I became a published author in 2002, three months before Jerry died, when my book How Much is Enough? came out under the imprint of Basic Books, a division of the Perseus Book Group. Getting Basic Books as my publisher was a big win; they have an impressive roster of authors — this from their web site:
“Since its founding in 1952, Basic Books has shaped public debate by publishing award-winning books in history, science, sociology, psychology, politics, and current affairs. Basic’s list of influential authors includes Stephon Alexander, Isaac Asimov, Edward Baptist, H.W. Brands, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Iris Chang, George Church, Niall Ferguson, Richard Feynman, Richard Florida, Martin Ford, Howard Gardner, Victor Davis Hanson, Jonathan Haidt, Judith Herman, Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Hofstadter, Leszek Kolakowski, Kevin Kruse, Lawrence Lessig, Claude Levi-Strauss, Alice Miller, Robert Nozick, Steven Pinker, Samantha Power, Diane Ravitch, Eugene Rogan, Thomas Sowell, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Eric Topol, Sherry Turkle, Timothy Snyder, Nicholas Stargardt, Michael Walzer, George Weigel, Bee Wilson, James Q. Wilson, Richard Wrangham, Irvin Yalom, and Shing-Tung Yau. Basic Books is an imprint of Perseus Books, a Hachette Book Group company.”
You only get one swing at bat with a publisher like this, and my book fell short of being the breakout winner they’d hoped for — the more intellectual competitor for the popular work by Suzy Orman. It wasn’t for lack of effort on either side: they gave me a big advance, assigned me a PR person, and sent me on a coast to coast book tour. I worked hard on my own, supplementing their PR efforts with a firm I hired, and I worked my heart out in every interview and appearance. The book sold about 20% better than most first books, but that wasn’t a big enough success. That said, my consulting career, which I began in 2004 after finally extricating myself from the financial planning business, was greatly enhanced by my being a published author.
My self-esteem was enhanced too. Getting an A-list publisher for my book reinforced the comment of an early editor who read my work and pronounced me a fine writer.
In 2008, the benchmark date for my “what a difference a decade makes”, I was still getting consulting gigs related to How Much is Enough?, which kept book sales going at a modest level. Some were with trendy publications like Fast Company, which held conferences at which I was a speaker and workshop leader, and some were with church-related groups interested in stewardship. I was featured in a lot of national business publications, like Fortune magazine, and had my 15 seconds of fame.
Oddly enough, having a book fall short of hoped for sales made it harder to get a commercial publisher for my memoir Good Daughter, Good Mother, which I self-published in 2016. The era when a publisher would hold on to a promising talent and nurture her books until they caught on is long past. I got the memoir out into the reading world through my own efforts, by having friends host book parties. Some were as small as five; the largest was about 40 people, both men and women. I have to say these book parties were a lot more satisfying and engaging than the author appearances at national chains like Barnes & Noble, which I’d done for the first book. A lot of people who show up at those are looking for free coffee, a place to get out of the rain, and a way to kill time. They are a hard audience, and most of them don’t buy the book anyway.
Now, in 2018, with two books under my belt and still available on Amazon, I feel comfortable introducing myself as a retired financial entrepreneur and an author. I’m really proud of the “author” part, although it wasn’t the way I made my living. I would have truly been the starving artist living as bag lady if I’d relied on book sales to fund my retirement.
Tomorrow: changes in my social life.