This morning I got a text from my little sister. “Look what I found” she wrote, along with a picture of her at Barnes & Noble, holding my book Cosplay: The Fantasy World of Role Play.
My little sister isn’t the first person to text, tweet, or Instagram me a photo of my book. For a few months now I’ve been hearing from readers in New York, Miami, San Francisco, and here in DC as they stumble on my book at their local Barnes & Noble.
It’s been a year since I originally documented the process of writing Cosplay in seven weeks last November, and I wanted to give you an update on how everything is going.
The verdict: being traditionally published hasn’t changed my life in the slightest.
First of all, I’ve been out of the loop for most of the big moments. I wasn’t notified when it went on sale. I wrote the book for Carlton Limited, a publisher in London, so the book came out first in the United Kingdom, in May 2015. I was invited to do a book signing at London Comic Con in May if I “happened to be in London” that week, as the publisher certainly wasn’t going to pay for one small time author’s transatlantic flight.
Later, Carlton sold the U.S. rights to Sterling Publishing, which brought it here in summer without me having to exchange so much as an email with them. I didn’t know the book was on shelves until this fall, and by then it was already in the bargain bin, marked down from $20 to about $10, and while it hurts my pride a little, that’s probably a far more reasonable price for a coffee table book that only contains 10,000 words.
Second, I didn’t make a lot of money. If you are planning to buy (or have already bought) Cosplay, that’s awesome! It makes me feel really good. But that’s all it does—I will not make a penny off of that sale. When I signed a contract to write the book, I gave up all rights in exchange for a few thousand dollars up front—which I’ve already spent on bills and stuff. (Meanwhile, I continue to make money every month with my self-published books.)
My publisher treated me well and I’m grateful for the opportunity, but here’s where I say: if you get a chance to write a traditionally published book, maybe you should consider before you agree to this. In my case, it didn’t really matter. The bargain-bin pricing indicates that the book probably isn’t selling well anyway (my guess? The kind of people who are into cosplay are already getting their information digitally) and since I wasn’t the one to select the photos, I only did a portion of the work to make this book a reality.
Third, I am not better known for being a published author. I don’t know the exact sales numbers, but it’s easy to guess that more people have read my articles on Forbes than have purchased my book, since if more than 100k people had bought the book, it would be a New York Times bestseller, not in the bargain bin.
I am not trying to dissuade others from getting book deals. In fact, I am in the first steps of negotiating another one! However, I am trying to dispel the myth that writing a book will necessarily “change your life,” the way I always dreamed when I was a teenager. I may have once glamorized book writing as somehow different and more magical than other kinds of work, but it’s just like any other job—it’s tough, it’s mercurial, and it will sometimes disappoint you. That’s why you have to really believe in what you’re doing each time you sit down to write.
A year after writing Cosplay: The Fantasy World of Role Play, I’m not rich or famous and you won’t see me autographing this at your local bookstore, but I’m really glad for the experience. It took the hard work of book writing off of its pedestal once and for all. It taught me to write for the sake of writing, not for any perceived side effects that may or may not happen. It taught me that even when the book doesn’t change my life, the feeling of a job well done and the acknowledgement of my family and friends is really all that I needed.