Grow your visibility and personal brand by publishing – My interview with author, friend, and colleague, Eric Butow.
I’ve had the pleasure and honor of knowing Eric Butow since 2012 when I started an executive résumé writing business after leaving my 25+ year corporate career. In the early days, I was seeking quality content to incorporate into my own writing and Eric very generously permitted me to include his material.
As of June 2022, Eric has authored 42 books with two more in production. Not only is Eric a prolific writer, he is also an expert technologist, graphic designer, web designer, web developer, and digital marketing consultant. Due to health challenges, Eric was unable to join me on the Get Hired Up! podcast, so we have produced this article to give you a sense of the writing, publishing and distribution process.
Tell us about yourself personally and professionally
I’m the first child born into a middle-class family in the San Francisco Bay Area in late 1969. I moved to several locations in northern California, and I lived in Fresno the longest. I graduated from Fresno State with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication; the latter was awarded in 1996.
I decided to get a communication degree because I saw work colleagues and friends working in fields completely different from what they studied for their degree. I figured working in a broad but vital field of study was the best path for me. But getting my degrees wasn’t easy for someone with severe anxiety. I also wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of computer-mediated communication, which was growing in popularity as a topic of study.
My professional career started in 1988 as a sales associate at the Software Etc. software chain store in Fresno. Software Etc. was owned by the B. Dalton bookstore chain and gradually morphed into GameStop. I got my first job because I was vice president in the Fresno PC Users Group, a non-profit organization for users of IBM PC and compatible computers. After Software Etc., I worked as a desktop publisher and tech writer at various companies in Fresno.
I started my own desktop publishing and graphic design business in 1994 when my employer, a sprinkler manufacturer, laid me off and soon discovered they needed me to do more work for them. So, I made more money from that company as a business owner than I did as an employee.
Just before I graduated from Fresno State, I moved to Roseville, California, which is a suburb of Sacramento, the state capital. I worked for various startups and established computing companies in Sacramento and the Bay Area both as an employee and an independent contractor. My last contracting job ended in 2011 and I’ve been working from home since then.
What started as E.E. Butow Services is now Butow Communications Group which offers web design, online marketing, and writing services. The company has gone through many different stages from being a corporation to being on the back burner. Today, Butow Communications Group has a limited number of clients to keep things manageable, though growth is on the table.
And I write computing, social media, and business books, too. I’m represented by two literary agencies: Fresh Books in Placerville, California, and Waterside Productions in La Jolla, California. Fresh Books is my primary agency and I use Waterside Productions for books I produced with them that are being updated with new editions.
How many books have you published?
42 as of June 2022. Two more books are currently in production.
How did you get into publishing?
Soon after I moved to Roseville, I became editor of Sacra Blue, the monthly magazine of the Sacramento PC Users Group. (Each issue of Sacra Blue regularly had 64 pages for the group’s 2,500 members to read.) In 1997, I asked fellow group member and computer book author Gene Weisskopf for tips about how to get into the publishing industry. He told me to get on publishers’ websites and simply ask them about being a technical editor for books. So, I did that and soon enough I became the technical editor for RoboHelp 7 for Dummies which was published in 1999. (I used RoboHelp in my job, so that’s what got my foot in the door.)
IDG Books (the original publisher of Dummies books) liked my work enough that I was a technical editor for five more Dummies books. In 1999, one of my editors approached me about writing Master Visually Windows 2000 Server, which was published in November 2000.
Why write a book?
The reasons why you write a book are up to you, but if you’re thinking of writing one, then I wouldn't recommend keeping it bottled up in your brain. You’ll find your head weighs more over time.
How to write a book
Start by reading plenty of books in the genre you want to write about. If you’re writing technical books, then read in the series that you want to write in such as the Dummies series. Many (not all) technical publishers also provide clear direction for writing books so that you don’t try to jump through hoops blindfolded.
When to write a book
How to get it published
It’s never been easier to publish a book yourself, and Amazon is the first place that most people think of when they want to self-publish a book. You can also look to organizations like the Nonfiction Authors Association (https://www.nonfictionauthorsassociation.com/) to get resources and support when you’re writing a book.
Note that if you self-publish, you can send that book to publishers to show them that you already have a book, and it would be advantageous to be the publisher to take the book further. This happened with a friend of mine, Tony Barcellos. He wrote the novel, Dear Dairy, in 2011 about what happened at his family’s dairy farm after the matriarch died. I designed the cover for the book and he self-published the novel with Amazon.
With a printed and bound book in hand, Tony pitched his novel to several publishers who specialize in Portuguese literature, and he had his book published by Tagus Press with the title Land of Milk and Money. The book is recognized as one of the three most important novels about the Portuguese experience in America, and especially in central California.
How to engage a literary agent
Social media sites such as LinkedIn are a great place to search for literary agents as well as join groups to find out what people are writing about and what agents are thinking about. And if you find an agent who works in the genre you want to write about, it never hurts to send them a message through LinkedIn (or whatever social media site the agent is on) to ask them questions. If the agent is willing to do so, that could lead to becoming represented.
What are the benefits of publishing a book?
The benefits vary. Writing and promoting a book brings you some level of recognition, and that can lead to other writing opportunities if you get your book in front of the right people. If you have a business, then writing books and being represented by an agency gives you and your business much more credibility. You may find people give positive reviews and comments regrading your book, which is always gratifying. And publishing a book is always a relief because that means you can goof off for a well-deserved change.
How long does it take?
It depends on how you’re writing it. If you’re writing a book on your own, then the deadlines you set are your own. When you sign a contract with a publisher, that contract has set milestones to finish parts of the book. It’s common for the unlocking of payments to be tied to milestones to help motivate you to reach those milestones on or before the due date.
On personal branding
When you’re a published author, you need to decide how much you want to market yourself. If you think that you need to get your name out there, you need to approach it like a business. That is, you should have printed materials like business cards to hand out, a website and/or social media profiles, and even a professional logo. It’s up to you if you want to go even further, such as wearing printed T-shirts you had made or sending out e-mail newsletters.
What’s more, you should consider having separate websites and/or social media profile pages for your different books. A good example of this is with my friend Tony Barcellos. I developed three websites for him: one for himself, another for his book A Stroll Through Calculus, and a third for his book Land of Milk and Money.
On legacy writing
Legacy writing is important because humans are storytellers, and pictures or videos don’t tell the whole story. Writing about your experiences is also very important for future generations of your family, many of whom won’t know anything about you except your name, the years you lived, and maybe some photos.
You can also encourage other family members to write about their lives and legacies. For example, I need to talk with my 81-year-old mother about writing down her experiences, especially her early years, because I don’t know much about her side of the family. And if you write something you think is compelling, you may want to publish it yourself so you can peddle it to publishers. That’s how Tony Barcellos’s book Land of Milk and Money came to be.
There are plenty of self-publishing options out there, and Amazon is a natural choice but not the only one. You should also research other publishing companies and find out what’s right for you and your needs. For example, if you think that you can publish your book without anyone else’s help, then Amazon may be the best choice. If you need more flexibility and the ability to work with a professional, then a service such as Lulu Publishing may be more interesting.
What was your favorite writing project and why?
The most recent book I completed and published, Digital Etiquette for Dummies. It allowed me to engage my master’s degree in communication, and my focus on computer-mediated communication, to bring an informed perspective to readers. It’s nice to still be using my degree 26 years after I graduated from Fresno State.
Would you recommend someone to hire a ghostwriter or do it themselves? Why or why not?
I don’t recommend one because a ghostwriter is writing in their voice—not yours. Even if you think you’re a terrible writer, write your story. After a few days, revisit the story and edit it some more, because it’s inevitable that you’ll wonder what you were trying to say. You’ll likely find things you need to add and/or delete, too.
Then find yourself a good editor. You can find one through organizations such as the Nonfiction Authors Association for nonfiction books or BookBaby for fiction books. A good editor will help you flesh out your voice and make it stand out to your readers—and potential publishers.