After finding lots of good advice from other people online as I went through my process, I want to share my lessons in the hopes that they will help other authors realize their dream.
The major sections of the life-cycle of a book require different tools. I find I may be in multiple sections at the same time as I work on different projects.
Collecting ideas & keeping notes: Scrivener and OmniFocus are my best tools here. Make it as easy as possible to capture your ideas as you have them and arrange them for later writing work.
Writing: Scrivener. Don’t think about formatting right now; write now.
Editing: Hire a professional editor it will improve your work 100%. More about this below.
Formatting: Scrivener for ebooks and, if you have the skills, InDesign for print. Do side by side comparisons of ebook and print proof to find any lost text, run-together paragraphs, or other issues.
Publishing: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), iTunes Connect, PubIt, and Createspace. Note that in the data entry in these systems “Editor” does not equal “edited by”; its for anthologies and things like that. General warning: Management interfaces may lag by days behind the book going live on the site; search for it by title, author, ISBN if you don’t have its exact URL in advance.
Promotion: Twitter, Facebook, Moo business cards with book cover. Say thank you to the people you quote, cite, or who otherwise helped you get the book’s ideas pulled together—it’s the right thing to do and it may just turn into a great, influential review. Promo is a marathon—like dragging an unconscious 400lb man around a track, as Kevin Smokler put it—but you get through it with lots of quick bursts.
This post is currently just a first draft to get out to the world some of these lessons and links. Lots more to write and I’ll be happy to answer questions. For the moment, here are an assortment of tips and observations.
– The advantage of finding the tools that work for you is you don’t have to dick around so long finding the right tools—and you won’t be able to use that as an excuse to delay the real work of writing.
– Establish a morning writing routine. Making progress early in the day fuels productivity throughout the day.
– Decide why this work is worth it. What new idea or feeling do you want to create in your reader? Consider saying less but saying it better. What will be different about you when you complete this work? You’ll be a better writer, but is there something else that this project is going to teach you?
– Get smart feedback early to help you define the project. It’s all too easy to try to take on too many books in one. Literary agent Ted Weinstein read an early version of my book proposal and told me it sounded like three or four interesting books. “Get it down to one or two only,” he said. That process of tightening the focus was a great leap forward.
– Lay it all out. When you’ve got an outline and some fleshed out sections—particularly if you are integrating older writings—print the whole thing out, cut it into its component parts, and physically move everything around until it flows better. Seeing and improving the book’s structure is easier and faster as a physical task.
– Write. Write write write.
– Set the first draft aside, ideally for at least three months, and go work on something completely different for a while.
– With fresh eyes, re-read and identify where the flow isn’t leading your reader to get your message, where the writing is weak, where the text is over-stuffed with unneeded padding. Refine and tune and prune. This is when you’ll have enough distance to work intelligently on overall themes. Read it again and polish it more.
– Push the cocksucking boulder up the motherfucking hill. Finish writing it all. Do what editing you can do of something you’re so close to, but just get the package complete.
– Bring in new eyes. Now is the time for beta readers. Half a dozen at least, better yet a dozen. Not all of them will get back to you with comments. Don’t argue with the feedback. Listen, nod, thank them. Watch for patterns. Fix what seems broken. Expand confusing points. Adjust the voice of your writing to maintain the desired mood.
– Hire a professional. Get a seriously good editor. Pay well. This will be expensive. It will double the quality of your book. (Professional editing was about 60% of my cost for producing Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff since I did my own formatting into ebook and print.) A good editor can mean an increase of a half or whole star in your average ratings and that can make a dramatic difference in your sales.
– Make it look great. Get it into ebook and print format, whether you do it yourself or hire someone, and test the ebook on as many devices and applications as possible. Authors have more ability to influence the reading experience these days, so eliminate annoyances for your readers wherever you can.
– Follow up on the details. For instance, after my book was available in physical form through Createspace, I talked to them to doublecheck that the Expanded Distribution Network listing through Ingram Distributors—a key factor in a customer being able to walk into almost any bookstore in the U.S. and be able to order my book—was proceeding correctly and to re-confirm the (irritatingly slow) timeline.
– Spread the word. Let your core supporters know as soon as the book is ready. I announced to my Discardia followers on Twitter and Facebook as soon as the ebooks were available and again when the print version could be ordered through my Createspace store and Amazon. Those early sales and handful of reviews and ratings kept my spirits up as I worked through other promotion preparation while waiting for the listing with Ingram to go live.
– Thank those who helped you. Let everyone you quoted, cited, or referred to in your book know that it’s out and they’re in it. This can generate more publicity and sometimes requests for reading copies from other authors who may promote your work to their network.
Ask questions in the comments and I will expand this post!
3 thoughts on “How I wrote and self-published my book, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff”
Not unrelatedly: http://htmlgiant.com/behind-the-scenes/lessons-ive-learned-starting-a-micropress/
Hi there. Thanks again for sharing what you learnt – I’m considering self-publishing my next book and reading your experiences & tips is inspiring!
One specific question: how did you go about finding and hiring a good editor?
Hi Meri. Glad it was useful!
I put out a call to my Twitter pals to ask if anyone knew a great professional editor and got some recommendations there. Then, after reading a few things online talking about finding and working with an editor, I visited their websites to see if we seemed compatible. Then, as I recall, I wrote a query to the ones I liked and then once I got a response we traded email about the project and our style of working. Once things seemed to be going well, she sent an estimate and we reached an agreement.
Here’s that query I sent initially:
Seeking an editor for a completed non-fiction work
I was referred to you by …. I am a writer seeking to hire a professional editor to help bring my manuscript to the level at which I want to publish it. I hope to find someone available to work with me right away so that I can release the book (via Kindle, iTunes, and print on demand) soon.
My non-fiction book is Discardia: Making Room in your Life for Awesomeness. It’s a practical, friendly guide to personal transformation and productivity centered on the holiday I invented in 2002 and the simple principles behind it.
The book is complete (at about 255 laser-printed pages) and currently well into beta reading with many great sharp-eyed and sharp-minded folks, so, while I want copy editing, it is a substantive editing pass to ensure it is at professional publication levels that I most seek.
In June of 2010 I was able to secure an agent (Janet Rosen of Sheree Bykofsky Associates) on the basis of a detailed book proposal, including an outline and several sample chapters, but, the traditional publication industry being what it is these days, she was not able to land a publishing contract for it. We have amicably ended that relationship so that I can proceed to self-publication and professional editing is the next step.
Competitively, this work fits in with books like Give It Up!, The Not So Big Life, Your Spacious Self, Throw Out 50 Things, The Joy Diet, The Power of Less, The Happiness Project, and Sink Reflections. It is my intention to create a total package – well-written, polished with good editing, presented with pleasing internal formatting and attractive cover art – which is so professional it is not obvious to the shopper or the reader that it didn’t come from a major publishing house.
It may help to provide you a little more market background. The book is targeted at readers who are seeking clarity and relief from a sense of overwhelm in their relationship to the stuff filling their homes, heads, and calendars. Naturally, with the theme of getting rid of stuff and improving habits, there is a big overlap with fans of uncluttering and productivity resources. The Discardian theme of perpetual upgrade also finds an enthusiastic audience among Lifehackers and similar fans of personal optimization, such as the users of the goal-setting website 43things.com. (Both Lifehacker and Apartment Therapy have linked to my online Discardia writing in the past, so they are an obvious first stop in promoting the book when it is available for purchase). Within these larger markets, Discardia: Making Room in Your Life for Awesomeness distinguishes itself by serving those seeking motivating works which are, as one of my readers put it, “inspirational without sappiness” and which come from a non-religious, non-New Age point of view under-represented on the self help shelves. Unlike the approach taken in many previous books on simpler living, Discardia is not anti-city, anti-technology, anti-work, or even necessarily anti-stuff.
It fits within four intersecting trends in books: inspirational works centered on being true to your real self, motivating guides to upgrading your life, transformative manuals on simplifying your life, and down-to-earth collections of practical tips for uncluttering, many of which include mental baggage along with the physical. If I’ve achieved my goals – and beta feedback so far suggests I have – the book avoids being too sugary sweet, scolding, or over-laden with acronyms and special lingo all of which can turn away readers who would otherwise enjoy the content.
As opposed to many recent books in this area, it is not a stunt memoir, but instead emerges from years of practice. It moves beyond the all-too-common, simplistic “just throw out your crap” advice to offer a framework of over-arching principles – decide and do, quality over quantity, perpetual upgrade – with which to approach the ongoing optimization of both physical and mental surroundings. These principles, covering both carving away and building up wisely, are appropriate for business and home contexts with examples covering each. Specific, actionable tips and techniques are included and grounded in real-world experience and the wider social context of life in the networked age.
So, yes, after all that, I drag my feet and admit it; somehow I of all people have written a self help book – but it isn’t icky! Promise!
Does the editing of Discardia: Making Room in Your Life for Awesomeness sound like a project that interests you, fits with your skills, and which you’d be able to start on within the next three weeks? If so, I’ll be happy to answer any questions and can send you the current draft (or a section of it as you prefer) so that you can give me a quote for your services.
Email is the most felicitous method of reaching me, but you can also call me on the phone at ….
Thank you for your consideration,
So, I was very clear about the project, the state of the manuscript, the services I wanted, and my timeline, which I believe all helped tremendously in setting both our expectations and making everything work out all right (on a quite aggressive schedule!)