Publishing

Dear person wanting to write a book –

People ask me about writing books and getting them published. As much as I’d like to help, I’m never sure what to say.

Sometimes I’m good at giving specific next steps. Like when I’m in the room after a death and I’m telling the family that the next concrete step is to tell us the funeral home. That always feels a little too administrative, but I’m not blunt about it, and I’ve learned that families often want/need to know that specific piece. 

When it comes to writing a book, I’m not sure I know THE next step. 
 
So let me point you toward some resources. 
 
But first. 
 
Here’s the picture that’s been coming to mind since I got your email. 
 
In the old days, we’d end up with these mimeographed or copied sets of helpful notes and articles and lists about this subject or that. When someone needed that material, we’d say, “I know this is kind of messy. I’ve been wanting to get around to sorting it out better. But you need it right now. So read through this and I’ll be around to answer your questions.”
 
So start with the stack in front of you, the checklists you’ve made, the stories you always tell, the articles you include. 
 
Then, write the note that tells your friend in need what’s in the stack. Talk about the main topic areas that are included and why. Talk about why you know this matters to them. Don’t worry about writing a book, think about being as helpful as possible to this person. 
 
That note, and that stack? That’s your introduction and your first chapter and your outline. The first draft at least. 
 
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[Before you read any further, you can get more comprehensive advice from my friend Terry Linhart through his post: Six podcasts on what it takes to get published. Terry describes his 11-year process of getting his 2017 book, The Self-Aware Leader, from concept to publication by a major Christian publisher. He interviews a publisher, agent, acquisitions editor, and book editor.)

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Now, back to my story. I’ve self-published four books. Two are available just as ebooks, two are also available in paperback. I’m working on three more.

I’ve sold a few hundred Nehemiah books (paper and ebook) and more than thousand Lent for Non-Lent People books. Because this is more than the number of friends I have, I count this as successful. People have been helped in understanding the Bible and in living through Lent and Advent by words that I have written. (And if you are saying, “that’s not a best-seller”, it is my my standards. Because I’ve been helpful.)

Here’s what I’ve done.

Write the books.  Some of the material started as posts at my blog (300wordsaday.com). Some of the material started as emails to people who asked to learn more about Nehemiah. Some of the material is specifically for the books. My books are between 10,000 and 25,000 words long. (There are many people who talk about how to write. Perhaps I’ll do that sometime, too.)

Use pressbooks.com to format. I’ve tried figuring out formatting myself, but after I discovered Pressbooks, I’m not going back. To use, it looks like a WordPress blog. You create chapters like you would create blogposts. But Pressbooks will format your text into ebooks and into the PDF files that are needed by the printing service I use.

(You can even make the book available for viewing while you are writing. For example, my book project about hospital ministry and chaplains is available to read at beforeyouwalkin.pressbooks.com)

Pressbooks can be used for free while you are learning it. However, when you export files, they have advertising for Pressbooks (ebook) or watermarks (PDF).

You can upgrade to a professional version for a one-time fee of $100. This removes the watermarks. There are several discounts every year so  I’ve always gotten it for $60. Well worth it for all the work it saves.

Use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to publish. I’ve used smashwords and BN.com but I don’t have the energy to manage things so now I just use KDP. Upload the file created from Pressbooks and that takes care of the inside. Answer several questions, and after approval, your book is on Amazon. There is no cost for using KDP, but they get a percentage of every sale. 

KDP will publish both Kindle editions and paperback. 

Observations:

  1. I use this approach because it’s easy for me. Do as much as you are comfortable with and then ask for help.
  2. I understand that the more formal approach that Terry describes can reach more people with the power of a publisher. But if I had to work through that process, I wouldn’t.
  3. You have to create a cover. I just tried Canva for my chaplaincy project and am pleased. For Lent and Nehemiah, I used the cover creator in Createspace (Now KDP).
  4. Proof. And then proof again. Nancy proof/edits all of my books. She’s remarkable.
  5. I haven’t made much money. And that’s okay. I haven’t spent much money to do it.
  6. If you have more questions, ask in the comments and I’ll try to answer.
  7. If you want to support any of my projects, I’m on Paypal at jnswanson@gmail.com.

Here’s a list of my books and projects:

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But here’s my best advice: Be helpful.
 
There are lots of books and courses on writing and on publishing and on all kinds of things related to the writing side. But don’t get completely distracted by all that. Your goal isn’t to write a bestseller. Your goal is to be helpful. 
 
Start writing to help one person walk through this particular process. Because people read by themselves, as if they are the only one in the world and you are talking to them. 
 
If you do that, you will end up with a helpful book. 
 
After you read this and think about it, let me know if I’m on track with what you are looking for. 
 
Thanks. 
 
Jon