This is the story of how I wrote an informational book in three months doing what I usually do. Riding to work, texting friends, and sharing what I learn.
My book, Chalo: A Westerner’s Incomplete and Totally Biased Guide to Living and Working in India, is 50 pages of stories, tips, and beautiful photography available on Amazon in print and ebook.
Here’s how I wrote it, in 4 parts:
Drafting a book quickly:
effective accountability, tools to use, one smart strategy
Editing, Organizing, Refining
Formatting and Publishing:
tools to use, optimizing for physical and digital Amazon publishing, pitfalls and time sinks to avoid
Drafting a Book Quickly
The hardest part of writing a book is the writing.
What should you write about it? Can you write enough? Will you just give up because you don’t have the time, or you don’t care as much today as you did a week ago? Here’s how you’ll stay on track.
Write out a list of topics
They don’t have to be the right topics. They don’t have to be in the right order. Or categorized. You’ll add more in, you’ll throw some away, and you may even realize you’re writing on an entirely different topic than you intended. But writing a list of topics gives you something to write about later.
Get an Accountability buddy who has only one job: to receive your work.
I wrote up a list of potential topics and sent the list to my accountability buddy, Erica. Then, while sitting in the back of an Uber to work, would quickly tap out a draft of one of the topics and send it to her. I committed to send her 5 drafts in a week.
This was not my proofreading buddy. Or my co-author. She was there to accept my commitment. She sometimes asked clarifying questions, and sometimes I answered them.
Your job is to Write Quickly
Just quickly tap out your explanation of the topic from start to finish as though you are teaching your buddy.
No rules, no proofreading, just write.
Quickly write the shittiest version of your thinking — just do a really terrible job — and send that to your buddy. Your goal, in the beginning, is to get done.
Don’t stop freewriting when you get to a point where you feel more research is necessary, leave yourself a note for later. Famous authors Neil Strauss and Tim Ferris type ‘TK’ in spots they want to come back to because it rarely appears in the English language so it’s easy to search for later. Personally, I use ‘##” for the same reason.
Editing, Organizing and Refining
Some of these steps are overlapping. As I wrote drafts, I nudged my outline. I went back to a draft here and there to refine it. I sometimes played with photos or experimented with formatting. But the main work was pumping out drafts.
I started really organizing and refining when something like 80% of the first drafts were complete.
And it was in this process of refining that I understood what the remaining 20 percent needed to be. Where were there gaps to be filled? Where had I left something untouched? Where had I gone in the wrong direction. It’s how I figured out what the book actually was.
For me I found Wunderlist perfect for this project.
I created a list, and in the list each topic got it’s own ‘task’ and the text was typed or pasted into the ‘notes’ filed of the task. When I wanted to edit a topic, I would open the task. When I wanted to reorganize the book, I would shift the tasks in the list. This made it easy to put into a book format later. It’s available on phones and laptops, so my work was always there for me.
Editing takes at least as long as the original writing.
It’s a different practice. Here you are clarifying, adding in, taking out. Where are you redundant. Where are you not quite making the point you would like to? What was the research you told yourself you would do? What pictures, quotes, or activities might supplement the text?
You may ask for some help with this. Maybe this is your accountability buddy or a friend with an eye for grammar or hired help.
Formatting and Publishing
Choose how you will Publish BEFORE you start formatting
The best self-publishing options are e-books and Print On Demand print publishing. That’s because you don’t have to print copies of the books and try to sell them. Rather they are simply downloaded or printed as they are sold.
The easiest way to publish and share your new book is by creating a PDF file, which you can do from Word, Powerpoint, or Google Slides. It’s what most people who give away eBooks do.
If you are wanting to sell through a large distributor like Amazon or sell physical books online, it gets trickier. Here I would suggest starting on a platform like CreateSpace which is integrated with Amazon. And maybe hiring some help like I did.
Creating a text-based book with few images in portrait format isn’t so difficult. You can pull a Word template from the internet and than convert it to the necessary file types. EInk displays work best with portrait format. They will do landscape but its not great. I initially formatted mine in Google Slides, but it had to be moved to InDesign for the physical print version via CreateSpace.
Creating an image-based book with many images in landscape format is trickier, especially if you want readers to be able to interact with your book in physical or EInk format.
In either case, check the available formats on common distributors before you get started. CreateSpace, for example, has listed book formats.
Formatting the book for online distributors turned out to be too far out of my depth to quickly pursue independently. So I found a freelancer through UpWork.
My job posting looked like this:
I have a 50 page eBook made in Google slides with images in landscape format.
I would like this book reformatted in two ways.
1) reformatted for createspace Amazon Print-On-Demand, a print proof sent to my office, and ultimately submitted to Amazon on my behalf.
2) reformatted to show well on Amazon Kindle and Amazon apps. Possibly in Portrait format. With graphics still showing well.
Please start with by showing me a reformat of the first 5 pages. You can find the full book here: <URL>
I then invited people to my proposal and allowed people to find my proposal. I entertained only proposals that were in my price range ($150 for the whole job), communicated in a way I understood, and who showed me a demo of the book. You can find instructions for previewing files on an eInk Kindle and on a Kindle App.
I then broke up the project into 3 milestones, so that each milestone would be paid when approved by me.
Milestone 1: show me all the necessary completed files ready for upload.
Milestone 2: Make any needed corrections and submit the files to the ditributors (CreateSpace and KDP). Share all raw files (InDesign files in this case)
Milestone 3: Educate me on how manage my online space (set images, set Look Inside feature, set pricing, replace the files with new editions, etc)
I’ve been very pleased with the results, which includes a landscape print version, a 16×9 tablet version, and a portrait Kindle version.
I started down the path of publishing a book about living and working in India for a few reasons: to help me process what I was learning and experiencing, to share with others, and to finally finish a personal project. And because I had something to say about the beautiful country that has welcomed me. My book, Chalo: A Westerner’s Incomplete and Totally Biased Guide to Living and Working in India, is 50 pages of stories, tips, and beautiful photography available on Amazon in print and ebook.
If you need more guidance, or an accountability buddy, say “hi.”