Friday, December 23, 2011

Soon I shall be an author!

At long, long last, I believe I shall shortly be "an author". I signed off on the between-the-covers content last week, and made what I hope is the last tweak to the covers today. Provided the changes to the cover come through ok, I will shortly be publishing my book.

Looking back, there's some interesting stuff in there: A year is a long time. Probably 40% of that year was spent with the ball in my court. Maybe more. It's certainly possible to self-publish in a lot less time than a year, and if I were to publish another book, I'd ballpark it in the 120-to-240 day range.  On a third go, probably 90-180 days.

As a first-time author, I was really surprised at several aspects of the process.
  1. My skills in writing, my vocabulary, and my collegiate-level knowledge of punctuation and technical organization pale in comparison to those of a professional literary editor. I scored 99th percentile in the WEST test in college, yet I am no more than dust.

    Oh ye who condemns the greengrocer's apostrophe and hates "scare" quotes, ye who stands agog at the misuse of literally and infer, ye for whom a split infinitive is the beginning of a splitting headache: prepare to be humbled by the flaws and inconsistencies in your own writing. It hurt much more than I expected to see my writing critiqued.
  2. As an engineer, I was completely surprised by just how much font choice and page layout impact the readability of a book. When you're reading a 2, 8, or even 40 page technical document printed in black ink on bright white 8.5x11 inch printer paper, courier mono spaced 10-point is just fine. When you're dealing with a paperback book using dark grey ink on beige 5x8 inch paper, the font suddenly matters a lot. So do margins, and leading whitespace.
    Don't even try to approve an electronic galley without actually printing it out in the format you're actually going to print with. On a white screen with black text and no left-right pagination, you're just not going to have a clue. This is a (trust me on this) financially expensive mistake. Don't make it.
  3. By the time you've researched and written a non-fiction book, you actually are a minor expert on the subject. We all accumulate organic knowledge from our day-to-day lives. Independently researched information is different. Few adults ever take the time to put an academic quarter's worth of open-minded open-ended learning behind anything they do. If you have, trust me- you're at least a minor expert.
  4. Like starting a small business, marketing is everything. If you want even moderate financial return on your book, plan to spend most of your time, effort, blood, and treasure marketing your book. If you used crayon and wrote your book in pig-latin, the editors will fix it. If you don't market your book well, you will sell no books.
That's all I've got right now.

Merry Christmas,