Cash Flow the Dream

Lhasa wants to self-publish but needs collateral to do it. She's looked into borrowing money from her 401(k) to cover her costs. Dave tells her this is a marathon rather than a sprint.

QUESTION: Lhasa in Salt Lake City has always dreamed of being a writer. She wants to self-publish but needs collateral to do it. She’s looked into borrowing money from her 401(k) to cover her costs. Dave warns her off of the idea of borrowing money and tells her this is a marathon rather than a sprint.

ANSWER: The idea that you need to spend $20,000 or $30,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 in order to launch a book at your level as a brand-new author self-publishing—it sounds like you’ve been talking to one of these vanity press people to me. They want you to give them money to do all of this for you.

You’ve got to balance between your household goals and the launching of your writing for cash. The last thing you want to do is go borrow money to launch a book that doesn’t end up selling. That would turn your dream into what’s known as a nightmare.

I want you to accomplish your dream too, but I will just tell you that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and you’re not in a position with the platform you have to do a Harry Potter launch. You just don’t have that. You have an immense amount of competition right now in the self-published world because of digital printing. You can print or print-on-demand books, and you can get the editing and an inexpensive cover done and get this thing launched. Covers don’t sell fiction anyway. Word-of-mouth does. A lot of fiction sells in spite of the cover, for God’s sake.

You can print these things on demand and put 1,000 or 500 or 100 of them in your basement. Set up your website. Do your writing. Get a little bit of editing done. Cash flow that. But no, we’re not going to go borrow money—especially to launch something that can be bootstrapped like this can.

You’re going to make different decisions when you cash flow it than when you borrow the money on who to use and how to get it done, how much volume to order, and you’re going to make better decisions because you’re going to be more careful and more wise with money that is your money than you are with borrowed money. Borrowed money just has a sense that it’s fake. It’s like it’s not real in how we make decisions in business.

No, I’m not going to tell you to borrow money for anything, but I’m sure not going to tell you to borrow money to start a business and I’m sure not going to tell you to borrow money to launch a book. The production of a cover, a little bit of editing—you can cash flow those things—print-on-demand—you don’t have to put $50,000 in marketing. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t.

I think you get out there and spread some of these books around to mommy bloggers and other people who might be reading that type of fiction as a free gift. In return, they spread the word for you. You do some tribal marketing Seth Godin-style. You let this thing get viral and catch fire. That’s how most of the big fiction brands have happened. Almost every major fiction brand was a viral thing that took off. The whole vampire movement—all that stuff—it was all viral. Word of mouth, in other words, lifts it.

Once you become Tom Clancy or John Grisham, then all you have to do is just write a book and everybody wants it and they put it on the shelves. The publishers are going to give you a lot of money and they’ll do everything for you. The building of a fiction brand is usually a viral experience. There are a few of them out there right now today who are fitting that bill. The Shack, as an example, was self-published initially or by a very small publisher. Frank Peretti’s initial books many years ago were self-published or from a small publisher on a shoestring. They went viral. Word of mouth lifted them like it lifts a movie. Really, that’s where you are in the fiction world for sure. It happens in our world too, but even more so in the fiction world.