The Star Wars Rings
Why I wrote a book just to learn how to market it
I remember my first story for scriptwriting class in college. I had been working on it for weeks, rewording sentences, tweaking plot points to perfection. I didn’t want to share it with anybody until it was flawless. I handed it to the teacher and started my anxious wait for the praise.
It was a debacle. Everything was redlined. Half of the story didn’t make sense. The other half was incomprehensible.
Some people are lucky enough to create a masterpiece without feedback. But not mortals. We need other sets of eyes looking at a problem with us to make it great. We need to put something out there, see how people react, incorporate their feedback to make a better version, learn from the process, and do it again, iteratively.
So why was I writing a book for months in my corner, with no feedback? Why was I betting on perfection again, instead of putting things out there, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and correcting course? Had I not learned anything?
That’s when I met for coffee with a friend who had recently left his job. I was eager to know what he was doing with his time. Did he join another company? Did he create one? No, he spent the last 6 months writing books. 35 books, to be precise. He had honed a process to get several of them written and published in a matter of days.
I looked at my beloved book, and I decided to change. I wasn’t going to just finish it and publish it, because you can’t write a book—or publish it—and hope it’s going to be successful if you’ve never done it before. I decided to write another book.
If your first book is so dear to your heart that you don’t want to see it fail, you’ll be scared of trying things, and you will fail. Instead, work with a book that you don’t fear failing, because you will try things and learn. My friend, with 35 books, knew exactly what worked and what didn’t for him. I didn’t need to publish 35 to learn, but I needed at least one.
After five months of writing and publishing, my new book, The Star Wars Rings, is going out next week, on September 19th. What I’ve learned has been eye-opening. Here are my main takeaways for future first-time authors.
- Break your mental barrier by speed-writing your first draft in 3 hours
Since I wrote my book, I’ve talked with at least a dozen people who’ve always wanted to write a book and have been taking notes for years, but never got around writing the book. I get it. It’s daunting.
What I tell them is: You’re scared of the white page. You’re scared of the long road ahead of getting all these ideas into the page, so you don’t even start walking the road. What you need is to just fill the pages with a first version, because once you have all the ideas on paper, you will look at them and tell yourself: “Oh my God, this section is terrible! And it’s missing so much! Let me correct it!”. Now, your perfectionism is going to be the force pushing you, not the one hindering you.
How do you speed-write a book?
- Take a dozen pieces of paper
- On the first one, structure your content in main ideas and chapters. You should do that in 5 minutes.
- Then, for each chapter, take another piece of paper. Write the title of the chapter at the top.
- Now, for each chapter, outline the detailed ideas and examples. Don’t write content yet, just the ideas.
- Now for the magic. Get in a quiet room. Open your computer. Go to Google Docs. Open a word editor. Enable voice transcription. Start talking.
In around a couple of hours of talking you should have your first draft. It’s not going to be perfect: lots of ideas will have to change, the quality of the voice transcription is not perfect… But you will have a first draft, and that changes everything.
- Get amazing front and back covers
Your book represents you. You must feel proud of it. You need a great cover.
There are dozens of services online to get covers. On Fiverr, you can pay somebody as little as $5 to get one. It will be a stock image with your title written in a nice font. If that’s what you need, that’s fine. I prefer something a bit more original, professional and aspirational, so I went with 99designs.
With 99designs, you work with several different designers who compete to make the best cover and you only pay for the best one. For $199, I organized a competition and received 8 candidates. I passed 6 to a second round, from which I selected the winner. Then, we worked through several iterations until we got the cover just right. Here are some examples of the evolution of the cover.
- Leave proofreading and pagination to a pro
You will have dozens of errors, and you won’t notice them. It’s impossible. If you have money, I’d hire an editor and a proofreader: the editor will work with you to make the book much better by helping you restructure it and rewrite it, but it’s expensive. Proofreading is not: for $100-$200 you can have a 100-page book completely proofread. You can find great proofreaders on Fiverr.
Pagination is structuring the manuscript in a way that it can be uploaded into a book easily. It means structuring the illustrations, making titles look like titles, putting the numbers in the right place on every page… I did it myself, and I won’t do it again. You can’t imagine the amount of detail that it takes. For example, take a book, open it in the middle, and look at the top. You’ll see that it has the book’s title on one page and the chapter title on the other page. Or the author. Or some other variant. Getting that right is a nightmare: it changes every chapter, you want different fonts for each, they shouldn’t appear in the first page or two of the chapter, nor in the introduction… Just leave it for an expert.
- Upload to Amazon KDP
Amazon sells 70% of e-books. That’s where you want to start. If your book is successful, then you can work on optimizing the rest of distribution, but initially, you just need to upload your book on Amazon. There’s a service to make your book available on paperback too, very easily. Just do that: e-book and paperback.
The paperback version can be uploaded through KDP or CreateSpace. Both are owned by Amazon. I tried CreateSpace and it was a bit buggy, but it worked.
- Build your email list
If you read enough blog posts about self-publishing, you’ll note a pattern: the number 1 advice authors give is to create a landing page with an email signup, so you can gather fans and communicate with them. You will need them for two reasons.
First, you can share with them your content as you write it, which as we discussed is key for iteration.
Second, they will get you early reviews in Amazon. Reviews are the single most important factor to increase your sales.
There’s plenty of tools for landing pages. WordPress is the most famous one. For mail, just go with MailChimp. They’re free up to 1,200 contacts, more than you will probably need until you’re a successful author.
- Build a relationship with bloggers in your space
There are plenty of bloggers around the topic you’re writing about. As you write your book, build a relationship with them. Similar to your email list, you will learn from them along the way. Also, you might be able to write guest posts on their blogs, which will give you visibility.
I learned many more things along the way, but if you get these points right, you’re already 80% there. Now go and just write your book!
Tomas Pueyo Brochard is the self-published author of The Star Wars Rings, releasing on September 19, 2017. If you want to see what the result of his process looks like, you can get his book on Amazon. If you want to ask him questions directly, join his Facebook launch party on September 19, from 10am to 6pm PCT!