Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's Time to Start Writing That Book You've Been Thinking About

I’ve spoken with many talented people in the last few months who have a book they want to write, but don’t exactly know where to start once the writing part is done. Most think they need a “publishing deal” to get their work in front of readers, but we all know publishing deals are few and far between these days.

My first book, “The Forgotten Adventures of Richard Halliburton: From Tennessee to Timbuktu,” was published through traditional channels with The History Press, but they, along with a couple book agents, passed on my idea of a book about Odd McIntyre. Even without a publisher, I felt it was a story that people would find interesting. After doing a year or so of research on Odd, I felt like I had what I needed — a good story that had not been told and a lot of good information to tell it.
I began exploring self-publishing and discovered a whole world of writers who are passionate about writing but who skip the publishers and take their books directly to consumers.

Just like the significant changes in the music, movie and news industries brought about by technology in the last few years, the world of publishing is being dramatically impacted by the fact that those who are willing to learn a few new skills can take a book directly to the marketplace with very financial little investment or risk.

My book, “An Odd Book: How the First Modern Pop Culture Reporter Conquered New York,” will be published (by me) on April 1.
In the last few months I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to podcasts, downloading “how to” books and reading about self-publishing online. I’m sharing some of what I’ve discovered, hoping that it may be helpful to some of my friends and associates who are interested in self-publishing their own books.

The business of self-publishing is quickly evolving and the different directions you can take and resources that are available are almost endless, so these are just the tools I’ve found helpful, and those I think would be most applicable to the most people, regardless of the type of book.
The first thing I would recommend is to join the Alliance of Independent Authors. In addition to some helpful guides and discounts, its members-only message board on Facebook has been incredibly valuable. Questions about writing, publishing, distribution and marketing are answered almost immediately by other members, many who have been self-publishing for a decade or more. 

The weekly podcasts that I’ve found most helpful are The Creative Penn Podcast by Joanna Penn (I’ve also downloaded some of her other tools), The Publishing Profits Podcast Show by Tom Corson-Knowles and The Sell More Books Show by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen. I listened to these three podcasts every week for months, and also listened to some of their recent archived shows. I didn’t go too far back because this industry is changing quickly. There is a monthly podcast called the ALLi Author Advice Centre by Orna Ross that is also very helpful and features a lot of the self-publishing superstars sharing advice and case studies.

This is a minor detail but one I found interesting so I am sharing. While it’s not “required,” you will want your own ISBN number for the work you create. That little number uniquely identifies your book, and facilitates the sale of your book to bookstores (physical and digital) and libraries. In the United States, you can only buy those from Bowker. For some reason, one ISBN is $125 while 10 ISBNs are only $295. I love a deal so I bought 10. Now I’m obligated to produce more books so my ISBN numbers don’t go to waste.

Of course, I’m assuming you’re starting with a great book that’s been professionally edited and has a well-designed cover. Should you need resources for those services, there’s a really interesting company called fiverr. Fiverr is primarily used by freelancers who offer services like website design, copywriting, editing, graphic design, marketing and more. People who use the freelancers then rate and comment on the service they received. It’s also a great place to find a “virtual assistant” who can do work for you a few hours a week or for an extended period of time. Most authors advocate getting a few people in your “production team” that you go back to for each book.

I wanted to sharpen my web design and production skills so I spent a weekend designing a site on, only to discover a site built using and hosted on a server was much better for me for a variety of reasons, so I spent another weekend doing it all over again, hosting on Bluehost.

The sales of a self-published book is directly tied to the number of people who hear about it, so building an email list is important. I used MailChimp and found it to be pretty intuitive (sign up for my enewsletter here).

There are many different ways you can go about getting your book in the hands of readers. After much thought and research, I decided to use CreateSpace to sell my book on Amazon and to print copies for selling at signings and events, IngramSpark to sell to libraries and book stores, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for those who want to download the e-book to their Kindle, and Smashwords for those buyers who want to download it via e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Tolino and others. Each of these requires the book to be uploaded in a specific format, so you have to start the process knowing there is going to be the need for flexibility, patience and time.

The retail price of my printed book will be $18.99 and the price of the e-book will likely be around $7.99, but it has no photos. The printed book has 135 photos, many of which have never been printed before so I hope more people purchase that.

I wrote “An Odd Book” in Microsoft Word, and then uploaded it to InDesign, which offered more flexibility in design, layout and photo manipulation. Because I had not used InDesign before, I spent quite a bit of time watching Youtube videos from Joel Friedlander and Sean Foushee, among others, until I got the hang of it (I still have a long way to go). I also discovered Vellum. It is a miracle application. Once the book was completely finished in InDesign and ready to upload as a print-ready PDF file, I needed to create a different version for the e-book. Chapter by chapter, I rebuilt the book (minus the photos) using Vellum. It only took a couple of hours. Vellum then automatically stripped out all the InDesign formatting and created files that work with all the e-book distributors who use different formats. Just to see if it would really work, in one weekend, 

I created an entire book using Vellum (Odd Words, 1920-1922: An Enhanced Compilation of Early Columns by Odd McIntyre) and had it available for Kindle on Amazon. I had around 400 (free) downloads the first couple of days. I can’t recommend Vellum enough.

You do want to have a launch event of some kind. Mine will be in Odd’s hometown of Gallipolis, Ohio on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. at the Ariel Opera House. That evening, The Ohio Valley Symphony will perform Meredith Willson’s O.O. McIntyre Suite. If you are in Ohio, come check it out. It should be a lot of fun.

As I mentioned before, all this takes a lot of time, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money. The key is to focus on the things you do well or want to learn, but have a little money planned for the things that are not in your wheelhouse. With a modest investment, you can hire professionals to do the things you don’t want or need to jump into.

While the differences between self-publishing and using a traditional publisher are many, one thing remains the same. You need a well-written book that looks like a book that’s well written.

I’ll post a few months from now about what I’ve learned from the actual publishing and launch of my book, but I hope those of you with a story or two crawling around in your head feel inspired to get started on your own book.