Today marks the 46th anniversary of the launch of the infamous Apollo 13 mission to the moon. Two days after the launch an oxygen tank exploded jeopardizing the lives of the astronauts and scrapping the mission. Their ingenious solutions and subsequent safe return on April 17 were later portrayed in the award winning 1995 film “Apollo 13.”
I couldn’t help but think that the event is an apt analogy of the publishing experience. Granted, it is not a perfect comparison, but stick with it for a moment.
The astronauts spent years learning their craft. They studied, trained, and were chosen to for the task. In a similar way a writer is picked as the best-of-the-best, often after many years of working at the craft.
The author is quite excited about their book launch. They and their publisher work to get as much media attention as possible, hoping to attract buyers and readers.
All is well…until it isn’t. The unexpected happens. For Apollo 13 it was an oxygen tank explosion, for an author? What if one of the following things happened during your launch?
Your book is scheduled for release on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (aka 9/11)
You flew to a major market for a TV interview and was bumped from the show because Michael Jackson died.
Your publisher insisted that November 6, 2012 was the perfect time to release your book. “The election will be over that day,” they said. Unfortunately the publisher was wrong and no one in the media will select you as a guest on their show. The media wanted to talk about politics and your book was not about politics.
You spent hours putting together a “launch party” to have everyone buy your book on Amazon on the same day, “Launch Day.” The day arrives and hundreds are poised at their computer to click “buy.” The publisher decides, without telling you, to make your e-book FREE on “Launch Day.” Tens of thousands of dollars in revenue is lost.
A major Big Box retailer buys 8,000 copies of your book. (Hooray!) Six months later they returned all 8,000 books to your publisher, with the boxes unopened. They “forgot” to put it into their inventory and now it is too late, another book has taken the space.
Every one of these examples are real. I know these writers who experienced the unexpected.
The good news is that, like the astronauts, these authors are professionals. They knuckled down and worked within the unexpected. Despite a problematic book launch, they didn’t stop. Each one continued to write and subsequently published another book.
The other day I was talking to a client about all the things that went wrong during the editing and publication of their last book. I remarked, “A book is never a perfect or ideal process. We’d like to believe it will be, but something, somewhere, seems to always go wrong.” If there isn’t any trouble … then something must be wrong, we just can’t see it!
It is a bit like life in general. We have idealistic expectations and seem surprised when life throws us a curve. As the saying goes, “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” (attributed to Zig Ziglar)
Before you go away depressed after reading this…realize that part of the journey to publishing success is learning about the potential challenges ahead of time. And thus being prepared. Talking about the negative things that happen is for a positive reason. We could write about the joy of a brilliant editor, the gasp of delight when seeing the beautiful book cover for the first time, the stellar reviews that are posted by readers, the letters of changed lives from readers, and the oodles of cash that flows into your bank account. But then one might think I’m being unrealistic…
Those of you with publishing experience (either traditional or Indie), tell us, without naming names, of the one or two things that went “wrong” with the publishing of your book.
“It there isn’t a problem”
Refreshing to know all of us can make a mistake.
Thank you for the heads-up. The Zig Ziglar quote is one my brother uses a lot, which I sometimes call ‘faith-less.’ However, few experiences have taught me that things do not happen as we expect them to.
BTW, I think I’m going to get an ‘oodles’ of something pleasant today. I saw the word for the first time ten minutes before finding it in a post by another agency. I had just finished smiling at the coincidence when I saw it here again. Oodles!!!
My favorite scene in that movie is where the scientists are gathered in a room, someone dumps a box-load of items (things that can be found on the capsule) on a table, and tells them to fit a square peg into a round hole (or something like that). I would have loved to have been in that room! It shows the ingenuity and determination of all involved to save the men floating aimlessly in space. Heroes!
I’m also a sucker for a good problem-solving puzzle. A creative author can prepare herself for the possibilities. And if she is a fiction author, she can later turn it into an intriguing novel.
I loved that scene too, Connie!
I waited months for my book to be accepted (highly acclaimed) by a major publisher. Most of the publishers non-reacted with a passive rejection–no word even after my brilliant agent stayed in touch. But one rejected by saying the villain wasn’t believable enough. And he was right! That rejection meant something. I’m working on the villain and hope to rescue the novel.
When my husband was a senior VP of Citibank’s International Division, a young man said he supposed all his hundred million dollar deals were amazing successes, planned and executed with precision. He responded that every one threatened to blow apart down to the last minute before signing. Every deal was like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Publishing doesn’t have a corner on this market!
Great post! I think agents see more author disappointment than anyone else in the publishing industry. You’re often the ones delivering the bad news.
As writers, we really need to be prepared for the unexpected detours and sudden breakdowns on our journey to publication and beyond.
If we’re prepared then we can look at each obstacle as a challenge to overcome instead of being defeated by the process.
I don’t have any experience with this subject with regard to publishing, but as someone who has tried and failed to get three kids out the door on time on Sunday morning hundreds of times, I can relate. Something ALWAYS goes wrong, you just never know what it’s going to be until it’s too late!
I recently saw a guest host on TV who was excited about getting a copy of his new book. This was not an advanced copy, but the ones that were sent to the stores. One bit of final proofreading with the printer apparently did not occur. His name, big & bold, on the front cover was spelled wrong. Ouch!
Finding out 6 months after publication that your book was never distributed. The publisher had been in “negotiations” the entire time. And, a 6 month old book was too old for the new distributor to care about. I personally sold over 1,000 copies, but that didn’t solve the lack of distribution.
Your words fit for life, Steve. We should expect the unexpected in life. When I look back at the big turning points in my own life, they often came after “unexpected” paid a visit and twisted my path around.
Being able to work within the unexpected is such a wise suggestion. If we don’t, we’ll be overcome by it. When we figure out how to work within it, we grow and learn.
“Apollo13” is one of my all-time favorite movies!
This was so fun to read, Steve. That’s crazy that all those things happened! With my first book I set up “shipping headquarters” in the garage. Unfortunately, I was a self-published author with an absolute zero platform. Needless to say, I didn’t get much of a chance to use shipping headquarters! Thankfully, things are going better now after my fourth book. 🙂
I set everything up for a brick and mortar signing at a well known chain bookstore to launch my 3rd book in a series. When I got to the table, I found 5 books of the 2nd in the series, and was told that the store order for the 3rd in the series had never arrived. And, it never did. Ever. Someone had failed to order it.
My husband was becoming increasingly ill as by release date approached. He was admitted to the hospital the day before launch date. He died a couple weeks later.
My book sales have been dismal, and I’ve had limited energy to do much to change things.
Although I can never recreate a “good” launch for my first published book, I’m now working to sell what books I can, and writing again. I would never trade one moment of time with my husband for any amount of book sales!
I am so sorry to hear of your tragedy. May God grant you the full measure of His peace.
The constant delays of a publisher frustrated the leader of a large group interested in our title. In the end he wrote a competitive book and publish it himself.
Steve, believe it or not, I found your comments encouraging! Thanks for posting “Houston, we have a problem!”
My wish has remained a wish for these last twenty years. I hope Christian publishers will come to my aid because I’m in need of them. Can’t say more at this moment.