Calculating the ROI (return on investment) of Why I Am Writing a Book

This post is a part of my behind-the-scenes series on a book I am writing called Dabblers vs. Doers.

How can I justify the time, energy, and money to write a book? We all know the common reasons that people write books, from basic validation and expression, to the drive to share, entertain, and educate, as well as dozens of other reasons. At one time or another, many people dream of writing a book. I have as well, and even started writing several times in the past. So how am I justifying the expense in time, energy, and money? Let’s explore…

The process of writing, publishing and sharing the book will take a minimum of two to three years of effort. That is time and energy taken away from the work of running my business — which is the sole way my family is supported — and from other creative projects. Beyond money that I overtly spend on the book creation process, I can likely calculate potential revenue lost as I put time and energy towards the book instead of creating new courses, new partnerships, serving clients, and other business strategies.

I even recently wrote this post: It is Insane to Write and Publish a Book. There, I Said It.

When I first began writing the book, I hoped I could just power through, get it written, edited, and into the publishing process super fast. But it wasn’t long before I began to question my own intentions. What did that really serve, other than trying to reduce my own fear around the process by running over it like it was a bed of hot coals. What would suffer in the process? Perhaps the quality of the book itself, or perhaps the potential for it to connect with readers if I skimped on the time need to really develop a platform around it.

Applying a deeper level of craft to every aspect of the book process comes with added expenses. For example, I plan to do more primary research via interviews, which will double as a podcast. Because I love high-quality audio, that meant that to produce these audio interviews with a high degree of quality, I would likely buy another $600 worth of audio gear, on top of the $800 worth of podcasting equipment I purchased a few years back. Is this additional $600 of gear required? No, but when we talk about craft and quality, it becomes something that almost feels like I can’t not do.

So what is the return on investment of writing and publishing this book? Some thoughts so far:

It’s not about money I will earn directly from the book.
I haven’t done any calculations as to what I can earn from the book itself — not for an advance, number of book sales, or potential royalties from them. My gut is that these numbers alone would not be big enough to justify the investment in time and energy of writing and publishing the book.

Note to future agents, publishers or partners: This doesn’t mean I won’t negotiate for a nice advance or great cut of book sales! 🙂

But I know that — bottom-line — writing and publishing this book, in and of itself, is likely a money-losing venture. How much could I lose? It’s hard to say, and if I calculated overt costs of research, writing, publishing, marketing and beyond, I’m sure it will be tens of thousands of dollars all said and done. Does it have to be that high? NOPE! I could do most of that for under a thousand dollars. But I know myself, and just as I feel compelled to buy another $600 in audio gear for my podcast interviews, I know I will want to make each part of this process special, as high quality as I can, and with a high degree of craft.

For instance: I interviewed Tina Roth Eisenberg (Hello Tina!) as research for the book. While could have conducted that interview via Skype for free, I instead asked for an in-person interview, requiring me to travel out to Brooklyn. What additional “expense” did this cost me?

  • Half a day of work to get out to Brooklyn, and figure out all the travel arrangements from New Jersey. Unlike a Skype interview, I ensured I showed up early. So a 1-hour interview now included three hours of travel and 30 minutes of me just waiting around prior to the interview.
  • The moment Tina said “yes,” I ordered a new camcorder to record our chat via video. This is one of those moments where I felt so much gratitude at this opportunity, that I wanted to ensure I captured it.
  • Travel expenses: $22 train ride, $5 subway fair, and a $14 cab ride.
  • Let’s face it: there is some amount of emotional stress around ensuring every piece of equipment will work, that I won’t be late, that I look presentable, etc. I brought an entire podcasting studio in my backpack, with two high-quality microphones, a digital recorder, the video camera, my laptop, and lots of stands and cables for everything. I had also practiced how to set all of this up within five minutes to ensure I didn’t waste any of Tina’s time. I kept going over check-lists in my head because I have such respect for Tina, that I wanted the experience of the interview to represent that level of respect.

Does any of this sound obsessive and paranoid? Perhaps some of it is, but it just underscores the 1,000 tiny decisions around craft and quality in the process of research, writing, publishing, and sharing this book. Could I have gotten 80% of the value by interviewing her via Skype? Yes. But that final 20% is where some very good stuff is, and I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

Why else do the interview in person instead of via Skype? Because the depth of experience of meeting her in person; of where that personal connection may take the conversation; of experiencing her life in the context of her office — this is one of those rare opportunities I wanted to experience fully.

So for this interview – and every local interview, we are talking about an overt cost, plus the time and energy.

What if I could get an interview with Hank Green (which I would LOVE)? Yes, I could do a Skype interview there as well. But, what if he would agree to do an in-person interview where he lives, in Missoula, Montana? He could give me a tour of the DFTBA warehouse, introduce me to his staff, show me where he records his videos, etc. I would not just get an interview, but spend time with him, experience his process. Would that be worth $700 (flight, car rental, hotel) and two days? Plus the energy to plan and prepare, and the emotional energy of doing something I hate: flying?

I often hear rallying cries online of QUALITY and CRAFT, and I love that. But these are not static things — they are thousands of decisions at every step of the process, and not all of them clear cut. I could obviously do a “good enough” interview with Tina or Hank via Skype.

I’m writing the book for the experience of researching and writing, and the new relationships that provides. It’s one thing to say, “I interviewed Tina and Hank,” and another to have the memory of an experience with them. To get a tour of Studiomates by Tina, to hear about her challenges as I sit across the table from her, not just via Skype. Or to meet partners in Hank’s process of building a small empire, and seeing how he interacts with his team – there is so much to be gleaned from that. And like most memories, they are so deeply rooted in in-person experiences.

The act of creating and sharing this book pushes me to new places, which is worth nearly any amount of investment. It pushes me creatively to tackle a project that is somewhat terrifying; it pushes me socially to reach out to new people and put myself out there publicly; it pushes me professionally to reach new people and expand the effect of my work.

The truth is that I do not know where any of this will lead me, and it may very well lead to some unforeseen dead ends. Perhaps the book will have a wildly difficult time finding an agent or a publisher. Perhaps I will find both, but it will be a commercial failure – it will fail to find an audience and be read.

I suppose that is why I am focusing so much on the craft of how I create the book to ensure that what is created – the value that it creates for myself and others – is an inherent part of every stage of the process, even this blog post.

That is what I am investing in.

Friend and former client Doug Sundheim wrote a book where he talked about finding that place where you feel alive. In a professional, and even personal, context, that is often experiencing the FEAR inherent when you are pushing yourself to try something scary and new. Pushing yourself to grow and experience, usually via relationships, and developing a meaningful body of work.

These decisions affect not just my ability to provide for my family, but to make me the person that they experience every day. It is part of how I develop a lifetime of experiences whereby I can potentially look back on the day I spent with Hank Green, or the afternoon I spent visiting with Tina Roth Eisenberg.

I would love for this book to lead me to experiences like those, and to become an inherent part of what the book brings to those who eventually read it.

The ultimate return on investment of this book? Potential.

As you explore your own creative projects: How do you justify the ROI?

Thank you.

For more information on Dabblers vs. Doers, and all the behind the scenes stuff I am sharing, click here.