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Thread: So you want to write a book. How to.

  1. #1

    So you want to write a book. How to.

    I've had a few people ask me about the process of publishing a book so I thought I'd write up a "How to".

    Hopefully it won't get buried here before the people that wanted it see it.

    So you want to write a book.

    Okay I'll spill the beans. There is no magic sauce and your success is not guaranteed, EVER.

    First I will preface this by telling you that I have only published one book, and its been moderately successful.
    Enough success that I didn't lose my ass and I want to do it again. But I by no means made a huge bucket of money nor am I ready to retire. However all of my "fun" trips are a tax write off as are many of my outdoor toys and the book pays for most of it now so its worth the effort. See my Avatar? Book paid tax write off.

    The basics of getting a book published are.
    1: Get a big publisher, Random House, Penguin book, and sell your soul. I never even tried.
    2: Find a small publisher and pitch them your idea. U of U press etc. I never even tried.
    3: Go it alone. I love a challenge and this is not for everyone, but I did it.

    Since I can't help with #1 or #2 I'll stick to what I know and did.

    I decided someone need to write this book, looked around the room and saw my brother who I can usually con into my crazy ideas and decided "GO".
    I'll talk about "I" here but my brother did quite a bit of the work and is co-author. I had never done this before. I found a book a bit like the one I wanted to write, located the author and picked his brain. There are no "publishers" or distributors in the food chain here. Not that they are bad, I just didn't go that route and perhaps it hurt my end game but it proves you can do this on your own.

    I started collecting information, taking photos, basically researching the book. Seems logical right?
    This proved to be a mistake as a first step. Reality set in when I started figuring out how to print my masterpiece. Yikes! Just let me tell you there are sharks in this business, not all of them are lawyers. Some have ink stains on their hands. In fact this process delayed printing by TWO years.

    I wrote the book in MS Publisher which turned out to be another mistake. Its just a crappy piece of sw but we made it work because the printer was very good at their job. So with a few mistakes under my belt here is what I recommend.

    Step 1: Decide if you are writing one book or several. If you want to make "money" don't expect it from a single book. Plan to write several over a 2-3 year period. Write the outline for each BEFORE leaving your house, writing the first line, or committing any cash. In fact if you think your book writing career will be for multiple books I highly recommend doing basic outlines of at least the first three before launching into book #1. It will give you a feel for whether you are kidding yourself or actually have what it takes and might give you a feel for which order to publish. I'm not suggesting a huge effort. You should be able to do an outline in a day. The most successful self publishing self distributing author I know is Charles Wells ( Charles has made a name for himself and published a number of books on his own and it appears to me he really enjoys his work.

    Step 2: Find your printer. Chat with them about what works best for the printing process. They can give you details of how to setup the pages, margins etc etc at the beginning so things work out in the end. Ask them about what software to use and how to set it up. This will also will give you some of the cold hard facts about what you will need to do to make your book pay for itself at the very least. I didn't do this early on and all my hard work nearly died on the vine until I found the right printer. The printer should tell you the lead time from when you have it in their hands until its boxed and ready for pickup.

    I used North Star printing in Spanish Fork Utah ( I highly recommend them, they know what they are doing and they were inexpensive. In fact I know a publisher that has books done in China and only saves a few pennies per copy over what I paid. They went out of their way to get me as a customer, make the book work and did a ton of pre-press that I really should have paid for but they didn't ask for a dime. ( The cost for my book was under $2 a copy perfect bound full color. I'll compare that to the $11-$18 I was quoted many times by other printers. Of course I can't guarantee you will get that price, its all about the size, format, paper, cover, binding, number of copies etc etc. The more work you do the lower the price. This is where you will decide how big your book will be and the price you will be asking retail and wholesale. My first printing was 5,000 books. You will actually receive more books than this from the printer. They printed 5,400 books and I received about 5,200ish of them and only paid for 5,000. Printers must print more than you order because some are damaged in cutting, binding, boxing etc. Some of you are going "Hmm, $10K forget that crap" about now. Read on.

    Step 3: Make sure you know exactly who will sell the book for you. Not who will be likely candidates but actually talk with the store owners, show them your outlines and get some feedback. Don't be surprised if they piss on your idea, tell you they have books just like it that didn't sell etc. Just close the deal by asking "If I print it, will you buy and sell it?" I managed to get enough commitment for the book that when it was ready to print I took orders and CHECKS that paid for the printing. Since the book had local travel interest I sold it to the several county tourism offices, a few motor sport dealers and even some hotels and grocery stores. No books stores however since there were none in the area. Expect that most will want to keystone the book meaning they buy it at half the retail value. My retailers seem to be happy with a 25% margin. You are not collecting money at this step, just making sure you have a real potential buyer. Tell them you will return with the manuscript later. This is daunting for most people I know. It involves talking to people you don't know and you should fully expect to be treated like a "sales guy". Suck it up, your a stranger asking strange questions, if it doesn't feel weird your not in tune with people. The next time you go back they will recognize you and be glad to see you and your manuscript. Remember nobody will beat a path to your door to get your book. If you can't do this part you will not be successful selling your own book.

    So you want to GO FOR IT! Good.

    Step 4: Get that computer humming. Set some goals based on your outline and push yourself to keep a deadline. You can do this in a few months working evenings and a few weekends. I found it invaluable to be able to see the format while writing. It gave me a feel for how the book would flow as I could see the photos on every page and make decisions about whether I needed a bigger, smaller, narrow, wide photo etc to make the book read well. I constantly shifted things around, moved a photo or chapter around in the book. If you don't do it this way the pre-press process will kill you. If you pay someone to do layout after the fact it will cost a fortune and generally you are talking about the content of a photo in the text anyway so you need to make sure the text isn't three pages after the photo. This "pre-press" process is what large publishers do for authors as well as editing and managing distribution. Its expensive which is why they take such a huge chunk of the action or won't even consider specialty books. My brother and I took all the photos, collected the info, wrote the book, dealt with pre-sales, printing, shipping, and distribution. Don't do anything dumb like violate someone else's copyright.
    Make sure you leave room for an ISBN number, use a fake place holder for now. Don't apply and layout the money for an ISBN until you are ready to print. Make sure you compare your book with similar books, do you have a LOT more pages? Why? Pages mean costs so be careful of page creep. You should have a target number of pages you want to hit as a result of printing cost discussions. Ever wonder why books of similar ilk are roughly the same thickness and size? Its all about printing costs. If you had sold your idea to a large publisher before writing it they would tell you "We want xxx pages", its all about printing costs. Call the printers as soon as you are finished and send them an electronic copy, get firm pricing for the finished product, bound and boxed for pickup. If you need it shipped calculate that in your cost per copy. Get a window of time where they can take on the project and tell you when it will be done. At this point you know your exact cost per copy. This is a big deal. You only get to keep the difference between this cost and the actual sales price which will be a wholesale price most of the time if you have any success at all. If this is only a few bucks per copy I don't think its worth the effort unless you are just doing it for fun. Nothing wrong with that either.

    Step 5: Print a few copies in color, and hit the streets, go back to the same places and maybe find a few more. At this point you are entitled to say "Hey I'm not loaded and printing is expensive. I'd like to pre-sell you 20 copies." If they balk start upping the numbers and lowering the price per copy. You are not trying to make money here, you are raising funds to print. Get the money on the spot or within a few days. Tell them anything they need to know. Your home address, first born, who is printing, when it will be finished etc. Be prepared to produce a formal invoice on the spot, get an invoice book at any office supply. You should have had enough interest in step #3 to know that even if some drop out at this point you will be able to cover the bulk of your printing costs in this step. If you are going forward you need to get your first ISBN bar code. This is not hard or expensive. You go online ( and follow the process. There are FREE barcode generators online. Google "Free ISBN barcode". Don't pay anyone for helping you get the ISBN, or make a barcode. Lots will try. This is NOT an option, no retailer or book store will touch your book without an ISBN bar code. It also gets you in the big book central database so book sellers can find you if they want.

    Step 6: Get it printed. Waste no time. You have taken money from people. If this starts taking longer than expected call the customers ASAP and explain the problem (e.g. printer fell into the machine and was eaten alive, whatever). Just understand that things happen in the process and you need to have added some padding to the delivery time you gave customers over what the printer told you. Be realistic about how time flies, don't expect hard and fast dates. Pay in cash/check. Please don't mortgage the house betting on this as a money machine.

    Step 7: Deliver to customers, get them excited about it, try to get it displayed in a prominent location. Then beat the bushes with a trunk full of books. It can be a lot of fun, take you places and meet people. Even if the say no the first few times keep going back and tell them how its going. Don't hesitate to give some away, people love a free book. Just make sure you consider it a marketing activity and the person can perhaps help sell the thing for you. Get use to signing it, carry a fine sharpie pen. Many large books stores don't much care for dealing with individuals and will tell you to go get with a distributor. I don't but if you do tell us all how it worked. Get a website setup, its not hard to do something basic and let people buy it with PayPal. Try to link the book and the website. If you had more photos than fit in the book you can always tell people to go to the website for more. Maybe they will see book #2 and buy it. Think about using Amazon, I didn't but its not a bad deal really.

    You have now published your book, It was a lot of fun. I've written two more but keep tweeking and debating their economic value. Self published books are seldom huge sellers, but they can pay for themselves and your efforts and put a few bucks in your pocket. If nothing else its a great excuse to dive into your favorite things and learn more, see more, go more places. A few people are even impressed. You can call people and say things like "Hi I'm Bob , author of XYZ, can I get a few moments of your time?" Surprisingly they seem to see some value in the fact that you are a published author, I have never had anyone tell me no when asking for a meeting.

    Thats that, I hope you become rich and famous, perhaps stalked by beautiful people, invited on the Craig Ferguson show and asked to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of used car lot or see the queen from a few hundred yards away. Good Luck.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

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  3. #2
    That is good stuff Redman. Thanks for your efforts in putting this together for us.
    Life is Good

  4. #3
    Thanks, hope to see some people here print a few books. Would be cool to see the Bogleyite press club emerge.

    I forgot to mention the obvious at Step 5. Force your friends and family into service as editors and critics. Just don't get all tangled up in pride of authorship and vow never to speak to your brother-in-law again because he pissed on chapter 8. Try to thank them in the Foreward if you can. I left a few out and man did I hear about it afterward.

    I had the head of the USFS office telling me all sorts of things were wrong.
    Well he was wrong, so double check your facts and sources and editors.

    You are bound to get some negative feedback here. A few experts willing to tell you the book is fantastic when its not and they did a poor job editing. Of course it can go the other way as well.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  5. #4
    This is awesome information. Thanks for the write up. I've been thinking about writing a book myself and there's a lot there that I hadn't even thought about yet.

  6. #5
    Thanks for taking the time to post this. It will be very helpful to me.

  7. #6
    Your welcome.

    Don't forget you have competitors, some may have real distribution.

    Need to be realistic about why your book is different and why the average reader wants your book and not the competitors.

    If your lucky you have a topic and an audience all to yourself but be realistic as to the size of that audience too.

    I had some fairly hard evidence that my audience could be around 20,000 per year based on out of state visitors to the area and I thought I was being conservative. Well its actually smaller than that so don't kid yourself.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  8. #7
    awesome stuff redman. thanks for posting.

    interesting timing, i actually have one i'd like to think is "in the works." has been for a couple years, just need to actually get my arse in gear and get after it.

  9. #8
    I needed one of these a few times to get my productivity up!

    I was gung ho for a few weeks, let it slide for about 6 months and then started looking at how expensive it was to print and it slid a lot longer finally pushed hard and the more it started looking like I actually had something the more I wanted to finish it up and get it printed which got me on the trail of good printer and that made all the difference.

    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  10. #9
    Good to see this info!
    Iv been working on one for a bit, I had decided to say to hell with it and just publish it online. Now I may have to rethink this as I have some info to go on about how to go about putting it to paper.

  11. #10
    My experience is this. Virtually all of the information we have in the book is available online. Go look at Tons of great stuff there. For years people would look at the online information and then send an email asking for MORE information. We have never had anyone send an email saying "Hey this is the same stuff that is online". Of course its not but much of the stuff is there, just not as well organized as in the book, maybe even more in depth online.

    I think the prevailing attitude is that if it is online, it should be free. If it is in hard print, there is something worth paying for hidden between the pages.

    Net Net, there are different types of people. Book readers pay money for their information. I highly recommend an online tie-in, and the book sending them to the website.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  12. #11
    Great info here, Redman! That was very generous of you to take the time to share your experience and knowledge with the group!

    When I was living in Flagstaff, there was a gal I knew through the outdoor club there that used to write articles for a Phx.-based outdoor newspaper (whose name escapes me now). Because of exposure from that, she managed to get a book deal with Falcon (the publishers of those black/yellow outdoor "how-to" books) on bouldering in the southwest. They gave her a $5K advance for the book. Well...she was a notorious flake, and never wrote the book. She had to return the advance and essentially killed any future chance she had to be published. So, there's something NOT to do.

    I had an idea for a book similar to yours, but only in that it would involve collecting information about recreational areas and putting it all into a single, easy-to-reference guidebook, including a grading/rating system that I had come up with that would standardize the information I wanted to present. I had the idea because: 1) it is a book I'd pay money for; 2) no book on the specific subject existed at that time (or probably exists now, although I haven't checked). It would be ideal for Falcon, actually. Did you approach Falcon publishing with your manuscript? I'd still love to do it after I return to the southwest (it sure ain't happenin' while I'm living in this current suck ).

    Another question: what editing/publishing software do companies like? How about Adobe Acrobat? PS Elements has a feature where you can make a photo book in Acrobat and have it published (but it has an 80-page limit and is pre-formatted), maybe through Adobe? I made one for fun, but haven't had it printed or anything, but it was really fun to do. Acrobat is ubiquitous in that it can be read by both Macs and PC's, and probably allows for easier manipulation than something like MS word, which does blow when it comes to trying to write an article with included photos.

    Congratulations on becoming a published author and best wishes for your next books!


    Art & photography blog

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    "I lost my virginity, but I still have the box it came in"

  13. #12

    I did not talk with Falcon, but I will be making the rounds with book number two. Primarily to leverage their distribution and sales.
    However if their cut is too large I'll go it alone again. I know the ropes now so its really a matter of how much time I want to invest.

    As I mentioned I used MS Publisher which was a mistake.
    Talk with the printer about software. Sometimes it makes sense to adapt to them and their expertise so the Pre-Press process goes quickly and cheaply for you.

    Adobe In Design for Layout, Adobe illustrator for making diagrams, maps etc and Adobe Photoshop for tweaking photos is probably the gold standard.

    Yeah its pricey. As I said talk to the printer about cheaper options.
    A book can become unwieldy as you try to get the pre-press layout done. Little things like moving or adding photos become a nightmare if the software is not so good at managing all of the word wraps and indexing and table of content stuff.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  14. #13
    That was a great synopsis of how to get it done, Redman. I have a book or two in me--I've already written a novel, though it remains just a file on my computer, unsold. Thanks for the tips.

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by jimflint1
    That was a great synopsis of how to get it done, Redman. I have a book or two in me--I've already written a novel, though it remains just a file on my computer, unsold. Thanks for the tips.
    cool give us a synopsis.
    Please buy my book - "Paiute ATV Trail Guide" at - I need gas money!!!!

  16. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by RedMan
    Quote Originally Posted by jimflint1
    That was a great synopsis of how to get it done, Redman. I have a book or two in me--I've already written a novel, though it remains just a file on my computer, unsold. Thanks for the tips.
    cool give us a synopsis.
    I think I have a rather lengthy one somewhere already written that I sent out a few places.

    But here goes. The story begins with the main character, Tom Tremaren, returning on a flight from competing and winning the silver in one of the martial arts championships. He ponders how great he feels for doing so well, and then thinks about the recurring dream he's been having in which his fiance is kidnaped by some unknown assailants. His family and fiance, Laura, are there to meet him at the airport. Laura drops him off at his apartment and tells him that she's looking forward to being with him after he's had a chance to sleep and get cleaned up. While asleep he again has the dream in which Laura is in grave danger.

    Later on that day, he awakes, showers, and goes over to Laura's home where she lives with her mother (her father had died a few years previous). They have a joyful reunion, then walk on the large property where Laura lives. While standing by a duck pond and watching the ducks, to Tom's horror, the very people he's been dreaming about come out of some trees and begin to encircle the couple.

    Using his martial arts skills, he's able to fend them off and sends Laura running for the house. "I'm not running, I'm helping you," she says, picking up a large board from a stack of wood and swinging it at an attacker, clocking him. One of the men grabs her and Tom crushes him. The couple are defeating the six attackers when one of them yells "Metherin! He's too much for us."

    A seventh person appears, this one with a horrifying mask. He's carrying some kind of strange weapon. Tom is twenty feet away, but charges to attack. The man fires the weapon and like a tazer, it stuns Tom, who continues valiantly trying to reach the man and finally does tearing his mask off. The man laughs, clubbing him to the ground. The final thing Tom hears is Laura's screaming, and Metherin's laughter.

    Then we jump to a scene 900 years in the future and a guy named Bren waking up. He's been dreaming about a girl being kidnaped and having to fight off her attackers. He has an awful sense that the dream is real and has a real hard time shaking it off. Bren is a captain in the guard, who watch over the domed city of Mastopolis, which was created in the aftermath of a nuclear war nearly nine centuries before. It's not long before he hears of the kidnaping of a science student by the name of Laura Strasser, by some ferocious mutants who live outside the domed city. Bren is asked to investigate.

    With his partner they visit the mother of Laura Strasser and then Bren knows that his dream is real, because the mother looks exactly like the mother in his dream. His goal then becomes to find the girl at all costs.

    The rest of the story is about the expedition sent out to find and rescue the girl--complete with strange and interesting characters, battle scenes, and computer generated reincarnation. Most of the action takes place in Utah---with the culmination down near the Grand Canyon in AZ.

    Anyway...I've tried to sell it a little bit. But not extremely hard. It's actually difficult to find an agent and even more difficult to sell it to a major publisher without an agent. I don't really want to go the self-publishing route with this book, simply because I've known people who have done that with novels and none of them have done too well. I think I'm going to wait. I have a cowboy Christmas poem that I've written and a friend of mine is doing some artwork for it. I'm going to try and self-publish it as a picture book. Then maybe when I've become famous, I'll be able to publish the novel.

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