Side Hustles: What It Takes to Publish a Book

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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Now, you all know how I feel about stupid stupid houses and people’s insatiable house lust in Toronto. That’s why readers expressed shock when I featured Sean Cooper on this blog during my “week of respecting opposing views”. But what people don’t know about Sean and I is that even though we are on opposite ends of the “rent versus own” spectrum, there is one thing that unites us.

Haters.

Because not only were our stories the most shared stories in CBC history, no two other people have ever been flamed so hard.

I recently caught up with Sean Cooper when we flew back home to visit family. And that’s when I discovered we now have something else that unites us, despite our differences in opinions.

A traumatic brain injury.

And by that I mean he’s published a book.

Because a traumatic brain injury is the only thing that could explain why anyone would ever want to go through the Herculean effort of publishing a book.

As a newly minted author, Sean Cooper now knows exactly what I’m talking about when I say “every book you write kills you a little.”

No one truly knows how much work goes into writing a book until they actually do it. That’s why I brought Sean on the blog today to peel back the curtain.

Sean, let’s travel back in time to that fateful day when you revealed your story for the first time to CBC. What were your thoughts about the reaction that you got?

I was pretty surprised. I didn’t think it would be so controversial. I was just a guy paying off my mortgage but I guess some people took it the wrong way thinking I was telling them this is the way you have to live: buy a house and pay it off, eat Kraft dinner and all that, but that wasn’t the case. So I decided to write the book to show them that you can pay off your mortgage in 3 years if you want to, but for most people it’s not realistic. I wanted the book to give them some practical tips on how to pay off your mortgage.

 

Ahh Kraft dinner. That takes me back to University days. But here’s the truth. You worked 3 jobs, brought your salary from $40K up to $90K from these side hustles, and the only thing people can focus on is “he must’ve eaten Kraft dinner and had no life”. Haters gonna hate.

But apparently you didn’t get enough the first time, because you just lined up for more abuse didn’t you? By writing a book? Tell us about that.

I find that a lot of people feel the home ownership dream is out of reach (especially young people and first time home buyers) and I want to show them how to do it.

For example, in the first chapter of my book, I talk about goal setting. If you have a goal set and know how long it will take to achieve said goal, then you’ll be more motivated to work towards it. So I get people to picture how financial freedom will look to them and then once they have the picture, like if they want to work a less stressful job, or they want to travel the world like you, it’ll be easier to achieve it.

I guess what sets it apart from other books is that it’s easy to read and written in a conversational style, similar to talking to one of your friends or like a series of blog posts. It’s a great first reference manual if you’re a first time homebuyer or if you already own a home and want to pay off the mortgage. It’s got sections relevant to everyone, even if you’re thinking of not buying a home, you’d probably benefit from reading the first half of the book on how to save money.

So it’s a guide to getting yourself in financial shape to buy a home or be mortgage free. It’s a fun read because I include a bunch of celebrity references and pop culture to make it interesting because I realize mortgages can be a pretty dry topic, so it’s not your typical dry finance book.

 

Well, you know what? Despite the fact that I preach against buying overpriced houses and not doing the math, there is still plenty of house horny virgins (mostly in Toronto) jumping into the housing market without thinking about the costs of owning a home, or understanding how mortgages work. They are about to make THE BIGGEST PURCHASE of their lives and yet some of them took less time to pick out a pair of shoes.

I think you did a great job in the book explaining all the ins and outs of homeownership so that they don’t get blindsided by all the complexities they have to deal with when it comes to mortgages, maintenance, and insurance.

And while I spend all day on this blog arguing that a home is NOT a good investment, if you still absolutely, positively must own a home or you’ll consider your life a failure *eye roll*, then at least read this book first. As one of the biggest purchasing decisions of your life, being an educated homeowner is way better than being an ignorant one.

Sean, I distinctly remember you saying you were going to take time off after you paid off your mortgage to go to Disney World. And yet you decided to work even harder by busting your ass at your full time job AND writing a book on the side. Why? Do you like pain? It’s the traumatic brain injury isn’t it?

Okay that was a joke, I wasn’t really planning to go to Disney world, I’d rather go somewhere like Vancouver or Asia. But to make a long story short, 6 weeks after paying off my mortgage, people congratulated me after my story went viral and not only that, they wanted my advice on buying a home and paying off their mortgage. So I took a look at the information that was out there and there wasn’t really anything like my story. So that encouraged me to write a book to give hope to the younger generation and show them that home ownership is still possible. So even though I promised myself I’d work less hours, I worked even MORE hours. I only took 1 day off from conception to completion of the book during that 15 month time frame.

 

 

Okay, definitely a traumatic brain injury.

Anyhoo…

Remember when life was easy and you were only working 3 jobs and paying your mortgage? What happen to those fun and easy days huh? 

How long did it take you to write the book?

3.5 month to write it (I basically blitzed through it), 4 months editing/re-writing, and 6-8 month working with a publicist and literary agent on marketing. The distributor I hired took care of getting it into big bookstores like Indigo and Chapters, but I still had to do a ton of work promoting, getting a press kit ready, etc.

Pretty much a year and half of my life has gone into this book. Definitely more work than I originally anticipated. It’s worth it but I’m glad I didn’t know how much work went into publishing a book before I started, because I consider myself a hard worker, but if I had known, I wouldn’t have written a book.

 

Wow. 1.5 years gone. That’s half the time it took to pay off your mortgage! So was it worth it? If you had a time machine, would you do it all again?

Absolutely not. Ha ha. No, just kidding.

I would do it all again because while it’s fun to have your 15 min of fame, I wanted to make my mark. Once you’ve written a book, it stays out there forever, even after you’re gone. I wanted to create a lasting impression.

 

So how much have you spent on publishing this book? For our readers out there who want to do the same, how much should they budget?

You can control your costs and put out a book for $500, but you get what you pay for. I went with a literary agent, who acted like a project manager for my book, so after the cost of editor, trade distributor, publicist, the cost ended up being around $20,000.

It wasn’t cheap by any means, but it’s my first book so I wanted to put my best foot forward and build my brand and reputation.

Before you write a book, you need to decide why you’re writing a book. I wanted to build my personal brand, and have it lead to speaking engagements and higher profile writing opportunities. So the higher cost was worth it. Also, since I self-published the book, there’s no publisher to take majority of the profits, so I can keep more for myself.

 

That actually brings me to my next question. Why did you pick self-publishing over traditional publishing?

There are so few Canadian publishers that self-publishing was pretty much the only route for me. That and the fact that I didn’t want to write an entire manuscript only to have it rejected by a publisher. I want to have control over my book.

Originally I was afraid that when I self-published a book that people would not take me seriously and not cover my book. The reporters would ask me “who published your book?” and I was afraid to answer that question, but I spun it in a positive way. I told them I self-published because I didn’t have many options in terms of Canadian publishers these days, and since even bestselling authors like David Chilton are self-published I decided to go that route. With self-publishing, you own your book and your brand and you continue to have creative control over everything so it made sense for me.

I think the best option for people out there is self-publishing, unless you can get one of the big publishers to pick you up. Just beware that it does have more of an upfront cost. But if your book does well, the payoff can be better in the long run.

 

What advice would you give to people who, despite all the warnings, still want to publish a book?

Step 1: See what’s out there. You don’t want to waste your time writing a book that already exists.

Step 2: Make sure you hire the right people. Hire a good editor to help you create a polished product. You could try to do everything yourself but that would be penny wise, pound foolish. It’s money well spent to get them to help you create a good book.

Step 3: Decide traditional or self -publishing. On the traditional publisher side, the biggest pro is that they cover all the overhead costs for you (editor, cover designer, distributor, etc). But at the end of the day, they have the say on the finished product, so they can change the cover, title, etc. They have complete creative control, and can even kill your book and decide not to put it into the book store. I’ve heard of that before. They also get a huge percentage of the profits. This is why more and more authors are going with self-publishing.

 

And finally, what are your future plans after this book launch? Are you FINALLY going to take a vacation? Or are you going to now start law school?

Yeah no. My next goal is to have a net worth of a million dollars by the age of 35. I should be able to achieve that unless the real-estate market crashes. I don’t really have any control over that.

What I’m doing now is I’m trying to build up my investible assets. A paid off house is great but it’s only the first step in achieving finally freedom. If you have a paid off house but no savings, you can’t just sell one of the bedrooms to have extra money. It’s either sell the whole house or take on more debt through a HELOC. So my plan is, since I’m already used to putting that cash flow aside for my mortgage, I’m taking that cash flow and I’m splitting it between my TFSA and RRSPs and building investible assets.

I want to be able to leave the workforce one day, but I don’t want to sell my house to finance my retirement. I’m already living in a small house, I can’t really downsize any further from here. I don’t want to live in a condo because I’m happy with my house so I’m building up my investible assets. I’d like to, maybe, start a company one day and turn it into a fulltime business. Maybe if I become super successful I can become a dragon on Dragon’s Den. That would be a nice long-term goal, but I need the money to invest in the ideas before I can do that. So that’s a longer term dream for me.

Also, traveling more. Maybe at least 1 trip a year going forward. Because what’s the point of having a ton of money if you just drop dead one day and never spend any of it. The whole point of spending money is so you can enjoy it.

No more 100-hour work weeks for me. Though I said that last time…

 

So there you have it, readers! Sean Cooper, my fellow CBC flamee, traumatic brain injury sufferer, and now newly minted author.

Here’s a taste of what Sean’s book is all about:

Book Blurb:

Sean Cooper made news headlines around the world when he paid off his mortgage at 30 on a house he bought just three years prior. In Burn Your Mortgage, Cooper’s extreme achievement is made accessible as the acclaimed personal finance expert shares the secret to his success: simple yet effective lifestyle changes that anyone—from new buyers to experienced homeowners—can make to pay down their mortgage sooner.

Burn Your Mortgage combines inspiring anecdotes with realistic and jargon-free financial tips and resources for achieving financial freedom no matter your financial situation. This easy-to-follow guide will help you pay off your mortgage at your own pace and show you how to live well while doing it.

Inspiring, insightful and fun, Burn Your Mortgage will transform the way you think about money and debt on your path to independent home ownership.

And guess what? From March 6 to 12, if you order online from indigo, you can get the book for 50% off!

If you already have a mortgage and want to burn it like Sean did or if you’re a first time home buyer and want to educate yourself on homeownership, this book is for you.

(Full disclosure, this is NOT an affiliate link. I’m not getting paid anything to promote Sean, I just think he is an amazing hustler and that his book is actually useful for people who have no idea what they’re getting into when they sign up for a mortgage)

26 thoughts on “Side Hustles: What It Takes to Publish a Book”

  1. Thanks for sharing this – I’ve ordered a copy of the book for the cost-saving tips.

    With my own property calculations there does come a point where buying makes sense but only at a lower purchase cost in some areas. At crazy inflated prices, in overcrowded areas, it’s very much a definite NO when compared to renting but many people do want to get that property.

    Having self-published two books myself, it’s quite a steep learning curve! Luckily the self-publisher I used was very helpful when it came to cover design/etc.

    1. You hit the nail on the head. Buying versus renting comes down to doing the math. But most people just get caught up with all the FOMO without knowing what they’re getting into.

      Hat off to you for publishing 2 books! (I’m currently reading one of them :). It’s an INSANE amount of work and most people give up early on so anyone who manages to do it gets my respect.

  2. “I guess some people took it the wrong way thinking I was telling them this is the way you have to live: buy a house and pay it off, eat Kraft dinner and all that, but that wasn’t the case. So I decided to write the book to show them that you can pay off your mortgage in 3 years if you want to, but for most people it’s not realistic.”

    This is something that exasperates me to no end. People see a story like Sean or MR or MMM, and they pick at little details, saying “This person’s life is different from mine”, “These people don’t have kids”, “This person got lucky in some fashion at some point”.

    People talk as if a case study is meant as a step-by-step solution that will work for everyone in every situation, on the same timeline and with the exact same outcome. They see it as a choice between “do exactly this” or “do nothing at all”.

    Fortunately, a handful of people will realize that FI is a broad concept, and what people like Sean and FI bloggers are providing is not a step-by-step guide, but a set of tools and ideas that people can use to make constructive changes in their own lives. As far as I’m concerned, the haters are irrelevant because they’re not even part of the discussion.

    1. Because it’s SO much easier to find an excuse than actually DO the work. That’s okay. Those types of people are exactly where they deserve to be. The rest of us will continue climbing higher and kicking ass.

  3. Nice little interview. Is FireCracker going to be buying a house soon? That would be the ultimate shocker!

    Haters gonna hate, that’s always going to be true, but I like Sean’s positive attitude.

    Self publishing seems to be the way to go these days…but that also means that everyone and their favorite uncle are now writing and publishing books.

    I think it makes it harder to get sales traction compared to days of old when traditional publishers ruled.

    That said, I commend everyone who can put in that kind of effort on a side hustle.

    1. Hey, if you can find me a house in a warm, safe area, with a pool that only costs $530/month (my current rent) all in, I’m all ears! 🙂

      I agree that self-publishing is a better way to go, but you’ll definitely be competing with many other authors. When we first started writing we were so obsessed with traditional publishing, we completely ignored self-publishing as an option. Especially since self-publishing in fiction is an even harder sell. At least with non-fiction, you can build up your own audience and have the usefulness of the content sell itself.

      Sean is the hardest working person I know and I’m glad all his hard work is paying off.

  4. A book sounds like an incredibly laborious task to write. Think I’ll stick with the blog, we have enough investment assets to keep us worrying too much about creating additional income.

    1. That is a wise decision. Book writing= climbing Mount Everest. Blog writing = walk in the park.

      Glad I’m not relying on my book income to survive. *pats portfolio lovingly*

  5. Oh lawddd. It was all I could do just to publish a few freakin’ eBooks. I can’t IMAGINE the headache and cost that goes into a print book. Print books obviously can be profitable and wonderful, but they do take a considerable amount of capital to create and market. I think the key is to have something different and intersting to talk about.

    1. I think blogging is better in terms of ROI. Much less work for more reward. But books give that feeling of prestige…especially if you can sign a physical copy in the bookstore.

      Congrats on publishing your e-book! It always take time and discipline to write a book, regardless of whether it’s an e-book or physical book.

  6. Really cool interview. We kick around the idea of writing a book as well, but maybe I’ll just deliver pizzas for a while. Seems easier and probably will earn more money. ;0)

    1. It’s definitely not easy. I don’t regret it but man, you have no idea what you’re getting into until you actually do it.

      That being said, you already have lots of material from your blog, so taking what’s already written and making that into a book would be less of a stretch.

  7. Great interview and topic. It is too bad that people look at FIRECracker and Sean just to pick apart their stories. Instead people should be looking at these stories as inspiration on what they could potentially do in their own lives. If you want a house then great, how can you get rid of that debt as fast as possible or as fast as your comfortable? If you don’t want a house then invest heavily and give yourself a different type of freedom. Just realize that there are options out there for each person, you don’t need to feel trapped by your current situations.

    1. Well said. Do the math and figure out the best option for you. It’s easy to hate, but hate takes up so much energy and is 100% unproductive.

  8. Self-publishing seems to be becoming the new standard in book publishing and I can see why. If the publishers (who can never guarantee X amount of sales) are going to take such hefty fees, then I would rather just sell it on Amazon as an ebook instead.

    If I ever write the book I keep planning to write, I don’t think I’d ever go the physical book route. Do those even sell anymore? I don’t know; I didn’t research this before writing this blog comment. But with so many bookstores going under, I don’t think enough potential sales are out there to put physical books in stores. Maybe POD (Print On Demand), but that’s about it as far as physical copies would go.

    God, this makes me want to write my ebook so that you can interview me about my traumatic brain injury too.

    Sincerely,
    ARB –Angry Retail Banker

    1. Having gone the traditional route for fiction, let me just tell you there are SO many hoops to jump through. And at the end, the publisher has total control and most of the profits. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret doing it because it did open a lot of doors for us, but man was it tough.

      For non-fiction, once you develop your own audience, self-publishing is actually the smarter way to go.

  9. While we personally have decided to purchase our home, I don’t think I could ever bring myself to do it in the Toronto market. Seeing the prices there just make me want to cry.

    But I think trying to write a book might make me cry more. I’ve read so many accounts of how hard it is and I don’t think I could ever work up the mental energy to ever give it a try.

    1. And somehow Sean ended up doing both. Guess he really likes pain 😉

      Yeah, writing a book takes a lot out of you. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Once you do it, you end up having so much respect for anyone who has the guts and stamina to get through it.

  10. We all know that the vast majority of hate directed at people that have worked hard and achieved success comes from jealousy and envy. It will always be this way.

    People used to tell me to find “balance” in life and that all would be well. Don’t work so hard, they told me. I disagreed. I saw how Asian students studied hard to achieve the best grades in university. I saw how hard professional athletes trained to stay at peak condition to perform at their best. I looked back at my life and noticed that every genuine success I had came about through lots of effort. Balance is great but it’s not going to bring in money. Truth is, you have to grind hard and smart for a long time. Combine that with a dash of luck (and you create more ‘luck’ doing the aforementioned things, coincidentally), and you can sooner than later kick back basking in a balance between fun and relaxation.

    I always wished there was an easier way, but I never found it. But I did it anyway. You and Wanderer did it, and Sean too!

    1. Work hard, get rich, THEN retire. The haters want to skip the first part and jump straight to the second part. Yeah, not gonna happen. Either put up or shut up.

  11. Congratulations, Sean! Fascinating article for a writer like me. Non-fiction is a solid bet, and you’re smart to cash in on your platform.

    Sean and FC, if you’re willing, I would love to see you run the numbers afterward to see how your $20,000 investment pays off over the next few years.

  12. I would love to burn our mortgage, but with a an interest rate of 2.89%, and historic stock returns at 9.7%, I am addicted to investing instead. I gladly pay the minimum each month.

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