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 and processes that I have used.
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 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.
[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.)
Now, back to my story. As of the end of 2021, I’ve self-published eleven books. Two are available just as ebooks, the rest are also available in paperback.
I’ve sold a few hundred Nehemiah books (paper and ebook) and almost 3,000 Lent for Non-Lent People. This Is Hard, my book for those who have lost a loved one, has sold a few hundred on Amazon and about 3000 directly to facilities. 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 addressing grief and leading funerals and making sense of Advent by words that I have written.
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, too.)
Formatting in the past: 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. 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.
Formatting in the present: Use Atticus to format. In 2021, I started using Atticus. I’ve used it for two of my own books, for books for two friends, and to start writing other books. I’ve found it very powerful and affordable. It is almost as powerful as pressbooks and is being updated regularly. However, I know that I’m approaching it with a lot of experience with writing online. (Here’s an overview from the developer.)
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.
- I use this approach because it’s easy for me. Do as much as you are comfortable with and then ask for help.
- 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.
- I have not as yet written a novel, written a book with lots of illustrations, written a book that didn’t start as a collection of shorter pieces.
- 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). For later books, I’ve started with the template at KDP and then revised on that format for new covers.
- Proof. And then proof again. Nancy proof/edits all of my books. She’s remarkable.
- If you don’t know how to do pieces of this, find a friend (other than me) who knows how to work with software. A blogger, a designer, a kid. They can help you figure out Atticus or Pressbooks as you give them the content.
- I haven’t made much money. And that’s okay. I haven’t spent much money to do it.
- If you have more questions, ask in the comments and I’ll try to answer.
- If you want to support any of my projects, I’m on Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a list of my books and projects:
- 2012: Anticipation: An Advent Reader.
- 2012: Learning a New Routine. (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount).
- 2013: A Great Work: Conversations with Nehemiah for People Who Are Doing Great Work.
- 2014: Lent for Non-Lent People.
- 2017: Saint John of the Mall
- 2017: (only online) Not Sprinting: Thinking about faith while becoming a runner
- 2017: (only online) Before You Walk In: A devotional primer for chaplains and pastoral visitors.
- 2020: Giving a Life Meaning: How to Lead Funerals, Memorial Services, and Celebrations of Life.
- 2020: “God. We Need You”: A Year of Prayer in a Hospital Chapel.
- 2020: Giving A Year Meaning: A Healing Journal for Advent 2020
- 2021: God. We Still Need You. A Year of Pandemic Prayer and Practice from a Hospital Chaplain.
- 2021: This is Hard. What I Say When Loved Ones Die
- 2021: Giving the Year Meaning: A Healing Journal for Advent.
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.