How To Write A Book

Didja hear? I wrote a book. It’s pretty damn good, too.

Writing it was an enjoyable and incredibly rewarding experience, and I will likely make some spare change from it. Most importantly of all though: For the first time in my life, I’m gainfully employed doing something that I actually want to do, and something that may have a positive effect on the world. This is great for my mental health, over and above the shallow ego-boost  I admittedly derive from seeing my words in print.

Do you have a message or story worth sharing? Maybe you should write a book too. With the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing industry rapidly decaying into dust and ashes, it’s never been easier for aspiring young writers to connect with an audience, get published, and sell books. This post is a quick and dirty guide to the five steps you’ll have to go through as an amateur author.

1) Write

The three habits of a successful writer are: 1) Writing often, 2) Reading even more often, and 3) Seeking out honest, forthright criticism from others.

I won’t make any claims regarding my own writing ability, other than to say this: I am much better than I once was. When I read my early attempts at short stories, novels, poems, and long-form essays from my younger days, I generally find them cringe-worthy. I may not be qualified to teach a creative writing seminar, but I know a thing about getting from ‘mediocre’ to ‘decent.’

However talented you are, you will go much farther towards realizing your potential if you are willing to grind your keyboard down to its nubs churning through pages and pages of material that you will eventually chuck. Write for others, or just yourself. Experiment with a different style and voice. Try writing a story in the literary genre that you are least interested in. Try and imitate the voices of authors you admire – the more you read, the more fruitful this exercise will be. Submit your work – anonymously, if you like – to public forums and webzines and ask for feedback.

Just go have some fun with a blank page, and see where it takes you. Leave your ego at the door, and use your youth and energy to lay a foundation that will let you actually take advantage of your talents later in life.

2) Blog

The publishing industry is dead. Long live the publishing industry!

Once upon a time, book publishers were an important link in the literary value chain. Type-setting and physically publishing a book was an expensive and time-consuming process, so it was necessary for someone to separate the good book proposals from the bad, and bring the winners to market.

Today, the fixed costs of publishing a book are near-zero. The technology and supply chains for print-on-demand literature are here, and the e-reader revolution finalizes this trend. The traditional publishing industry is obsolete, and opportunities for neophyte authors are drying up accordingly.

Meanwhile, opportunity abounds in the organic, grassroots alternative literary world – the blogosphere. If you have a message to share, and can write compellingly enough to make people pay attention, finding an audience is straightforward: Find established writers who are similar to you, and start networking. Send them guest posts, comments, tweets, emails, and track-backs. Successful bloggers usually keep an eye out for new talent. We take pleasure in finding a rookie with potential, and giving him one of his first major links.

3) Draft

To sell a book, you must first write the book. That’s some Zen shit right there.

Briefly: My experience is that drafting, organizing and structuring the chapters of your book is an easy-to-neglect process. Spend more time than you think you should planning the book, and the writing itself will come much easier.

No matter how much energy you put into planning your first draft though, be prepared to rip into it later on. Depending on the sort of book you’re writing, you may only really ‘get it’ when you’ve already written the first three chapters. Then, you will realize halfway through that you need to change X, Y and Z about the first half to make the second half work (there’s a reason writers are stereotypically alcoholic, drug-addicted chain smokers who blow their own brains out in their middle age.)

Eventually you will need to proofread your work. If you don’t want to shell out for a pro, get friends to help you with this. It is very, very hard to proofread your own work – if you wrote a sentence, and have subsequently re-read it 10+ times, your brain will be hard-wired to gloss over any errors. I had a few buddies, both virtual and real-life, read through review copies and send me lists of typos, and I think they caught most of them.

4) Publish

The actual process of self-publishing is painfully simple. This is not to say that it’s easy, but once you sign up for CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, they will hold your hand and walk you through the process. You will have to learn how to navigate the system, but there are a wealth of resources dedicated to helping you do just that. Believe me when I say that compared to every other step in the process, this one is cake.

If you really want to streamline the process, putting out a Kindle-only publication is completely viable. So far, about 70% of Freedom Twenty-Five book sales have been of the Kindle edition. Assuming that a few people who bought the paperback would have eventually bought the Kindle version instead if that was the only option, this is perfect example of the Pareto Principle. Publishing only a Kindle Edition of future books will offer me 80% of the revenue, for less than 20% of the effort. I will likely publish paperbacks in the future as well, now that I know the process, but for the first-time author who doesn’t, limiting your book to an e-reader format probably won’t hurt your sales as much as you think.

5) Sell

It remains to be seen whether or not sales of the Freedom Twenty-Five Book will continue to exceed my (modest) goals. My launch week has been a success, which I attribute to three things:

1) Positive reviews, several more of which will come out over in the next week or so.

2) A wildly successful publicity stunt on Reddit. Over 1000 upvotes at one point, resulting in several tens of thousands of unique visitors. All at the cost of a handful of books that only cost me a few bucks to have printed and shipped.

3) Awesome readers. Of course, every writer thinks his readers are uniquely awesome, but I actually have some corroborating evidence. This blog doesn’t get a ton of random page views and search engine traffic, but it has a ridiculously high subscribers-to-page views ratio. This means my typical reader is focused, conscious, and committed – he is using this website as a tool to improve his life, not just as a way to kill time. I like that.

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Going forward, I don’t plan to spend much time pimping the Freedom Twenty-Five book (OK just a little: BUY! BUY! BUY!). I will occasionally remind new readers that it exists and I’m giving it some prominent visual real estate in the header I’m going to design Any Day Now, but other than that, this project was a fire-and-forget missile.

I’m done step five, and moving on to step one.