A blog worth reading: A Newbie’s Guide To Self-Publishing

I was going to quote and link to one particular article on Joe Konrath’s blog, but the more I read, the more I realized you should read it all. So click on that link and head over there. Joe shares powerful lessons for people wondering whether self-publishing is viable vs. finding a publisher.

You can “just start writing,” but you won’t wind up with a book

You want a house. You have a lot. You’ve got a general idea of what the house should look like. So you think, “Time to act! I’ll just jump in.” You head off for the lumber yard. “Let’s see, I’ll probably need some 2×4’s. Oh yeah, and some cement. Some nails–I’ll get 50 pounds, and come back if I need more”…

A house? You think this track leads to your dream house? No way.

Why?

[Model T 18 #C G 26   At a Lumber Yard. R.E. B...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

Very simply, because you have no idea what goes first, and what goes next. Never mind permitting and all the stuff that has to happen before construction. How about a foundation?

You get the idea.

Your book is the same.

Just start writing, and you’ll have… a bunch of writing. But it won’t be a book.

A book has structure. Create the structure first. Then write. That’s the quickest way to produce a book.

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Useful interviewing tools

Non-fiction authors often need to interview people. Of course you should record the interview, and electronic recorders are so inexpensive that they are commodities. Besides, most smart phones will record full interviews and let them be downloaded to your computer, where you can play them back.

Microsoft Office OneNote Icon
Image via Wikipedia

What used to frustrate me was finding my way around long recordings. An hour or two of talking takes a long time to skim.

One of the few applications I regretted giving up in my last PC-to-Mac transition, about four years ago, was Microsoft OneNote. And my very favorite thing about OneNote was this: You can tell it to record audio while you take notes. Then, the audio is indexed by your notes.

So you can go back to your notes and click anywhere, and OneNote will play the portion of the audio that was being spoken at the moment you made that note. Very, very, very powerful.

Circus Ponies’ Notebook on the Mac did this, but it also crashed, lost stuff, and corrupted several months worth of notes irretrievable. I don’t trust that product, even though that miserable experience was three years ago.

I just discovered Pear Note from Useful Fruit software, a wonderful audio- and video-note taking app that focuses on this issue. It is beautifully designed and works. I haven’t been using it long enough to remark on its robustness, but it feels very good to me.

Another useful tool–at least for shorter interviews–is the LiveScribe Echo. It’s a pen with a built-in recorder. You take notes on special paper. The pen records (excellent quality) what’s being said, and also captures your writing or drawing. Dock the pen with your PC or Mac, and both the audio and the writing/drawing are now accessible.

Touch the pen to your writing, and it plays back what was being said at the time of that particular piece of writing. That also works on the computer, without the pen.

Image representing Livescribe  as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

The recording is optionally binaural. When you record binaurally in a noisy environment, you can pull every softly spoke word out of the background with ease (when you also listen binaurally, of course).

My only complain about the pen: Battery life. I never get more than just over two hours. I’d carry a second pen for long meetings, but the syncing scheme makes that complicated.

EDIT: Just learned that Word 2004 and 2008 on the Mac, in “Notebook” mode, also do this!

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Turn card over

My father was born in Ostrolenko, Poland. That fact authorizes me to tell Polish jokes.

How do you keep a Polack busy? (“Polack” means simply “Polish man.” There is nothing derogatory about the word.)

Give him a card that has printed, on both sides, “Turn card over.”

I am that Polack.

My geekishness is often expressed as a fascination with things that are of absolutely no interest to most of the population–especially things that exhibit a measure of complexity. I am attracted to complexity, per se. I love its richness; I have a feeling that, just around the corner, I will find the answer to some important question.

Usually I don’t.

But that doesn’t deter me; complexity continues to fascinate me.

Here’s one way it manifests: I love to explore programs that claim to manage your information and show it to you in different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Personal Brain, from TheBrain.com. I actually use this as my diary, journal, and general repository of knowledge.
  • Evernote, from Evernote.com. I use this, too; it syncs with my iPhone, and lets me capture and store a huge variety of text, graphics, and more. And it attempts to read any text in the graphics; so if I snap a picture of a business card with my iPhone, Evernote will OCR (optical character recognition) the text, so that I can find the name of the person using its powerful search facility.
  • Voodoopad. A wiki on your (Mac) desktop. Amazingly powerful and simple. I haven’t integrated it into my workflow, but hope springs eternal.
  • Tinderbox. The ultimate time sink. (Mac only.) Incredibly robust and powerful outliner, graphical mapper, database, and so much more.

I am forever searching for the system that will allow me to store anything, link anything to anything else, extract email addresses for mailing, keep track of people and events, web clippings, etc. You get the idea.

Each tool excels at some things, and sucks (I hate the word, but cannot resist it any longer) at others.

And when I downloaded the latest version of VoodooPad today, I realized: Turn card over. I’m doing it again.

I haven’t found a 12-step program for people who are determined to find The One System yet, but if it doesn’t show up soon, I’ll have to start one.

Ask me how this relates to writing books.

Big

Big writing using GPS logger

This is not my message, although I found a lot to love about Ayn Rand. It’s the message of Nick Newcomen, who believes we’d all be better off if we adopted Rand’s philosophy. (Read about how he did this here.)

I was trying out Google Reader’s new “Play” facility, which seems to pick a bunch of random stuff that may be of interest to you–and I have no idea by what criteria–and show it to you in a really friendly interface that lets you “star” things you like to look at later, or put a smiley face on some things to share with friends. This page showed up.

It made me think of the phrase, “writ large,” which, according to idioms.thefreedictionary.com, is slightly formal, and means “expressed in a bigger or more obvious way. She believed that cultures are just personalities writ largeThe genius of the story is that it’s about ordinary life writ large.

Mr. Newcomen went a long way, literally, to send this suggestion to the world. I’m not sure how much of an effect it’s having, but there are several aspects of it that should give other message-bearers, such as aspiring authors, something to think about:

  • The message is brief and unambiguous. It wouldn’t have worked as well for “Fyodor Dostoyevsky.”
  • It’s an unambiguous command; there is no mistaking its meaning.
  • It is dramatic, without damaging the environment.
  • Whatever you may think of Ayn Rand, there is no doubt that Mr. Newcomen is well-intentioned.

Now, Mr. Newcomen may make a few bucks if people buy Ayn Rand books through the links on the page. I hope he does. It will take lots of book sales at Amzon’s commission rates to cover the expenses of his trip. But it’s a safe bet that this was not planned as a commercial venture.

I am left impressed with the man’s earnestness, gentleness, and intelligence. If he also offered me a newsletter or other way to stay in touch with him, and sign up for it.

These are good outcomes to which a non-fiction book writer, wanting to promote her or his services, might aspire as well.

Displacement activities

I was reading about efficiency, about getting things done, when I came across the concept of a “displacement” activity, which was defined as something we do from some internal need for variation or incubation. I liked the term, “displacement”; it carries no hint of accusation or guilt induction. I think that many like me are sometimes drawn to activities that are not clearly “on task” and feel like we are being self-indulgent.

(I am distressed that I did not make a note of the source of the term; I’ve made a point of putting everything I want to recall from the Web into Evernote, because it’s so easy to do. Another demonstration of human imperfection….)

Some of my displacement activities are related to work–reading book-writing related blogs and technology blogs, for example. Others are less clear–downloading pictures from my camera and organizing them. Some are an obvious expression of my need for a break–reading books, for one.

When I feel that my use of time is out of control, I start to track my time, noting exactly what I’m doing all day. The simple recording of times–when I do stuff, when I switch to other stuff–helps me be more aware. Here’s a piece of a fascinating NYT article on the subject:

Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.

That is, some of us do. Others use data. A timer running on Robin Barooah’s computer tells him that he has been living in the United States for 8 years, 2 months and 10 days. At various times in his life, Barooah — a 38-year-old self-employed software designer from England who now lives in Oakland, Calif. — has also made careful records of his work, his sleep and his diet.
A few months ago, Barooah began to wean himself from coffee. His method was precise. He made a large cup of coffee and removed 20 milliliters weekly. This went on for more than four months, until barely a sip remained in the cup. He drank it and called himself cured. Unlike his previous attempts to quit, this time there were no headaches, no extreme cravings. Still, he was tempted, and on Oct. 12 last year, while distracted at his desk, he told himself that he could probably concentrate better if he had a cup. Coffee may have been bad for his health, he thought, but perhaps it was good for his concentration.
Barooah wasn’t about to try to answer a question like this with guesswork. He had a good data set that showed how many minutes he spent each day in focused work. With this, he could do an objective analysis. Barooah made a chart with dates on the bottom and his work time along the side. Running down the middle was a big black line labeled “Stopped drinking coffee.” On the left side of the line, low spikes and narrow columns. On the right side, high spikes and thick columns. The data had delivered their verdict, and coffee lost.
He was sad but also thrilled. Instead of a stimulating cup of coffee, he got a bracing dose of truth. “People have such very poor sense of time,” Barooah says, and without good time calibration, it is much harder to see the consequences of your actions. If you want to replace the vagaries of intuition with something more reliable, you first need to gather data. Once you know the facts, you can live by them.
Your thoughts?

Have someone interview you and write your book

You know you want to write a book. You know you need to have a book written by you, for your branding, credentialization, authority, differentiation, and more. But you just don’t have the time to write it yourself, even using my ultra-efficient process.

What can you do?

You can have someone–like me, for example–write your book for you.

The typical process depends on the writer. Most will interview you to understand your goals and direction. If you have material you’ve written that you want incorporated, that may speed up or slow down the process.

How much does it cost? There is a wide range. Hillary Clinton’s ghost writer got about $500,000 of her $8,000,000 advance (possibly the highest flat fee ever paid to a ghost writer). You can find writers in India and elsewhere who will work for very little–$3000-$4000 for a 100-page book.

Most 120-180 page ghost-writing projects will cost around $25,000-$35,000. Editing may be separate.

Why pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a book written for you? Because of its value to you, and the opportunity cost of your time. I currently have two such contracts. One is with a successful inventor, who wants his ideas to be exposed to a large audience. The other is with an up-and-coming consultant/coach/speaker, who values his own time at $500 an hour. “I can’t afford to take the tens–maybe hundreds–of hours I’d need to get my book out. Plus, I’m not a great writer,” he told me. I’ll finish his book in a couple of months, while he earns much more than I’m charging.

When hiring a ghost writer, chemistry is critical. You must be comfortable with the writer, both as a person and as a skilled craftsperson. Take your time interviewing different ones. Look for track record; empathy; and compatibility with your personality.

If you’d like to speak with me about your writing needs, schedule a free strategy call with me. I want to help you finish your book. Let’s talk.

Do you have to write your own book to have a book?

No. You can have someone do it for you.

Different people have different ways of working with authors. And of course, it very much depends on the type of book you want written.

I’m writing a book for an inventor/engineer right now. He does not intend to use it to market his services; he wants to simply put forth some of his ideas, many of which are quite provocative, into the world.

I’m speaking with another person who also has provocative ideas, but wants to use the book to build a speaking platform and additional products.

Different purposes, different processes. With the first book, we worked to come up with a detailed table of contents. Then I interviewed the man accordingly. Now I am turning those results into a manuscript.

And he wants me to be the author.

With the second, the client will be the author. I will structure, interview, and write. I don’t plan for my name to appear on the book.

In both cases, I will take care of the publishing, and consult on the promotion and sales.

Is this a good way to do things? That depends on your goals. My time–and that of anyone who you’d want to have write a book for you–is valuable. The question you have to answer is: How valuable is your time? Would you be better served creating new products for your business, or writing your book yourself? (I can help you do that, too, of course.)

Do you want it done quickly? What’s it costing you not to have a book out yet? When you consider the whole picture, the cost of having someone write a book for you might show up as a good investment.

There are other–less expensive–shortcuts to getting a book out. For example, I have a template-based book kit for coaches, and will soon have them for other professions. For a few hundred dollars, you can create a good book, and have it published inexpensively.

If you’d like to discuss your options and possible strategies, click on the calendar in the right-hand column to pick a time for a no-obligation strategy call with me.

Pain

If you want your book to be read, and to do good for people, an excellent approach is to focus on a particular pain that your audience is experiencing. Of course, this means you must have a specific audience in mind when you are writing. And that’s worth at least a paragraph or two right here.

You want to write a book. You have things to say, things you want people to know. Things you want people to know about you. Who are these people? Before you answer, let me give you a hint: It’s not “everybody.”

There are very few things that are truly of interest to everybody. And if you write so as to offer something for every conceivable reader, you’ll find that nobody wants to read what you’ve written–because too little of it pertains to them, to their life, to their interests.

You must have an audience in mind when you are writing–and you must characterize them to yourself, so that you are writing to a single person who represents you audience. Without that model, it will be very hard for you to write in a way that is meaningful and interesting. “Meaning” is a very local matter; shared meaning is usually confined to groups with shared interests.

Once you’ve identified your audience, you want to address issues of immediate concern; in other words, pain points. When you write things that are generally interesting or funny, you’ll capture readers who have a bit of time on their hands, and are looking for something with which to occupy themselves. But when you write about someone’s pain, you have your reader’s full attention. They are looking for ways to abate their pain, and if you have a product, a service, or an approach that will help them, they are yours. “The Fun I had Driving Coast to Coast”–maybe dentist waiting-room reading. “How to Stop Lower Back Pain in 24 Hours or Less”–“Gimme!” says any sufferer.

So ask yourself: What’s the purpose of your book? Do you want to entertain your reader, or move them to action? If the latter, get very clear on who your ideal reader is, and address a point of pain for them.

Check out our new Author Forum!

In the menu bar at the top of the blog, there is a new tab: “Forum.” Come check it out! Post your questions, comments, thoughts.

Warmly,

Joel

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