How I wrote and self-published my book, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff 2012
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!