5 Tips to Help You Write a Book, Too

Many people dream about writing books. I did for the first 34 years of my life. Seven years later, I just sent the draft of my fifth book to my editors last week. Thanks to independent publishing, writing a book is something anyone can do.

The trick is to demystify the aura of writing a book (featured books image by Moyann Brenn), and just do it. Publishing a book is similar to any other significant undertaking — such as learning a new language or hobby, training for a marathon, or surviving your first year in business.

Let me explain. The first time you finish writing a book, it’s a huge deal. You can’t believe that you actually did it, and you go and paint the town red.

After the fifth book, it’s less of a moment. I shut down my computer, and let myself read a little more of Plague Year, an awesome post-apocalyptic nanotech thriller. Then I went to bed a little earlier than normal. Woohoo!

Why the lack of emotion about completing the War to Persevere, a book I like better than my last two, Exodus and Marketing in the Round? A book drains you like any other major effort. So while this may be my last book (I doubt it, but you never know), one thing is certain: Rest is a great reward for me (A trip to Hawaii wouldn’t suck, either).

Now I see writing and publishing a book as an achievement, but one like other major undertakings in my life. With that mindset, here are five tips to get you started:

1) See Your Book

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One mark of successful novel today is a movie adaptation. When I consider a plot, I like to consider it as a movie.

A screenplay’s wordcount represents a fraction of a contemporary novel. And that’s much better than it used to be. Today’s novel is not yesterday’s, meaning that modern novels are shorter, more direct, less esoteric and more entertaining than your classic piece of literature.

Still it helps to think about how the plot would work on the big screen. While a hypothetical movie adaptation shouldn’t dictate character development, it does help me to eliminate unnecessary content that I really don’t need.

If you are writing a business book, a classic overarching theme/thesis and supporting chapters works well in this case. Theming a book with an overaching arc makes a huge difference froma readbility standpoint.

Hobiton image by Alison Thomas.

2) Peer Support

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Most people view writing as a solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be. To help me get into the writing groove last autumn, I participated in NaNoWriMo and the Google+ Writer’s Group to help me work through kinks and barriers. It helped to discuss the mechanics of writing with peers at times. Though I didn’t complete the book for another eight months, peer support helped me realize my situation was far from unique.

One caveat here: Be careful sharing plot details and book concepts. I have been burned in the past by other authors.

3) Discipline

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If you commit to doing something, then it can happen. Every day activity makes a project like a book (or getting a training certification or…) become a reality. I maintain momentum by staying in motion. Discipline yourself and write each day or at least most days. One rest day per week is OK, but anymore than that causes my writing process to lose momentum, and forces me to write as opposed to it being a natural process.

With War, I stopped writing at the end of January because of my grandmother’s death and SxSW. I didn’t get back on the writing wagon until June. Life happens and I don’t regret that, but I must acknowledge that decision to focus on other activities caused the book to fall to the wayside.

4) Creative Mojo

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Part of writing is maintaining creativity. Do whatever is necessary to feel free, and keep the words flowing. Here are 15 methods I use frequently. Or if I am still blocked, I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I find her exercises to be extremely useful.

5) Put the Book to Bed

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These days I draft a book, then proof it, and move on. I put it to bed. I will never be 100% satisfied with a book, and there will Always be opportunities for improvements. Believe me, I know. I just read ExodusI, and want to rewrite it. Again. And I rewrote that damn thing several times over 20 years.

If you want to publish, then you have to let go. You are too close to the book. Finishing is important!

I personally use developmental editors to coach me. Get objective readers to help you shape your novel or business book, take their advice, make the changes, then press go. Lessons learned can be applied to the next book.

Those are my five tips for aspiring writers. What would you add?

Lessons Learned with Amazon, iBooks and Lulu

Good news! Exodus is finally available in print on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as electronically via the iTunes store. If you want, read Ralph Rivera’s review here.

It took much more than expected to distribute Exodus via these distribution channels. Jess Ostroff (her business Don’t Panic Management serves as a virtual project manager for my company) and I cowrote thispost detailing our lessons learned.

We both recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, but there were several proverbial “devils in the details” missing from the text. In publishing this post we hope to help folks avoid these same issues.

CreateSpace versus Lulu

The current version of the book is published on CreateSpace, Amazon’s independent publishing service. Originally, I published it on Lulu, and that was the primary reason why the book took almost two months to become available on Amazon.

First, let me explain my original logic. APE reviewed the two services; CreateSpace was considered very good, and Lulu was good. I took the lesser of the recommendations because I didn’t want to support the Amazon empire. From a book publishing standpoint, they are the alpha and the omega of the business, and pretty much dominate everything. So whenever possible, I try to support competitors.

In this case, that was a bad decision.

Lulu does not distribute books immediately on Amazon and Ingram, which distributes to B&N and other bookstores. Instead, it takes six to eight weeks. Thus the problem.

I decided to live with it in spite of smaller margins and what I perceive to be a slightly lesser quality product. But then I had a significant layout error in the book, which I decided to address, both in the electronic Kindle and print editions. I updated Lulu, and guess what? Another six to eight weeks, further delaying the print release.

That’s when I asked Jess to format the novel for CreateSpace. The ringer? Lulu’s version on Amazon became available late last week. However, it takes one to three weeks to receive a Lulu print on demand book. Amazon’s CreateSpace ships in one day. It was too little too late for Lulu.

One issue we experienced was linking the Kindle edition to the print one. However, I filed a ticket in Author Central, and the matter was resolved promptly. I wish I could say the same thing about the iBooks customer service team, but that is Jess’s story… You can avoid this issue altogether by publishing to Kindle from your CreateSpace account.

AuthorCentral

All in all, the lesser capabilities of Lulu demonstrate another example of Amazon’s monopoly strength, and clearly they are using it to their advantage. In the end, I abandoned Lulu so I can get the book out there as quickly as possible.

Jess’s Experience with iBooks

It started in June, when Geoff asked for help distributing his new book, Exodus. Geoff sent me a copy of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (which is the first technical book I’ve read since college) and I followed the instructions closely for Nook, Kindle, and iBook, which are the “big 3” when it comes to online publishing.

Because I don’t own Illustrator or Publisher, as APE recommended, I decided to try a free software called Calibre that was recommended by other book publishers as an easy tool to convert .doc or .pdf files into the appropriate files for distributors like Amazon and iTunes. Perhaps that was my first mistake.

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It’s not surprising that Apple wants users to use their own software for creating ebooks, iBooks Author. It’s free and elegant, and can probably help non-designer types create really good looking books.

In the case of Exodus, we were hoping to simply distribute the novel across multiple platforms, not start from scratch with each platform. The latter was essentially what iBooks Author wanted us to do.

We couldn’t import the Kindle or Nook editions of the book; instead we started from scratch. It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, not a coloring book. So, I decided to use the .epub output from Calibre in the iTunes delivery tool, iTunes Producer, another free download that promised iTunes distribution once the file had been approved. Or so I thought.

The set up of a new iTunes account was required because Geoff’s current account (that he uses daily) was attached to another e-commerce setup on iTunes. We had to create a “publisher” account, including his company bank account information, tax ID number, address, and other sensitive information. Every other platform had us enter this information, but iTunes was the only one that made us set up a brand new account.

After reading this giant iTunes FAQ, I thought I had my ducks in a perfect row. The .epub file I had created for iBooks passed the test on the EPUB Validator. I had the cover image all set, the tags and categories sorted out, and the author and publisher information entered correctly.

But my file would not be accepted by iTunes. Why? Well, at first we got some error messages. For example, what do you think this means?

ERROR ITMS-4062: “Vendor identifier ‘Exodus_The_Fundamentalists_-_Geoff_Livingston_-_Geoff_Livingston’ is invalid according to the configured pattern ‘[a-zA-Z0-9]\w+’ for provider LadySoleilInc” at Book (MZItmspBookPackage)

Imagine things like that times 600. That’s how many error messages spewed out when we first tried to upload the file. The iTunes Producer output a series of numbers and letters that were completely useless. Not only were they gibberish, but they also repeated several times, mentioning that the same error was found, but not showing what or where exactly the error could be found. At first, it was something to do with the metadata, the margins, and the table of contents, but would you be able to glean that from a message like this? Me neither.

I’m used to saying “yes” to projects I have never done before. With the speed at which technology changes, I understand that the nature of my job requires me to be on top of everything, including learning how to do tasks on the fly (or finding workarounds if what we originally wanted to do doesn’t work).

I’ve never been so stumped during a project as I was with trying to get Exodus onto iTunes. Application  approval took weeks, and the support team was completely worthless. Their canned “we’re working it” messages never felt genuine, although I would expect nothing less at this point. We even got a message in French one time! The fun never ended!

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I still don’t know how we actually got the thing to be accepted by iTunes. It was a series of different export files and different upload methods, each containing one minor adjustment that I thought might make iTunes happy. I spent nearly six hours one night attempting to correct any issues, and I’m not exaggerating on that one. This comedy of errors left me exhausted, but man, did I sleep well once we got the glorious confirmation of a job well done!

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What do you think of these issues? What are your best practices?

Done with Traditional Publishing

Books to be returned...
Image by Hash Milhan

Brian Driggs asked me to discuss self-publishing after reading my sordid Fifth Estate story. While I don’t want to dismiss traditional publishing altogether, I can only speak for myself. I will self publish my next book.

There are several reasons, but first let’s discuss two reasons to consider traditional publishing:

Prestige

If you are published by a traditional house, particularly one of the majors, there’s a prestige element. Most “published” authors, some business people, and at least outwardly almost every publisher looks down on self published authors.

As someone who attended American University and then Georgetown University, the published prestige is comparable to Ivy League snobbery. And for the record, American challenged me more intellectually than Georgetown (which is perceived as on par with some Ivy League schools).

Traditional publishers will tell you to never self publish, that you won’t ever have a chance of getting published in real life. But then you hear stories of successful self publishers who get signed, people like John Scalzi, Mark Schaefer and Amanda Hawking. Self publishing has become a minor league for traditional publishers.
Continue reading “Done with Traditional Publishing”