“You can do it. It will be very hard.” Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

(James VanOsdol’s blog)

I was an invited guest at the annual Chicagoland Library Unconference on Friday. I sat on the keynote panel alongside Joe Born, an old high school friend and successful entrepreneur whose intelligence and skill continue to intimidate me, well into my forties.

The general theme of the panel was the future: the future of media, the future of community, the future of entrepreneurship. I cracked a few jokes while Joe said meaningful things that people scribbled into their notebooks. I even wrote one of his quotes down for future reference — it was a piece of advice about entrepreneurship: 1. You can do it. 2. It will be very hard.

Sure enough, that advice held true for the publication of We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm. Here are a handful of things I learned about self-publishing over the past 17 months:

  • There are always unprepared-for hidden costs and expenses: surprises, needs, and changes that my budget could in no way have anticipated.
  • When you stop working, the work stops. Each time I took a “sanity day” away from the book, everything came to a halt. The good news about D.I.Y. is that it’s all you! The bad news is that it’s all on you! There were plenty of nights where spending three hours to transcribe a 60-minute interview felt like a voluntary waterboarding. I forced myself to suck it up and power through, however, each and every time. I’m glad I did.
  • People still buy paperbacks. Two weeks in, and We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm purchases are about 4:1, paperback to Nook, Kindle, and iBookstore versions combined.
  • Formatting a book is a painstaking affair. One thing I learned from my last book is that the task of building the interior pages has to be done by a professional. I recruited a fabulous designer to work on the paperback version of the book, and felt guilty every time I sent a revision back to her. Of course, once the paperback formatting was finished, we had to start building out the e-book versions.
  • The Apple iBookstore takes a comparative eternity to approve e-books. Nook and Kindle versions were up within 24 hours of submission; iTunes had their version up after seven long days.
  • The post office would rather that you hand-deliver your packages. I got read the riot act for bringing in a round of Kickstarter backer mailings to an otherwise-empty post office. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?” I was asked. “No, it’s my first time,” I said. “Next time, we’d appreciate a call so that we can prepare for this.” To repeat: the post office was empty.
  • Not everyone in the media takes conducting interviews as seriously as I’d like to believe I do. My favorite comments from a recent interview: “I haven’t looked at the book yet,” and “were you ever on the air at Q101?” A visit to the book’s Amazon page would have been more helpful than just “winging” the entire interview.

Another thing I learned, which I already knew, was that working at Q101 was a great and meaningful opportunity.  There were times when it was hard to put that into perspective; because, like anyone, I had bad days at the office. We all have those moments — Work sucks. The hours suck. The boss is a jerk. Working on the book reminded me of what a sweet gig I had. I got to work with some very smart, creative, and funny people, and had a stunning amount of freedom to do what I wanted to on the air. Beyond that, I was fortunate to have worked at Q101 during one of the last eras in history when music radio made a cultural impact.

I probably should have put that last paragraph in the book. Oh, well.

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