Writing a book was like having a baby. Sexy in conception, took a while to incubate, birthing was difficult. Not knowing much about it before I began writing, I went in with blinders on, which was probably just as good. Taking writing from blogging to an actual book, with organized thoughts, a wholesale strategy and presenting it in a manner that people could understand was something entirely new. Bite sized, train-of-thought stuff is pretty easy and gets pushed out the door complete with blemishes (grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes) quickly. These deficiencies are a small impact in the grand scheme of things. Publishing something like 270+ pages long, I wanted it of the highest quality I could muster, which meant changing how I do things. Even still, I know there are various turds in the finished document (my apologies to those who buy/have bought it who stumble up on these stinkers). I’m hoping the overall content makes up for the occasional sentence that goes off the reservation or atrocious punctuation. While there are a number of great resources, Joe Konrath’s blog was one I read a lot and spent a fair amount of time lurking on the Kboards writer’s forum.
Here’s the top 12 things I learned writing a book.
1) Writing takes a long time – I started my book back in 2012, and it took over 18 months to get it onto the street. Admittedly, I put it down for 8 months or so, but the actual content was mostly filled out in about 3-4 months. What took the longest was adding to the ongoing addition to content, fleshing out paths that weren’t as strong as I would have liked, editing, and rewriting. Even still, I could have expanded extensively, but due to having 4 main subjects I was trying to cover, I had to draw the line somewhere.
2) I learned a lot about copyright issues – I researched various copyright laws and interpretations on presentation of data and charts is ok, fair use practices, use of images. I even contacted a few authors and copyright holders about using selected items to make sure I was complying with laws to cover my bases.
3) Formatting is important – use headings, subheadings and so forth to generate a Table of Contents. I ended up purchasing a template for Word and e-books from Book Design Templates (incl. covers) and see a huge need for this product for self-published authors. Matt Forney even discussed the importance of appearance and TOC in his recent post How to Publish a Book. This was one of the most important things I did in that I wanted a professional looking book, but had no desire to pay someone to make it look good nor did I want to pay for or learn Adobe InDesign software (the software some of the book Pros use). So I compromised, and while it won’t pass the sniff test with those in the industry, I felt the final result was very good on appearance. Now Kindle and EPub formats are simply more limited in what they can do, depending on your reader. I made them look as best I could given the software I had. (If any readers have issues with how the e-books look, please let me know).
4) The editing and review process took way longer than I expected too – self-editing, then outside editing and copy proofing, more self-editing, then beta-readers, then final self-editing and final copy-reading. Quality was important. Does this mean my book is perfect? No, admittedly at the end of the process there are still a few minor things that couldn’t figure out how to make it work and am sure I missed a few punctuation items and left some confusing or run on sentences. Editing helped, but a few blemishes remain that hopefully only I notice. I’ve already updated the files once over the weekend, so early purchasers are going to notice a few more turds in there than I intended (and caught early). But this process took many hours and months to actually happen. What it looked like at the beginning and what it looked like at the end was like a block of wood compared to an intricate carving – night and day. While obviously I took most of the effort in making the final product, my wife had some great suggestions, my beta readers helped a lot as well (including one that has had employment within the publishing industry and the generous Ian Ironwood who wrote my Foreword). Each step of the way improved the final product. However, I was on a small budget, and I would have preferred to pay more for this end of the production. Maybe I can make that happen for the second edition.
5) Research, research, research – While I wrote a non-fiction, self-improvement book, it took a lot of research to supplement my own thoughts. I don’t have a PhD or run a medical practice, so how does that qualify me as an expert? According to Four Hour Workweek Author Tim Ferriss, you just need to read three books on any subject and you’re more of an expert on the subject than nearly every common person. On each of my main subject matter (intergender relationships/marriage, health and wellness, personal finance for regular people, and parenting) I probably read between 5-20 books per topic, along with a bunch of other articles and other books on supplementary topics. I think it made for a much stronger final product. Even up to the end, I was going through my hundreds of pages of notes, mining them for some nugget I could still add that I hadn’t covered yet. If you find those subjects fascinating yourself, you likely won’t get a whole lot of new information out of Average Married Dad’s Guide to Health, Wealth, and a Sexy Marriage: For 30- to 40-Somethings, but if you’re like me, I hope to uncover a few unknown gems even for the veterans.
6) Cover design matters – What I knew at the start was A) I wanted a cover to look good and professional and B) Knew that I couldn’t do that task. So I did what any good project manager does – outsource your weakness. I evaluated a number of options, from StreetLightGraphics to covers by Author Support to 99Designs. I eventually settled on Glendon at Streetlight Graphics, for which he prepared a number of different cover versions (for POD and ebooks). Cost for this was about $400.
7) Registering my Copyright – Besides being automatically copyright protected by my writing, I did pay $35 to be registered and protected with the Library of Congress.
8) Electronic upload requirements versus Print on Demand – This was somewhat time consuming, but the template purchased from Book Design Templates had both a POD type format and one more suitable for e-books. What I found though is with a little saavy, you can easily convert your word styles to ones that work better with Kindle (fonts and size). The ePub file version was also different, so I ended up having three different files: one for Hard Copy, one for Kindle and one for the other readers. You can also pay someone to do this for you, as StreetLightGraphics, and others will assist for a fee.
9) Writers don’t make much – While I hope this book will sells a lot of copies (tell your friends), the reality is most writers don’t sell very many books and thus don’t make much money. I’ve researched this quite a bit, and the reality is most writers have other jobs and to strike it big is rare. Personally, I write because I think the message that we are trying to put out there needs to be yelled from the rooftops.I hope I end up in the black, and this writing thing catches on, but who knows.
10) I really like writing – While I sort of liked writing before starting this process, I sort of fell in love with it going from a blog to a book. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be very good at this craft (respectable, maybe; great? probably not), but I really like taking the block of wood that are the key ideas, and whittling away at the story and then finally polishing it up at the end. It really is like birthing, and while sometimes it is work, it is work that is easy to like. And the result is something that can touch others lives. It’s powerful stuff when it works properly.
11) Zig when everyone zags – I believe most self-published books (and certainly most of the best selling self-published books) are fiction, perhaps because people want to escape. However, I did the opposite and went non-fiction as that’s what I know. There seems to be fewer in this category. Find a niche that works for you and isn’t like the masses. While I didn’t really think of that until near the end of the process, I sort of embraced that thought that I was going against the grain. Add to the fact that most self-published non-fiction is biographies or cook books or stuff like that, and I’m in an even smaller percent. I tried to find stats on fiction vs. non-fiction self-publishing, but couldn’t. After spending countless hours researching writing and self-publishing topics, my gut tells me 75% of self-published books are fiction (reading kboards writers forum, nearly every poster is fiction), but I could be way off. It’s easy to make stuff up in the land of fiction. It’s hard to actually research something (too much like school), or become so much of an expert at something you can write about your experiences, and most people are too lazy or don’t have a good concept or simply don’t know enough about anything.
12) Writing is a solitary, isolating activity and can slowly drive you mad – Remember in the movie The Shining, where you finally glimpse Jack Nicholson’s manuscript (hundreds of pages long) and all it says on every page is “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”? I totally get that now. That first draft copy you put together, with all your heart and soul poured onto the page, is only seen by you. You may have a masterpiece or you may have a steaming pile of shit. It is very difficult to be critical of our own work, and until you put it out there for review, it could literally be a a Baboon Fart Odyssey (with Fart stated over and over 100,000 times- a funny read). I spent a lot of lonely time in my own world crafting my writing (if you want to call it that), and it was pretty tough some days going to such an isolated place. Finally, when you do put it out there, self-doubt can consume you. Writing and publishing is not for the feint of heart.