick out of writing and would like to see your results in print or on Amazon is surely no more expensive than skiing or four-wheeling. As long as you understand what you’re doing and don’t imagine you’re going to get rich (or, probably, even to make a profit), I’ll even help you publish your novel.
Does this experience generalize?
Evidently so; otherwise we wouldn’t have those chestnuts to the effect that you have to fail before you can succeed.
In learning how to lose money, you learn how not to lose money. With any luck at all, you may learn how to make money. This is an underlying principle of all the personal finance advice dispensed in popular media: if you get into debt, you can learn not to get into debt; if a bank screws you, you can learn to use a credit union; if you’re not earning enough, you can learn ways to earn more.
Some errors, of course, are not so easily rectified: fail to save enough for retirement and you won’t have a second chance. Text your way up the wrong way of a freeway off-ramp and your next success will be a Darwin Award.
But most of the time you do have a chance to learn something—and profit from it.