Lessons from self-publishing a book

There’s something special about holding a physical book in your hands. The feeling is even more special when it’s your book. It gives the ideas more weight somehow (no pun intended, honest). The contents weren’t just written, they were published. Well, now it’s easier than ever for you to publish your own work, whether it’s the next great novel or just stories from your life for your kids to read.

Earlier this year, I self-published Working Out Loud. By sharing what I learned in the process, I hope to encourage you to publish too.

Working Out Loud on Amazon

The trade-offs

The benefits of using a traditional publisher are that you get more services: editing, design, marketing. But those things come with a cost. Because the publisher is providing those services, you tend to have little or no control over them. They’ll cost you in terms of reduced royalties too. (Though it’s the rare author who makes money from publishing a book no matter how they do it.)

Also, the value of their services, particularly marketing, has decreased over time. Because publishing margins have gone down, and because the expectations for most authors are low, a publisher won’t spend much on marketing your book beyond offering it in their catalog to wholesalers. As for the other services, it’s easier than ever to find good copyeditors and designers.

Perhaps the biggest cost is a mental one: you have to be picked. You’ll spend time and emotional energy searching for validation which will be hard to come by, and the vast majority of aspiring authors will never get past the gatekeepers.

Resources to help you self-publish

The best book I’ve found on self-publishing was self-published by a popular and acclaimed author, Guy Kawasaki. Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur is the single best reference guide on the process and the different options. Reading this book can save you a lot of time and help you avoid some grave mistakes.

Author Publisher Entrepreneur

Your First 1000 Copies will help you think about reaching an audience for your book. Without the traditional marketing and distribution channels of a publisher, you’ll need to do something yourself. This book helps you understand what that is and how to do it.

Your First 1000 Copies

Pleasant and unpleasant surprises

While self-publishing necessarily means you’ll be doing work that a publisher would have done otherwise, some context might be helpful. In terms of hours spent, my rough estimate is that 98% of publishing my book was writing and 2% was publishing. So while publishing is important, those percentages make it clear where you should focus most of your time and energy.

I chose Createspace because it’s owned by Amazon and provides a complete set of services. The editing service was excellent, and they easily customized the cover design I had done elsewhere. They created the Kindle version automatically without any work on my part.

My biggest mistake was related to the interior design of the book. I naively assumed I would just submit a Word document and they would “format it.” But the first proof copy came back with issues ranging from header sizing to spacing to capitalization mistakes. It took me three more months of scrupulously checking every line - and ordering more proof copies and paying more fees - till it looked the way I wanted. I could have avoided that by setting up headers more carefully in Word and providing more detailed instructions for formatting from the beginning.

Createspace has some limitations. They don’t print hardcovers, so if you want one you’ll have to use another service (and distribute it yourself). They also don’t offer the same discounts to bookstores as other publishers (20% instead of 40-50%). If you want a bookstore to carry your book, you’ll have to sell it to them yourself.

All things considered, I will use Createspace again for my next book. (Note the self-affirmation in that last sentence!) The Createspace staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the entire process cost well under $2,500. On June 10th, after years of working on it, my book was available on Amazon sites around the world as a paperback and ebook.

I remember the thrill of opening up the Amazon app on my phone, searching for “working out loud,” and seeing my book there. Just like all the others.

Choose yourself

Each of us has our own story and our own ideas. Now, more than ever, it's up to you to decide whether they are worth sharing, whether what you say might help or entertain or inspire someone else.

You don’t have to wait to be picked. You can choose yourself.

The world needs more good stories and good ideas. Why not yours?

Sex & words: One book and the 95 words I didn’t know

Words, like sex, can be used to commune with someone, to “share something in a very personal or spiritual way.” They can also be used for one’s own pleasure. At their worst, they can be used to make one person feel superior at the expense of another.

This is what I was thinking as I read a book of essays titled, perhaps ironically, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman.

Confessions of a Common Reader

The Joy of Sesquipedalia

One of the essays, “The Joy of Sesquipedalians,” was about the author’s fondness for words. (“Sesquipedalia” means, as I learned upon looking it up, “long words.” It’s from the latin sesquipedalis - “measuring a foot and a half.”)

The essay was about a book she had read that was written in 1920 by Carl Van Vechten. It was titled The Tiger in the House and was about, of all things, cats.

“What simultaneously most thrilled me and made me feel most like a dunce was Van Vechten’s vocabulary. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d met so many words I didn’t know. By the end of the book I’d jotted down twenty-two.”

In the rest of the essay, she quizzed friends and family about how many of those twenty-two they knew, with wide-ranging results.

The ignominy of ignorance

I pride myself on my vocabulary and yet didn’t know any of the 22 words. And I wondered: What other words in this book don’t I know? So I went back to the beginning and circled every word I couldn’t define.

Though the book is only 154 pages, I found 95 words I didn’t know, including the 22 contributed by Carl Van Vechten. On page 117 alone there were 4 words I had never seen before. Even my word processing application bristled at 20 of them, chiding me with 20 red squiggles.

I tried to take solace in knowing some words that seemed difficult:

conjugate triptych marginalia apogee corpus parsimonious festooned frisson quixotry prescient necrosis vestigial gewgaws verisimilitude perspicacity provenance pell-mell somnambulist ectomorph

But it was cold comfort. They’re vestiges from studying for standardized tests in high school. The frisson, as they say, was gone.

A special kind of love

Was the author showing off? Indulging herself? Trying to make the reader feel inferior? I don’t think so. On each page you can feel her genuine love of books and words. She was simply sharing that love the best way she knew how, in what for her was a “very personal or spiritual way.”

I was humbled, and decided to face the truth about just how good my vocabulary is (or, more to the point, isn't). No guessing or trying to make sense of a word from the context. If I didn’t know it, I listed it, and I can already hear you saying "What? He didn't know that?!"

Here are the 95 words I didn't know in the order they appear in the book, including the 22 words unfamiliar to the author. (I put those in italics.) I linked to online dictionaries so you can see the definitions yourself if you like.

Do you find the use of these words thrilling or a turn-off?

How many do you know?

  1. miscegenated
  2. motets
  3. interlarding
  4. vermicule
  5. ptarmigan
  6. sesquipedalian
  7. repletion
  8. monophysite
  9. mephitic
  10. calineries
  11. diapason
  12. grimoire
  13. adapterile
  14. retromingent
  15. perllan
  16. cupellation
  17. adytum
  18. sepoy
  19. subadar
  20. paludal
  21. apozemical
  22. camorra
  23. ithyphallic
  24. alcalde
  25. aspergill
  26. agathodemon
  27. kakodemon
  28. goetic
  29. opopanax
  30. elegiac
  31. glossologically
  32. seracs
  33. pemmican
  34. hoosh
  35. prosodically
  36. trenchant
  37. unregenerate
  38. trochee
  39. soi-disant
  40. lapidary
  41. bibliolatrous
  42. palimpsests
  43. alluvium
  44. fascicles
  45. umber
  46. hotchpotch
  47. hoary
  48. hortatory
  49. distaff
  50. abjuration
  51. bibliomane
  52. tangency
  53. nonesuch
  54. bravura
  55. eidetic
  56. redolent
  57. schist
  58. defile (as a noun)
  59. slomped
  60. nimbus
  61. sanguinary
  62. lissome
  63. captious
  64. pettifogging
  65. dragées
  66. helpmeet
  67. rufous
  68. towhee
  69. descried
  70. ferrule
  71. purdah
  72. pounce box
  73. ichor
  74. spoor
  75. prolix
  76. embonpoint
  77. turpitude
  78. emendations
  79. placable
  80. moly
  81. piezo
  82. lucubrations
  83. ventail
  84. kerf
  85. villanelle
  86. blandishments
  87. excursi
  88. lubricious
  89. frontispiece
  90. salacities
  91. vulpine
  92. erysipelas
  93. lumbago
  94. catarrh
  95. declivitous

Why is Italo Calvino stalking me?

I had never heard of Italo Calvino before, and now he’s everywhere. It’s starting to make me suspicious. Why is he following me?

Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Our first meeting

I’m in my favorite bookstore on Bleecker Street, bookbook. It’s the one with a table outside offering engineered serendipity at a discount. Inside, asking for a book recommendation from the person behind the register can be like asking the sommelier about a wine. “I like Borges. Do you have anything like that?”

“Try this,” he said, and handed me If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.

At lunch

I’m heading out to meet my daughter for lunch at Buvette on Grove St. I’m late and have to pick a book to throw into my backpack. (“Always bring a book” is a rule of mine.) I consider a few options and bring the Calvino since it’s compact.

The place is crowded so we eat at the bar, and before the food comes the person next to me places a book on the counter. I do a cartoonish double-take. It’s If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. I notice it’s a much older edition, meaning she probably didn’t get it from the same bookstore.

I can’t help but mention the coincidence to her. Like a good New Yorker, she’s unimpressed. “I couldn’t get into it,” she says, “so I’m giving it to my friend.”

On Twitter

Now I must read the book, and I find it is indeed like Borges. “Not one novel, but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense…a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct.”

A few days go by. As I scan my Twitter feed, I see Italo Calvino is there too.

Italo Calvino on Twitter

And again a few days later.

Italo Calvino on Twitter

Surely, the universe is telling me something. The next time I am at the book store, I buy two more of his books, a collection of stories titled Cosmicomics and a novel, The Baron in the Trees.

In the car

When I’m driving by myself, I usually listen to TED talks or simply try to be quiet and enjoy the drive. This time, for some reason, I switched on the radio. Selected Shorts was playing on National Public Radio, a show where they read short stories aloud in front of a live audience.

“Our first story tonight is Italo Calvino's “The Distance of the Moon” read by Liev Schreiber." My mouth drops. I listen to the story in full, hanging on each word. It is in the collection of stories that I just bought.

A conspiracy of attention

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. Maybe the author is experiencing a sudden surge in popularity 30 years after his death. Or perhaps the universe is trying to introduce me to Italian fiction.

More likely, though, is that I’m simply tuned in to what has always been there. Maybe my one choice in the bookstore that day simply made me aware of things I was blind to before.

Of the eleven million data points our brains can take in at any moment, we’re conscious of only forty. But which forty? Deciding what we pay attention to can shape our entire world view. It can decide which doors are open to us and which doors we never see.

7 short stories I’ll never forget

7 short stories I'll never forgetRecently, I went through a box of books that I had read long ago and had been collecting dust. Many were like passing acquaintances, and I only vaguely remembered their stories. A few were complete strangers except for the month and year scrawled in my handwriting on the first page. But some stories stick with me. They grip me and won’t let go, like the 7 short stories I’ve selected here.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. If you’ve read a short story you’ll never forget, please share it in the comments.

“Last Night”

I started reading the work of James Salter only recently, including a collection of short stories. “Last Night” was so intense and disturbing I couldn’t sleep. When Marit, the wife, says “I thought you were going to help me,” I could feel the different kinds of shock and horror that each of the characters was experiencing at that moment.

“Starving”

The stories in Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout are connected, each one a glimpse into different lives that intersect in both small and significant ways. The characters are like beautifully detailed paintings, and “Starving” focuses on Harmon who, though he’s getting older and his family is settled, is still hungry for a full life.

Something happened the year Derrick went off to college. While their bedroom life had slowed considerably, Harmon had accepted this, had sensed for some time that Bonnie was "accommodating" him. But one night her turned to her in bed, and she pulled away. After a long moment, she said quietly, “Harmon, I think I’m just done with that stuff."

They lay there in the dark; what gripped him from his bowels on up was the horrible, blank knowledge that she meant this. Still, nobody can accept losses right away.

"Done?" he asked. She could have piled twenty bricks onto his stomach, that was the pain he felt.

"I’m sorry. But I’m just done. There’s no point in my pretending. That isn’t pretty for either of us."

“House of the Sleeping Beauties”

This story won’t appeal to everyone. Written by Yasunari Kawabata, it’s so bizarre and macabre - so other - that it’s seared into my memory.

“He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort."

The house is a secret club for elderly gentlemen who have lost their sexual powers. Eguchi, with his promise to abide by the rules, begins his life as a member there.

“Rashomon” & “In a Bamboo Grove”

These two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, were written six years apart, in 1915 and 1921. Together, they served as the basis for the film “Rashomon” which introduced the world to Japanese film.

Re-reading the stories, they seem like small fragments from another time and place. “In a Bamboo Grove” is a treatment of memory, how truth is so relative, memory so subjective. As a small example of that, I don’t know myself whether it’s the stories or the movie that have made such an impression on me.

“The Babylon Lottery”

Borges’ stories stretch the imagination to absurd limits. Yet as incredible as his plots and characters may be, we can still relate to them in some small way.

The lottery of Babylon reduces people’s lives to pure chance, a series of drawings by The Company. It makes you consider just how much control we truly have.

“Like all men in Babylon I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, jail. Look: the index finger of my right hand is missing…An adverse drawing might mean mutilation, a varied infamy, death.”

“A Good Man is Hard to Find”

I remember my shock when I first read this classic story by Flannery O’Connor. I remember how, based on the title, I was expecting something entirely different, perhaps a story about seeking and finding love.

I could not have been more wrong.

“Big Two-Hearted River”

Looking through the 650 pages of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway reminds me of how I felt reading them. Through these stories I got a glimpse into experiences I would never have known otherwise.

I could have picked “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” or “The Killers” or “My Old Man.” I chose instead a simple story about a young man, back home from the war, fishing and camping along the river where he spent time as a boy.

It’s beautifully written. Like all great short stories, it transported me to another time and place, and made me feel something I hadn’t quite felt before.

Book recommendations for working out loud

One of my great joys is opening up a book for the first time and immersing myself in it. Another joy is sharing books I love with other people. So here, in time for last-minute holiday shopping, is a partial list of books I recommend that are related in some way to working out loud. I included this list in the appendix of Working Out Loud but since that won't be available till March, 2015, I still have time to add a few entries. What do you think? What books would you recommend to someone trying to build a better career and life?

p.s. I'll be taking a 2-week blogging break so I can finish rewriting the book and send it to the copyeditor. Enjoy the holidays!

Books for working out loud

Books for working out loud

A worldview

If you only pick two books from this list, pick these two. They are a joy to read and they are the most broadly applicable. While I had always thought of myself as a positive person, these books freed me to be more joyful and more open to the wonders in other people.

  • Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life by Srikumar Rao
  • The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander

New approaches to basic skills

These 4 books helped me rethink how I make my work visible. With their help – and practice, practice, practice – I’ve become better at these fundamental skills and I’m convinced anyone can do the same.

  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
  • Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds
  • Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte

Developing relationships

These books made me think more deeply about what people need and want in relationships and how I could apply that in building a network to accomplish something.

  • How to Win Friend and Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success by Dale Carnegie
  • Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz
  • Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships that Create Success - and Won’t Let You Fail by Keith Ferrazzi

Personal productivity and creativity

These books, shorter and easier to read than the others, gave me a new perspective on how people create great work.

  • Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind edited by Jocelyn Glei
  • Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career edited by Jocelyn Glei
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud by Jane Bozarth

Thinking about thinking

Having a better understanding of how your mind works is perhaps the most empowering knowledge you can have. These books made it possible for me to control more of my thoughts rather than have them control me.

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
  • Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning

How and why individuals do what they do - and how to change it

These books helped me understand what generally motivates people and how to change my habits. They also empowered me to actively shape my future instead of watching it unfold.

  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

Driving larger-scale changes

Whether you’re trying to change your firm, change your local community, or change the world, these books offer approaches, frameworks, and heroic examples that will inspire you and make you more effective.

  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  • Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
  • The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, with Carlye Adler
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
  • The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jaqueline Novogratz
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough

Finding happiness

The insights found in this eclectic mix of books allowed me to see the limitations I had placed on myself. They showed me the different ways I was actively making myself unhappy and how to change that.

  • Be Free Where You Are by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
  • Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny by Martha Beck
  • The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

25 books that changed me

When you think about it, a book is a truly magical thing. For the cost of a lunch, you can have an experience that can change your life. And that experience can be made even more profound when the book is a gift, inscribed with a short note that says: “I loved this book and I wanted to share it with you.” Maybe this holiday season you’ll give yourself or another special person that experience.

So here, for all of you, are 25 books that made me better, smarter, or happier in some way.

New approaches to basic skills

The best book on writing non-fiction Reading Like a Writer Presentation Zen

Resonate Never Eat Alone

These 5 books helped me re-think how I write, present, and develop relationships. With their help - and practice, practice, practice - I’ve become much better at these fundamental skills.

  1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
  2. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
  3. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
  4. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
  5. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time

Insights into my health

Omnivore's Dilemma Younger Next Year

These books changed how I think about my body. One made me mindful of what I was eating (which helped me lose weight, lower my cholesterol, and stop eating meat, something I never imagined I’d do). The other made me re-think what my old age could be like and inspired me to exercise regularly.

  1. Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
  2. Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond

Thinking about...thinking

Thinking Fast and Slow Your Brain at Work Self-Esteem

Be Free Where You Are A New Earth

Having a better understanding of how your mind works is perhaps the most empowering knowledge you can have. These books explained why I think the way I do and made it possible for me to control my thoughts rather than have them control me.

  1. Thinking Fast & Slow
  2. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
  3. Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem
  4. Be Free Where You Are
  5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

How and why individuals change

Flow Drive The Willpower Instinct

Steering by Starlight Are You Ready to Succeed

These books helped me understand what generally motivates people (including me) and how to change my habits. They also empowered me to actively shape my future instead of watching it unfold.

  1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  3. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
  4. Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny
  5. Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life

Driving larger-scale changes

The Lean Startup The Checklist ManifestoInfluencerThe Dragonfly Effect Mountains Beyond Mountains The Blue Sweater Whatever It Takes

These are good books whether you’re trying to change your firm, change your local community, or change the world. They provided me with approaches, frameworks, and heroic examples that inspired me and made me more effective.

  1. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  2. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
  3. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
  4. The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change
  5. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
  6. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
  7. Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America

A worldview

The Art of Possibility

Finally, this might be my favorite book on the list. I’d always thought of myself as a positive person but this book freed me to be more joyful and more open to the wonders in other people.

  1. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

The first chapter of "The Art of Possibility" opens with this short story:

“A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying:

SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other writes back triumphantly,

GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES”

That’s what all these books have done for me - transforming me from the first salesperson to the second. They’ve opened my mind to possibilities for my relationships, my career, and my life that I hadn’t thought possible or simply never imagined.

Books are little miracles. You can read these 25 book and imagine that you can do anything.

Because you can.

Thank you