I have had this question a couple of times and typed lengthy emails as a response, I figured I may as well write a blog post and share that going forward. Self-publishing, where do you start and which tools to use?
Well, I think the process is rather simple, but it takes a lot of time. Before you even get started writing a book you need to ask yourself if you will have the time to write a book and if you have the support of your family. As it typically means you will end up sitting in your home office for many evenings, and weekends, typing up content. Without the support of your family, or time, you won’t be able to finish it. Especially when it is your first book, expect it to take 6-9 months. Unless you get time from your work to add in extra hours during the week, and even then it probably takes 6 months at least.
Then there’s the question, self-publishing or a publisher? There are advantages to either, of course with a publisher a cut of the royalties will go to the publisher and typically as an author you will get between 8-12% (with 15% being the upper end). Big benefit of a publisher is the fact that they will provide editors, pay tech reviewers and will do all the formatting for you for both the paper and ebook edition. With self-publishing, you have to do that yourself, but it also means you are in control and you get to determine the price, which is nice as you can for instance price the ebook at 9.99 instead of the 40 USD a publisher will ask. (This will help with volume.)
Now when it comes to self-publishing, how do you start? I would recommend the following:
- Write a short summary of what you are going to write about and what you expect the reader to learn from the book
- Decide if you want a co-author or not, and ask the co-author if you want one
- Create a Table of Content (list of chapters)
- Create a timeline for completing the chapters
- Think about who you would like to ask as a technical reviewer, you may want more than 1
- Think about asking someone for editing/grammar, it helps to have someone focus on pure readability of the content!
- Think about which platform you will use to publish, Lulu vs Amazon (KDP) vs ?
Now when you have the above done, you can start writing, but what kind of tools should you use? I personally have used MS Word as the main tool to write books. When working with multiple authors we typically create a file per chapter and divide the chapters between the authors and work on them individually and store them in a shared dropbox folder. When you are done you can simply share the files with reviewers and editors. When you are done, you simply combine all the chapters and create a PDF. Now before you even do, make sure to check the publishing platform you will use and check whether they provide templates or not. These templates will be very helpful when you start the work to create a PDF. Amazon (KDP) will provide you various types of templates for different sized books. Also, when you create a PDF consider buying Adobe Acrobat DC. Not a requirement, but may help to produce usable PDFs, although KDP can also help with this.
The above is the print part, but of course, you may also want to create an ebook, typically this means you will need to redo all the formatting. KDP can do this for you, typically at a cost, or you can do it yourself. I have done this myself for most books (where Frank typically did the formatting for the paper copy), and for the ebook I have used various tools. I have a Macbook and I used both Vellum and Scrivener. Scrivener is a combination of a word processor/authoring tool and an ebook creator. Vellum was purely developed to create clean ebooks. That is why I moved from Scrivener to Vellum, as we do all our writing in MS Word, the only thing I need is the ability to create clean Kindle files. Vellum does that extremely well. It comes at a cost, but it was worth it! I tried importing the MS Word doc by the way various times, but I ended up doing copy/paste in the end, was much easier as it allowed me to also verify the formatting per copy/paste action.
Last but not least the tools used for the diagrams, it doesn’t really matter what you use. Visio, Powerpoint, Omnigraffle, it all works well. As long as you are consistent in terms of style and icons used. I would definitely recommend having one author create, or edit/verify all the diagrams. It just provides a more consistent look and feel and will make your book look more professional.
Before I forget, then of course when you are finished you will need to set a price. Now, when self-publishing I have always released the ebook at a fraction of the cost of the paper book. Simply because it allows you to reach more people, and of course because it is better for the environment. Yet is will cut into your royalties, but if you are considering writing a book to make money then you probably should rethink things. In most cases, tech books won’t make you a lot of money, put in the same amount of hours at the local MacDonalds and you probably make more money, but hopefully that is not what you were trying to achieve. Hopefully, your goal is to learn from the experience, share your knowledge and expand your horizon.
Anyway, if anyone has any questions, feel free to leave a comment.