I've now written seven books, at least three of which were category bestsellers on Amazon. They all get really good reviews and are legitimate enough that foreign publishers have bought the rights to two of them and that domestic publishers have tried to offer me a book deal.
For many people writing a book is a bucket list item, which seems a little bit funny to me because it's actually a relatively easy thing to do. You can write a book in approximately two weeks, plus some time for editing and publishing. My first book (and, admittedly, my worst) was written in two days and was decent enough that many people emailed me telling me it changed their lives.
One of the biggest things that seems to get in peoples' ways is that they believe that writing a book is some huge daunting task, and that the book must be perfect. If you think that way, you'll trip over yourself and psych yourself out and never actually finish the book.
The first thing to realize is that the point of writing a book is to share information with people. If they receive and understand the information, you have succeeded. Take your ego out of it. Your book doesn't have to be fancy or make you seem like a scholar, it just has to help people (or entertain people).
Step one is to just write an out-of-order outline. Write down anything that you might want to write about for the book. This should only take half an hour or an hour. Don't evaluate the ideas or negotiate with yourself, just put them down. If you happen to come up with an idea that's related to one you already have, put it in parenthesis.
For reference, my last book had 85 items on the first outline.
Then all you do is go through the list and write about each thing you've written down. Don't got through the list in order, but rather start with the topics you're most excited about. That will allow you to do your best writing, and by the time you get to the topics that are more of a slog, the book will be almost done and momentum will push you through.
I like to set a certain amount of time to finish a book (usually 14 days, the duration of a transatlantic cruise) and I divide 30,000 words by that time, rounding up. So over the fourteen days of a cruise I would write probably 2200-2300 words per day. Sometimes if I'm feeling inspired I'll write even more. If I don't feel like I will get through the whole list in time, I will increase the number on the fly.
As I write I don't worry about anything except for getting useful information on the page. I can edit and clarify later on, but if I try to do both while writing it will slow down my progress.
I'm a pretty fast writer, as I've been doing it for a while, so it might take me 2-3 hours to get that number of words down. That's not too much of a burden for one day.
There is no circumstance under which I won't do my daily quota of writing. In all the books I've written I have never missed my mark even once. This is because if it is optional, there is no way I will actually get it done. So in my mind I make it absolutely mandatory. This is also part of the reason I go on cruises— there's no legitimate excuse not to write when I'm on one.
Once I'm done, I do several passes where I read it, fix typos and unclear sentences, and try to rearrange everything into a sensible order. Usually once I start rewriting I also have to write a few transition chapters to make it flow smoothly.
The trick is that once you've written 30,000-40,000 words, everything else seems minor. The hard work is done, and there are just a few steps left to get it published. Each one feels easy.
I used to manually lay out the book, but now I hire someone on Fiverr to do it. This costs around $100 for both ebook and paperback. On an earlier book I forgot to put page numbers in and people got upset, so now I just let a pro handle it. Once that's done, I just go through the steps on KDP and publish it both in paperback and ebook. I usually make the cover myself, but you could also get someone on Fiverr to do that.
All in all, it's pretty easy to get a book written and published in a month, as long as you have an idea and the expertise necessary. If it's a bucket list of yours, why not book a cruise and get it done? Or if you don't want to be on the ocean, buy a bunch of groceries, rent a cabin on AirBnb and give yourself a couple weeks. I wrote even my first book with this process, so anyone can do it.
Photo my usual set up for writing on a cruise ship. Laptop, a nice view, and maybe some tea.
Great post, as always! Sort-of related: how do you handle internet expenses on long cruises? What's the typical outlay for a 10+ day cruise? Do they sell a package to cover the entire cruise? Per megabyte? Curious how realistic it would be to take a 20-day cruise, yet still work by staying connected to the office/phone, without having all of the savings gains be wiped out by internet fees.
Outstanding, inspiring post, Tynan!
I would love to see a post summarizing the economics of this. You've written about it in the past, but now that you have 7 books under your belt, it would be great to read a summary of how it all works--your various costs, the revenue split with Amazon, pricing, what percent of sales come in first few months vs. rest of year vs. long tail outyear sales, how many books one needs to sell to make $5000 or $10,000, etc.
You've been pretty open about this stuff in the past but you could write a great post about the above even without revealing any personal data. You really know how it works, and most people have no idea.
This is one of those posts that makes me knee jerk react. Excuses flood my brain. It’s all bullshit though. I’ve learned a bunch over the past year about how mandatory vs optional completely influences the outcome. I’ve been doing daily pushups since 1Jan. I began with a minimum of 1 pushup everyday. Mandatory 1. My baseline goal however was 25 per day. January’s average was 30. There were some zero days, but those were the result of fighting my old ways and habits. As the new ritual took roots, 25 quickly became 50, then 100. It’s amazing how when you hold yourself accountable and record things growth is a natural byproduct. Last week I had my first 1000 pushup week. I’m at 10,000 for the year. Last year I did ZERO. Perspective plays a huge part of the change also. A buddy recently told me about Herchel Walker and his body weight exercises. Walker did thousands of pushups and situps daily. Complete perspective shock. I’m not attempting to play pro football, but after reading about him I had my first 1000 pushup week. Thanks for the perspective shock on writing my first book!
Congratulations, Ty, on having written seven books. While it might be easy and fast to write books like yours, and I have looked through a couple of them, it's not as easy as you say in this post to write all books. I assume you're referring to rather short information books in the advice and self-help realm, but perhaps you should clarify that to your blog readers.
I have written a novel (category: literary fiction) with approximately 170,000 words that took me only 14 months, including early drafts, rewrites, and careful editing. It's now being prepared for print and binding as a hardcover book. Believe me, it's not easy or quick to write a book of this length and substance, and I'm a pretty serious writer.
Having known you for some 20 years through my son and your good friend, Austin Long, I believe you're a very bright person who has likely read a good number of great books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were not (and could not have been) written and published in a month or less. I have to assume you know that, so I'm just suggesting that you not risk misleading your blog readers on the subject of writing books. According to your blog, which I read and enjoy each week, you have many readers who respect and follow your advice. Some of them might be much younger and more impressionable than you. They deserve to know that you know you were only generalizing within the genre of your own books and not referring to the writing of all books when you said, "anyone can do it." To say that as you have in such a breezy manner, you could risk contributing to "the dumbing down of America," which is happening all around us.
I do congratulate you on the success of your books and I wish you the best. If you would like a copy of my novel, Children Then Living, I'd be happy to send you one as soon as I have my copies in hand.
Patricia Long (Austin Long's mother)
I remember when I wrote my first book. A friend told me I should do it, he was more financially successful than I was, and so I figured I may as well just do what he said. It was a daunting idea, but I thought that since so many other people had written books, I could probably handle it, too.
Back then I had a funny compact computer that had a seven inch screen, and a proportionately tiny keyboard. I sat down in front of it, and started typing. Next thing I knew, it was time to go to bed. I was so focused that I had forgotten to eat dinner.
I woke up the next morning and kept writing, and again it was late before I knew it. But I had run through my ad-hoc outline. The book was done, just one day after I started it.
Sure, I had to spend a week editing it, rearranging it and formatting it, but that part's easy. You know the hard part is done, so the rest is light and fun.
I didn't know how to make soup. I knew how to open a can or say "Yes, I'd like soup with my meal" but I didn't know how to really make soup. Now I do.
Thanks to some help from my wife's uncle I made six quarts of soup. The soup is tasty but more delicious is the knowledge. I've gone from being given a fish to a fishing pole.
The steps for making the soup included chopping vegetables, something I do all the time but also included new tasks like making beans from a bag and using a ham hock for the broth. I didn't know how to do either of things. Now I do.
I love trying, making, and sometimes failing with new food and of all the new-ish foods I've cooked recently, this is the one that's been the most rewarding because it reminds me the most about writing.
I'm writing a book. It might not be any good. It might not sell any copies. It might be a waste of time and money. I'm still doing it.