As I've mentioned, I'm not an authority on making money in general, but I do make a livable income through my two books, Make Her Chase You and Life Nomadic. I won't claim to be an expert on writing books, but I definitely have enough experience that I can probably offer a good starting point for anyone interested in doing the same. In this article I'm going to focus on how to actually write the thing, as I've come up with a pretty cool system, and then in the next I'll talk about how to actually publish it and make money.
After leaving Smiley Media, the only real job I've ever had, a friend of mine asked me why I'd never written a book about pickup. I didn't have a good answer, so I went home and decided I'd write the thing. Forty eight hours later the rough draft was completed, and a month later I was selling copies of it. Point is-- writing a book is actually a lot easier than you might expect. If you take my advice, you could easily have most of the hard work done in the next couple days, week, or month. So here's the system:
Step One: Chaotic Outline
A book has two main components: content and structure. If you try to create both at the same time, things get complicated quickly. I like to start by getting all of the content out of my head first; this creates a big hunk of literary clay that you can mold into a book. So first, in no particular order, jot down everything topic you might want to write about. If a subtopic that you want to make sure you cover comes to mind, indent it below.
Let's say that I was going to write a book on living in an RV (it's actually half written...). Here's my chaotic outline that I might create:
I'd spend no more than half an hour on this list. It's supposed to serve as a solid starting point, not as an exhaustive list of everything you need to write about. There are steps later that will ensure that you don't forget anything.
Step Two: Write the Easiest Chapter
Writing the first chapter of a book is daunting, because all you can focus on is how little you've written and how much more there is to go. So start with the chapter that you're most excited about. This also serves to inject passion into your writing, which makes it a lot more fun to read. For example, right now I'm really excited about inverters (nerdy, I know), so I might start just writing about choosing an inverter. Or maybe I'm just loving being in my RV and I really want to write the "Why live in an RV?" chapter because I'm excited about it. Often times the introduction comes last because I don't fully know what I'm introducing until the book is mostly written.
Step Two-and-a-half: How to write
Before you write, you might want to read the Elements of Style. Beyond that, don't worry about getting everything right. The key is to go for sheer volume, written as well as you can possibly write without rewriting a sentence or dwelling too much. Unless, of course, you're having fun. If you're working on a paragraph and are really excited to get an idea out in a certain way, stick with it. But if something isn't coming together quite right, just move on. If the first step is getting the clay to mold into a book, this step is just molding the rough form. It doesn't have to even look like the final product, it just has to have bulk and be close enough that you can get it there.
This way of writing is scary, because you realize that there's no point in writing a book that's not excellent, and it doesn't feel like you're writing an excellent book. But you are. It's just like when you're building a house, there's a stage where it's imperfect 2x4s, bent nails, and pencil scrawlings all over the place. But that's the frame that eventually supports the marble floors and crown molding.
Here's a trick I learned from Neil Strauss, who was a journalist before becoming an author: to mark something as needing atttention, just write "tk" in parenthesis, with a note. Like this (tk - this is an example of something I would come back to). No words (I'm not actually checking this, so some a-hole might prove me wrong) have the combination of "tk" in them, so you can easily search your manuscript (yep... you'll have a manuscript. Fancy!) for the combo and quickly see what needs major work.
As you write, you will undoubtedly come up with other topics that need to be added to the outline. If I was writing about inverters, for example, it might occur to me that the inverter is connected to the battery and I haven't made any reference to battery selection. Whenever this happens, just add it to the bottom of the list (or, in this case, indented under the proper category [power]). This makes your outline a living outline. Sometimes it will get shorter as you chip away at the chapters, and other times it will get longer with every chapter because you'll keep coming up with good ideas.
Once you finish a chapter, delete it from the list and start with the next most exciting one. If none of them ore exciting, pick the one you think will be the shortest. Just keep the ball rolling. Usually what happens, though, is that once you're down to the chapters you don't really want to write, you're so far through the book that the promise of finishing it is enough motivation to make any chapter exciting.
Step Three: Fix the TKs
At this point you should have 90% of the content of your book on paper, thoroughly disorganized. Before we start organizing it, search for "tk" and address every single one. A lot of it, at least in my case, is stuff like: (tk - this paragraph sucks. Make it better.) or (tk - add something about removing the air conditioner here) or (tk - can you fit the story of the drunk woman with the dog in here?). This might be a few hours or a full day of adding and cleaning up paragraphs. From this point on, I'm considering everything I write to be worthy of final publication. It may be edited again, but I'll take the time to make sure it's solid. It's okay to do this at this stage, but not in step two-and-a-half, because now I'm not in danger of losing steam by getting stuck on a paragraph on page two.
Step Four: Arrange it
Now the content is in passable form, but the book is totally out of order. The easiest thing to do from here is to write the titles of the chapters in a notepad file and rearrange them in an order that makes sense. Then go back to the document and copy and paste the chapters to fit the new order. You'll continue to tweak the order in the next steps, but this will get most of the work done.
Step Five: Revise
This is the fun part. For the first time, you'll get to actually read this book you've written. You'll do this step several times, and I'd advise you to work your way from the beginning to the end each time. If you don't, you'll tend to lose sight of the whole picture and revise the beginning a lot more than the end.
I continue to read through the book and make edits until I sense that the edits are becoming insubstantial. The first time you read through you'll be rewriting paragraphs, moving chapters around, cutting things out, and maybe even adding chapters needed to bridge gaps. By the end you'll be wondering whether an analogy is more potent when you relate RV fans to the "sweet western trade winds" or "the breath of God himself". That's when you know you're done.
My next post will be 72 hours from now. Will anyone have finished at least steps one and two by then? It's a challenge...
I wrote the first version of Make Her Chase You in forty-eight hours on a subcompact laptop with a 9 inch screen. I should mention that I did absolutely nothing else for those forty-eight hours. I may have slept for eight and eaten a couple meals. Here's a picture of the same model laptop I wrote it on (with some married guy's hand on it):
I think I said this a few posts ago, but it's still on my mind so I'll say it again: the comments recently have been awesome. Thanks a lot for taking the time to chime in.
A few people have complained about the slide down email thing. I get a lot of new readers from these things, so I need to have something. I've tried to make it as unobtrusive as possible and am sticking with it even though it's 50% as effective as the old one. I WILL make a way for readers to hide it forever, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Really busy these days!
Speaking of which... if you get this post by email, it should be formatted correctly now. Send me a screenshot if it's not.
Hey, thought I'd drop a note in here on how thankful I am to Tynan for pushing me to over the edge. I wrote a niche book for createspace two years ago thanks to his posting on it. 'Took me 65 hours (I timed it!) and it has sold between 5 and 10 copies every month since I wrote it. I make over 5 bucks each profit, and have done NO advertising. The next one is almost done now, and I'm a lot more serious about it; this one will be on Kindle too. Passive Income is a new pursuit for me, even IF i have had this one success "on the books" for a while, but I am going to pursue if much more in the coming year(s). Thanks, Tynan!
Nice! What's the book called?
Hey Tynan, sorry for the slooooowww reply; I just came back here to recommend this post to yet another new writer -- it is still one of my favorites.
My older book is Bookscouting, By The Book.
The new one, which I published in November (and this one is on kindle this time too!) is Tote Board Handicapping. It sold 25 hardcopies in December, though things have slown down in January.
They're both of course on amazon; creatspace rocks.
I am working on my third and will have it done in February :)
Thanks for all of your inspiration: I liked the 2013 gear post a lot too btw...
Here is an exhaustive list of words containing "tk" from the Unix American English word list.
I didn't find any words containing "qt". Use that instead.
I'm really enjoying your posts, so I thought I'd let you know! =]
I'm really looking forward to reading your two books I just got and really hope you write the RV book (I've lived out of a van while touring with my band, and I bet you have good insight and suggestions).
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! =]
Tynan what you said in the post is really informative and i am actually amazed that in 48 hours any one can write his or her book.Even the steps you told is so clearly understood.Anyone can look for writing your first book.by following these simple steps.
hey thanks for the infomormation, do I need software,so i can list chapters and flip back in forth and hide.and make cover etc. for example word correct etc.... I ask alot give me a blank book let me fill it type it n with illustrations n photos. New at this and computor and never cut cliped, and pasted HELP new beginner please. I have photos in camera papers in boxs thankyou much. linda
The first thing you should be considering is the type of book you want to write. In almost every case where a ghostwriter is used (and that's the term used in the industry) it's best to use a ghostwriter for a non-fiction book.
I had a discussion about book pricing recently with one of my favorite bloggers, Sebastian Marshall. His new book, Ikigai, is being sold for $7.77. He doesn't really care how much money he makes off it (his portion goes to charity, anyway), but he didn't want to lower the price because he thinks that it would signal that the book isn't high quality. I said that I'd accept that possibility for a chance of reaching a larger audience.
And due to lowering the price of Life Nomadic to 2.99, I've been able to reach an incredibly wide audience. In the past month I've sold far more copies of Life Nomadic than all other months combined. Reviews have been coming in, and lives have been changed. Despite much thinner margins, I'm even making more money from it. I couldn't be more happy about all this.
Make Her Chase You and Life Nomadic
Think and Grow Rich: A marvelous book, but I was having a hard time finishing it. Then I realized - the last three chapters are pretty much fluff that repeat points already covered. I skimmed the last three chapters... it starts very strong, ends weak, but I'm happy it's finally done.
The Alchemist: What a masterpiece by Paolo Cuehlo. Read it in one day, couldn't put it down. Got me thinking a lot... lots of great quick ways to think, quick heuristics and mantras in there. Really wonderful short little book with some great lessons.
If I Did It: I read OJ Simpson's autobiography on a whim when I saw a copy. It's a weird book. It's about a guy trying to be a decent husband and having his marriage fall apart. Then he kills his wife. Oh, and it's OJ Simpson, and the most famous trial/legal story of the last 20 years. Weird to read the guy's perspective... it's weird in how surreal and normal it is. A famous guy marries a beautiful 18 year old girl but they don't have a really deep or mature connection. She doesn't take well to money and stability, gets unhappy, starts acting kind of crazy in the marriage. OJ acts crazy in response. They divorce. Then he keeps hearing her partying around town and doing drugs, flips out, and kills her. Weird reading it in his own words - I lived in Los Angeles for awhile, and the first part read like a fairly normal L.A. story with a rich, famous guy making a bad choice in a young beautiful woman without much depth or character. Then it gets kind of crazy at the end. It wasn't sad so much as weird. It's sureally normal in parts, and then ends with... well, you know. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to read it, but it's interesting for a few hours if you get a chance.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Eliezer Yudkowsky's fanfiction is exceptionally good. If you're a reader of LessWrong at all, you'll love it. If not, you still might like it. He wrote it in "serialized" format where each chapter is a mostly self-contained adventure with plot arc, and then a cohesive whole. It works well, reads well, lots of good insights. He didn't really hit his stride and tone until chapter 15 to 20... if you like Yudkowsky's normal writing, give it until chapter 20. Trust me on this - Eliezer sets up a lot of backstory and forces some humor in the early chapters, and the tone isn't quite smooth... still good, but then wow, it kicks into overdrive around chapter 20 and it's just a page-turning must-read. It's free online at fanfiction.com and you can also find pdf compilations with some googling.