Just a couple of weeks ago I wrapped my series here on Writers in Charge titled “Just Got a Book Deal … Now What?!” The series was about my initial experience with a big publishing company and some first-hand insights into what I was doing and how. Also, I talked about how I got the book deal in the first place. Feel free to check it out if you haven’t already. Here’s the first part of the series.
Anyway, since a couple of months have passed, now, I have actually finished the writing process (at least the first drafts) and entered the production stage. In other words, a stage that leads to the book getting published and released to book stores, online partners, and Amazon.
Even though the series is over, I’ve decided to share some additional advice with you and talk about some of my challenges towards the end of the whole adventure.
1. Drafts and how to write them
In some way, a draft for a chapter is quite similar to a blog post or an article you’d write as a freelancer. Meaning that the length can be similar (if you’re writing long blog posts) and the autonomy of a single chapter is also very apparent, especially when dealing with technical books like mine. In such situations, chapters need to exist on their own in case a reader decides to read just parts of the book.
The idea of a draft itself is quite simple. You write the initial version of a chapter then send it in and hope for the best.
Well, that’s the theory…because if I had done it this way, I wouldn’t have written anything close to readable.
One of the best draft-related advice I’ve encountered comes from Neil Strauss (bestselling author of The Game). He said that the first draft is for you, the second one is for the reader, and the third one is for the critic.
What this means is that you should write the first draft as quickly as possible until you say everything you intended to say in the chapter, without editing anything on the fly. This draft is yours. It contains everything you know and want to share on a given topic.
Then, take this draft and edit it to a point that it’s properly structured and rich in content for the reader. This is also where you should do language editing and proofreading. Naturally, not everything from the first draft will go into the second one.
Finally, you take the second draft and search for anything that a critic could tackle as being a flaw. Those are all the parts that are not 100% right from a technical point of view.
Once you’ve gone through all of these stages, you have yourself a proper draft you can send to your publisher.
The funniest thing I’ve experienced is that it doesn’t take that much additional time. Actually writing and editing at the same time (on the fly) takes a lot longer – from the beginning to the date when you have a proper draft.
2. Length of the book
When you’re writing a post on your blog, or a freelance article, nothing that bad ever happens if you exceed the desired word count slightly.
More than that, nothing that bad ever happens even if you overshoot by 20% or so.
As you’d imagine, this is not acceptable with a book. And although this does sound pretty basic, which I admit, it’s really REALLY easy for a blogger or a freelance writer to forget about this issue while writing in the trenches, so to speak.
Four of my drafts required re-drafting. And a 100% of them due to length issues… This is why I know this now.
The lesson here is as follows: Always set a goal for the exact number of pages a chapter should contain, create a detailed plan of the chapter so you can fit within the target length, and then pay close attention to this number when writing.
I was quite lucky because my book contains a fair number of screenshots, so I was able to reduce the length by deleting some of them.
3. Your role in marketing
As it turns out, as the author, you’re quite involved in the marketing process of the book. I’d even say that you have one of the more important roles.
For instance, one of your tasks is to write, or more accurately – copywrite the text that will go on the cover and the back cover, plus the descriptions used on Amazon and in other official promo materials of the book. In other words, you are the person who writes the essential sales messages – messages the customer sees when they pick up the book from the shelf and are thinking about buying it.
Quite unfortunately, this is the part of writing that will define the success of the publication.
I spent a whole day writing this, even though it’s just around 500-700 words in total. And I’m still not sure if I’ve done this properly.
That being said, the publishers do have some templates they can share, which is a good thing, as well as the experience working on other books prior to yours, so they are always willing to shed some valuable advice.
4. Cover design
Let me just mention that you’re involved in this too. Actually, you are welcome to do as much or as little as you wish. Some design skills do come useful here.
As much as we’d like people not to judge our book by the cover, they will. And that’s why we should pay close attention to how the design is going and what the finished product will look like on the shelf.
5. Technical reviewers
All technical books undergo a technical review, apart from some standard reviews that will start coming in after the publication.
The technical review is about making sure that the book is technically accurate and in-tune with…well, reality.
Again, as the author, you can point out the people you’d like to be the technical reviewers for your book. And my advice is to not make the choice accidental. The more authoritative the reviewers are, the more publicity the book will get. Also, if a top celebrity in a given field says that the book is “superb,” that’s all the social proof you’ll need.
Another side benefit is that if a well-known person reviews your book, it’s also a big credibility boost for you as an author.
Frankly, don’t be afraid to reach out to “celebrities.” People are naturally much more responsive to any book-related request than they are to, say, guest post offers.
I guess that’s it for now, 5 specific challenges that weren’t all that obvious at first. As it turns out, the main takeaway is that writing is not at all your only task as an author. To build your book’s success, you do have to take care of many other things indeed.
Now, I’m sure I’ll share something more once the book hits the bookstores. I’m planning a “book launch case study” or something similar, so you’ll hear from me soon. In the meantime, are you planning any books of your own in 2013, or maybe 2014?
Karol K.(@carlosinho) is a freelance blogger and writer. You can find him at newInternetOrder if you’re up for some online business advice for normal people. He also contributes various WordPress related articles on business topics, like how to make your site faster and more optimized for your clients’ benefits.