5 Hurdles Independent Ebook Authors Must Overcome

About a year ago, I decided to write a book. I couldn’t find many books covering the fundamentals of my field, product management…so I was excited about the prospect of writing my own book, titled “Product Management for Startups”. I had the vision of the entire book in my head, the topics I’d cover, and even charted a systematic approach to covering every subject in a logical way. I outlined the entire book, breaking down each chapter and section. I put about a month of work into it…and then I stopped. The passion just fizzled out, and then I moved on to other things. How did I go from passion…to completely giving up?

Well, in hindsight…I realized I ran into 5 big hurdles in my book writing process, several technical hurdles and several psychological hurdles. It’s really no excuse, but all these barriers combined created a lot of procrastination, self-doubt, and just paralyzed my writing process. Although I can’t offer solutions to these hurdles in this blog post, I thought it would still be useful to first identify them…and then perhaps address each in more detail in future articles. I’d love to hear if you agree, disagree, or experienced hurdles of your own.

Hurdle 1 : Choosing The Right Book Platform

This hurdle quickly drew me into the abyss of researching the complex platform idiosyncrasies of the 3 big ebook players: Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Each platform has their required ebook formats, nuanced author royalty plans, and general rules you must follow to be part of their platform. Some authors decide to focus their energies exclusively with Kindle, while other author’s opt to boycott Kindle for its nefarious royalty splits. Decisions, decisions.

Perhaps this research was just busywork, but someone looking to publish an ebook on these platforms must invariably understand them in order to decide how to work with them.

Hurdle 2 : Sell it Myself?

I also noticed a recurring trend of authors bypassing “The Big 3” altogether…and just independently selling and distributing their ebook on their own website. There are countless success stories of authors building an audience on their own site and just selling their PDF book there…without the reader ever leaving their site.

Another benefit is, let’s say you want to charge a relatively high price for your ebook, say $50. Kindle and Nook actually penalizes you for this pricing strategy. Their target price is $2.99 – $9.99 per book, and anything outside of that greatly reduces your royalty earnings. By selling the book yourself, you can set your book at any price you dream of, and you won’t have to split profits with anyone.

Finally, authors deciding to sell their ebook themselves generally like the idea of owning their audience. By selling direct to the reader, they know every reader who purchases, and can usually keep the readers’ contact info for future communications. That can come in really handy for book updates…and even for future book releases. With Amazon, Apple, and Barnses & Noble…you have no idea who your readers are. Of course with selling your own book, you have some technical work cut out for you…like setting up your own website, implementing some kind of shopping cart, and payment processing. This is a huge learning curve to most authors…and another distraction to actually writing and releasing a book.

Hurdle 3 : Learning The Ebook Authoring Tools

After deciding where to sell the book in hurdle 1 & 2, I now have to learn how to actually produce the digital book for that platform. Depending on which platform I decided on…or perhaps all of them…I’d have to find and learn the software to produce the correct ebook format. A quick look at wikipedia, there are 29 ebook formats out there…but the main ones are EPUB, iBook, mobi/azw3, and PDF.

In figuring out how to actually produce the book file, I found 3 main options. Option 1, use the proprietary software provided by each of the platforms. Option 2, use a 3rd party software that can output a book for multiple platforms. Option 3, find a service vendor that can just take your content and produce your ebook for you for the various platforms. Each option has their pros and cons…and what started as a fun project now feels a bit technically overwhelming.

Hurdle 4 : Writer’s Block

Let’s say you’ve waded through the technical hurdles, and you’ve armed yourself with ebook knowledge and maybe even some new technical skills. Now comes to the hard part…writing the content. The age-old problem still exists…writer’s block. There’s all sorts of psychological mind games that happens during writer’s block. Questions of self doubt arises, “do people care about this subject?”, “is this content any good?”, “will readers find value in any of this?”.

If you think about it, books are an interesting thing. They’re meant to have a beginning and an end…and you’re meant to release it all at once, everything tied up in a neat little bow. It’s almost impossible to pace your writing milestones and release a book in small chunks. This is very different than the world of blogging, where you can publish a short article, validate your  ideas…and if no one is really interested, change course and write about something else…or better yet, pursue subjects your readers engage in. In blogging, you write in short spurts and learn from reader interaction to give you more material to write about. In the traditional world of book publishing, there’s no good way to release a partial book first…get feedback from readers…and release more chapters. In traditional book publishing…writer’s block kills books.

Hurdle 5 : No Accountability

Writing by yourself is often a lonely journey. Even with writing groups and such, at the end of the day, most  authors just write books by themselves…with the author credit just going to one person. In so many other seemingly solo disciplines…from cycling, to entrepreneurship, to screenwriting…they are generally done in teams or partnerships at the professional level. There’s a reason for this. Doing something very challenging alone will often lead to failure.

Unfortunately, I learned this first-hand. Writing with no co-authors and no collaborators for my book…I quickly realized the pitfalls. The first is the lack of accountability. When doing something with a team, you have people relying on you and prodding you to make progress. Left to my own devices, it was really easy to fall into procrastination and giving up. Secondly, I didn’t have a sounding board for my ideas. Writing alone, I was often in my own head…not knowing if my concepts and words would resound with an audience. Everytime I did try to get feedback…it consumed time to logistically get the feedback, since there wasn’t 1 “go to” partner to bounce ideas off. Lastly, I faced a lot of self-doubt in tackling subjects I didn’t have complete mastery over. There were several topics I wanted to cover in my book that needed extensive research…which a collaborator could have easily filled in those knowledge gaps.

Stay Tuned

As I mentioned earlier…this article doesn’t present any solutions to these 5 hurdles. I merely wanted to start this blog off by being transparent about my own journey in writing a book…and failing.

As this blog progresses and as we build out our platform, Grokks…we’re going to continue to share pain-points authors face, while also sharing the solutions we’re building to create the simplest platform for independent authors to write and sell their instructional books.

I’d love to hear about your writing experiences, and if you found these hurdles relatable at all.