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>> Writing a book: basics

Thu, Feb 28th 11:31pm 2008: Writing

My old conference pal Alec the Geek said to me a few days ago that it could be interesting to do a post on the process of writing a book: what's actually involved in going from a raw concept to grinning goofily at friends and family as you show them the finished product. There's a lot to it and I've seen remarkably little posted on the subject, particularly considering that so many of my friends and conference aquaintances have been through it at various stages, some of them multiple times. I'd have expected to see a bit more about it even just in passing. So to satisfy Alec's curiosity I'll have a go. It's a pretty big subject though so it'll probably end up as a series of posts. So let's start with the different publishing processes. You might think this would be the very last thing to think about, but it determines the entire process of writing from beginning to end so you need to be aware of it right from the start. I've been through the book-writing process three different ways (DIY self-published, trade published, and assisted-self-published) and they're all totally different. Of course everyone who thinks about writing a book wants it to be trade-published by a big name company: there's an incredible feeling of validation when a publisher says they want to publish your work. But getting a publisher to take you on is also incredibly hard if you don't already have a track record, and therein lies the rub. You can't get a publisher without a track record, and you can't get a track record without getting your work out there somehow. Think about the career path of a successful musician. They don't just sit around in their bedroom practicing in private and then one day out of the blue start calling major record labels looking for a deal, expecting to be signed up for a world tour playing to massive stadiums on their debut and receiving a huge signing bonus. But that's exactly what a lot of would-be authors expect. Publishers have to shift a lot of copies on quite small margins for a title to be financially viable, and as a result they don't like to gamble on unknowns. So be realistic about what you want to achieve and what your reasons are for wanting to write a book. Not all musicians get fat contracts and play to packed stadiums and have their cardboard cutout displayed in the foyer at every Sanity store, and not all writers have a publishing deal that gets their book displayed cover-out in every bookshop and airport lounge on the planet and discussed on Oprah's Book Club. You have to work up to that sort of thing and it can take a really long time or (far more likely) never happen at all. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile being an unpublished musician or writer. You just have to treat it as a journey, not a single step from beginner to expert. What do indie musos do when they're trying to get their name out and build a fanbase? Play local gigs and record demo tapes (or CDs, or MP3s) and practice their craft. For a writer it's exactly the same. You have to submit stories to whoever will print them, give away your work and develop a reputation. I did that for years, submitting articles to all sorts of places: one of the biggest boosts I got early on was regularly submitting stories for linmagau, a short-lived online Linux magazine created by Kimberly Shelt in Perth. I was fortunate enough to provide a couple of stories that more due to timeliness than my writing ability brought in an incredible number of readers, which made Kim extremely receptive to anything else I wanted to submit. I jumped on the opportunity and submitted articles faster than she could publish them, and then leveraged my way into other publications from there. And like a muso recording their first tracks in a home studio then burning CDs and giving them away at parties or selling them at local gigs, you can produce, print and give away or sell your early work directly yourself. Yes, that hated term with all the stigma attached: self-publishing. This post is way too long already so I'll continue with a follow-up post in a day or two with the differences between DIY self-publishing, trade publishing, and assisted self-publishing.

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