Writing My First Ebook, A Work In Progress

WORLD HEADQUARTERS OF ‘CONSTERNATION,’ THE BLOGGING, WRITING, AND EBOOK PUBLISHING CONGLOMERATE. Note the unfinished manuscript and miscellaneous research piled on the desk at the bottom left; various diabetes testing stuff on the top shelf, with the dictionary; a bunch of unpaid bills in envelopes on the shelf at top center; a few reference books and family photos on the same shelf to the right; and last but not least, my trusty but obsolete Apple laptop, sitting on a pile of phone books.

Hello again, patient readers. Yes, I’m guilty of neglecting this poor blog. My other blog is a virtual orphan.

My excuse: I started writing an Ebook around the first of November, and the project is about to consume me. Progress has been slower than my unrealistic expectations. I’ve been working almost constantly, sometimes forgetting to eat. Living and working in the same one-room apartment is not the ideal situation. It’s easy to lose perspective and hard to self-regulate. On the other hand, it helps me keep focused on the book.

To answer the obvious question: It’s a work of fiction, approaching novel length. It doesn’t fall into any particular genre. I’m hoping it will be a fast-moving, suspenseful story of political and economic crisis. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

Writing a book is more daunting than I thought.

It’s more than just writing and revising. Mind you, I’ve had a lot of what you might call “relevant experience.” I’ve spent a quarter century or more writing and editing, particularly copy editing at newspapers. I’ve been blogging intensively on WordPress.com since 2007. But the largest project I’ve ever been involved in was a Pulitzer Prize quality four-day newspaper series. Full disclosure: I was the copy editor. No, the series didn’t actually win a Pulitzer, but the reporter’s work was certainly up to that level, and some of my headlines were pretty good, too.

I’ve never written anything nearly as long as a novel in my life. And I’ve never written fiction. As far as writing a book goes, and publishing it as an Ebook, I’m a rookie.

I began writing around the beginning of November 2011, and had 19,000 words on  the computer by Thanksgiving. I figured at that pace, I could finish the book and publish it by Christmas, or at least New Year’s. My latest self-imposed deadline was early February. So it goes. I’ve proved once again that a deadline only looks like a brick wall as you’re approaching it; it turns out to be light as a screen door, when you push through it.

Ebook revolution

I’ve been following the Ebook revolution with great interest since I first wrote about it a year ago.  The wave has been building for several years, ever since Amazon introduced the first Kindle. When they announced the advanced Kindle Fire, the first color Kindle, it provided a boost to push the revolution to new heights during the Christmas season.

I splurged on a Nook touch-screen model in November so I could look at published Ebooks and see what the competition is like. To show you how fast this revolution is developing, I bought the Nook for $139, and over the weekend they reduced the price to $99. I went back to B&N on Monday and they refunded me the difference. Amazon reduced the price on the Kindle Fire to $199, and reduced the basic “e-ink” Kindle to $79. Nook also is available in both color and e-ink models. I prefer the black-and-white e-ink because it’ much gentler on my old eyes than the color screens.

The only other equipment I needed to buy, to get my own Ebook project going, was a cheap new black-and-white laser printer. I like to write on a keyboard, but I prefer to read and revise on paper. I’m going to have a lot of dead trees on my conscience before this book is done.

I printed out the first 19,000 words (none of them any good) at Thanksgiving and imposed on several relatives to read and critique. Thankfully, my sister pointed out that I was going down a long, boring road. After Thanksgiving I revised and chopped the first effort, and pointed the plot in a new direction. But I wrote only a few thousand more words by Christmas. Forward motion remained slow until the past two weeks.

I’d write a couple of chapters, then go back and revise, trimming out many excess words. It was well into January before I hit 30,000 words, and then I stalled at 32,000. I was working all the time, but writing and revising was only part of it.

I had a lot of stuff to juggle. First, I’ve never been someone to outline before I write. I have an ability to hold a semi-developed concept in my head, so I just take off running and organize as I go along. It works when writing a news story or an essay. Probably not a good idea for something as long as a novel. But after Thanksgiving, following my sister’s suggestions, I gradually mapped out a general outline for most of the book, but still not knowing where it was going to end.

Title, Cover, Formatting

I fretted about a cover and a title. You can’t order a cover until you have a title. I was constantly educating myself about Ebook publishing. I found out that formatting a manuscript for uploading to Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Amazon is a process filled with mystery. Once I settled on a title, I started obsessing over the debate about pricing. I was fortunate to find a professional cover designer, Joleene Naylor. She provided me with a wonderful cover that I think is perfect for my subject. Fast turnaround and very reasonable price. Thanks, Joleene. I found Joleene by reading her book, “How to Get A Cheap Book Cover.”

There’s a lot to learn, a lot of fast-changing and conflicting information. I’ve probably spent as much of my work time researching Ebook publishing as I have writing. I’ve read at least three Ebooks (on my Nook; need to buy a Kindle) on the nuts and bolts of Ebooks. I’m indebted to the bloggers listed at the top of the sidebar for providing a steady stream of updates on Ebook publishing, which is always changing. Special thanks to David Gaughran’s blog for comprehensive ongoing coverage of the revolution. His Feb. 17 post, “Amazon Is Creating Competition, Not Killing It,” is a great summary of how things stand in the industry right now.  I highly recommend David’s how-to book, “Let’s Get Digital.”

This past week I’ve had a writing surge, and the book is now at 42,000 words and 75 typewritten pages (12 pt, single-spaced). 21 chapters so far, and I think only about four chapters to go. At this point, the project is substantial enough that it’s no longer a dream, it’s a reality. It looks like it will top out at more than 50,000 words.

Today, I revised the opening page, again. I’m confident that at least that one page can grab and hold the reader’s attention. Now that I know the book will be completed, I’m putting intense pressure on myself to make it as good as it can be. I have a pretty detailed outline of where the story is going and how it’s going to end.

I know these final chapters, 8,000 or 10,000 more words, are going to be a bear. I want to step up the pace of the action and ramp up the suspense. I want the conclusion to satisfy the reader, but leave him/her wanting more.

Since I’ve accomplished this much, I don’t want to short-change the book. I’m going to try to pay for a basic copy edit to eliminate those embarrassing glitches that I can’t see myself. I think I need to pay someone who understands HTML to format it for the Amazon Kindle. Possibly I’ll be able to format the Word document myself for B&N Nook and Smashwords, which distributes to Apple iBooks. That covers the major outlets. Price is yet to be determined, but I’ll have a special low introductory offer for readers of this blog.

I’ll try to give you an advance peek at the cover and the first few pages soon. Right now, it’s back to the book, and I probably won’t come up until it’s ready for the copy editor and the formatter. Publishing date right now looks like mid-March, but of course that’s flexible as a screen door.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

– John Hayden


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5 thoughts on “Writing My First Ebook, A Work In Progress

  1. I just started my first novel myself, planning to turn it into an ebook, and documenting it’s progress in my own blog.

    I wish you luck, I hope I reach as many words as you do.

  2. I don’t understand why if you were going to have the book formatted in HTML for Kindle you wouldn’t do the same thing for B&N? Pubit!

    Unless you have your heart set on Sony & iBookstore why would you go through Smashwords if you have gone through the expense of having the ebook formatted and built in HTML and converted?

    Good luck with your book, hard work and research will pay off! If you have any questions just let me know.

    • Good questions. Answer is, I’m still trying to find my way through all the conflicting info about formatting. I have a feeling some people are making it more complicated than iti has to be. I think I’m going to publish first on Amazon because it’s the largest share of the market. I want to get the Amazon version right, and they require a linked Table of Contents.

      I also definitely want to support and be available on Smashwords and B&N, but I suspect their upload process might be easier. I’m guessing at all this, as you can tell.

      • I will let you in on a secret, if you do the formatting in HTML, conversion programs can make your linked ToC (depending on how you format your chapter titles) and the program can then make your ToC and NCX.

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