Until the last four years of my forty-two-year working life, I was focused one-hundred percent on the tasks at hand―then something happened. I began losing interest in work while developing a strong interest in spending time doing the things that really mattered to me. This is not unusual, and, in fact, is probably a heathy step in our mental transition to the next phase of our life. I believe I was unconsciously laying the ground work for my upcoming retirement.
Eventually, we all have to consider a very important question―what am I going to do once I retire? One of my co-workers declared that he didn’t plan to ever retire because, “I wouldn’t know what to do.” A statement that I found absolutely incomprehensible to say the least.
I’ve always been the type person who would be working overtime while sitting in an empty room with nothing to do. If I weren’t juggling multiple assignments and totally stressed out, I would be concerned that I was slipping into what I feared the most―being underemployed and bored―which fortunately never happened.
While sitting at my desk aware of my ever-growing desire to retire, I began preparing a list of the projects I planned to do once I was no longer working. In no time I recorded over a hundred items. Once I felt confident that I would be able to fill my golden years productively, I regained my work ethic and waited impatiently for the day I would walk out of the Pentagon for last time.
When that blessed day came, I started working on my list of retirement projects. Fourteen years later, and the list of projects continues to grow as I seem to be adding more items than I delete. I am happiest when working on something even though it causes me stress. Why? Because I want to finish it as quickly as possible and move on to the next project. Will the day ever come when I can sit back and not work and not feel guilty?
After we settled into our new Florida home and having already completed priority projects such as creating booklets commemorating the lives of my parents and finally nailing down Timmes genealogy, I began writing a book. I knew nothing about writing or publishing, but how hard could it be? I wanted to write about a topic that has fascinated me for years―ancient Roman history with emphasis on her fighting legions.
https://thewritepractice.com/write-a-book-now/ This eleven-paragraph booklet is short and
makes its case. Of the eleven,
number six resonated with me.
“6. To leave a legacy.
We live short lives. Fleeting moments and breaths are all we have. Strangely, though, we have found a way to immortalize ourselves and our stories. We write them down.
“The greatest way to leave a mark on the world is to leave behind a legacy of stories. When you write a book, you are giving yourself and your words the opportunity to last longer than your own life.”
My interest in all things Roman dates back to 1960 when I was a young PFC on active duty with the U.S. Army. My days were filled with soldiering, but my evenings were spent at the Post Library soaking up page upon page of tramping across Spain with Scipio and fighting endless battles with Caesar in Gaul. A spark of interest in Roman history was struck in those wooden barracks and has brightened and endured for more than sixty years.
Ancient Rome is a gripping and mesmerizing subject to scholars, collectors, reenactors, readers, and the simply curious. Roman history holds many of us in an embrace of pure enchantment, whether reading about its origin as a miniscule kingdom in 753 BC or its transformation into a Republic in 387 BC or status as a world-class Empire by 130 AD.
But more than simply acquiring knowledge about Roman history, I wanted to experience the day-to-day life of a Roman Legionaire and his Commander. What was it like to carry his equipment, to drill endlessly, and to hear and feel the sights and sounds of the ancient battlefield?
Today, there are many books available that put the reader on the battlefield, but they don’t do it in a way that satisfied me. I wanted to be a part of planning the battles and fighting as a lowly foot soldier. So, I began to write my first book―Legion XVII: Roman Legion at War. I was writing for the pure joy of telling a story the way I envisioned it happening. Publishing it was a secondary consideration. When I completed the three-year writing and editing project, I began to consider publishing it. Btw, a useful book to have when you’re writing is David Grambs and Ellen S. Levin, The Describer’s Dictionary, W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Three ways to publish:
· Major publishing company,
· Independent (Indie) publishers,
I knew I wouldn’t be able to publish with one of the five major publishing companies such as Penguin/Random House or Simon and Schuster, so I looked up independent, or Indie, publishing companies” and learned there are at least thirty-six of them. They are the small businesses of the publishing world: they’re like chic local boutiques compared to Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. For more, about traditional publishing, see
Indie publishing is the term used to describe the process of bringing a book to publication without using one of the large publisher companies. Note: Authors may not submit book proposals directly to the big publishers like Harper Collins, but rather must go through a literary agent. Similarly, most, but not all, Indie publishers require that the author submit a book proposal to a literary agent who will then submit it to one of the thirty-six Indie publishing companies―if the agent considers it worthwhile. For more, read https://blog.reedsy.com/independent-publishers/
Seems to me there’s not a lot of difference between a big publishing company and an Indie from an author’s point of view―find a literary agent willing to take your book who will then try to convince a publisher to take it. One bright spot is that if a traditional or Indie publisher takes your book, they design the cover. One less item to worry about and I’ve read that the author doesn’t even have a say on the cover. It’s too important for an amateur to mess up.
The third method to get a book published is by using the services of a self-publishing company (or publishing platform) that enables authors to publish books through the use of technology ―primarily E-books and paperbacks-on-demand. They do not require the use of literary agents or traditional or Indie publishing companies. Best of all, there is no charge to the author. The self-publishing company gets paid by taking a small percentage of the price of the book when sold. There is no upfront money and if the book doesn’t sell, the self-publishing company doesn’t get paid.
Here are the 12 best self-publishing companies:
· Kindle Direct Publishing
· Barnes & Noble Press
· Apple Books
· Self-Publishing School
· Publish Drive
I chose Smashwords. Each of the above companies has a style guide that authors must strictly follow when writing their book or Smahswords' ‘technology’ screening process will reject the book until the author fixes the problems. The style guide is like the Turabian’s guide for footnotes, which some of you may remember. It’s now called Turabian/Chicago Style. https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/52/1/smashwords-style-guide
When the author has finished writing the book, he/she loads the cover, designed by the author, and manuscript onto the company’s “meatgrinder” which electronically crawls through it to see if it’s in compliance with the style guide. If it is, the company then becomes a distributer of your e-book and automatically sends it to Apple, Barnes & Noble, libraries, and Kobo, etc. It is the authors responsibility to load his/her book separately onto Amazon books, which is where most sales occur. If Smashwords’ ‘meatgrinder’ accepts your book, so will Amazon.
In mid-2018, the Amazon bookstore was home to more than 6-million e-books, and according to Kobo, their store includes more than 5 million e-books and audiobooks.
I self-published five books, so it is possible, but I plan to seek a literary agent for the sixth and see what happens. Like the first book, this last one also took three years to write and have it edited. I learned a hard lesson that authors don’t see their own mistakes and hired a professional. A month ago, I submitted it to literary agent, not expecting it to be accepted, and I wasn’t wrong.
“Your odds of getting a literary agent are 1 in 6,000. That does NOT mean 1 out of every 6,000 authors who try to get an agent will make it, and the other 5,999 will fail. It means that the best book agents can get as many as 1,500 queries per month, and they sometimes only offer to represent approximately 6 new clients per year.…If a literary agent only offers to represent 6 new writers per year, that’s one every two months. Or, the odds of getting a literary agent in that scenario are 1 in 3,000.”
Once your book is written, edited, and you decide to try for a literary agent, there is one more hurdle to jump―writing the book proposal. Each individual agent wants the proposal in his or her own personal format. There is no such thing as one-size-fit-all.
Here are some of the questions the author may be asked to answer in the proposal:
· In a single sentence, state your purpose for writing this novel.
· Write a forty-word sentence that summarizes the book.
· Write a seventy-five-word description of the book for its back cover.
· How will the reader be changed for having read it?
· Write a half page to one page overview of your book.
· Tell why your book is distinctive-who will read it.
· Describe your qualifications to write on this topic.
· In twenty-five words or less tell the target reader why to buy your book.
· Describe potential marketing channels to which you have access.
· Submit the first three chapters double spaced, 12-font.
· Submit three single spaced pages that present the entire story.
Here is what one literary agent is looking for in a book proposal. https://stevelaube.com/guidelines/
Answering these questions is time consuming and can feel like you’re writing another book. And it has to be done well. This is your job interview. The proposal is your only chance to convince an agent to accept your book. I’m amazed that so many authors spend the time to go through the process. Nonetheless, despite the many challenges, it’s an exciting and fun process.
One last very important item―I highlighted “potential marketing channels,” above, for a good reason. Another term for potential marketing channels is “platform.” Publishers rely heavily on you to sell your book through your platform. One literary agent said he hates rejecting great books because the author has a weak platform. The publisher wants to know how many people you influence through Instagram, Twitter, Meta, and YouTube. Are you a speaker at literary conferences, teach online classes, organize in-person events or signings, participate on private message boards, a guest at book clubs, place short stories in journals, etc? For most of us, developing a credible platform is an insurmountable challenge. It’s a full-time job.
Several literary agent state up front not to submit a book proposal unless you have a strong platform. In response to a question on Quora, https://www.quora.com/Can-you-get-published-writing-fiction-without-an-author-platform, one respondent answered, “The only way an agent will take on your book is… [if he/she] thinks you and your book is so startling[ly] marketable that they are willing to take a chance….” The message is to write a great book, but also have a strong platform or don’t bother. I don’t have a great book and I have no platform, but what have I got to lose by trying?
In my best British accent―have a go at it.