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So You Want to Write a Book? Here is the Nitty Gritty.


By Tamalyn Dallal


“Why do you want to go through all the effort and expense to write a book?” That is an

important question one must ask themselves. Know what your motivation is and what

your level of expertise is. Also, know who your target audience is.

“Is writing books profitable?”

“How do I write a book and get it published? “

“What are some pros and cons of having a publisher or self publishing?”

I have written four books, so I will detail my motivations and what it took to write each

one.


“They Told Me I Couldn’t” A Young Woman’s Multicultural Adventures in Colombia

From 1983 to 1985, I went to Colombia (South America) to dance. Between gigs, I

traveled the country from top to bottom, from east to west. I kept a journal. Years later, I showed my handwritten memoirs to my sister, who had written a successful book about voting machines in the 90’s. She had started a small publishing company and, upon reading about my adventures, wanted to compile them into a book. She spent a year editing, producing, and marketing the book, hoping to propel it into the mainstream.

The cover pictured me dancing in a stadium full of people in Bogota, Colombia. To her surprise (but not to mine) bookstore owners and managers had bellydancephobia, aka“fear of bellydancers.” They would hide the book behind others on the shelves, or merely put them back in the store room.

My second book was “Bellydancing for Fitness. I wrote it in 2004. My brother, who was

a professional author and editor did the editing and formatting. I did not come up with

the name. It was part of a series of fitness books that included “Yoga for Fitness” and

Pilates for Fitness” that was published by Ulysses Press out of Berkeley, California.

They hired me to write it. To my dismay, they wanted to hire models instead of

bellydancers to show the movements in the pictorial section. I insisted on using real

dancers and an accomplished dance photographer named Denise Marino. The

publisher took the fees I paid them out of my advance payment, but it was worth it to

me.

In 2005, I embarked on my first self published project. I was so disgusted by the

Islamophobia that enveloped our nation after 9-11 that I set out to spend time in cultures that embrace Islam and write about my experiences as a person who is not searching for terrorism or evil. Without an agenda, I went to five Muslim countries and lived in each one for forty days and wrote my travel journals. This was a costly, ambitious and life changing project that took two years. I traveled to Indonesia, which I knew very little about, and found a fascinating array of people, cultures, foods and dialects. That was followed by Egypt’s Siwa Oasis (the only part of Egypt that is predominately Amazigh; North African native- not Arabic, formerly called Berbers. I then went to Zanzibar, off the coast of African in the Indian Ocean. I reduced my living expenses to paying a nominal amount to couch surf in Seattle between travels and teach workshops to earn money to continue my travels. My last two destinations were Jordan and China’s westernmost province, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, home of Uyghurs, a Turkic speaking ethnicity.

My travels concluded in Autumn, 2006. The next six months were spent with editors and

with my brother, who produced the book.


The last book I wrote (for now) is a children’s book entitled “The Bellydanceng Kitties of Constantinople.” One day, a friend asked me to write a children’s story about my cat, Pasha. She wanted to translate it into French and read it to children. Once I had written

it, we both agreed that with illustrations it would make a fun children’s book. I hired a dance student of mine from Japan, named Ayako Date, who is a talented artist to illustrate the book. My brother passed away in 2011 but his partner is an editor and has a business helping people self publish their books.

When I moved to New Orleans, many people’s mis conceptions of Raqs Sharqi,

Oriental dance, or bellydance were alarming. I would get snubbed in the arts scene and

told that it belonged with burlesque or side show. By using kitties and including

bellydance in a children’s book, my intention was to reach an audience that had not yet

had time to develop preconceptions about our dance. Instead of avoiding the word

“bellydance,” I would embrace it while giving it a fresh image.

Each of these books had its own motivation: “They Told Me I Couldn’t” was motivated by

my sister, who wanted to make my travel adventures come alive so others could

experience them. “Bellydancing for Fitness” is an instructional book that I wanted people to use as a guide to getting started, either as a student or a teacher. “40 Days and 1001 Nights” was a rebellion against our manipulative media and government at the time which wanted to scapegoat Muslims. By experiencing and writing about their humanity, I

hoped to cast doubt on the reality that the Islamophobes were touting. Finally, “The

Bellydancing Kitties of Constantinople” was motivated by frustration with the persistent mis conceptions about the dance I have done my entire adult life by making people stop

and question themselves as to why cute cartoon kitties would be doing a dance that

was on the margins of acceptability and to realize that it was not as salacious as they

thought.

Regarding my expertise in the subjects covered in my books, when I wrote travel

journals, I didn’t have to start out as an expert because I was documenting my

experiences and readers would learn through my experiences as I went along. With

“Bellydancing for Fitness,” I had been dancing for 28 years and running a dance studio

and non profit arts organization for 14 years by the time I wrote the book. And with the

children’s book, the illustrations carried it to another level.

Is writing books profitable? Rarely. It is expensive though. I don’t know how much was

spent on “They Told Me I Couldn’t.” The value of my sisters time that she dedicated to

this book was massive. The most cost effective way to print the books is to print 4000

copies. The cost would go down to a few dollars a book, but you would end up with a

garage full of boxes of books. Marketing is a full time job if you want to sell that many.

With “Bellydancing for Fitness,” since it was through a publisher, my only expense was

the photographer and dancers that I insisted on. Publishers give you an advance, then

you get a small portion of the book sales; usually between 50 cents to a dollar per book

that kicks in after your advance is covered. I made several thousand dollars over the

course of several years that they were selling the book.

I ended up filling my parents garage with 4000 copies of “40 Days and 1001 Nights”

books. It took selling over 2000 books to break even. There was the cost of my travels,

the editor, producer, and printing. I sold about 2500 of these books. Many more I ended

up giving away and I still have a few boxes. This project was somewhat profitable, only

because I created other products: a documentary film, music cd and dance concert with

the same name that tied into the experience. Many people who didn’t buy a book at my

workshops or book signings would buy a music CD or DVD.

“The Bellydancing Kitties of Constantinople” was very expensive to produce due to the

costs of design, art work, editing and production of a full color, high quality, hard cover

book. If I sold all of the 1000 copies I had printed, I would have broken even. Profit

would have come on the second printing. The pandemic happened, so book events

were halted . There was no second printing. I still have some copies left over from the

first printing. This book definitely lost money but it is a project that I love and am proud

of nonetheless.

As you can see, writing and publishing books is not lucrative. It is a labor of love and a

tremendous amount of work. It not only involves writing, but overseeing the production,

and then promoting and selling the books.

You might wonder why I self published, since that is a hard road with no guarantee of

making money... Though you are guaranteed to spend money. If you manage to find a

publisher, they may make choices that you don’t like, such as changing the name of

your book, or even the content. They also may buy the rights to your book but not

publish it for years. And there are some publishers who are willing to publish but expect

you to do all the marketing. If you want agency for your book, self publishing is the way

to go. You need to hire people: An editor, cover designer, production person who serves

as a liaison for the getting bids from printers, doing layout, getting a copyright, a library

of Congress number, Isbn number, etc. Paper and cover quality matter. Type size

matters.

A more recent option for self publishing is “print on demand.” I have not tried this. It is

more expensive, but keeps you from having to store hundreds of books. Companies,

including Amazon have full service publishing that includes editors, production people,

and they will print the books as they are ordered. This is definitely something to look into

and see if it works for you. Again, quality is important. Make sure the paper is thick

enough and high quality, the print is not small or crowded onto the page, and that they

layout and cover design are professional looking.

Marketing is half the battle in book publishing. It is very helpful to have a following. Most

of your books will be sold to people who have already been following your work, who

know you, or through events you are presenting at. Book stores and Amazon are not

profitable. Let me explain.

When you sell to book stores, you have to pay for the shipping. Whatever they don’t

sell, they send back and you have to pay the shipping again. You will be lucky to get 50

percent of the sale of each book. If your book sells for $20, you will get $10 but when

the shipping is subtracted, it is a lot less. Also, bookstores don’t pay you anything until

they sell the book. If they don’t sell any, and you paid for shipping to and from the store,

you have lost money.

Amazon is a popular, yet not profitable platform for book sales. They pay you 40 percent

of the cover price and you have to pay for sending the book to their warehouse. They

will not keep copies on hand to send out. Every time someone orders a book, you send

it to the corresponding Amazon warehouse at your expense, then they re package it and

send it to the customer. When someone orders a book that retails for $20 from Amazon,

you get $8. After you spent $5 on postage and handling, you end up with $3 per book.

That doesn’t cover the cost of producing the book, so you’ve lost money.

If you still have a book inside of you that needs to be written, by all means, do it. My

brother used to tell me that writing is like a muscle. You have to use it every day. That’s

how you become good. A book can seem like an insurmountable project. You can do it if

your desire is strong. Write every day. When you have written the book, go back and re-

write it. There is an old saying. “Writing is re writing.” My father used to teach writing in

his later years. He would tell his students to take out as many words as possible. We

use a lot of unnecessary words that get in the way. Be concise and “trim the fat.”

I wish you good luck in your writing and any project you choose to pursue. If the story

needs to be told, don’t keep it inside. If it is unique, if there are people you want to

reach, do a labor of love and write your book. Let me know if you have any questions.

You can reach me at tamalyndallal@yahoo.com or through my website,

Tamalyn Dallal began her dance career in 1976. She has born witness to decades of change, from the time that there were no videos as reference until now, an age of information overload. She has taught and/or danced in 44 countries, on six continents, and many times Middle Eastern people were her audiences, supporters and advisors. She has seen the dance develop and veer away from it's cultures of origin and into an industry, with a myriad of variations.


Tamalyn Dallal has written four published books, produced three documentaries, and recorded two music CDs in Zanzibar, Tanzania. She founded and ran the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit studio, organization and dance company in Miami Beach, Florida for 16 years, and then a smaller studio near Seattle, Washington called Zamani Culture House. She taught several months per year in China and other parts of Asia for 12 years until the Pandemic. She now lives in New Orleans, LA and teaches online classes, travels to teach workshops and is working on a cartoon screenplay incorporating Louisiana culture, cats and bellydancing.

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