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Ever had that thought periodically running through your mind to write a book? I sure did.
Then one day I just decided to do it.
I had some great ideas to write a book based on technology. I’ve been in the IT field as a systems engineer and now the engineers’ manager for almost 20 years now.
However, my thoughts for the book were actually focused more on the simpler stuff that family and friends were always asking me about.
So I put together an outline and wrote a book about it that was published in 2007. It went better than I anticipated and I learned quite a bit about how the process works.
Then, I had another idea for a book a few years later. I wanted to help others to organize some of their growing digital media.
So I went back to work to write a book on it. Things had changed over those few years (for the better), but the process remained fairly similar to the first time around.
A number of months ago, my buddy Fritz at The Retirement Manifesto inquired about book-writing and I responded. That was probably the first real conversation we had offline and it turned out to be the beginning of a great friendship – super great guy!
Anyway, I thought this might be something others are interested in as well. So here I am to share some of my thoughts on what I ran into (good and bad) along the way of my book writing and publishing experiences.
General thoughts to consider if you write a book
When I wrote my first book, I didn’t know what I was doing (who does?!). Nevertheless, I learned quite a bit.
Scrivener all the way, baby!
I wrote my first book in Microsoft Word. Boy, I sure got educated quite a bit about the intricacies of that software during that time.
I learned how to create custom headings and styles, how the table of contents creation process works, and all kinds of other fun stuff. There was certainly a lot of trial and error.
Most importantly, though, I learned that Word is not the best medium to use when you write a book. Sure, you can make it work, but it presents a lot of headaches and it’ll probably make you want to punch your screen… a lot.
When I decided to become an author of a second book, I sought to find a better way to write. I ended up coming across a piece of software called Scrivener. Holy schnikes – this program is fantastic!
First off, know that it’s not free – it’ll run you about $45 for Mac or Windows. But it is so worth every penny!
It’s software designed specifically for writers – especially for more involved and complex writings (like a book!). It’s a great way to organize your thoughts in one place.
Because it’s designed so differently than word-processing software, it has a learning curve. But it’s worth that time figuring it out as it’ll save you a ton of time throughout the creation of your book.
When you’re done, you just export out your book in the format you need – PDF for your printing company to use, Mobi or ePub for your digital media needs, etc.
If you’re going to write a book, try this first. You can download a free trial from their website. I think you’ll love it!
Oh, the time involved…
When I had the idea for my first book, I thought I’d just be able to knock it out in a couple months. Yeah, I was wrong on that.
It actually took several months and hundreds of hours to write – a tremendous amount of time and effort. Nothing was better than seeing the finished product, but I think I underestimated the work needed to get there.
If you decide to write a book and become an author, I applaud you for it and I strongly encourage doing it. Just know that it involves a serious commitment to make it happen.
Fiction or non-fiction?
I made somewhat of a mistake when I wrote my books… I focused on technology. I did that though because it’s something I know very well.
However, nothing seems to change faster in the world than technology. That also means that if you write a book on computers it will become irrelevant pretty quickly.
I knew that going in and anticipated a couple years of life out of each book so it wasn’t bad. I took my first book out of print a number of years ago and I’ll be doing the same with my second in the near future.
The same will happen for a lot of non-fiction books that you might decide to write. There’s nothing wrong with writing an educational or reference book, but think through the genre you choose. You want to have an idea of how long it will stay relevant.
On the plus side, you can usually command a higher price on a non-fiction book over a fiction title.
But, with fiction, you generally don’t have the same problem with time edging its way in and making the book meaningless. Just look at Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list – a majority of those books are decades old. That’s because a good fiction book can be timeless.
Regardless of what you decide to write about, just be sure you’ve thought about what the life of your book will be.
Self-publish or find a publisher
Deciding if you should self-publish or if you should get a publisher is probably one of the biggest decisions that writers have to contend with.
There’s really no write answer to this (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). There are pros and cons to both options, but unless you’re seriously anticipating that you’ll be the next John Grisham, technology has helped to make self-publishing a better option.
I started writing my first book in 2006. I didn’t know much about the process – all I knew was that I wanted to write a book. Figuring out how to publish it was something I had to decide along the way.
After some research, the basics became pretty clear:
- Self-publishing gives you complete control and ownership over your work. The same can’t always be said for using a publisher.
- If you self-publish, plan on doing all the work – editing, cover design, etc. It’s all on your shoulders (though you can hire folks for these things!).
- A publisher can assist in marketing your book to help you sell more copies. When you self-publish, you’re on your own.
- Self-publishing can mean fewer sales, but since you’re cutting out the publisher, you’re making more per book… a lot more.
Those points seemed to be pretty glaring. However, as I continued to dig in past the superficial facets, it seemed to me that there were a couple of other points that seemed to arise:
- The marketing that you get from a publisher seems to be focused on those authors that are already big time – remember the John Grisham reference? As a small fish in a big pond, you’re not likely to get much in the way of marketing from the publisher.
- Noting the point above, that means you’re making about 10-15% per book in royalties when using a publisher… and you’re still doing all the marketing! When self-publishing, you’re basically keeping the majority minus the printing costs for all online books sold.
In the end, I started my own publishing company. That meant creating an LLC, obtaining an EIN number, purchasing a block of ISBN numbers, and tons of other fun activities.
The good news is that even though this required a lot of work and effort, this only needed to be done once. Future books would be much easier now that the setup was already in place.
Then I hired a printing company to handle printing and shipping the books. I ended up going with a print-on-demand (POD) company called Lightning Source.
It made sense at the time because they were a subsidiary of Ingram – one of the largest distributors in the world. They cataloged your book so it could be available for almost any bookstore that wanted to order it.
They also automatically list your book on Amazon, which was big deal as that’s where I anticipated the majority of my sales.
So, here’s how this worked… someone would order a copy of my book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or a bookstore. Lightning Source would get the order, print a copy of my book, and directly ship it to them.
I didn’t need to be involved in any of that. Lightning Source would then subtract out the cost of printing the book and then, once a month, send me a check for the royalties.
Pretty cool, right?
The second book
Now remember, with my first book, eBooks still weren’t big yet. So when I decided to write a book, everything was focused on physical copies. And that’s what the points above reflect.
That all changed by the time I wrote my second book, though. Not only are eBooks extremely popular, but in a lot of cases, authors are focusing solely on them.
Additionally, it became much easier to be a self-publisher. Companies like CreateSpace, IngramSpark, or Lulu have basically become the partner you need to publish your book without the hassle of starting your own company.
Oh, the times they are a-changin’…
However, I had already built a publishing company of my own – I had done all the work and now have an established relationship with Lightning Source (the largest POD printing company).
I had also figured out that people still want physical books – particularly with a non-fiction reference-like book.
I weighed my choices and did some more digging and it made sense to stay on the same path of using my current company and printing company.
This worked out well and if I was starting from scratch and ready to write a book for the first time, I’d still self-publish. However, I’d just use a company like CreateSpace without even a second thought.
Amazon owns CreateSpace and they make it easy to get your book published and linked to Amazon. Similar to the way I do it with Lightning Source, CreateSpace will handle all the printing and shipping for you.
The big difference for this book was that I also created an eBook version of it. This was pretty easy to do with Scrivener, although I did need to do some tweaking of the finished product.
Like it or not, Amazon pretty much owns the world. And that’s where the majority of your sales will likely come from – assuming you choose to embrace them instead of going a different direction.
Amazon has a site called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) that allows you to directly publish your Kindle book and put it on Amazon. That’s how you get your Kindle book out there, so you definitely want to do this.
Personally, I didn’t chase after eBooks other than Amazon’s Kindle books, but that’s just me. I opted for the KDP Select program instead, which I’ll talk about a little further down this post.
If you want to get your eBook out there to other places, though, you might want to consider digging into some of the other online booksellers.
Hopefully, you’re thinking you want to write a book so you can help others to learn something or to provide enjoyment to your readers. I wanted to teach others and I feel that both my books did help accomplish that mission.
But, the real bonus that makes it even more worthwhile is when the royalties start coming in. For every book sold, you get a piece of the sale – hey, instant cash flow!
Nothing’s better than seeing your first royalty check (or digital ACH into your bank account!). It’s an awesome feeling to know you’ve just created another stream of income.
That’s not that exciting, right? Unless your book is one of those very rare titles that goes viral, keep your expectations low. Know that if you’re in this for the money, this probably isn’t going to be your best bet to do.
But if you want to create something you can be proud of with a very small stream of money being extra credit, then write a book – you won’t regret it.
I’ve learned some things after going through this with a couple of times. Let’s call this a correction of errors, so to speak and some other thoughts…
Have a following
This might not always be possible, but what I learned is that it’s hard to sell books to people who aren’t familiar with you. Most readers aren’t familiar with you and don’t necessarily trust what you have to say… and that’s if they even find your work in the sea of the millions of books to begin with!
When I wrote my first book, I started a website (a blog) to go along with the publishing of it. Not a horrible idea, but what good is a website if you don’t have anyone reading it?
My recommendation is that if you plan to write a book, have an audience in place beforehand. For instance, this site would be great as a platform for a personal finance book I could write (and plan to!).
Not only would this be a great place to market it, but after a few years, I’ve also gained loyal readers who have come to know me and trust what I have to say.
Additionally, if you have an email list you’ve built up, that’s even better!
I solicited and sent a number of review copies of my books to try to build up some good reviews on Amazon. What I’ve learned, though, is that I sent them out too late.
When your book comes out, you want there to already be plenty of reviews – that’s what buyers look at. If you don’t already have a stack of good reviews, it’s harder to expect them to buy your book.
The key is to get your book into the hands of folks beforehand. And the more people you can convince to give an honest review in exchange for your book the better.
Aim for at least 25 good reviews to be on Amazon before your book is actually set to go on sale. That can dramatically help convince someone on the fence to purchase your book.
Don’t ignore print
Yes, eBooks are a big deal (just try taking my Kindle away from me!). However, for the time being, some people still love print media.
In fact, about half of all my sales are from physical books. Do you want to turn away half your sales?
You’re putting in all the work to write a book – you might as well capture all the sales you can. Most of the work is already done by writing it in the first place – especially if you’re using Scrivener to write it.
Besides that, you’ll appreciate having a physical copy of your book in your hands when it’s done.
Amazon has something called their KDP Select program. This is pretty interesting. It’s an agreement to say that you’re going to make your eBook version of your book exclusive to Amazon.
In other words, you can’t sell a digital version anywhere else (your site, Barnes and Noble, etc.). This doesn’t have anything to do with your physical books, which you can continue to sell anywhere.
In exchange for this agreement, they give you an opportunity to run special promotions like the Kindle Countdown Deal or a Free Book Promotion.
The advantage to the Kindle Countdown is that it can help move your book up in the seller’s rank and that’s what you want. Yes, you’re selling your book for less money for a certain amount of time, but the higher you show up in rank, the more shoppers will see AND BUY your book.
This is not for everyone, but it’s definitely something to consider. It’s not a permanent agreement – it’s only for 90 days, although it will continue to renew until you stop it. Personally, I’m pretty happy with this program and the promotions it allows me to run.
I like being an author. I still plan to write a couple more books. However, this time around, I’m getting out of the technology area – thank goodness!
I’m planning to write a book in the personal finance realm next and I already have some ideas outlined on what I want to discuss. But I don’t really plan to get rolling until after I quit my job so I’ll have more time to focus on it.
The other book I plan to write is a kids book. This is one for the bucket list. I want to write something that doesn’t fade away like technology does (or a lot of finance books).
My daughter will be too old for a children’s book by the time I write it, but maybe it’s something her kids will enjoy down the line. Then she can tell her kids that her Dad wrote the book – how cool is that?!
Have you ever considered the idea of writing a book on something that interests you? What’s stopping you from doing it?
Thanks for reading!!