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Julian Power

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Why I killed my first book last minute

paper bin full of paper

As an entrepreneur, you have to make tough choices every day, and one of the hardest ones is to pull the plug from a project which is almost finished. In my case, I had written the draft of my first book (≈50.000 words) in Colombia and the remaining steps were revising the draft, sending it to my editor, and incorporating her feedback.

The book is called Medellín Journal and describes my work (filming two documentaries, building a personal brand, writing a book, networking, etc.) and personal experience (learning salsa, paragliding, going to a week-long meditation retreat, traveling to Bogotá and Cartagena, etc.) living for four months in Medellín. The overarching theme is the struggle of a young writer (don’t laugh).

Since the beginning of the project I had doubts about the viability of the book concept, but I pushed them aside because the marketing side looked promising at first glance and I was already emotionally invested in the idea. Medellin is a trending city and there aren’t any popular Medellín-themed books in the Amazon store yet. It’s a big market opportunity, which is ripe for the taking.

The book concept is still flawed. I don’t have a big following and Julian Power isn’t a big brand (yet). Therefore, people most likely don’t care what I have experienced in Medellín. I had broken one of the biggest rules of book publishing: Don’t make the book about yourself. On top of that, the book lacks fundamentals like a coherent arch of suspense. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not a great one either.

I had to make a tough decision between two sub-optimal options.
Option 1: I cut my losses and move on. This way I don’t spend any more time and money on the book and I am not hurting my brand with a mediocre book.
Option 2: I carry on and publish the book. This way I have to invest even more resources into the project and potentially damage my brand.
I decided to take the hit and move on. Mainly because I am not willing to compromise on quality and I don’t want to be associated with a mediocre book.

The writing was good practice and I can use parts of the draft for future blog posts, but at the end of the day, it’s still a lousy ROI for almost 500 hours of work. So what have I learned from this experience? I have four main takeaways:

  1. Don’t fall in love with your ideas too early. Ask other people about their opinion and be open to constructive feedback.
  2. I should have explored more book ideas and pick the most promising one. This way I probably would have come up with a more original idea.
  3. I should have written a book proposal. When you self-publish, you don’t need one, but it’s a great way to find blind spots and to check the viability of a book concept.
  4. I should have listened earlier to my inner voice, which told me to reconsider the book project.

My original plan was to focus all my effort on a new book project called The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which is fairly self-explanatory. I have already written a book proposal and this book has a much bigger market because it’s entirely about Medellín and not about me.

I realized that I can’t afford to write a book right now. Writing books isn’t a great business model and that’s especially true for unknown first time writers. One of the writers I follow closely is David Kadavy, who already has a big following. He recently published an article where he breaks down how he earned only $3000 in profit in the first year for his first self-published book The Heart to Start. The book has great reviews and was endorsed by Seth Godin, so you can imagine that the sales numbers for my book are going to be much smaller.

I am going to put The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City on the back burner and focus on more profitable ventures this year. When I have less financial pressure I am going to come back to the project.

In hindsight, it would have been great if I would have already written The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City in Colombia, but that’s not how it works. The creative process is messy and non-linear and it took me a long time to come up with the new concept and refine it. Maybe my example prevents you from making the same mistake in the future.
The rest is up to you,