Why I Wrote a Traditional Print Book for a Pittance

This is going to seem really crazy, especially on a site where I talk all the time about how writers should always be trying to earn more.

But I have an old-fashioned print book coming out July 9, and I got a big $1,500 advance for it.

I know, seems nuts!

But I had some concrete reasons for accepting this gig.

Before I get into those, here’s how it came together…

A book deal is born

About 18 months ago, I was approached by an acquisitions editor at Skyhorse Publishing, an imprint of Allworth Press.

You may have heard that print is going the way of the dinosaurs, but it turns out Allworth is one of the fastest-growing traditional imprints in America. Yes, growing!

They had a new “Dummies”-type book series they had recently started for small business owners, and they wanted to know if I would write one of the titles. You can see the result at right — The Pocket Small Business Owner’s Guide to Starting Your Business on a Shoestring comes out July 9.

You will be proud of me to know that I did negotiate so I got half my advance up-front. They wanted to send it all right about now, when I wrote and turned it in a year ago! So I at least helped my cash flow a hair with that.

Certainly, I could have made far more money writing magazine articles or white papers or something else on a freelance basis with the time I took writing this 225-page book.

But I decided to go for it, and I think it will result in more income in the long run.

Why I wrote a book for cheap

Here are my reasons for taking the gig:

  • For the solo byline. My previous print book was a co-byline, and I really only wrote about one-third of it. I wanted to get a solo traditional print byline credit while that world still exists. We all know traditional print is changing fast, and I didn’t know how much longer this sort of opportunity might be offered — or when another invite like this might ever come my way. I think it imparts some authority and credibility as a writer, and I wanted to grab me some of that while I had the chance.
  • Because it was easy and fun. As soon as they told me the topic, I could see the whole book outlined in my mind, and writing and submitting my outline for approval didn’t take long. I’ve spent 20 years talking to business owners of all types about how they operate their businesses, and saw it as a chance to unpack a lot of those observations and organize them in one handy spot. I did end up doing some fresh interviews for it as well, but in general it was a fairly easy write for me. And I enjoyed the chance to put a lot of my favorite business success and failure stories into one concise package. It sort of puts a bow on my whole career as a business reporter.
  • To get ghosting gigs. My main freelance writing goal at this point is to ghost books for corporate CEOs. I thought this book would help my credentials on that score and give me some fresh exposure to that audience.
  • To learn how traditional marketing works from a winner. Clearly, Allworth is doing something right. I wanted to see how they would market the book, to discover what I could learn that I might apply to marketing my own books and ebooks about freelance writing in the future. (After talking with Guy Kawasaki about his book APE, I’m thinking about creating print-on-demand copies of my ebooks as well.) I have a bunch of writing-focused ebook releases planned for the rest of this year, so it’s good timing on that score.
  • To get another shot at doing well in print. My first co-written print book, How They Started, was from a UK publisher where managers did not have any US book-sales experience. I found the experience very frustrating, and it did not exactly hit the New York Times bestseller list. I wanted to try again and put more marketing effort in, to see if I could have more of a solid hit in the business-book niche.
  • Possible residual income. This is the sort of basic how-to book that could find its way into entrepreneurship or business-school program syllabi and be a steady seller. It could also be updated over time as online tools change…so I saw it as a chance to possibly have an ongoing earner. Yes, royalties are small in traditional print versus publishing your own ebook, but this title could potentially keep sending income for years.

I’ve since had another, similar offer come from another publisher, but turned it down. I think one of these types of books is enough for now. From here, I’d like to either pitch my own ideas, or ghost for others.

Right now, I’m hip-deep in the marketing ramp for the new book, and I’ll be posting about what I’m learning there in the next few weeks. I’m definitely doing some things we didn’t do for my first book, and hoping they will help grab this new book more attention.

Would you do a low-advance print book deal? Discuss why or why not in the comments.

Tagged with: , ,
29 comments on “Why I Wrote a Traditional Print Book for a Pittance
  1. Jean Lamb says:

    One thing you could do with this print experience is to go on tour giving seminars to would-be business start-ups; charge enough per person for each lecture, and the book as a giveaway freebie, or sell copies of the book after giving the seminar. My husband (a Jaycee Certified National Trainer) did a few seminars of this nature, but discovered he would rather spend more time teaching chemistry (they rarely let you blow things up at business seminars. Think they’d get more business if they did, but some people are just not into that…).

    Anyway, I perfectly understand if you would rather eat rusty nails than get up in front of people, but that is one perfectly reasonable way to merchandise the book. And you can start small–Mike charged $15 per person for his first couple of seminars, gave away a pen and a yellow pad to each participant, and had a drawing for five business books he’d picked up at Dollar Tree. He received quite a bit of positive reinforcement, but decided he didn’t want to be on the road as much. Nowadays, of course, you can film a seminar for the internet and have people edit out the bits where you’re shaking with terror.

    • Carol Tice says:

      With 2 young kids at home I’m not really looking to hit the road. I do a decent amount of public speaking but touring is definitely not how I’ll be promoting this.

  2. Elke says:

    Although I am already a serious e-book and kindle user, I am still addicted to traditional paper print books as well.I just like the smell of the paper, the atmosphere of a traditional book store with all the bibliofil-nerds:)
    Elke recently posted…Hochwasser überallMy Profile

  3. Jawad Khan says:

    I guess its your objective that helps you decide whether to take up a low paying project for a greater benefit in the long run or not.

    You’ve listed your reasons quite clearly so this short term loss won’t matter much hopefully.
    Jawad Khan recently posted…Content is King but Why Are You a Slave? Charge Higher Rates in 5 StepsMy Profile

  4. Cool, congrats! Excited to see how this goes and reading your insights about the process. I personally have no interest in doing anything in print, but who knows, that may change one day!
    Alexandra Sheehan recently posted…Twitter Hash Tag Chat ScheduleMy Profile

  5. Daryl says:

    Carol,

    I think that there are some times when the benefits are intangibles and can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Like you said, a solo byline is something great to have, and I can definitely see this book having a long and successful print life! All the best!

    Cheers,

    Daryl

  6. Carol,
    Congratulations on the book! You’ve laid out quite well the many benefits of taking the assignment, and I think the long-term payoff will be quite lucrative.
    You may consider a couple of marketing options to provide additional exposure for both you and your book.
    1. Consider packing some of the content in a pdf and posting it to changethis.com (“Our mission: to support and spread great ideas)” which has some very solid (and free) business and creative content. You’ll find several “manifestos” by Seth Godin–and Guy K. has a couple there, as well. (My only connection to the site is that I’ve downloaded stuff).
    There are several benefits: you can have an image of and a link to your book, you can brand your manifesto, you post a bio, and can respond to comments.
    Now that I think about it, you could consider writing a manifesto related to story-telling for business just for that site…
    2. There’s also slideshare.com, and you could take some or all of the same content from changethis.com and post there, as well.
    3. Once you have that content prepared, you could offer it to local and state economic development agencies, community colleges offering classes for entrepreneurs, business alliances, business-related fraternaties/sororities, etc., for posting on their websites and/or as part of an electronic “bundle” for those interested in starting new businesses.
    But enough from me! Again, my sincere congratulations on the book.
    Angela

  7. Amel says:

    Congratulations on your new book! I, too, am interested in ghosting and hope you will share your experiences on the blog.

    I did an Arabic to English book translation in 2011 that I was paid pretty well for. I have also edited several published books. Books are generally fun to work on, but they take loads of time, too. For example, I thought the translation would take 6 months, but it ended up taking a full year. I had to put in really long hours to meet the deadlines, especially near the end. In turn, this meant that I had to turn down other work and could not market my services to anyone for quite a while…not to mention the effects on my personal life as the stress mounted. With translation, a single difficult-to-translate word can drive you crazy long after the job is done. Whether you are writing, editing, or translating a book, it is important to understand that it is a huge (often full-time) commitment that you cannot easily back out of. It feels great when the book is finally published, but it is a long process and definitely not for the faint-of-heart. People who lack drive and discipline, or who plan poorly, could easily be overwhelmed and unable to complete a major job like this.
    Amel recently posted…You’re a Nurse (or other Professional)…Why are you Writing for Content Mills?My Profile

  8. Amandah says:

    Hell yeah I would do a low-advance book deal! It’s an amazing opportunity and you never know where it will lead you.

    Congratulations Carol! I wish you much success with your book.
    Amandah recently posted…What’s the Secret Recipe for Making Content Viral?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, it’s easy to say yes when you’re not the one who has to write 225 pages in essentially their free time! Because you still need to earn. That’s the challenge of it. Obviously, it should pay off long-term, but it’s so hard to carve out the time to do something like this. I’m still sort of stunned I managed to jam it into my crazy schedule.

      As I said, I’ve turned down a second one of these. Want to see how this plays out first before I get too excited about doing more tiny-upfront gigs.

  9. Jawad says:

    Hi Carol,
    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time! 🙂
    First of all, I want to personally Thank You for making a massive change in my thinking and outlook towards writing as a profession. I too started out writing for freelance websites like oDesk & Elance, but quickly branched out to much higher paying gigs, ALL due to your advices and encouragements! And all these in a very short span of 3 months. Now, I don’t leave a chance to tell other struggling or upcoming writers to check out your blog (and also the Den) and learn from it.
    I have also been very fortunate to have signed a book deal with TOP publisher in my niche area. It’s a 1,000 pages monster with very aggressive manuscript submission timeline! Fortunately, I am more than 80% done writing it. I do have a full time day job, which makes book writing a massive challenge! Unfortunately, I didn’t know or didn’t negotiate a book advance, which in turn ended up deeply compromising my income from freelance writing! But, I hope to make it up with big and steady book income, including various digital versions, translations etc.
    Also, I opted for the traditional publishing option, as I asked around and found that it is STILL more prestigious and rewarding then self-publishing. To me, self-publishing is still elusive.
    Going forward, I will be anxiously looking forward to see how you make efforts in marketing your book, apart from what the publisher do.
    Thanks for making this world a little more beautiful! 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Jawad, traditional book publishing is more prestigious.

      But self-publishing is usually FAR more financially rewarding. You keep ALL the revenue, beyond your design/layout/production costs! It will rarely pencil out better in terms of income to work with a traditional publisher because royalties are miniscule by comparison.

      You wrote a 1000-page book with NO advance? That to me is an act of insanity. Where is the publisher’s motivation to help you sell it if they haven’t spend a dime on it? Worrisome. Hope you have a marketing plan up your sleeve to make it sell big, since in general there is little the publisher will do to market your book.

      • Jawad says:

        Carol,
        I think I opted for the traditional publishing for the sake of prestige and the global recognition that comes with it. When the world ‘knows’ you as an expert and a published title is to your credit, it becomes easier to sell your self-published work later on.
        I did ask the acquisition editor if they offer book advance, to which she said ‘No’. Naturally, the entire book writing is a completely new experience for me, so I didn’t do enough homework or asked around to see it I can get a better deal out of the book writing. Someone (John?) in your blog commented that books offer residual income for significantly longer period of time. In my case, the publisher will ensure to approach me, in case they decide to go for a new book edition, say after 2-3 years. A new book edition breathes fresh life to the title. So, the income cycle starts all over again.
        Although I am scrambling to complete the remaining 20% of the book, I will check to see how and what efforts do the publisher makes in promoting and marketing the book. I will, however, be looking forward to your posts on how you go about marketing your just-published book.
        Thank you.

  10. Carol:

    Congrats on the new book! I’d totally do a low advanced book deal. After getting over the initial shock that a traditional publisher contacted me, I’d then examine how a book could leverage my career. Nothing screams credibility like a book – especially one through a traditional publisher. For starters, you could demand higher public speaking fees or add public speaking to your roster.
    Janet Thomson recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, sure…but the challenge is they take so much freakin’ TIME. I worried about whether I could keep the bills paid while I cranked this out! Luckily they did give me a long timeframe in which to get it done, and print book deadlines are usually pretty flexible, too. Even knowing the subject well it was a TON of work to do.

  11. Yep! Exposure, exposure..

    And, I think a print book lends a degree of credibility that an indie book doesn’t. Plus if you speak or network where you want to sell your book, the physical product is better.

    Just stumbled upon your site! Woohoo, love it Carol.

    ~ darlene 🙂
    Darlene with BlogBoldly recently posted…Build Your Online Business One Step at a TimeMy Profile

  12. I would take a low-advance book deal. In fact, I did. It was for the publisher I had worked at for 12 years, and the topic of the book was the magazine I had worked on there. It was easy work, and I did earn out the advance. What’s the book? The Best of Learning & Leading with Technology.

    Not only was it easy, it totally ups my credibility with magazine editors and business clients. People find it pretty darn impressive that I have a book out, and it’s even still selling. Just got a royalty check in the mail a few weeks ago. It’s not huge. The book has been out four years — a lifetime and a half in the tech world — but it still nice to have that ongoing income.

    And after listening to your call with Guy, I’m totally doing my forthcoming ebook as POD — I still like print books, why wouldn’t other people want them, too?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jennifer —

      I’m with you. I would never have taken this if I hadn’t thought it would be easy to execute and I already had about 80% of the material up my sleeve.

      I think people DO find it impressive when you have a traditional book out…definitely a big reason why I wanted to do this.

  13. Heidi Thorne says:

    As a self-publisher, I ALWAYS create a print version of the book at the same time I’m creating the ebook. Why? Because it’s great to have something physical to represent your work when you speak or exhibit at events. You seem more “real.” And people love to pick them up and look at them.

    So even if you did get what you consider a low advance, you saved the cost of self-publishing, and you will now have something interesting to show at your next event. Plus, it’s difficult to sign your fans’ ebooks. 🙂
    Heidi Thorne recently posted…Mobile Marketing Role Model: Chipotle Restaurants, Part 2My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      After Guy Kawasaki told me that print copies of APE were outselling ebooks — when the whole book is about encouraging people to do digital publishing! — I definitely looked at POD in a new light.

      Going to experiment with POD for my upcoming ebooks and see what happens.

  14. Barbara says:

    Congratulations!

    Would I do a low-advance book? That depends on several factors. Is the topic pertinent to freelancers? Will it be a fairly good seller? And, will more potential work come out of it?

    (I’m ghosting two e-books right now – one a nonfic for business owners and the other a regular fiction gig that I’ve had for over a year. I’ll be getting a raise soon from the fiction client.)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, this one isn’t directly focused on freelancers, but covers business startups of all types, including brick-and-mortar store owners. I enjoyed the chance to cover the waterfront and loop in all my experience covering retail over the years.

      I can’t imagine ghosting fiction…that’s fascinating! Congrats on getting the ghosting thing going so well, though. I’m really hoping to move into more book ghosting from here.

  15. Jennifer says:

    I’m a business/content marketing writer and I would definitely take a low advance print book deal in the same situation for the same reasons. I have three questions that I ask myself – 1. Will I earn boatloads of money? 2. Is it fun? Do I like the editor, enjoy the topic or want the story to be told. 3. Will it enhance my future opportunities? Will I learn about a new type of writing or industry that I want to get into? Does it give me a great clip? Is it exposure to a new market that I am looking to break into. I need to say yes to two of the three to say yes to the project. I got these basic questions from another writer and modified them for my own goals.

    I think that the main point is to carefully analyze every prospective gig and see how it fits into your business. If it’s not high paying then you need to be able to justify the business reasons why you took the gig.
    Jennifer recently posted…What’s a Niche and Why You Need One for Content Marketing Writing?My Profile

  16. John Soares says:

    Carol, I think you have sound reasons for writing the book, although I’m a bit surprised the advance was so low. The publisher doesn’t have much skin in the game at $1500.

    Since you are so good at networking online and off, and since you know so many influential people, I think you can do a lot on your own to make the book a long-term success, regardless of how much effort Allworth Press puts into marketing the title.

    I can testify to the power of residual income from print books. My hiking guidebooks (published by The Mountaineers Books, a neighbor of yours in Seattle) have earned me $2000 – $5000 per year since 1992. However, my case is not typical of most print books.

    I hope you negotiated a favorable royalty on electronic versions. Kindle and other formats will likely only grow in importance at the expense of print.

    Finally, big congrats on landing the contract and getting the book done — I look forward to reading it!
    John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writers, Please Do Me a Quick FavorMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi John — thanks! And thanks for sharing your story of how royalties have worked out for your nonfiction books. Nice!

      I’m definitely working my own spreadsheet of personal contacts in promoting it, well beyond the list Allworth has built of the usual business-book suspects. And yeah, royalty is better on ebooks, and I’m betting a lot of sales will be on the electronic side.