Houston, We Have a Problem

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…

Your Turn:

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.


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