Well back to discussing how I write, and we’re to the end – the publishing part. Simple, right? Not really.
Publishing could almost be multiple posts but I don’t want to bore people in the wrong way. So before I cover the parts, lets cut to the point here – publishing your book after the writing, after the editing, is something not everyone can do on your own. You’re going to need help somewhere unless you’ve got the right experience.
Even after plenty of practice, I don’t have all the skillsets.
About half my covers are done by other people. This is because, beyond my basic business books, the style I’m capable of (Genially Boring Professional) doesn’t work. In fact, I’m probably going to do enhanced editions of some books I have done covers for at some point. Because yeah, I could do better, and I’m sure you can think of which ones.
So first, I ask if I can do a cover on my own, in my style.
Let’s say the answer is yes. This is almost inevitably the case for my smaller business books and ebooks. In this case, I’ve got some basic approaches to covers I’ve used over the years that are pretty successful. In fact I grab the latest cover and mostly repurpose it for my next book.
In some cases I’ll want art. I try to avoid public domain and any art where the ownership is at all a problem, out of ethics and a desire not to have issues. For new art I got to www.canstockphoto.com which has great deals. I’ve seen other self-publishers use it, which both speaks to its stock, and warns you to make sure you search Amazon for any similar covers.
Once it’s done I take the cover and run it by some friends and writer’s groups and the like, see what people think, modify it, and done. Again this is often ebooks.
Now if the cover needs to be custom art . . .
In this case I tap the artists I know. Usually that means Richelle Rueda as of late, and she, like any, is a person I fan-sourced – meeting people via fandom connections. Meeting someone that way lets you see them in a more artistic, playful, personal element and you get a better feel for who they are and what they do. And yes, consider that a reference for Richelle.
I always pay artists. Exposure is bullshit payment in many cases, so hand them cash or trade in kind unless they offer. Art takes a long time.
I actually have the skills to format the cover, do the back, etc. You can probably develop those skills, but don’t be afraid to outsource that as well. Like, say, to the artist you just paid . . .
Formatting the book for publishing is something I do on my own – because it saves time, because it’s a good skill to have. I learned formatting the hard way – by doing it and having to waste money on failed prints and times on failed e-books. After a few tries I’m not only better, but it’s one more thing I can do myself
Formatting for me has two paths.
First is general formatting. I go through and make sure that the titles are properly done, that the bullet points are in place, and that the page breaks are right. This is stuff that’s relevant to doing the book right no matter what the format. Its surprising how many mistakes can get made – once I had inconsistent titling capitalization on a 300 page book – and I didn’t find that until the printed drafts. I often roll this formatting into read-throughts.
Now it gets interesting. When I’m very (very) sure the book is in good shape I split it into print and ebook (if there’s both)
First is a document formatted for print. This can be pretty challenging as I have to format it so pages break, pages face the proper sides, paragraphs split (or don’t split), and so on. It’s amazing how having to make a document physical affects how you perceive it. Also if you don’t get this right you spend a lot of time reprinting the damn book.
Secondly is a document formatted for e-publishing. I use Jutoh, which is good for all formats – but recently I’ve gone Kindle exclusive. Kindle kinda won the e-pub war and I surrendered, but I still use Jutoh because it’s a damn good tool.
Formatting an electronic document is way different because you face:
I split the books, and then edit one at a time – but I keep them both available because, while formatting, I often find errors. I then correct it in both documents and often the original documents, because I’m anal retentive as hell.
It used to be worse when I did Kindle, ePub, and PDF as I’d have to keep one doc for physical, one doc that became Kindle and ePub, and one for PDF. It was bad enough I think I repressed it.
So the formatting phase becomes pretty extensive as I basically split the books, then format the physical (and add changes to the other doc), then format the electronic document – and sometimes feed changes back to the previous. It turns into a nasty little oroborous of problems at times.
Finally, I give the physical doc a good look through. Then it’s on to pre-publishing this stuff . . .
I go through CreateSpace for physical books now, and Create Space, much like Lulu, lets you set up a book and publish it – without making it available. You can send yourself a copy for approval. Which, I assure you, you’ll want.
While I wait on that to get delivered, I generate the electronic copy of the book. This is where it gets complex again. See people read ebooks on various devices, so I usually generate it then check it on:
You have to consider use cases for your ebook to make sure it works for your audience – and putting it on various devices often reveals problems. Bad formatting, poor flow, an extra space, all become apparent. It’s a good test to make the document readable (and you may find additional errors).
Then at some point the book arrives, and I go through that. With a pen. I mark every page with an error, folding the page down, and underlining what’s wrong. I usually go through the entire book – then fix it in the publishing document, and at ties the e-book document. Sometimes there’s even issues with the cover you have to fix.
Then it’s running both over again, ordering another copy of the print book, and regenerating the eBooks. I’ve had to do the print book over four times at some point (note, that is due to rushing formatting so half that was my own damn fault).
Once it’s good enough (meaning I can make a pass through both without seeing an error or at least one I care about by that time), it’s a go. I upload the eBooks and I give confirmation the physical book is OK.
By the way, by now the feeling isn’t so much triumph as relief.
Publishing is often my least favorite part of doing a book. OK it is my least favorite part. This is why I try to get good formatting done early (I use templates for my books), finish covers, and check carefully. Once you get into this publishing cycle of actually getting the book out it can feel like a hideous grind.
It is a hideous grind, who am I kidding.
At this point I’d take a break, but there’s usually marketing to be done. I’m not going to write on that for awhile as I kind of am not great at that. Perhaps when I get further i’ll talk about it
But there you go, how I write. I hope it helps.
. . . I kinda feel exhausted at this point.
All right, so where are we in this extended discussion of how I write my books? We just covered how I edit my wordspew and it’s time to talk editing.
After revising and revising and revising, my book is eventually “good enough” to be edited. By good enough I usually mean a mix of “this is good” and “oh god I’m sick of this, I’m gonna stop now.” The latter is usually more prominent than I’d like, but anyway I’m at least at a stopping point.
When I refer to as editing, there’s sort of two kinds I lump under “Editing” because they’re really intertwined.
Before I go into how I do this, there are times I don’t do any editing beyond my own writing. At least in the past. Let’s take a look at that, if only for confessional purposes.
Let me repeat – this is when I don’t have others edit. I still edit the hell out of my own work, even if poorly.
So first of all, I don’t think you should avoid having your work edited. If at all possible, someone should at least pre-read it. However there’s a few cases I can see someone not editing, which I’ve done or at least think I did:
I’ve done two published works this way (and hope to revise them with editors and pre-readers when I can). It can work.
But I don’t recommend it. But hey, I gave you an out, and you can always say “but Steve said.”
Now anyway, on with editing.
I didn’t always use pre-readers – originally I only did when a book had a lot of interviews and I used them as pre-readers. In time I found that pre-readers were invaluable for insights.
See, a pre-reader isn’t an editor in the traditional/specific sense and that’s good. A pre-reader is a reader. They are not there to edit a book for language and punctuation, even when they do because they can’t resist. They’re they’re for content and flow.
They’ll catch things an editor won’t because an editor, no matter how much they read, is still editing. You really do need both. Plus it takes a little pressure off your editor – “Can you edit my terrible abuses on language and tell me if this meticulous battle scene makes sense?”
Secondly, a good pre-reader thinking as a reader can give you feedback on your book to help it become a better book. They can tell you how it can be more consistent, better organized, and so on. In turn it won’t just be a better book – that will make the book a hell of a lot easier on an editor. A book that reads easy, even with flaws, allows an editor to go to town as opposed to being stopped by confusing twists or ill-explained concepts on top of Oxford comma arguments?
How do I handle pre-readers?
Thats about it. Find, send, wait, integrate.
After the pre-reader feedback I usually do another pass through the book. then it’s off to the editor
First of all when you get something edited to publish professionally, make sure they’re professional.
That may not mean they’re a professional editor. It means they have professional-quality skills relevant to what you’re doing. It could be from writing their own novels, it could be editing fanfic for ten years, it could be an experienced technical writer. Just get someone who can edit for what you’re doing.
I like to fansource, finding editors through fandom and geeky connections. They “get” me, I often get a break on price, they get their name on a book they like, I act as a reference, everyone wins.
I usually give an editor 1-3 months depending on the complexity of the work and their schedule. It also gives me a nice break, and sometimes while waiting I do extra formatting or setup for publishing. Or write another book.
When I get the edited document back, I don’t use that document to make the final book – I read through it, page by page, integrating comments and changes into a new copy master document. That forces me to read and pay attention, and makes sure I don’t end up with a book laden with things I forgot to address, remove, or change.
This part usually takes at least a month. My goal, when it’s done, is to have it done.
So once that editing run is done, I do one more spellcheck and grammar check, and read through the book (yes, again). If I find any errors, I fix them – and run that check again.
At this point, having done so much editing, I use that previous trick of reading parts out of order just to keep myself fresh.
My approach is to read it through. If anything changes in the small I fix it and re-read that chapter. If there’s any large change, I re-read the book from the start, or at least skim. I’m done when I do a pass through and didn’t change anything.
Then it’s one more spelling/grammar check. Then it’s done
So with the book edited – pre-read and edited properly – and with my final read-through’s its done. Ready to go.
It’s time to publish.
And let’s get back to How I Write with me, Steve. Who Writes. This. And books. But also this post. Er. Anyway, you get the idea.
So to recap I’ve covered how I write up to the point of actually writing. It was basically:
By the time this is done I have a well-outlined book that is written by a mixture of gut, heart, imagination, and desperation. The outline provided guidance so the book “works” – in that it reaches a goal – but the results are often less than stellar.
In short, my first draft is usually very first and much draft. It’s often done with surprising speed, but it’s really not that great. That means my next step is re-writing.
I hesitate to call this editing since my re-writing is not that subtle an exercise. Sure, I often have content thats in better shape than it sounds when I call it “word vomit” – but at best it’s not polished, and at worst parts of the content only worked in my head. So it’s time to go through and re-write it because sometimes it changes massively.
Which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Usually.
So my first pass on rewriting the book is the most intense. I go through the book, in order (so I can keep the big picture), and work on:
Sometimes you have to re-outline chapters or sections in the first pass – and my advice is when you can, do it. I’ve saved “re-outlining” for later review cycles and it was incredibly painful because so much of the book had “solidified” that changing it was like adding onto a house. If you have to make major changes, do it first thing or it will be harder later (and may reveal hidden mistakes).
A first pass can sometimes take as long as writing the book in the first place. There’s no shame in this – really it’s just another part of “writing.” You’re rarely going to get it right the first time.
So after the first pass, what do I do?
After your first pass, I take a break from the book. Sometimes a few days, sometimes a week or more, but I try and step away. I usually need it.
Why? Because familiarity breeds not only contempt, but sloppiness.
I can get to know a work too well, and then I start seeing what’s in my head, not what’s on the page.
I can get tired and want to just “get through” the re-writing – so I rush it. This always comes back to bite me.
I also need a break.
So I rest. I do something else. I blow up some enemies in Team Fortress 2. Then I’m back at it with a new perspective.
Usually after a first pass the book is in pretty good shape. It may not be “book like” but it’s “sort of a book.” That intensity in outlining, that instinctive writing, that careful review pays off so later passes are less painful. If you think about it the book had a solid idea, a solid outline, a massive dump of information, and a later shaping of that information into something clear.
Its usually pretty good – but I always have to make that second pass.
On the second pass I’m focusing on concepts and communication Did I really say what I want? Is the order right? Are things clearer? Does the book do it’s job? Is it really what I planned?
If I planned well and re-wrote well, the second pass isn’t so bad – it may even be easy to do – and it’s easy to spot problems. By now the book is polished enough my mistakes are obvious. Here I can correct them if I didn’t get them a first time.
In some cases, I may have to re-work a section. When I’m on to the second pass, I do not do the re-working as a “vomit draft.” I take a much more craftsmanlike approach – taking my time, editing as I go, etc. At this point since most of the book works, trying to ram ahead and dump a bunch of writing in can throw you off.
The only exception is if a section or chapter has to be completely rewritten – then I may re-outline it, dump it, and edit it separately.
Also at the end I usually run a spellcheck and grammar check, for my sake and for those who may soon see the draft . . .
I may have to make other passes if the book doesn’t “feel” done or if I keep finding mistakes and thus assume I’ve missed even more. I keep going through it until it’s done right – often three to five passes.
Looking at a book over and over again can make you miss problems, however – again one can end up reading the book in their head, not what’s on the page. So here’s how I mix it up:
I keep going until it’s done. Speaking of, what is done?
So at some point I’m done (usually about 3 passes in, sometimes 5). I consider it “a book.” That is done by the standard of:
So what’s next? Editing. Where the book goes to someone else who then promptly tells me everything I screwed up.
So last we met I talked about how I got my ideas – which was usually “a lot of them,” aided by recording them in a book that I reviewed regularly. This usually left me with more than enough Big Ideas to do books with.
But if you have a hundred ideas or one – how do I know what to write? I have limited time. I have to pick between Big Ideas.
Thats why I have The Goals and The Plan.
So when you choose what to write, you have to ask what is the role of writing in your life. That helps you select what to write.
I have specific Goals set out for my writing career, goals that have evolved over time as my life has changed. My first book was an attempt to reach out and help fellow geeks with careers. My current goals are to expand as a writer, broaden what I do, and make writing an integral part of my life and career.
Having goals is great because it lets me evaluate if a book meets them – or if it’s the kind of Big Idea that means I have to rethink my goals. After all, if I suddenly find that I am compelled to write a fantasy novel as opposed to another nonfiction work, maybe there’s something to pay attention to. Either way you should have goals as a writer and evaluate how your Big Ideas work with them.
My goals are also part of A Plan. I know what books I want to write when, in what order, for what reason. Lest that seem a bit over-organized, imagine if you were writing a fantasy trilogy and you get the idea – you do need a Plan if you’re going to write multiple things and build any kind of writing career.
The Plan can also change as my life changes, as goals shift, etc. I don’t revise it lightly, but as I review it weekly (to know what to work on) monthly (to evaluate progress and think of the future) and quarterly (to evaluate it a year out) I may find things have to change. That’s fine. The Plan has to help me reach my Goals.
An example? I was actually going to be working on a Project Management book while some other books were being edited. I realized I was too overloaded – and the edited books would come down on me like a ton of bricks when delivered. I could have easily have added something, or reshuffled the order, or done something else – instead I chose to delay that book.
Another example? Several times I’ve had to rearrange the schedule of the books I was working on due to various reasons. That happens as well, that’s life – but I knew why they were changing and what the impact to the timeline was.
As I’m quite organized, my plan even contains estimated times to write, edit, format, and publish. That lets me evaluate what I’ll be doing when, my time commitments – and if they’re worth it. You may or may not go that far.
One important note? I’ve never, in memory, dropped an idea I’d started. Usually by the time I’ve started a book I’ve pretty much decided to do it. I figure unless you truly have to quit that’s a good policy – sticking too something is important.
My Big Ideas are worked into a Plan, so I know what to write, when to write, and even how long it’ll probably take. When I do my usual planning sessions, be it for a week out, a month out, a quarter out, or a year out, I know what I’m doing when.
I can literally say “OK, this is the day or week I start this book” and go for it.
That might sound a bit mechanical, a bit uninspiring – but it actually helps. I’m always reviewing my ideas, always aware of what’s coming, so I never quite loose the inspiration. At the same time as I have a plan I worry less, I know how long things take – I can bring the idea to life with minimal distraction and maximum effect.
So, next we’ll talk about what happens when I start a project.
With my eighth book out, I figured I’d talk about how I actually write. After doing a lot of self-publishing, it struck me that “hey, others could benefit from this” and “I may learn talking with others.” I probably could have thought of that earlier, but I guess I was too busy writing. Which is probably something else I should write on.
Anyway, in the spirit of reaching out to fellow writers, here’s how I write.
Please note that:
Now, let’s talk about where my ideas fome from.
A good book starts with an idea. A bad book does as well, but I assume you’re not trying to write a bad one. Not deliberately, but let’s face it, I’m not going to judge you.
So where do I get my ideas? They come from everywhere. I rarely lack inspriation – and if I do, I usually can find a way to stimulate it. This is because of my work studying inspiration, writing generators, and creating. I’ve got a groove from sheer practice – and in time, you’ll develop one as well.
There are a few tips I can share:
For me, ideas are striking me all the time. Wether you have a lot or a few, an idea is an idea. One of them might be the Big Idea, the book, the one you have to do.
Wether the latest inspiration you have is The Big Idea, or might be, you have to record it. This is where things start taking form.
Over the years I’ve emphasized the need for creative people of all kinds – and by that I mean most anyone – to keep a Brainstorm Book. The Brainstorm Book is where you write any idea that remotely seems worthy of keeping track of.
At this point, you’re already processing the latest inspiration. Maybe you flesh it out, maybe you drop it, either way the simple act of writing it down (and trust me, write it don’t type it) helps you process it a bit further. You may, in writing it down, suddenly realize a vision for it – and suddenly it’s The Big Idea you must make.
Be sure to record the idea in as much detail as possible – but don’t pressure yourself. One sentence that’s inspired may say far more than a paragraph you forced.
OK, so you recorded it. Recording it made you think it over a bit, so the idea is a bit more polished, a bit more understood, and recorded in a way that’ll call back the inspiration. The act of recording it might have even led it to become a Big Idea.
But with so many ideas, what do you do? Well, if a Big Idea isn’t something I must work into my plans (and sometimes it is), I review the Brainstorm Book.
Once a month I review my brainstorm book, seeing what ideas stand out. Depending on their quality I may:
The act of reviewing – and reviewing regularly – is important, and not just for selecting Big Ideas. It can also inspire you by seeing your ideas in a different context. New ideas may flow, new inspirations may come, patterns emerge. Sometimes new Big Ideas form just from the act of reviewing.
So finally, I’ve got a lot of ideas. Hopefully I’ve got a Big Idea to develop into my next book, right?
Nope, I usually have several. I have a pile. Sometimes I even have a few ideas that I want to do in order.
Or maybe I do have a Big Idea – but do I really want to do it?
Well, next up, let’s talk how I select ideas to work on.