Yi Xiang

A Young Writer in Search of His Voice

What I Have Learned from My First Book Deal

Like everybody else, when I got my first book deal (A coauthored book on tarot) in around 2010 or 2011, I was like “I’m gonna be rich!”. It actually earned me very little money. But I had expectations. I thought a book deal means money and fame, until I learned that it means neither. It’s just a book deal.

Not All Books Are Best-sellers

I wonder if it’s just me, or does everybody believe his first book will sell a zillion copies?

A Book Is Not a Marketing Plan

By the time I got my first book deal, I had a blog in Chinese on tarot that I updated often. I didn’t have much traffic and had no clue how to get it. So I thought I would talk about my blog in my book, and then when the book took off, many people would come check out my blog and maybe become lifelong readers.

It didn’t happen.

The book didn’t sell very much at all, and instead of marketing my blogs for me, the publisher expected me and the other author to market the book for them.

I guess it doesn’t really make sense to market a free blog with a paid product, if anything it should be the other way around: use free content to build trust and then sell a paid product. That’s what bloggers have been doing for a long time.

But I just didn’t get it cause I was in the grand delusion of selling a zillion books.

There Are Haters

I didn’t know why people hate me for writing a book, but they did. They said all kinds of stuff to me, often without reading the book or my blog.

Later I formed a theory that if you do anything a little bit outstanding, people will begin hating you. They will say nothing if you just do your regular job and does what everybody else does, but once you are doing something remarkable, they will in an instant get insecure or jealous or whatever and attack you.

Very few people can congratulate another’s success, most will see instead how little they achieve and then hate you because you make them hate themselves.

Publishers Suck

Okay, it’s not really about the publisher.

Not able to decide the name sucks, no royalties sucks, have no say over the cover sucks, not getting any help from the publisher sucks.

And they expected us to market the book!

You and I are most likely from different cultures so your publishing experience may differ.

But from what I have read, it’s basically the same. The publishers in the English world still care more about money than you, they still seem to decide the name and cover of the book and they still seem to expect you to market the book. Just read the story of James Altucher and you will know.

One time, a friend of mine was pitching the same publisher a book. I don’t know who she was talking to. They didn’t know she knew me. She asked them, “what did you do to market James Altucher’s book.” They said, “we got him a review in the Financial Times, an excerpt published in thestreet.com, and we got him on CNBC.” She called me right afterward and told me this and we both laughed. I wrote my own review in the FT! I was at thestreet.com and got the excerpt there. And I had been doing a weekly spot on CNBC for years and talked my own book there.

– James Altucher

Sure they’re doing this for good reasons. Publishing a book is expensive, there is no way to predict whether a book from a new author will sell well, and too many people want to publish their books, etc.

Publishers are businesses so they must do what they do to make money. They must decide the title and the cover so that they won’t lose money because an author loves a silly title or a stupid cover. They must invest only in the moneymakers or they’ll go broke.

But none of these reasons make sense to authors. Just as a publisher doesn’t care about the author and cares only about sales, an author cares not about the publisher and just want to get his book out and make a ton of money and fame.

Seems to me that authors and publishers have been working against each other when they’re supposed to work together.

And then self-publishing comes and everybody is happy taking customers’ money.

An Editor Is a Must

Thanks to my book’s readers, my first book was found to have 33 Mistakes, 30 of these are typos.

This book has two authors and I alone maybe have reviewed the whole book more than 10 times.

Yet typos persist.

I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know why every writer can write many blog posts free of typos but once they begin writing books, the number of typos and mistakes grow like cancer.

But take my word and get an editor, since this is also an advice that is almost given by every author out there.

Final Thoughts

Every now and then I still get a reader or two ask me about my first book, and yet I make no money from their purchases. We agree to the fucking no-royalty contract because we believe getting the book out is more important.

Several years later I self-published my second book in Chinese for free. Actually it’s not self-publishing, I just wrote the book and edited it then designed a cover and did the layout all by myself. Then I got a pdf that I uploaded to my blog. And no, it didn’t get viral, despite people who read it love it.

Maybe I should sell it but my blog almost never has more than 50 visitors a day so it won’t be much money. And I can’t sell it on Amazon like you could because self-publishing does not exist in my country. Fuck, even blogging isn’t popular.

You English writers are all fucking privileged just by having English as your mother tongue, you can write a book and publish it to Amazon directly, for free. Even if without it, you can write a blog and guest blogging and do whatever to gain readers and then sell them books. You could never imagine how hard it is to write every day without knowing whether it will work, or how much pain I went through to be able to write in English.

Or maybe you know. After all, obscurity is a writer’s old friend.