To be an excellent writer is a true craft; an art that many only hope to master one day. For me, writing is a constant chore (I do enjoy it!) and I’m constantly envious of those that just have “it“. One blogger/writer who, in my humble opinion, has “it” is a man named J.D. Roth. [I have to take a quick break to give a shout out to my man Les O'Dell who is co-authoring my book. Les has "it", too. Another man to be jealous of ] J.D. is the creator and founder of Get Rich Slowly which is one of the most recognized personal finance blogs, being nominated by Money Magazine as one of the “best money blogs” on more than one occasion. Recently, J.D. took the plunge and added the title “published author” to his resume with his inaugural book release Your Money: The Missing Manual. Not only is J.D. an awesome writer, but he’s also one cool and generous dude. He graciously forwarded me a copy of his book and I’ve enjoyed pouring through it and learning some neat tips along the way. J.D. took some time away to answer a few questions for me and I’m excited to share.
1 Most personal finance blogs begin with a journey, and the blogger shares what they have learned through their journey which you’ve an awesome job on GRS. Out of curiosity, in writing the book, is there anything else that you have learned in the personal finance realm through your book writing journey?
I *did* learn a lot about personal finance through writing Your Money: The Missing Manual. I’m not sure most of it is interesting, though. Mainly, I was forced to dig in and learn the details about things like insurance and retirement accounts, and so on. I also had to find *actual* stats about various claims (like what the average American spends on housing, for example). I found it very frustrating that there are often contradictory sets of data out there. If you want to make a claim, you can find numbers to support it. So how are we to know what’s right?
The biggest thing I learned in writing the book, however, is that money *does* have an effect on happiness. Like many people, I’ve always believed that this isn’t the case. In fact, I’ve written a lot at Get Rich Slowly about how money and happiness aren’t related. Oops. Turns out I was wrong. In fact, I had to re-write the entire first chapter after my research into happiness revealed there’s absolutely a clear connection between the financial well-being and personal well-being: People in wealthier countries tend to be happier, and wealthier individuals within a country tend to be happier, too. (But there’s an important caveat: Money buys the most happiness when people are poorest. If you earn $20,000 a year and get a $10,000 windfall, it’s going to contribute a lot to your well-being. But if you earn $200,000 a year and get that same $10,000 windfall, it’s not going to mean nearly as much.) Once you have the basics in life (and maybe a few luxuries), more money does increase your happiness, but not by as much as you’d expect.
2 Having a blog that has been around for over four years, where you have written hundreds of articles, what was most challenging of the book writing experience versus the blog.
The most noticeable difference was in length. Most of my blog posts are between 1000 and 2000 words. They take an hour to write and maybe a couple of more hours to edit. I can write one or two of these each day for weeks or months at a time. But writing a book is much different. My chapters were between 10,000 and 12,000 words, and each one took a week to write. (Plus there was more editing at the end of the process.) It was much more difficult to develop a cohesive chapter than it is to write a tight blog post. The analogy I use all the time is: Writing a blog is like sprinting every day, and writing a book is like running a marathon. Turns out, I’m a sprinter, not a long-distance runner. Sure, I can do the long-distance stuff, but it’s not what I excel at.
One other challenging aspect was balancing the needs of my existing blog readers with those of folks who will pick up the book without ever having heard of Get Rich Slowly. I needed to have a few bits and pieces that my readers could relate to, but not too many. (Turns out I probably erred too much on the side of caution; existing readers wanted more of J.D. in the book.) Plus there was the question of how much material to re-use from the blog. It doesn’t make sense to re-invent the wheel, right? In the end, very little was re-used wholesale. Instead, I’d try to take an existing article (on grocery shopping, for instance) and then re-write it for use in the book — taking out some stuff and adding other material. I think I did a great job of not making the book just a blogdump.
3 This is somewhat of a self-serving question, but for someone that is looking to write a book, what are three things that completely surprised you about the book-writing process that every new or wanna be author should know.
This is a minefield, so I’m going to try to tread carefully.
I’d say that my number one frustration — and this seems to be true of many first-time blog-to-book authors — was with the entrenched “system” my publisher had. O’Reilly is great, and I’m glad to have worked with them, but like all publishers, they have a way of doing things, and it’s sometimes tough for them to think outside of the box. (I know I’m being vague here, but I don’t want to make anyone cranky.) I feel like the book could have been much, much better if we’d had more than four months to produce it. And I feel like we could have reached many more readers if we’d had some sort of co-ordinated marketing plan that began *before* the book was on store shelves. So, my number one warning to potential writers is to be prepared to have your great expectations slammed into the brick wall of publishing reality. (Again, I’ve heard this warning from many authors. Fortunately, I heard these warnings before I started working on my book, so I was ready for a lot of the frustration.)
Second, I was very surprised at just how taxing the book-writing process was for me. As I mentioned earlier, I write every day. I enjoy it, and I think I’m good at it. I expected writing a book to be a piece of cake. Hahahahaha. It turns out that it’s actually a stressful experience, full of deadlines and quick decisions. I gained 20 pounds in the four months it took to write the book, and it was all from stress eating.
Finally, I think authors have got to realize that their book isn’t going to sell itself. To be successful, *you* must take responsibility for promoting it. I’ve done an okay job at it, I think — maybe a grade of B or B-. Somebody like Ramit gets an A+, though. That man is a self-promotion machine (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). I just can’t do that. It’s not who I am. I wish it were, though, because it would help me sell books. So, new authors have to realize that writing a book is only part of the battle; after that, you still have to sell the damn thing.
4 Having one book under your belt, do you foresee a second book in your future?
After my complaints in the last question, you might think my answer would be, “No way!” But actually, I *do* see another book in the future. I’d be happy to work on a “Money Hacks” book with O’Reilly, if that were something they were interested in and thought would sell. Plus, I’ve been approached by a much larger publisher to do a “Get Rich Slowly” book, one that featured stories and anecdotes more explicitly (not just of my life, but of others’ lives, as well).
But I’m not ready to start any time soon. In fact, I’ve promised my wife not to commit to anything for a year. That means we’ll have a few months without me being a nutjob from the stress. But maybe sometime in 2011, I’ll start working on book number two. No promises.
5 From your standpoint, how has the book done since it’s release? Are you satisfied with your efforts?
I don’t have exact numbers for how many copies have been sold, but I do know that we did our first print run in mid-March. In mid-May, we did a second print run. The publisher seems very pleased with that, so I guess I should be pleased, too. I’m also very pleased with the positive reviews for Your Money: The Missing Manual. All of the printed reviews I’ve seen have been good (with some valid criticisms here and there), and the book has 4-1/2 stars on 16 reviews at Amazon. (I should note there are two 2-star reviews at Amazon.)
So, from the little info I have, it seems like the book is doing well.
Thanks J.D. for taking some time to share some good info. If you haven’t checked out his book yet, be sure to. You can preview it here on Amazon.