20+ Years of Publishing: A Story with Very Little Storytelling But Lots of Lessons

Did you ever work hard out of a passion for something you loved just to be once and again, sacked, rejected, or mocked?

Did you ever choose to go out on a limb for something you really wanted to express, without knowing how it was going to turn out?

Did you ever wonder how can someone turn out a professional success despite not being the best, the most gifted, or the most popular?

If you’ve answered “YES!” to any of the previous questions, then this story is for you!

  

The rough beginnings

I remember as a child being a very keen reader who liked to tell stories. Ah, the wonderful, inspirational stories found out from others! There’s no wonder I also started writing short pieces since grade school. But a funny thing happened when I dared to show my creations as a child to other people: they turned out very critical and it seemed nothing I was writing was noteworthy of their appreciation. Then I turned 10.

When I was about 10, three things that seemed great happened for that child:

1. I received a typewriter (it was quite old, from before WWII), my first professional typewriting instrument, years before learning to use the PC.

2. I have written my first poetry – a silly thing about the moon, inspired by Eminescu‘s poems [en, wiki].

3. A new business idea: to open a publishing house. :) At this glorifying age, I had already started writing a novel and wanted to open a publishing house. I wanted to type manuscripts of my books (with my typewriter from WWII, because it was a progress from scribblings with pen on paper that most couldn’t understand of course). Then once finished, I would copy them using Xerox Machines and distribute them to buyers using my bicycle. The only issues were:

  • I hadn’t finished a book
  • Nobody cared to read what I wrote other than being nice to me
  • It was challenging to write a full page without typing mistakes
  • I didn’t know how to ride the bike
  • I had no bike

As I was getting agitated for my grandiose plans, my mother gently crushed my life dreams by asking a few sensible questions. My enthusiasm got stuck. Not the same thing was with poetry, where I persevered, although my poetry was awful – at least for a few years… Some girls seemed to inspire me, so I was rewarding them by hunting them down with bad poetry. As for the typewriter, err… some few years later, I was convinced to throw it away, as it became broken beyond repair – now you can imagine how much I typed to get there…

Contrary to what kids do at that age, I started creating original writings (aside from school) at about 10. And since then, I have never stopped. I started writing first notebooks then cahiers, then dossiers, hundreds, then thousands of pages, of… film analysis and storytelling from actual films I saw either on TV or at the cinemas. I also wrote short stories, some inspired by what I’ve seen on TV.

As I was going through the gymnasium, I was “torturing” my Literature, English, French teachers to read the horribly written flights of fancy that I was concocting and harassing poor colleagues with bad poetry, in hopes that someone would start giving some constructive criticism (which actually started happening). Looking back towards that period, it seems amazing how I was able to keep going so many years with all the negative destructive feedback that I was receiving by wrongfully choosing who I was asking for quality feedback.

Fortunately, as I grew up, I became more educated in terms of literature, studying what makes greatness (and who to ask for feedback), together with a long list of trials & errors and I came to find out that it was easier for me to express ideas in essays rather than to tell stories (which was obvious, considering the formal education system).

In the gymnasium, I also cultivated quite a hobby for film, which inspired me to start writing in huge dossiers (one of them had 400+ pages and I wrote 20+ of those between 1995-2005) about what I was seeing in films. I made a thorough list of every film, series, or movie I saw and started analyzing them. By the time I reached high school, I was a walking film dictionary. This is how I got my first job as a film critic.

The first editing position, at Nopți Albe/White Nights (2001)

As I hanged around the local film distributor (RADEF/DDF), I met a young journalist who was running a fresh weekly publication, gathering all the information about all the cultural events in Iași, where I was living. Iași is a city in Romania which back then had around 0.3 million inhabitants and was considered by some as the cultural capital of the Moldavian region, so every other week (even during the summers) there were book and/or film launches, art gallery vernissages, concerts, exhibitions, gatherings.

So imagine this: when I was 15, I got hired as a member of the editorial team of the local publication Nopți Albe/White Nights. My boss was a young entrepreneur and he gave me full control, first as a film critic. My first review and content appeared in the number which came out Friday the 22nd of June 2001. On page 4, there was my film summary and review of Enemy at the Gates (2001). So this was the first text ever published by someone, that I wrote. How did I go from that to 2000+ articles, 5 books and 1.5+ million views? Keep reading to find out!

(keep reading ↓)

While most of my high school colleagues were chilling off during the summer vacation, I was getting paid to write about films! That was a dream job for me because I had been a film buff since childhood. My mission was to write a little something about each of the 6-8 movies which were running on 4 screens/cinemas: Victoria, Republica, The Students’ Culture House (Azur), and Dacia and choose one film to make a one-page review each week. The print run: 5000 copies, distributed each Friday for free around the city. The magazine was surviving through the selling of advertising.

After three weeks of training and preparation, from film critic, I got promoted to cultural editorthat meant doubling the number of pages I handled and covering ALL the cultural events in Iaşi: theatre, vernissages, exhibitions, concerts, books, launches, etc. The new job was to document/review each of them. In July 2001, I got officially credited as “redactor” (editor) in the editors’ box. 25 % of the time spent on the job was fieldwork (mostly on foot). I was gathering information from the sources: I had to physically go to the galleries, distributors, bookshops, and event organizers to get various info because many weren’t used to give/have the necessary info through e-mail or hardly knew how to use e-mail at all.

Although I was young (16 years anniversary celebrated soon after getting the green light for the position), I was given a chance to prove myself. One of the main advantages from this experience that I later replicated while working for Joc Secund/Second Game (October 2002-June 2003), DaMaiDeparte.ro/Pay It Forward (June-December 2007), Filme-Carti/Films and Books (August-November 2012) and Economia Online (January 2013-February 2017) was having a supervisor who would actually read everything and, if necessary, require modifications or even stop some materials from being published if they weren’t good enough.

Back then, even though I was a student at the Informatics high school, I didn’t even own a computer at home, never mind using the internet for blogging. For work at the office, there was one laptop with a floppy disk that everyone had to share, so there was a schedule to use it for my job. At the beginning of the millennium, in Romania, the act of publishing was something very rare, very special, that someone else was giving you access to if the content you wrote was good enough for their carefully built audience.

The boss that I had for the editing positions at Nopți Albe, Cosmin Ciocan, had taught me how to do research using keyword formulas on search engines 2 years and a half sooner than I was going to get officially taught as a student. Many students don’t even get trained in this elementary skill even nowadays.

A challenge in this job was dealing with the office for films, which was temporarily allowing me to see films for free. They wanted me to push certain titles, and I wanted to choose others. I guess they didn’t feel so good when I downgraded blockbusters like Jurassic Park 3. Most of what I was writing was getting published and I kept my privileges with the film distributor even if I made a mistake and even after the magazine went bankrupt, which was an important support in my PR ethics.

The magazine initiative was Avant-la-Lettre and the physical magazine was followed after a few years by the websites B24Fun (also in Iaşi), Şapte Seri, and Tot O Dată. In August 2001, almost 2 months after getting hired, the magazine stopped getting published, the entrepreneur moved out of the city and I stopped working for them. In 2014, Cosmin Ciocan, my former boss, was working as a consultant in Long Beach, California, for a company that was making 25 million $ a year in revenue. We haven’t kept in touch, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’s a millionaire by now.

  

Local publishing during highschool

During high school, I started proposing various articles, essays, and short stories to local publications, either newspapers or cultural magazines appearing in a printed format similar to newspapers. About half of the work I proposed was being rejected because either the writing didn’t come at the right moment, or wasn’t pitched to the right audience, or simply wasn’t good enough (or so I was told). Back then, I also got involved with a literary cenacle (Quasar) ran by a university teacher (Prof. Ceaușu, Ph.D.), where I continued to participate until my 3rd year of faculty.

Some of the local publications where I published between 2002-2004 during high school were Evenimentul de Iași/Iași event (October 2002), Timpul de Iași / Iași Time (March 2003), Lumea Ieșeanului/Iași inhabitant’s World (May-July 2004). The scattered publishing also continued while I was a student, for example, Metropolis (September 2006), Cronica / The Chronicle (March 2009). The first independently published article (outside a constant collaboration) was an article about the relationship between students and teachers in Evenimentul de Iași.

What occasional local publishing taught me was that:

  • It’s not necessary to have a great people network to get published, it’s enough to persevere;

  • Sometimes, one material gets criticized simply because it’s put in front of the wrong audience. For example, a student material rejected in the advertising environment got successfully published in a psychological environment;

  • Sometimes, getting a material rejected is a great way of receiving feedback for free to improve the material or the skills and make things better. Some of the material that got rejected initially when proposed to local publications I rewrote later and it got published somewhere else.

In 2004, I have received the 3rd prize at the national literary contest “Vox Napocensis”, where I participated with short fiction sketches and poetry. That was a wonderful experience because the people there had the rare ability to criticize the text and be kind and encouraging with the author. Between 2004-2006, I have written several theater plays, out of which one got played several times in 2005, 2008, and 2009 within national and international events. (Consultanță interactivă/Interactive Coonsulting)

  

The first chief editor position (2003)

Did you ever apparently fail in one project when all you had to do was just wait for the incompetents to clear off the room?

Were you ever in a position where most of the work you did seemed to just wane off?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re going to love the story of the experience I had with Joc Secund/Second Game.

Some high schools have newspapers, others have magazines. The Iași Informatics Highschool had an annual (yearbook). The previous edition appeared in 2001. In October 2002, my Literature teacher (Corina Homeucă, who later started her own company and became a management consultant) took charge of the 2003 edition and I was elected assistant chief-editor. Initially, about 20 students were hallucinating that they would collaborate in this project, including the democratically elected chief editor. Soon, about half of them (including the chief editor) gave up doing whatever they said they would be doing and left the real work to the people involved. So, after they voted for someone who gave up, I got stuck with most of the mess. I got automatically promoted to chief editor and I was able to really start working for the yearbook in February 2003. Doing the job of several people wasn’t so hard. It had been harder to pretend they were doing something just because they were appointed positions based on confidence (they said they would do some tasks and they didn’t). With this opportunity, I learned these lessons (on top of confirming the learned lessons în the previous experience):

  • Volunteers who aren’t doing their job should get fired the same as paid employees. They should be commended for doing what is required, not whatever they want, whenever they want.

  • Volunteers, like employees, must get recruited for positions with trial tasks beforehand

  • Anytime a manager gets voted in, the most popular will win, not necessarily the most competent. Also, it’s often the case that the most competent and the most popular are two (very) different people.

  • Any publication which doesn’t have a clear system and structure put in place is prone to reinventing the wheel as the people working on it keep changing.

  • Most decisions are getting made under time pressure. They are usually not the best decisions, but there is the excuse “we were under pressure”, which often happens when people who shouldn’t have been recruited don’t do their work.

Now, these lessons seem pretty obvious in theory, but I have seen in several Romanian NGOs claiming to be of”~professionals” following the same patterns.

In the end, the yearbook got published and successfully launched in early June 2003, just one week before the school ended (obviously). It was highly appreciated and the print run was sold off immediately, which wasn’t at all difficult since there was money for just 44 copies. Everyone involved just wanted to move on and put this experience behind them. I used it as a professional springboard.

The 2003 Joc Secund yearbook was the first place where I published poetry, a psychological essay, a scientific essay, and several extended cinema articles. Part of the content that initially rejected got rewritten and published somewhere else in the following years. In 2003, I published several of my poetries on the Agonia Robot website (and on poezie.biz), which in time became a major launching platform for young unpublished authors. Several years later, I withdrew them.

The whole experience facilitated some of my appearances in the local publications as well as a subcontracting in the translation into Romanian of 12 pages for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Also, an order from miss Homeucă got me started with a material that I later developed into my first e-book (keep reading about how to have a great idea at the utterly wrong moment).

  

The first published book

From 2001-2004 I had participated in the Physics Contest „Ştefan Procopiu” and various other so-called scientific contests, and I received multiple awards, at national and local levels, including for what several teachers considered general aptitudes in the study of physics, logical thinking, sense of observation & perspicacity. These awards were given for written projects in the general field of advanced physics. I was generally preoccupied with the study of the general & special relativity theory and with cosmogony. This is a fancy way of saying that some people having most likely average IQ made me think I was a genius for going the extra mile and actually reading a little bit more than was required for the student drones. As I found out after some years, my stupidity quotient wasn’t far from average, either (this actually sounds cooler to say when you’re older than it actually feels when you’re seeing the actual results).

In 2005, I published most of this work in a book titled Universul. Cadru de referinţă. Interpretare. Sisteme teoretice. (The Universe. A Frame of Reference. Interpretation. Theoretical Systems), at PIM Publishing House, ISBN 973-716-169-6, 146 pages. Looking back to that experience, the fact that it seemed so easy for me to merge the projects into a book should have made me think that maybe I was doing something very, very wrong. After quitting the Telecommunications Faculty (where I had some altercations with some physics teachers that seemed a little disturbed by my standards), I have said goodbye” to the study of physics and I have forgotten a lot of what I learned in this area, although I still have most part of the main documentation. Anyway, the book has been illustrated by Radu-Vasile Chialda, Ph.D., who is now a publisher and an entrepreneur working in the UK.

The print run of this first book was limited (under 100 copies if I’m not mistaken) and it was mostly bought by friends and relatives. I launched it during a Quasar national event. We even had champagne (!). In the end, I managed to cover the expenses of the publishing, distribution, and marketing and even made some profit, which means that it wasn’t a complete failure.

What were the problems that I only figured out after publishing the book?

  • Component essays/separate projects which work well on their own don’t necessarily add up to make a book work. Copy+pasting smaller works into bigger works isn’t a professional way of publishing a book, even though it is a common practice among so-called academics in Romania.

  • The formal design layout of the book was dreadful, although the illustrations were beautiful. The text and all of the content weren’t aesthetically combined. I had to learn some basic publishing design for the following titles and afterward I chose to work with professional designers for all the book covers.

  • Compiling various information from different sources and putting them together doesn’t make a personal contribution. I know it seems like a shock to some, but it’s true.

  • A logical argumentation about something most readers don’t understand anything about is likely to inspire intimidation instead of discussion, which is not something you’d like from readers buying your book

Over time, I learned that some of the premises of my so-thought epistemological argumentation were wrong. I was wrong. After all, I didn’t study some of the most relevant reference material because I simply was satisfied to write something that went a little further than was being taught in the high school and at the faculty. That data was outdated anyway (and some of it partially epistemologically wrong). If I would have asked the reasoned opinion of experts within various fields before publishing the book, I could have used that opportunity as one for learning, instead of showing off what I learned by reading a few dozen (more) books on various fields.

  

National Recognition as a student in 2005-2007

In 2004, I have managed the first semi-professional research I participated in: „Studiu electoral de marcă” (Brand electoral study). I designed the questionnaire for political independent research, using NLP theory as framework and content. It was one-afternoon research, 88 subjects, 3 field operators (and research collaborators), and the results were interpreted in Excel. Although lacking statistical signification, the results of the research have been correct and even prophetic. This brand electoral study received the 1st prize at a national contest for economical students’ papers, called EconomMix în 2005. The prize got awarded in the management-marketing category to me, a marketing and PR student, to the detriment to all other competitor students which were officially studying management.

Another work, on defence mechanisms of the self, got awarded most original work in a National Psychology Conference at Bucharest and was the first of 4 extended articles that got published in Psihologia Azi/Psychology Today between 2005-2007. In 2007, that magazine had been declared no. 1 in Romania in the segment of premium magazines and which, till the apparition of Psychologies, remained the main publication for the popularization of Psychology. Its founder and chief editor, Ovidiu Brazdău, Ph.D., also headed a research institute in New York. The huge success of my work regarding defensive mechanisms was a totally unexpected win for me and I personally consider it a reference because many licensed psychologists in Romania don’t know the difference between defensive mechanisms and stress coping strategies (in 2006 I have worked for another research, about stress coping strategies). This taught me that it is possible to score big wins with small but precious pieces if they are properly targeted.

One of my university teachers published some articles on two business websites he launched (which don’t exist anymore). An HR website (Sales jobs) launched by financial intelligence expert Eusebiu Burcaș published 2 articles I wrote for NGOs.

During faculty (2004-2008), I also played around with several professional websites with mostly promotional purposes for my copywriting, consulting, graphological analysis services, and a general showcasing. Although I wouldnt call that publishing actual content, it served me well later for my blogging activity, both from a tech perspective. I also learned how to administer backend Content Management Systems with various software, including editing some code and familiarizing myself with keyboard combinations.

  

The efficient learning content

Would you like to know how I developed my first digital product when I was 20?

Would you like to know how even if it failed, it lead me to an important win several years up the road later?

Based on a documentation work solicited by Corina Homeucă in 2004, I have developed in 2005 the draft of an e-book on efficient learning (speed reading + memorization + concentration techniques), called Curs de învățare eficientă prin citire rapidă și tehnici de memorare. I contracted a programmer, a friend of mine, to write a speed reading software that was working on Windows 98 and Windows XP SP1. I also talked to Andy Szekely that allowed me to use his report Cele 8 greşeli pe care le fac cei care învaţă încet şi cum poţi să le eviţi/The 8 mistakes those who learn slowly do and how you can avoid them. Both of the PDFs (mine and Andy’s) were under 30 pages, so calling them e-books did require quite some unconscious nerve from my part back then.

Thus, in less than a week, in May 2005, I had a multimedia product on a CD for efficient learning, ready to be tested for selling at all sorts of fairs and exhibitions. The main purpose of the e-learning product was to offer some tools for those who wanted to practice at home, but also to gather some interest for the efficient learning techniques. Although I made some profit that I shared with my partners back then, it was obvious that 2005 was too early in the market. I sold the CDs I made, covered all costs (including participation at the fairs), and made 238% profit (on my end), but I was fortunate I haven’t made many.

Based on what I tested in 2005, in 2008, I published the 35 pages e-book Ghid pentru învățarea eficientă/Guide for efficient learning în the first edition, with the subtitle Curs practic pentru învățare eficientă. Citire rapidă. Tehnici de memorare./Practical Course for Efficient Learning. Speed Reading. Memorizing Techniques. I successfully launched it at the International Psychology Fair from Bucharest, 2008. I sold it together with Andy Szekely’s updated electronic report. These were officially the first 2 books that I published on my own publishing house and I granted them ISBN in 2008. I sold this as a product between 2008-2009 on CD support. In 2012, I published the second edition of my e-book (83 pages, which is more than twice the 1st official edition from 2008) separately for download and sold it until 2014.

In 2011, I published my first (and up to now, the only) audiobook, Curs practic pentru antrenamentul citirii accelerate. 9 lecţii de învăţare eficientă. / Practical course for accelerated reading training. 9 effective learning lessons. 10 years later, this evergreen content is currently (2021) the only original material I still sell on this topic.

In 2014, I stroke a deal for selling several materials for efficient learning to sell as a pack to my customers. One of the books that were part of that package was better than the third edition of the Guide for Efficient Learning that I started to work on. I had 2 ethical choices:

  • either develop my e-book into something better than the other authors’ book and sell it on my own,
  • or limit myself in earning a fee for selling their book, in a package together with my audiobook.

Since at that moment, I had to choose which projects to develop into published books and which to drop and the fee for the already better book was pretty close to the value I could have charged for my book, I preferred the second option. I partially made a financial decision over a publishing one, because with limited resources, my books were competing against each other and other similar books I could have sold or recommended. The collaboration with Alexandru Bordea from Infospeed was quite profitable and I kept it running until 2018 when I closed down my company and moved from Romania to Italy.

Due to the nature of its electronic content, my e-book (the guide) and my audiobook (the 9 lessons) never got as much attention as my following printed books, being regarded as entry-level products in a funnel leading to consulting or training services for efficient learning. Finding this out was a little bit sad for me as an author because I had put a lot of effort between 2005-2012 into developing the content for both the e-book and audiobook. Both held enough practical information to support the reader/listener to get to their own results without having the need to pay for something extra. It was only some years later that I found out that paying customers coming to consulting or training are actually motivated more by the structured approach compensating for their lack of discipline. That’s one of the main reasons for which people pay 10 times the value of a book for a seminar with mostly the same content. But in my youth, I didn’t get that.

Besides some announcements, the small launch (with the support of Alexandra Rusu) at Bookfest in 2012 of the e-book (that could be consulted in a printed format) and mentioning them in the public discourses I made here and there, I never actually did any serious marketing for the e-book or the audiobook, nor did I seek endorsements or follow-up with the buyers.

What practical confirmations did I have with the implementation of these projects related to efficient learning?

  • A good product has its window of opportunity, which in the information age is at most a few years. Too early and the marketing efforts might be wasted. Too late and the marketing efforts might be too expensive.

  • Without strategic marketing, an e-product won’t sell.

  • Even though a product might have a certain value in itself, when it is perceived as the entry-level product in a funnel, its perception of intrinsic value gets diminished.

  • Electronic goods may be regarded as less valuable than physical products because they are intangible (even though a few decades ago they could be stored on CDs or other sorts of disks). Actually, the EU legislation classifies electronic products such as e-books and audiobooks as digital services.

The only visual thing slightly connected to an English presentation of this topic is this short 5-minute funny video in which I explain the story of my life at a friend’s seminar.

(keep reading ↓)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvmQec3dsq4

  

My overall blogging adventure

I have written in detail about my experiences in retrospective regarding each of the projects. I f you’d like to know how I got in average 24 views/reader in 2012 or how I got from place nr. 35596 in ZeTop in January 2012 to winning the 1st position in the first edition of the National Blogging Championship in November 2012, please read the following articles:

DaMaiDeparte, Analytic Vision, Debug Your Mind and Films & Books

Discerne (the Romanian blog)

Besides these that I invite you to read in the above links, I also started in 2014 a Romanian blog called Dezvoltare Profesionala/Professional Development, which was centered on training events taking place in Bucharest. By 2015, I knew it underperformed, so I stopped publishing on it, but I kept it and used it later as a backup for linking to promotional content on Facebook, for some of my initiatives. It was actually a good idea to keep it, in opposition to 12 other blogs and websites, that I started to write on/for and then deleted/gave up between 2006-2011.

Between April-October 2014 I worked as a volunteer for Jurnalul Bucureștiului/The Bucharest Journal. As an editor, I published in average almost once every 2 days, about the same topics that I covered on Discerne (the main Romanian blog). I did it for half a year to sharpen my writing skills and to share to a different (and possibly larger) audience valuable content. The management of the online newspaper changed in 2020 with a competent one Florentina and Thomas Csinta) and since then, articles from Discerne get republished there regularly. The original 2014 collaboration wasn’t an editorial challenge, because I basically wrote whatever I wanted, I was given a carte blanche and full publishing access to the backend. The list of articles still online on that website from what I wrote or published is available here.

The lengthiest collaboration I had (and one of my favorites) was with the monthly magazine Economia Online. It appeared between May 2012-March 2017, totaling 58 issues. In 43 of these issues, I published a monthly article (between January 2013-March 2017). Economia Online was not a usual website. It was a high-level ISSN-registered academic publication, with clear sections and great authors, among which economy ministers, Ph.D.s in economics, and highly competent academics and practitioners as authors. The chief editor was Bogdan Sebastian Căpraru and he upheld high standards which challenged me to write some of the best articles I have written în my entire life, hands down! This was the most intellectually satisfying and professionally developing publishing collaboration I’ve had outside my own blogs. Actually, I would have continued it had the magazine not stop appearing. The whole content is fortunately still online and I have reason to hope it will still be available for some years. You may access the list of my articles here.

Then, it was Learning Skills Romania, where everything I sent got accepted and published between 2016-2017. Similarly to working for Economia Online, I was only required to send one article a month. This taught me that rarer, but constant regular publication is easier to maintain (and to follow) than the often frenzy of unpredictable but sometimes agglomerated online posting. This was the first platform for which I had a major collaboration (20+ articles) that got totally wiped out. This event showed me that even if unlikely, this is possible and it would mean the unfortunate conclusion that everything I wrote exclusively for that platform can’t be read anymore and if I want to make it available, I have to publish it on my own or get someone to publish it. This might mean some work, especially since the articles were specifically formatted for that publication. One article is not a big deal, but when you’ve got 20+ articles to reformat, illustrate, tag, label and publish, your head starts spinning.

The most prolific collaboration I ever had was between 2016-2019 for the Random Inner Dialogs Facebook page started by Ștefan Drăgan. It was actually microblogging (not blogging): almost every day, I would publish a short comic sketch, based on dialogs I heard or I was part of in various contexts. It was a pretty fun experience that organically gathered something like 100+ followers, but as it went on, it seemed to require more and more time and at one point, the effort of constantly fishing, organizing, writing, and/or publishing funny stories every day (who put me to it?) outweighed the fun itself and it became a chore that I wasn’t interested in keeping up. Basically, I had to choose between

  • turning it into a business and monetize it

  • changing the rhythm of publishing (as I did with Discerne for example)

  • totally giving up.

I chose the last one. By the time I finished, I had published 1000+ comic sketches in total (even though some of them might have been counted twice since a few hundred were published both in Romanian and in English.

  

The three printed books at my own publishing house

In 2012, 2014, and 2015 I published three books at my own publishing house for which I did the full drill: several versions, feedback rounds previous to publishing, marketing, and distribution.

I won’t go into the details for each book. The first was on persuasion, the second on education, and the third on NLP. For each of them, I worked over 4 to 7 years (with pauses), in different stages of development. Each started as article series that picked up interest when being published on various blogs (I won awards and/or got many views and/or many comments). Before starting to turn the article series into books, I had to do the following:

  • Choose the language of the books. Unfortunately in retrospect, I chose Romanian instead of English. Although I had the intention of getting them translated into English, after managing the translation of the persuasion book into Italian I gave up that sport.If you’re planning to eventually publish your book in English, start by publishing it in English in the first place: you’ll save yourself a lot of time and headache.

  • Study the psychology of typography and graphics on the reader and use scientific principles to determine the publishing rules.

  • Set adapted main and secondary fonts for each title that would reflect the content and be relevant to the audience.

  • Work with professional designers and photographers for developing the conceptual aspect of the covers, which required a lot of work in each case.

  • One of the main decisions which made this path possible was the fact that I gave up doing a Ph.D. in research. When several people asked me if any of these books was my Ph.D. paper, I got an emotional confirmation that the work that I put into it was perceived as high-level also from the regular readers, not only from experts and reviewers.

You see, getting my first book published before turning 20 and having a failure got me motivated to really do a lot of the things right for the following books, even if it took me longer. The reviews and testimonials confirmed that I did a good job.

Căile persuasiunii în negociere / Persuasion’s Paths to Negotiation got 5 stars out of 5 on GoodReads.

Ce (mai) înseamnă succesul la școală / What Does Success at School (Anymore) Mean got 5 stars out of 5 on BookBlog.

Modelarea din NLP, o cale rapidă spre excelență / NLP Modeling, a Fast Lane Towards Excellence got appreciated by several NLP trainers and became my book from which I gave most homework to my clients.

The financial, critical, and readers’ success recorded with each of these volumes confirmed to me that I was doing things right (although slowly, working on my own). The book on NLP didn’t even need a formal launch, it broke even in less than a month after being published and was the first one to get its print run completely exhausted out of all three.

The books became part of a freelancing system that I developed promoting my services (mostly consulting and training) and getting online clients in 10+ countries since 2015. I basically used the books as business cards to make the clients come to me. What I did with the books was a success and a trap at the same time. This is a very important aspect that I wish to underline in what follows. Are you also curious to find out what I learned next?

  

Sustainable publishing should be a business venture, not a freelancing frenzy

Appearing on TV, gathering more than one million views on a blog, shelving prizes in contests, getting my books 5-starred and dozens of training editions, serving hundreds of one-on-one clients before turning 30 might inflate someone’s ego into thinking that a freelancer can keep up with continuing to mostly rely on self for most of the professional activities. But when a hobby doesn’t manage to get developed into an entrepreneurial system, it remains a luxury hobby or a freelancer trap.

Officially closing down my company and moving to Italy in 2018 put another nail in that coffin. So all the things I didn’t do by then started to stack up against me:

  • I didn’t create solid funnels;

  • I didn’t create or maintain a database of customers/followers;

  • I didn’t follow a long-term marketing strategy;

  • I didn’t hire virtual assistants;

  • I didn’t set up a website for automatic selling;

  • I didn’t do regular videos;

  • I didn’t set up a percent of income for marketing purposes.

I was valedictorian by the time I finished my Bachelor’s degree with a dissertation in branding. I also got the highest possible marks for the other 2 dissertations I did for my Masters’ degrees. But all this success was in comparison with other students, which were trained for getting a job. My competition in developing products was with entrepreneurs. Some of the short-lived “glory” I gathered couldn’t cover the holes plucked by omitting the above bullet points.

When I participated in 2016 at a funneling seminar and showed at the end my Romanian blog (which was a business services-presenting platform at the time), the trainer could hardly believe that all of the good results I got with it were done without paying for Google or Facebook advertising.

Getting approx. 1 million visitors on just one blog, winning the first edition of the National Blogging Championship [ro] organized by the blogvertising company Blogal Initiative and maintaining for a certain period my blog among the top 150 blogs in Romania (as shown scrolling down for more in the zelist history) was not an easy task, but I couldn’t have gotten there without delivering top-notch quality in most of what I published and applying marketing principles.

Are you also wondering how there was a period when people would call me on the phone from various countries and asked to buy my products and services just because they found something interesting on my blog and got my phone number from there? How many freelancers do you personally know that can say that about their services? Occasionally, people would stop me on the street because they recognized me from television (a list I of apparitions to]), up until 2015. People at conferences I never met with before were approaching me and telling me they were reading my blog. I would go to the mountains or to the seaside to relax and I would be coming back making more money from sales to people I encountered than what I paid for in the trip. It seemed insane for some people. The founding leader of a political party which previously won elections and got into the Romanian Parliament and Government asked me to provide personal branding services for him (I politely refused him). This is the kind of success that I had. For a while.

I never made a lot of money nor did I plan for it. I made enough to maintain my freelancing practice and didn’t strive for more. I kept my expenses and taxes at a minimum. I traded with professionals on barters and got a lot of value that others would pay many times-fold. You have to remember I got schooled as a professional who would work for money, not as an entrepreneur or an investor who would create automated systems and put the money to work for him. If I made some extra money, I would rather go to a class or buy half a shelf of books rather than develop my business into an entrepreneurship-grade operation. This is just the way I was thinking in my 20s and early 30s. Now I am aware that’s a wrong mentality. Oh, the joy we would have had by applying the late wisdom to early age!

Imagine this, all the online advertising I ever paid for in Romania between 2006-2016 added to less than 150 euros! Of course, this couldn’t have gone on forever. I was hoping I could have continued to live a somewhat comfortable existence in Romania, delivering in Romanian and serving only (or mostly) Romanian clients. I chose the hard way because I came to the conclusion this can’t go on forever.

I cannot do everything by myself as a freelancer: organize the events, do customer service, promote my services with quality content, managing a collective blog with 10+ authors and several other collaborations, hold the seminars, deliver the consulting, write the books, publish the books, distribute and sell the books, supervise collaborators, get featured on television (for free) and develop my self professionally in the same time. What about personal life? Oh, did I also mention I also made time for my film hobby and I was an official blogger at film festivals?

In 2016 I had burnout, a major setback and I got sick. To add to my issues, my mother got a severe heart issue and she was hospitalized for almost a month. She lost a client as a freelancer and got into more debt on this occasion. Like myself, my mother has tried to do everything by herself most of her life (an inspiring model for those who want to die young and be forgotten fast). She worked hard, yet not SMART [en]. She also has an interesting story to tell about it, although it’s not so shiny as mine. Stay cool, it’s not here!

Anyway, I kind of preferred that I wouldn’t end up like my mother.

So, was this a success story? From the publishing standpoint, yes. But from a career point of view, staying a freelancer instead of becoming an entrepreneur was a bet I lost, in retrospect.

The consequences, after 2016:

  • I stopped working on books;

  • I kept a disciplined pace of one article a week in blogging;

  • I made a publishing calendar and stuck to it;

  • I sorted out my collaborations with publications and other freelancers.

  

Synthesis

Now, the results in 20 years of publishing are not perfect, but here are some of the accomplishments:

  • 1.5 million+ views for articles published online;

  • 2000+ articles published in 40+ publications;

  • 50+ apparitions on TV and various media;

  • 4 printed books (out of which two titles rated 5 stars out of 5) and one e-book (in 2 editions);

  • one hardcover book translation published into Italian: La negoziazione persuasive;

  • one audiobook sold for 10+years;

  • one multimedia product managed sold on CD;

  • Winner, 1st place, National Championship of Blogging 2012, Blogal Initiative, for a niche business analysis on the perspectives of blogvertising in Romania (2012);

  • Winner, 1st place, for best article in personal and professional development (2007);

  • Voted by bloggers, 1st place in an entrepreneurship blogvertising contest (2013);

  • Winner, 1st place, Profi articles campaign, Blogal Initiative, and Profi Rom Food, November 2012 – best article campaign for the client‘s brand;

  • Most Original Work in Psychology, Bucharest University, for the project Defensive Mechanisms of the Self (May 2005);

  • Winner, 2nd place for an insurance-promoting blogvertising campaign; client: GroupAma (2013);

  • 1st prize in Management-Marketing at EconomMix contest, The Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, The “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University from Iaşi, May 2005 for the Brand Electoral Study project;

  • Place 7 out of 600+ at the 2nd edition of the National Championship of Blogging from 2013, by participating in 10 blogvertising campaigns (2013);

  • Winner, 2nd place, in the blogvertising contest of promoting the new economy-class range of products for the Arctic brand (2013);

  • 2nd place in the blogvertising contest titled “How do you see the future in education?” (2013);

  • Winner, 3rd place in the Literary Contest “Vox Napocensis” for participating in poetry, a theater play, and a short story.

  

So what now?

If you’ve read this whole article and the one from last week, you might have caught some of my vision into being an author and a publisher for more than two decades. Therefore, even though I’m not a world-famous author, you can easily notice how what I write here is merely the tip of the iceberg. Or, how Vlad T Popescu wrote in his publishing e-course, an author’s main motivations are that either (s)he wants:

  • money or
  • fame or
  • (s)he’s a graphomaniac

Which of these works most for you?

If this article has inspired insights, reflections, and observations, how else could I be of service to you, regarding your writing, publishing, or blogging? Contact me for a free breakthrough session in which we could talk about how what you plan to do in blogging/publishing fits your goals!

Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2021-present. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved.

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.

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