When my own book was published for the first time, it was a dream come true. But writing it was a long, and sometimes painful, process. I knew it was a big project, that’s why I embraced the challenge and didn’t expect it to be a piece of cake. Still, some things surprised me along the way. Read this text so that they won’t surprise you as well.
The idea of writing a book had been dwelling in my mind for a long time before I actually did it. My very first book on commodities, The world of commodities (in Polish: Świat surowców), turned out to be a bestseller in Poland. In fact, it was the first book in my home country that described commodities markets so thoroughly.
In late 2015, when its first edition was published, I had been working as a commodity analyst and investing my money passionately for a few years already. I won’t say that I was an old hand at it, but I knew that such a book was needed and in demand. I was right. The world of commodities sold out quickly, and the second edition came out just one year after the first (also reaching best-seller status in no time). This success cost me a lot of time and effort, but the result made me proud.
Book authors tend to say half-jokingly that publishing a book awakens feelings comparable to having a child. There’s something to this notion, because when I grabbed held my finished book in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling. And even better, this paper child doesn’t cry all day; it generates passive income instead and doesn’t have to be constantly supervised. 😉
Now, since two editions of my beautiful, black and gold book sit upon a shelf in my home library, I can look back at the whole process and share some thoughts and advice. Some of them may seem obvious or have been repeated too many times—but, surprisingly, authors still tend ignore them, saying: “This time will be different.” (By the way, we feed ourselves this lie often and in many areas of life.)
So no, this time won’t be different, and if you’re thinking of writing a book, you’ll probably experience the same emotions and issues that I did. Spoiler alert: It was all worth it.
So, let’s get into it. What should you be prepared for? To start with …
The effects aren’t visible for a long time.
Creating a book is a big project, and it takes several months or even years to finish. Of course, I’m not talking about short ebooks here. Digital, concise texts are becoming increasingly popular, but those aren’t the kind of books that I was aiming for when I started out. My goal was to write something big, something lasting and something that could bring me not only satisfaction but also passive income for a long time afterward.
If your goals are similar, you have to be prepared to put a lot of effort into something knowing that the fruits of your labor will remain in the shadows for a long time. Of course, this is not necessarily a problem; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the ability to delay gratification is often described as a powerful psychological tool that boosts our chances of succeeding in life. For me, imagining the final result (holding the book in my hands) was enough to keep me motivated.
In any case, writing a book is a test of patience, especially since …
Writing takes more time than we initially assume.
Whatever amount of time you think you’ll spend on writing your book, double it. Seriously.
We tend to underestimate not only the amount of time we need to write but also the amount of time we waste on all those “necessary” things we do during the process. If you’ve written a thesis or something similar, you’ll know what I mean. You might get distracted by coffee breaks or by reading the news on the internet. (After all, you want to keep yourself updated on what’s going on in the world, right?) You might find excuses in the evening, like being too tired after a long day at work or having to attend your friend’s birthday party. You might tell yourself that you’re not in the mood to write because your cat is sick, something is wrong with your computer, you need to catch up on some sleep during the weekend … the list goes on.
All those alibis are tempting when you’re writing a book. Generally, the first mistake that authors make is being too optimistic when estimating the date of the book’s completion. When I started writing my book, I was sure that it would be ready in three months’ time. Today, this would be my comment on that plan: buahahahahahah!
The entire writing process took me six months, even though I was highly motivated and prioritized the project. My estimate was unrealistic, and not because I was slow or lazy. I simply underestimated the number of factors that would distract me.
I also miscalculated the number of additional activities that I would need to take on because I soon realized that …
“Writing a book” is not just about writing.
I was shocked by the amount of time I spent on things that didn’t involve writing. Of course, formulating sentences and chapters is what working on a book is all about—but after you write it, some changes and/or corrections are necessary. And these take a lot of time, even if your grammar and writing style are generally good.
The first version of your book is usually far from perfect. When authors read their text a second time, they tend to see some room for improvement. Then, the book goes through the hands of proofreaders and editors, who will also have some remarks worth considering. Some chapters may be too long or too short, or you may have to simplify a paragraph or write the definition of a specific word. You may have repeated some information because you forgot that you mentioned it earlier—this happens often when writing a book because it’s much more complex than creating a short piece of text. Furthermore, the graphic designer could come in and tell you to shorten a section because a bunch of words won’t fit on a page, the table is too wide, etc. Such changes often have to be run by the author.
It’s worth noting that the vision of a book will continually evolve. Initial plans and the final concept tend to differ a lot, and this must be taken into account. At the time of writing my first book, the commodities market evolved, and some changes had to be included in the text right before printing.
Not only do we often underestimate the amount of time that we need to create the book, but we also overestimate our efficiency … so, remember:
You are not a robot.
We tend to forget this every time we make resolutions. “This year I’m going to read one book a week,” “I will go for a run five times a week,” “I’ll give up sweets starting tomorrow,” etc. sound great, but don’t work most of the time. We end up being too tired to read a book in the evenings, we catch a cold and can’t exercise, or we absolutely have to eat grandma’s delicious cheesecake. Sometimes our body fails, sometimes our willpower does—but unless they fail all the time, don’t worry about it too much. After all, we are human and we have our better and worse moments.
Writing a book is no exception. Resolutions like “five pages a day” or “one chapter a week” are unrealistic. Sometimes, you’ll be on fire and churn out words in no time, but there’ll be other times when you just can’t stay focused. Writing is creative work, so you really can’t force it. Moreover, it’s worth keeping things in perspective, because …
There’s the risk of neglecting other things.
If you devote time to writing a book, you won’t have as much time for other things. It’s as simple as that.
When I was working on my book, I still needed to fulfill my professional duties as an analyst, so I barely had time for anything else. My social life reduced to a minimum, which made my friends wonder if I was still alive. I visited the gym three times less often than I should have. I made a few poor investment decisions due to insufficient research. I am living proof that multitasking doesn’t work.
Therefore, if you don’t want to work on the book ad infinitum, you need to give this project high priority. And it’s not always easy, because …
Writing isn’t always fun.
In movies, writers are portrayed as people with huge amounts of free time. They generally spend their days drinking coffee on the terrace, wandering through the streets of New York with a large latte in hand or watching sunsets on the beach. Sometimes, they are portrayed as cynical heavy drinkers, but still with lots of time on their hands. They have the comfort of looking for inspiration at a leisurely pace—and, of course, they eventually find it.
Let me be brutally honest: Unless you’re already a best-selling author or wealthy through other means, you just can’t afford such a lifestyle. Yes, you can try to boost your creativity by spending a weekend at the beach or on a mountain trail, but afterward, you have to roll up your sleeves and spend much more time at the computer.
Pleasant moments of inspiration can happen, but most of the time, writing is just hard work. It involves tedious research (because you don’t want to write nonsense), reorganizing paragraphs (because your vision keeps changing) or just sitting in front of a blank Word document and figuring out what to write. And that brings me to another issue …
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Inspiration comes and goes.
Imagine this: The perfect idea for beginning the next chapter just came to mind. But at the moment, you happen to be shopping, swimming in the pool or completing an urgent project at work. So you promise yourself that you’ll type out your idea as soon as you get back to your computer. But when evening comes and you finally have time to do that, you can’t remember a thing. All those beautiful, inspiring phrases have flown out of your head. After an hour of sitting at your desk (and two cups of tea), all you have is one pathetic sentence that you don’t even like.
Many authors would probably agree with me about the fact that the best ideas come to mind when we are busy with something that doesn’t require much intellectual effort: riding a bike, having lunch with friends or taking a shower. Often, when your mind is relaxed, creativity strikes. On the other hand, when you’re trying to write something amazing at a specific moment, nothing comes to mind despite all efforts.
In my case, I was frustrated in the beginning because I didn’t have lots of free time. Then I started a system: Whenever I had no inspiration, I focused on collecting useful information or finding data. By doing that, I could escape the feeling that I was losing time and could concentrate on improving the quality of the information in the book. And you need to aim for high quality, because …
Thinking about future readers is extremely important.
My goal was to write a book for anyone who wants to gain basic knowledge about commodity markets—for those who want to invest, as well as for those who are curious about the mechanisms driving the oil, gold or coffee markets. I wanted to create a book for a much wider audience, not just for specialists. Whenever I worked on a particular chapter, I continually asked myself if it was going to be interesting or useful to readers.
Raising such questions is very important because each of us looks at life through the prism of our own experiences. For example, we may not realize that the language we use (technical words, etc.) may be too difficult to understand for the average reader. Moreover, we tend to focus on what interests us personally—and this does not necessarily coincide with the interests of others. Remember that ultimately, we’re not writing the book for ourselves, but for others.
If the author is proud of their book, that’s good. If the readers find the book interesting and/or useful, that’s even better. Readers’ satisfaction is crucial, because …
You don’t want to work for free.
What’s the best recipe for earning money? Doing something useful for other people. The better the product you create, the more money you can potentially make. It’s as easy as that. Of course, you won’t have profits if no one knows about you (that is, without any marketing or former client base), but having a good product is absolutely critical.
So, if you don’t want to spend long hours writing a book and not earn a cent from that, you need to make sure that your book is helpful or enjoyable. You want people to not only buy it but also recommend it to others, because that’s how you make money.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to work with a professional or experienced publisher, or decide to self-publish. Finding a good publisher—who takes on practically all of the financial and PR risks of the project—is much easier when your book is well thought out and well written, and has best-selling potential. As for self-publishing, though it’s only your money and reputation on the line, you still want to sell something that you’re satisfied with.
One last thing:
In the end, it’s your book.
Keeping all the abovementioned tips in mind, remember that in the end, it’s your book. If you want to convey authenticity, your unique style has to prevail.
I created my first book my way, even though I had modest publishing experience at the time. I organized the chapters just like I wanted—and who knows, maybe this is why it became a success. Some of my friends told me that they could hear my voice while reading the book, and that’s how I know that I didn’t lose my personal style along the way.
Having your own book published is an accomplishment that you’ll always remember and be proud of. So, there’s no room for compromise: Stick to your own rules, follow your intuition and do your best.