Writing is a painful process. When putting pen to paper for a book, the pain goes on for months. That’s why many people talk about writing a book, but few actually pull it off. No matter how brilliant your idea may be, if you’re not willing to spend months beating your head against the computer, it’s not going to happen. But the thing is, working really hard, and suffering through a big process, results in immense satisfaction. You can’t have happiness without some suffering.
My book, The Alaska Factor was first published in 2012 and a second edition came out this fall. The Alaska Factor is a guidebook for backcountry skiing in Southcentral Alaska, highlighting the vast mountain ranges around Anchorage including the Chugach Mountains, Talkeetna Mountains, Kenai Mountains and Alaska Range. Arguably (I’d win the argument) the best backcountry skiing in the United States. The goal of the book is to get visitors oriented to Southcentral skiing. I also want to give locals a fun book where they can see photos of their buddies skiing. What it sacrifices in detail, it makes up for in visual appeal. It gives away no secret stashes and keeps the adventure spirit of Alaska alive. I knew I’d succeeded at my goal when the saltiest, gnarliest, crustiest, Alaska backcountry skier I’d ever seen, came up to me and said, “I’ve been looking at your book.” Gulp. “And I approve.” Phew!
I started freelance writing in 1995 for climbing and ski magazines. In 2008, during the financial debacles, I had five articles killed, meaning the magazines agreed to the article, I wrote the article, then they backed out on their commitment. No publication means no pay. To survive the economic downturn, magazines started using in-house writers for most of their articles. Disillusioned, I weeded myself out of the freelance writing world. Seeking new writing outlets, I blogged some; then I had an epiphany while skiing the Route in France with my wife. I was looking at the slick guidebook we carried on the tour. I thought, “this is a really cool book. I have to do one like this for the Anchorage area. If I don’t do it now, someone else will, and that will kill me.”
That summer of 2011, I started writing The Alaska Factor. The content was a brain dump with no research and I already had the photos. The hardest part was learning Adobe InDesign, a book writing program. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos on InDesign, learned probably five percent of the program, but that was enough. After five months of work, stretched over a year, I handed over a hard drive and a big check to Todd Communications in Anchorage to print 2,000 copies.
I self-published and self-distributed the book. I knew how I wanted it to look, so I wanted to do the layout myself in InDesign. Marketing and distributing is straightforward because I am targeting a narrow and deep market: backcountry skiers in the Anchorage area. Distributing the books involves carrying boxes of books to REI, Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking, Ski AK, Powder Hound and the Hoarding Marmot. They take 40 percent. The best sales are from my Alaska Factor web page because that is entirely profit. Self-publishing and self-distributing eliminates the middle man and seems to be the only way to make a profit, unless you’re Stephen King. After three years, the first edition was gone
In 2016, I started the second edition, thinking, “Oh this will be easy. Do some edits on the first edition, print double, and boom, I’ll be collecting money!” So I thought at least. I added 60 pages, added Valdez and Kodiak Island, put in more photos, and fine-tuned the entire book. This quick edit took about four months of beating my head against the computer rather than a rock wall or big powdery alpine face.
Was all the time in front of the computer worth it? For sure! Having the printed copy in hand after months of work is hugely satisfying. Would I have been better just guiding more to make money? No. It’s good to mix things up to prevent burnout. With the book written, and 3,000 copies sitting in my garage, I can kick back and do the easy part: collecting money and enjoying the additional guiding business coming in. It’s so easy now I’ve almost forgotten the pain. In fact, I might start my next book real soon….
Written by: Joe Stock