March 21st, 2023
When you tell people you’re a writer with published books, their response varies.
Sometimes, they’re like, “Wow! That’s awesome!”
But most of the time they say: “I have a great idea for a book. Can you publish it for me?”
I’ll do you one better. There’s an old adage about fish and the effort it takes to collect and consume them; I’ll just teach you my process and, unlike Kelis and her delightful ice cream beverages, I won’t even charge.
Step 1: Write the book.
This is the step that 99% of you will not complete.
Sorry. Was that mean? It’s not supposed to be. So many people get concerned with all the steps further down the line before they even fully take this one, and I want to make it clear that none of the other steps matter (or exist to you) if your story doesn’t exist to read.
I try not to offer advice on anything (because I am an idiot), but if I had a suggestion for how to finish a story, it would be simple: choose something you care about. Deeply. It sounds obvious, but it’s not. A lot of people think a good idea is a good story, but again: it’s not. They’re two separate things.
Good ideas are wild birds; most people encounter countless every day. A story is a wounded bird you find that you have to bring home and nurse to health.
You are going to spend a part of your life writing this story, and another part of your life talking about it, and maybe for the rest of your life. Make it matter.
Step 2: Edit the book.
I edit my own books. It is a stupid thing to do.
Every single professional, semi-professional, and most amateurs in the writing world will all tell you the same thing: get an editor.
They are right. Do that.
But ten books in, I have yet to. I am a decent editor. There are mistakes in my books, but there are mistakes in every book, and I can show them to you.
At the end of the day, your name is on the cover. You have to decide whether you can live with the imperfections within. I have come to an uneasy peace with them, and with myself.
“Write drunk, edit sober.” It’s old advice. When I wrote Them, I was only doing the former. Years later (in 2021), I finally edited the book sober, and that Special Edition is the collection people read now.
Step 3: Format the book.
Here is where the technical challenges appear, and some of them are creative ones, as well. You have some decisions to make. Decisions like:
– What word font and size do you want to use?
– What will the size of your book be?
– What pages outside of your story do you want to include? This includes a dedication page, a copyright page, a table of contents, a forward, etc.
Some of these choices are (kind of) made for you.
I chose a printing company called BookBaby to publish Them (a sister company of CD Baby, which is where I released my three full-length Next Step albums). They gave me different sizing options for my novella, and I chose the digest size. I then formatted my book to that size.
Google is amazing. There are so many resources out there, but you have to know what you’re searching for. You will run into specific walls. Google specific ladders.
Step 4: Design your cover.
It is either a little- or well-known fact that I did attend college for almost a year, and that it was art school.
So, like editing, I design my own covers.
Again, it is highly recommended you get somebody who knows what they’re doing.
Again, I kind of do, and I also kind of just don’t know better.
The old adage about not judging books by their covers is bullshit and we know it; we all do it, and covers are important when there are one billion new books produced every day.
I echo myself here: your name goes on the cover. Make it something you’re proud of, that stirs the kind of emotion in you that you want your potential reader to feel, too.
The cover to Them was a clear idea I had in my head; the execution of the cover (the stark black symbol of a spaceship against the blood red background) was exactly how I imagined it. You can’t tell what era it’s supposed to be from; it feels both retro and futuristic, and foreboding.
Technical aspects abound: you will need to figure out, down to the millimeter, down to the pixel, exactly how big each section of your cover is (cover, back cover, spine) and design it accordingly. I go through much trial and error with this, even ten books later. It is a freaking process.
Step 5: Time to upload that shit.
You have your formatted, final manuscript. You have your high-resolution PDF cover.
It’s time to click “send”.
When I released Them, Amazon did not yet have their print-on-demand service. Giant corporations be damned, their new service is a godsend to self-published writers.
If you complete all the steps I just shared with you, you can upload to Amazon for free, and your friends and family can order copies, and you can order author copies at a discounted price that you can use for conventions and book signings and selling at local shops.
With Them, I uploaded my files to BookBaby, and I used the money I raised with my first Kickstarter to pay for a box of books.
And I became a published writer.
Step 6: Tell everybody about it.
This is the worst step, and the one that never ends.
When I got my box of Them, the first thing I did (besides give a copy to my mom) was send out books to my Kickstarter supporters.
With the books I had left, I went out into the world to promote it.
Here, as a relatively unsuccessful writer, at least financially, I have no advice.
Except for try everything.
Some things will work. Some won’t. Some won’t work for this book, but might work for your next.
Do weird things. Go weird places.
Just remember: the only point to any of this is to connect to other human beings.
You wrote this book — this story you deeply care about, right? — so other people could read it.
If and when your book connects to somebody, you’ll experience something that 99% of other people don’t get to. It is a feeling unlike any other, an unreal emotion, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself chasing it all over again.
Refer to Step 1.