In 1975, Junko Tabei became the first woman to climb Mount Everest. She was considered a frail child, but nevertheless she began mountain climbing at the age of ten, going on a class climbing trip to Mount Nasu. Although she was interested in doing more climbing, her family did not have enough money for such an expensive hobby. Junko made only a few climbs during her high school years. But the idea of climbing took hold of her.
After graduation, once again she returned to her passion. She joined men’s climbing clubs in Japan. While some men welcomed her as a fellow climber, others questioned her motives for pursuing a typically male-dominated sport. Nonetheless, she learned the skills and built her stamina. Soon she climbed all major peaks in Japan, including Mount Fuji.
Seven years later, in 1969, she established women’s only Mountaineering Club. Her women-only team successfully climbed many mountains in Nepal including formidable Annapurna.
Yet it took her another six-years to lead an expedition to Mount Everest. In that expedition, when her team was camping at 6,300 meters, an avalanche struck. Junko and four of her fellow climbers got buried under the snow. Tabei lost consciousness until sherpa guides dug her out. Even that mishap didn’t stop her. She continued climbing and reached the top.
In a way, Authorpreneurship is like mountaineering.
The idea to make a living with your writing takes hold of you. You become desperate to write. You write some articles, publish some stories and even start a blog. But what you really want to do is write bestselling books. That would be equivalent to planning your own Mout Everest expedition. It will take you years to get to that stage. Like mountaineering, authorpreneurship demands a lot of preparation.
What is Authorpreneurship.
If you are not familiar with the term, don’t fret. I invented it. It stands for all those twenty-first-century writers who build themselves a significant career as authors using online connectivity and self-publishing.
In less than twenty years, the internet has changed the publishing world forever. It is another one of Gutenberg-moment-in-the-history-of-mankind. Gutenberg’s printing press gave people the opportunity to publish their thoughts and ideas on paper. Now the Internet has given us the opportunity to the same but digitally.
Gutenberg’s invention changed the writing world. For six hundred years authors thrived on Gutenberg’s invention. But they faced many hurdles. There were publishes who acted as gatekeepers and decided what will get published. There distributors whose services were needed to promote the books and get them available in the bookstores. Only a limited number of people bought books and there were only a handful of bookstores.
Today we are on the brink of another change. Anyone can publish their work. No publishers or distributors are required. The number of readers has swelled beyond comprehension and physical bookstores are not needed. But there are new hurdles. Authors not only need to write their books but need to promote them too. You don’t need to share your proceeds with anyone but need to do all the work yourself too.
You need to establish yourselves as authorpreneure.
And that is where mountaineering analogy comes handy. Although authorpreneurship is not as hard as mountaineering and will certainly not take that long, you will have to follow the same strategy as Junko Tabei.
And the Strategy is:
1. Learn the skills
2. Build the stamina and
3. Conquer the small hills first.
1. Learn the skills
To make money from writing you need to be able to write the kind of stuff that the people are willing to pay money for. That means subject matter as well as quality. It takes years to learn the art and craft of writing. The good news is that it can be learned. It took Junko Tabei six years to learn basic mountaineering skills after joining climbing clubs. You need to give yourself the same amount of time.
In addition to learning the art and craft of writing, you will also need to build a following that likes your work and wants to devour every word you write. Although social media has made it easy to build a following, it still takes time. You don’t need millions. 1000 true followers will do (Thanks to Kevin Kelly who actually managed to apply mathematics to a vague concept and give us a concrete number).
Social media has many advantages to attract a huge following, you don’t need just anyone to follow you. You need to select your target audience very carefully. People who follow anybody keep changing their loyalty. But your true followers like your writing and more importantly like you. Your writing draws them in, your personality keeps them there. Your personality and everything that comes with it, your thoughts, your insights, and your life become your brand. And build a brand requires skill and stamina.
2. Build the Stamina
You are going to need the stamina more than anything else. You will be writing for hours at stretch, sometimes weeks and months at stretch and will have several projects going at the same time. Think of how much stamina Junko would have needed to climb Annapurna and other Napalese peaks before even attempting Mount Everest.
And then there will be avalanches. The zooming deadlines. The sick team members and broken bones. You can’t put your hands up in the air and shout, “Enough! I want to go back.” The only way back is by climbing down. You might as well go all the way up. And you are going to need stamina for that.
3. Conquer the small hills first
That is what the new writers don’t get. They want to write the very best book in the very first attempt. You wouldn’t even ask Junko why didn’t she climb Everest first and then Annapurna and other Himalayan peaks. The question is so stupid that you would want to make a fool of yourself by asking it. But then you want to do it yourself.
Climb the small hills first. Write short stories, a novella maybe. Write in online magazines and maybe newspapers if they like your work. Don’t go for Everest in the beginning. Leave it for later when you have developed the skills and built the stamina.
Why do I need to do all this. Why can’t I just write my book and be done with it.
You can if you want to go the traditional publication way. But be prepared for lots of work that will be needed to send your manuscript to hundreds of publishers and collecting rejection slips. Many won’t even bother to read your manuscript if it doesn’t meet their formatting requirement. Publishers get so many manuscripts that they look for the tiniest of reason to reject them.
Traditional publishing is dying a slow death anyway. Online competition is killing them just like it has killed the newspaper industry. The publishers usually don’t recover any money from 80% of books they publish. That is the reason they want to stick with the known authors so that they can recover the cost of printing all those unsuccessful books and make a bit of money on top of that. It makes business sense.
Even if, with the strength of your writing you do manage to find a publisher to publish your book, you still will be expected to market your book. The responsibility of marketing your book doesn’t lie with just your publisher anymore.
Why I can’t I go Traditional publishing way.
The first thing a publisher would look for, after being impressed with your writing, is how big is your email list. Bigger your email list, more are the chances of making sales to your existing followers. That brings us back to authorpreneurship. The whole aim of authorpreneurship is to stay in touch with people who like and enjoy your work. That too with the thing you enjoy doing – writing.
You may not be able to make a career by writing just books but you certainly can make a career by writing books and articles.
I am no JK Rowlings, will I still be able to make a living from my writing.
You don’t need to be JK Rowling to be successful these days. JK Rolling was talented but also lucky. She chose the traditional publishing route to publish her books. And you are right, not everyone can have her’s kind of luck. But keep in mind she had to sell millions of copies of her books to get the kind of commission she did. Even with her kind of success, she was not making more than 15-20% of the retail price of each book (a very generous guess). With self-publishing, you get to keep 100% of the proceeds.
For your journey from a writer to an author, you can either follow the “Rowling Approach” or the “Junko Approach”. One needs luck other needs preparation. The choice is yours.