Making It Happen: Self Publishing, Part I

A few weeks ago, after the snow stopped falling, I heard the loud whirl of a snow-blower. I looked out the window to see my neighbor Kathy beaming as she wheeled the machine up and down her driveway.  I walked over to say hello, and she gave me a big hug and thank you.  “Thank you for making it happen!”  What did I do? After last year’s record snowfall, I organized a few neighbors to purchase a group snow blower.  Kathy and other neighbors had talked about going in on one for years, but no one actually made it happen.  I made it happen – I emailed folks to confirm interest, researched snow blowers, arranged the purchase and delivery, and collected money.

Sharing a snow blower between a few neighbors, especially in the city, is a great idea. But like many ideas, its greatness doesn’t guarantee action.  People are busy, absorbed in their day-to-day life, and often cannot shift their attention sufficiently to help or contribute to its execution.

The same holds true in business. We often request assistance from others to get things done; such as a publisher to write books or an accountant to file taxes. When someone declines our request, or it goes unanswered, doesn’t mean the task is unworthy.  It just means they don’t have the time, capacity, energy or motivation.  This really is a case of “It’s not you, it’s them.” If you want to get things done, you may have to plow ahead on your own.  People will be grateful you did – like my neighbor Kathy. If you have the drive and the motivation, then make it happen on your own! With enough momentum collaborators will eventually join you.

Such was the case when I co-wrote The Farmer’s Kitchen. Brett and I knew it was a great concept for a book, but didn’t have a publisher or book agent. Instead of waiting for the right collaborator to make it happen, we did it on our own.  The project gained enough momentum (we sold over 2,000 copies), and we found a collaborator, New Society Publishers, to take the project to the next level.

The overarching wisdom – You’re not “going it alone.” You’re making it happen!

This month’s article focuses on the specific project of publishing a book. Many people express longingly the desire to write a book.  No need to wait to share your ideas until a publisher “validates” them.  Go on! Get started!

Independent publishing, a euphemism for self-publishing, allows anyone with a computer and internet connection to write a book, print it, and sell it on Amazon and in local bookstores.

Here is the process that I used for The Farmer’s Office layered with my experience publishing The Farmer’s Kitchen.

Part I: Create the Manuscript

Step 1: Write an Outline
When Brett and I put together the cookbook, an outline wasn’t really necessary as there’s a standard format for cookbooks. For The Farmer’s Office, the outline served the same function as a business plan does for a starting business: it creates focus and charts out the story.

As I wrote, the words just poured out of me: I had so much to say. Many concepts I wrote about lead on me on tangents.  When giving the overview of The Income Statement, for example, I could talk about the layout, the different categories, how to read and interpret the numbers, and so on.  Where do I stop? The outline assured me that there was a place for everything I wanted to say, while maintaining a structure and flow: I wrote about the layout and categories in Chapter 2 (Basic Account and the Financial Statements), and interpreting the numbers in Chapter 7 (Day to Day Management).  I said what I wanted to say in the right place.

Step 2: Write
This is perhaps the most obvious step in writing a book – just get the words on paper. If you sense a block, refer back to the outline.  With The Farmer’s Office, I did not write the book straight from beginning to end; I jumped around.  Some days I felt inspired about one topic and wrote. Other days, I got stumped on a section, and started on a different section.  Because I had the outline, I could keep all the snippets of text organized.

Step 3: Edit
There are two ways to edit.

First, edit for flow and content. Have you effectively articulated what you want to say? Are your words concise and active? Do you need to rearrange content to create the right narrative? When I originally created the outline for The Farmer’s Office I thought about the cycle of a business, and that guided the flow of the book.  The chapter on managing a cash crisis seemed to logically fit at the end as it talked about closing a business.  But that turned out to be a depressing way to end the book. I realized I needed to move the chapter on Growing a Business to the end to create a more uplifting conclusion.

Second, you want to edit for formatting, consistency and typos.  How will each chapter header be formatted? Which font and point size? Will it be bolded and/or italicized? Make similar decisions for each level of section headers, as well as sidebars. In order to edit for consistency, you will create a style sheet.

You can create a style sheet before you start writing, as part of the outline process. It can make this process easier. However if you aren’t really sure how the book would flow, you may want to wait.  For me, the formatting evolved as I wrote; and everything needed to be reformatted.

Step 4: Walk away
After writing, reading and rereading your manuscript, your eyes will glaze over.  The best way to read and edit the text is to have fresh eyes. And the best way to have fresh eyes, is to walk away for a week or two.

Step 5: Edit again
As you sit with the text, reread and fix typos; your thoughts of format and flow will evolve.  You may create new typos as you fix old ones.  Read through your manuscript again to check for flow, consistency, typos and formatting.

The easy part is done.  Next: production.  How will the words on your computer screen become words on a page? How will the book be printed, marketed, sold, and shipped to bookstores?

In the next article, I’ll share the process I used to design, print, market and sell books.

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