Deciding to write a book means a long term commitment to get it written, published, and ready for distribution. It’s not an overnight thing by any means, and it will test your limits. It did for me, but seriously, it feels really good once it all comes together.
This chapter is super-detailed sharing everything that involved in getting my book Will It Fly? ready for liftoff. We’ll cover a wide range of topics, from how I validated the idea for the book and how I wrote it, to how I found people to help edit it and how it was finally released into the wild with the goal of producing optimal results. In other words, all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into getting the book ready to publish.
I’m going into so much detail because I hope this will help you plan your own book, course, or product launch. Will It Fly? was written to help you get started building the business of your dreams, and I want this guide to be one more tool to help you get that business off the ground.
Getting the Book Ready to Publish
Writing Will It Fly? was a major challenge for me. Quite honestly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I could have had the book ghostwritten, and I did have several offers to ghostwrite the book, but I chose to do it on my own. I really wanted to write the book on my own for personal reasons—so that I could be truthful when I say I wrote this book—but I also because I wanted others to see my example struggling through the process, conquering the fear, and putting in the hours in to get it done.
Now that it’s out there and in people’s hands, it feels good knowing I did it all on my own. That’s not to say I didn’t have help with content development and copyeditors, which we’ll get to later in this chapter, but to have put fingers to keyboard on my own book feels really good.
That’s not to say, however, that hiring a ghostwriter is bad. In many cases, it’s the right decision, but for me and for this book, I needed to do it on my own. Here’s an overview of the process for getting this book ready to publish. I’ve broken it down into these six stages:
- Stage 1: Outlining and Writing a Quick First Draft
- Stage 2: Revising a First Draft into a Second Draft
- Stage 3: Another Pass at the Second Draft (This Time with a Different Tool)
- Stage 4: Working with a Developmental Editor
- Stage 5: Designing the Book Cover & Interior
- Stage 6: Uploading the Book for Pre-Orders Through Amazon with CreateSpace
Stage 1: Outlining and Writing a Quick First Draft
The purpose of a first draft is to brainstorm. Shannon Hale, an award-winning author who has written more than twenty books, said it best: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
The trick is finding the best method for shoveling all that sand. For me, it was the method I shared in Episode 1 of SPI TV and in detail in chapter 1 of this guide:
After only two weeks, my first draft ended up totaling more than sixty-five thousand words, but ended up keeping less than 10 percent of that first draft moving forward. That 10 percent, however, was key. In the end, I hardly used any of the exact text that I dictated (and then transcribed) in the final manuscript, but that brainstorming session was definitely necessary for me to think about ideas and come up with material that wouldn’t have come out otherwise.
Stage 2: Revising a First Draft into a Second Draft
The next phase was to take what I had dictated and transcribed in my first draft, pull out all of the best parts, and then transform all of that into something cohesive that I could dive much deeper into. This started with creating a detailed outline of the book to nail down all of the parts that I wanted to include. You can see the start of what this looked like here on the left hand column:
This is a screenshot of a tool for authors called Scrivener, and it’s the one that many authors of both fiction and nonfiction use to write their books. I used it to write my first book, Let Go, so I figured it would be easy to pick up again.
It was not.
Let Go was a much shorter book with a smaller and less intimidating outline. When I entered the outline for Will It Fly? here (which, by the way, was not titled Will It Fly? yet—it was simply called Validation Book as a placeholder) it became super intimidating and as I began to get into the chapters of the manuscript, I started to see just how long this journey would take.
I actually stopped writing for about two months at this point, because it was hard. I made excuses and although I did put writing into my to-do list for the day, I’d always prioritize something above it, and so it never got worked on.
It wasn’t until May of 2015 when I made the decision to get the manuscript done by the end of the year that I got serious and hired a coach, Azul Terronez, to help me through the process.
Getting a Coach
I needed help.
I don’t say that like I was in trouble, but I say that meaning that whenever I finally make the decision to really go for something, I need the help. I need help because I know there are people out there who are better than I am at certain things, who I can learn from to get better results. So when it came to writing this book and knowing I was letting myself down, I found a coach for authors who I knew would be able to help me through the process and hold me accountable.
Azul was actually a student at one of Chris Ducker’s and my 1-Day Business Breakthrough Live Events. After keeping in close contact with him, when he learned that writing this book was a big goal of mine, he offered to help, and I gladly accepted. Since he was in San Diego at the time, we met in person to discuss and brainstorm next steps.
He was quick to address the mental roadblocks that I was facing, and he gave me specific deadlines for finishing certain parts of the book, which was helpful. That added pressure was key for me to get the motivation to sit down to write each day.
Here’s a photo from one of our sessions together at a coworking space in downtown San Diego:
Two other things Azul was super helpful with:
First, it was with encouragement. I told him that I work best when I know someone is rooting for me on the other end, so he would send me texts and emails randomly every so often rooting me on while I work toward the next deadline.
Second, he helped me realize just how much each section of the book was like a blog post. I knew this in the back of my mind, but his instruction to intentionally treat them as such helped out tremendously. Instead of writing in Scrivener, which is what I thought I was supposed to do, he suggested that instead I write the book using whatever tool I used to write my blog posts, which happened to be Google Docs.
Stage 3: Another Pass at the Second Draft (This Time Using a Different Tool)
When I shifted to a different writing platform, everything flowed so much easier.
Because it was a comfortable, non-intimidating environment I was used to! Writing in Google Docs took away the overwhelming outline that I could always see in Scrivener, and it kept my focus on the chapter I was working on, and that chapter only.
By the time August came around that year and I was back from vacation with my family, I was in full writing mode, and the book was going to be my ONE Thing (a concept I learned from the book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan) until it was complete. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
I got into the habit of writing every morning between 6 and 7:30 a.m., because it was the only time I could fit it in. As soon as my kids woke up, my writing time was over for the day unless I could squeeze in any more uninterrupted time, which was unlikely. Soon enough, the parts of the book started to fill out, and I was excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A Note About Structure
A good nonfiction book needs structure. Without it, you’ll end up with a mess of a manuscript that needs untangling before it’s ready for your readers. You might be tempted to rush through the outline stage, but let me tell you: don’t do it! It’s super helpful to get your chapters organized and ordered, because then you can approach writing and revising your book in chunks.
Beyond chapters, there are other elements of a book structure to help you organize and present your material in a logical organization that helps readers navigate the book. Think of the structure as a map for the book, and it eventually gets turned into the table of contents. The structure can also include
- Parts: a collection of chapters organized around a theme or timeline
- Chapters: main segments and building blocks of any book
- Subchapters or sections: smaller segments that organize ideas or topics inside chapters
Once you have your chapters you then have to figure out the best way to order them. For nonfiction books sometimes a chronological time-based ordering makes sense but I think mostly commonly you’ll see a step-by-step order leading the reader through a sequence of steps designed to help them achieve a specific outcome.
The step-by-step structure is what I did with Will It Fly?, because it’s all about helping people validate their business idea, and I ended up with nineteen chapters segmented into five parts (not including front and back matter, which we’ll get to later in this chapter). It’s a structure that developed throughout the editing and revision process.
Azul’s deadlines were extremely helpful for keeping me on track, but as soon as I saw that the end of the first pass of the manuscript was in sight, I realized just how much more work beyond the manuscript itself was needed, and therefore how much more I had to think about, especially related to the timing of everything.
Team SPI (Matt and Janna, primarily) and I worked together on creating various schedules based on when I might be able to get the book done. Here’s what those look like. They work backwards from various publication dates, and include all of the timelines for all of the other things involved:
As you can see, we were exploring a 1/25/16 launch date initially, but we decided to have it come out a week later to give us an additional week for production purposes, which we later found out was completely necessary.
My biggest concern was having the manuscript finished in time to give the developmental editor, Ann Maynard from CommandZContent.com, so that she had enough time to review it and get it back to me before Thanksgiving break.
The deadline was November 1, but it got pushed back to November 12 because I got sick and was unable to get it done in time. This made me nervous, because we were supposed to launch on February 1, less than three months away at that point. The clock was ticking, and we still had copyediting to do too! Luckily, I had Azul and Ann in my corner. Here’s a good example of one of those encouraging emails:
Stage 4: Working with a Developmental Editor
Spelling and grammar are important, and it’s one of those things that no matter how much you try yourself, you’re going to need separate sets of eyes to catch those last minute mistakes.
However, even before working with a copyeditor, there’s the developmental editor, which isn’t so much about spelling and grammar, but rather the flow, order, and structure of the content within the book.
Before working on this book I didn’t know developmental editors existed, and I found out just how great it was to work with one. A few weeks after handing my first manuscript over to my developmental editor, Ann, I received some invaluable feedback. I didn’t have to rewrite the entire manuscript (thankfully!), but I did add some additional components and re-order a few things that took the book to higher levels.
I recorded a conversation that I had with Ann and Azul after getting back the first round of editorial notes. This is a very in-depth conversation, and I did receive permission from Ann to share this with you. This isn’t available on the podcast, only here as a bonus for those of you who care to listen.
It’s over one-hour long (at normal speed), but it gets into a lot of what was wrong with the first pass, and what I could do to make the second pass even better:
The most encouraging note, however, came from Ann via Azul over email. After she read it over the first time, this is what she said:
Wow, I mean—I couldn’t have felt any better after reading that! I knew there would be changes, and because I was so amped (and under a ton of pressure with the upcoming deadline), I was ready to make changes and submit to Ann a second go-around. I was able to knock that out in just two days. That’s unusually fast for a revision, however I spent every waking hour during those two days making it happen. Furthermore, how long it takes you to turn around a revision depends on the number of edits to make within that manuscript and a whole number of other factors. Luckily for me, the direction was clear, I just needed the time to do it, and I took all the time I had.
After the manuscript had Ann’s blessing, it was then ready to be passed on to the copyeditor, which was someone on my own team who has experience with copyediting various content for me.
And finally, if you get a chance, even though you might hire an editor of your own, make sure you spend some time reading through your manuscript . . . out loud. Hearing yourself say the words in your book will help you find even more mistakes that often get skipped over when just reading the text in our heads. (Be sure to revisit chapter 2 for more on editing and working with an editor.)
Let’s Not Forget the Front and Back Matter
What are the front and back matter parts of a book? Well, a book—a real, actual published book—is more than just the words you write from Chapter 1 to Chapter Done. There are a few more pieces that need to come together before your book is fully fledged and ready to fly off shelves.
These elements are known as a book’s front and back matter, the smaller sections that appear at the beginning and end of a book. They help set the stage and context about the book for your reader, provide them with additional information and resources if they want to learn more, and help them stay connected to you as an author. Here’s a quick rundown of these other pages you might forget about, but are a part of the book’s structure:
- Copyright page: includes copyright information, ISBN, edition notice, date of publication, number of printings, disclaimers, warranties, and safety notices, publisher’s address.
- Full title page: includes the full title, subtitle, author’s name, publisher’s name and city.
- Half title page: includes only the title of the book, usually immediately following the full title page
- Praise: A collection of quotes and endorsements from advance readers.
- Table of contents: An ordered listing of the contents of the book that details the chapters and (possibly) subchapters.
- Dedication: A short section written by the author that mentions the person or people for whom the book was written.
- Epigraph: A quote that may be inspired by but not directly related to the topic of the book.
- Foreword: A brief essay written by someone other than the author but who is well-acquainted with the author or the book.
- Preface: The author’s introduction to the book as a book, with an explanation of why and how they wrote the book.
- Introduction: The author’s introduction to the content of the book, which lays out the purpose and goals of the book as well as sets up the first chapter.
- Prologue: The opening of the book, used to explain important information that doesn’t follow the chronological flow of the rest of the book.
- Appendix (or Appendices): A supplement to the book that usually includes referenced documents cited in the text, or books and resources on related topics that may be of interest to your reader.
- Glossary: An alphabetical list of terms and concepts found in the book, with explanations.
- Index: An alphabetical list of terms and concepts found in the book that allows a reader to locate mentions of those terms in the book.
- Bibliography: This is where you add citations for all the reference materials used in your research: other books, websites, journals, etc.
- Afterword: The afterword can be an alternative to a preface. It can also be written by someone else. In updated editions of books, the author may include an afterword reflecting on the reception of the previous edition and what he or she has learned since then.
- Acknowledgments: The author’s thank-yous to people and organizations that assisted in the writing of the book.
- About the Author: A brief biography of the author.
- Other bonus material we’ll talk about in a minute.
For Will It Fly? I included the following front matter:
- Title Page
- Praise Page
- Copyright Page
- Course Promo Page
- Table of Contents
And back matter:
- Resource Page
- Let Go Page (promoting my other book)
- About Smart Passive Income
- About the Author
And that’s the thing, when you’re self-publishing your book, you have the freedom to include anything you want in the front and back parts of the book. Don’t let these pages fool you, although they are just one to a few pages in length, they do take some time to complete, and your manuscript will not be ready for interior design until they’re complete.
Back to the Deadline Real Quick
At this point, you might be wondering why we were still going through edits so close to the launch of the book.
To be honest, it was a combination of a lot of things:
- Being over ambitious with the timeline.
- Not giving ourselves a ton of flexibility and lead-time, especially when it came to developmental and copyediting.
- Me getting sick.
- The holidays, and wanting to respect people’s time with family.
To launch a book in February means a ton of work needs to be done around November and December, and with Thanksgiving and Christmas, it takes away a lot of the time you might think you have to get everything done. (We talk more about this in chapter 10 on publishing mistakes.)
The plus side, however, is that because most people tend to slow down during these months, if you can speed things up you’ll have a slight advantage. This was definitely something I felt because when the book launched, it wasn’t up against anything else in launching the same category. Most other books, at least in the business category, seemed to come out in early January, or were scheduled to come out in March. It was the perfect window for Will It Fly?, and so I was excited to see what the results were, which are coming later in this guide.
But back to production stuff, because there’s a lot more to a book than just the manuscript. There’s the design of the book, too, both the outside and the inside.
Stage 5: Designing the Book Cover & Interior
The cover of a book is extremely important, especially if you’re going to be publishing it on Amazon. (More about how to think about the design for your book coming in chapter 4.)
The cover is the first impression people have of your book, even before they read it. A good cover helps your book to either stand out or blend in, and it can set the tone of the content for your reader.
Will It Fly? opens with a story of my son and his first experience folding a paper airplane (spoiler: it doesn’t go so well), and so I thought a paper airplane on the cover would make a nice visual for the cover. Plus, paper is what we write ideas on sometimes, and the purpose of the book is to see if those ideas can fly.
So, I drew a little sketch and had Dustin on my team come up with some early concepts:
At first, I was happy with what I saw, but after the initial excitement died down, I knew that there could be room for improvement, and I wanted to see more iterations before making a final decision. I had also expressed the idea of sharing a single image of a folded paper airplane beneath the title, and so here was the next batch of design concepts from Dustin:
We were getting there, but I had yet to feel that “hell yeah” that I wanted when looking at the cover. I started to share these concepts on social media and with the book’s launch group to get a first reaction, and it was mixed. Also, a number of people found books with similar covers on Amazon, including this one, that was great:
After about two weeks and still struggling to find a design that worked, Azul and I ended up reaching out to another designer to see what it would look like coming from another person’s perspective. Having read only the introduction, another designer came up with the following iterations:
There were parts of this I liked, for example the font treatment, which made the title stand out much more, but the images seemed a little too stock for my liking. Plus, then another member of the launch group found this image from Jeff Goins’ book The Art of Work:
This was all happening while I was finishing up the manuscript, and after sharing with the team that I wasn’t happy with any of the submissions yet, Dustin took one final crack at it from a totally different viewpoint, and here’s what he came up with:
This was the “hell yeah” I was looking for! It still needed a couple of tweaks though (the spacing of the word “it” was really bothersome), but after playing around with it a little and darkening the blue to make the title stand out, we had our final version.
Photoshopping various thumbnails into Amazon at the smallest size:
The final front cover design before going live:
Since this was a paperback book, the back cover and the spine also had to be designed. To help us with the right specifications, since this book was being printed through Amazon’s print-on-demand service, CreateSpace (now part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing), Dustin referenced this document here.
The interesting thing is that he couldn’t determine the size of the spine until the book interior design was complete, because it’s the interior design that determined how many pages the book would to be, and obviously the more pages there are, the thicker the spine.
The back cover was a lot of fun to play around with, because it’s where you can add any blurbs and copy about the book that you want, and we also decided to add in a picture of me.
Unfortunately, what you see in a PDF file isn’t always what you get in your hands once it’s printed. Again, likely due to time constraints, we realized after going live that the back cover font was far too small. We immediately updated it to get it to the right size, but a handful of initial buyers have what I like to call the super rare early edition misprint.
Here’s a before (left) and after (right) comparison:
I’m very happy with how it turned out in the end, and coming from a print-on-demand service I was a little skeptical at what the quality would look like, but I was pleasantly surprised when I received my first copies in the mail:
Designing the Book Interior
The interior design of a book is just as important as the text itself, because a poor design or layout can make even the best of content hard to digest and tough on the eyes.
For a print book, interior design includes everything that you see when you flip through the pages: spacing, font size, drop caps, page numbers, headers, page breaks, chapter titles, images, bullet points, callouts, and featured sections.
For a Kindle ebook, it’s all of that, plus clickable links, and making sure the file is compatible to various device types and sizes.
This part of the process, by far, is one where I wouldn’t even know where to start if I had to do it on my own, so with the help of Azul, I found two people to help convert the manuscript into the final files that I would be uploading for approval and distribution.
Each format design took about a week to get the job done, and that is a quick turnaround. We were lucky to find people available to work fast on our deadline to meet our launch date, but usually these professionals need anywhere between two to four weeks to complete book design, layout, and corrections. Although the design was an upfront cost, I knew this was an extremely important part of the process and I didn’t want to skimp on it, but (as with editors), you may be able to find great work on sites like Upwork as well.
Before getting your book up for sale on any platform that’s not your own site, you’re going to need an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which is a thirteen-digit identifier for your particular book. The ISBN is used within the publishing industry to keep track and facilitate activities related to your work, like sales and distribution.
If you’re publishing on Kindle, you do not need an ISBN. Amazon will hook you up with a unique Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) if you’re publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing.
If you’re publishing a print-book, you’ll need an ISBN. To get your ISBN, head on over to www.MyIdentifiers.com where you can purchase your ISBN and barcode from Bowker’s Identifier Services.
Information About Your Book
When you register each version of your book, you’ll need to enter a few pieces of information that are always good to have on hand. You’ll need these anyway when you enter information into Amazon and any other platform where you choose to sell your book, so let’s define what they are. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Author / Contributors
You’ll also need this info when you create your book listing on Amazon or any distribution platform. So let’s look at that next: getting Will It Fly? listed, officially published, and ready to sell!
Stage 6: Uploading the Book Pre-Orders Through Amazon with CreateSpace
As you know, Will It Fly? is self-published and printed on-demand through CreateSpace, a division of Amazon for print-on-demand books. If there’s a self-published paperback book for sale on Amazon, it’s likely due to CreateSpace.
The challenge was that I wanted to collect pre-orders as I see many authors do this on Amazon, but it’s not something that seemed possible when self-publishing and printing on demand with CreateSpace (now KDP). That is, until Azul, my accountability coach for this project, found out that it was possible by going through a completely wonky process that involved adding another arm of the Amazon branch, Amazon Advantage.
Amazon Advantage is a “self-service consignment program” that enables you to promote and sell media products directly on Amazon. It’s for publishers, music labels, studios, and authors. It gives you the tools you need to take advantage of the Amazon marketplace and help you with distribution and order fulfillment.
To share with you how wonky this process is, here’s the basic breakdown:
- Sign up with Amazon Advantage.
- Create a new item for your book and set the release date to your future publication date.
- Upload the cover image for your book. By now, you’ll have an Amazon page with the product displaying the future publication date. Pre-orders can now be placed.
- You’ll begin to get invoices for your book from Amazon. They’ll begin ordering copies from you and ask you to ship them in bulk to specific locations. Since you’re publishing through CreateSpace (now KDP) on-demand, you don’t have books to send anywhere, so you simply mark the items as backordered until that specific launch date.
- Meanwhile, you create your book on CreateSpace (now KDP) and fill in all of the necessary details (title, description, ISBN, categories, etc.) and upload the necessary files (book cover and manuscript). Don’t release it to the wild just yet though. Here’s where it gets weird.
- The evening before your launch, contact Amazon Advantage’s customer service team and tell them specifically to remove the item and transfer all of the pre-orders that came to CreateSpace (now KDP). They will then fulfill the orders that came in during the pre-sale.
- And then, magically on the backend, the Amazon page for your book switches from Amazon Advantage to CreateSpace (now KDP) fulfillment, and your book is live for customers to buy.
Here’s a link to a more detailed step-by-step blog post where Azul and I first learned about the process. Eric, the main guy who shared this information with the community, also has a handy video that walks you through the entire process.
It’s wonky but it worked. By following all of the steps, we were able to pre-sell 3,110 copies of Will It Fly?, and those sales all dropped on February 1.
Why would you want to pre-sell your book?
Pre-sales for books are beneficial for a number of reasons:
- They help you build buzz before the book comes out.
- Leading up to the release date is a great time to offer bonuses for a limited time that help drive sales.
- It allows you to collect sales early for social proof.
- If done correctly, books will be reported as sold on launch day, which provides a massive bump in any potential bestseller list rankings.
The tricky part is the coordination of all of the moving pieces, especially when you’re self-publishing. When you work with a traditional publisher, they have relationships with the right people to make this all happen in a painless manner, and you likely won’t have to lift a finger to get it all set up.
The other cool thing about the pre-sale process in Amazon is that you can climb the rankings of your book category during this time. Will It Fly? was released on February 1, but was available for pre-sales after putting it up on Amazon Advantage on January 23, and within a day after a few shares on social media and sharing it in the launch group, it jumped to number 637 overall.
On January 26, it shot up to number 163, and on January 27 it cracked the top 100 list, which was amazing. Also, because of its velocity, it was featured on the “Movers and Shakers” list, all before it even went live.
Was this important? Absolutely. Each milestone became another moment of excitement for me to share, which exposed the book even more. As people began to see it climb, more people began to purchase it.
Now, you maybe asking, what about the Kindle book?
Ah, the Kindle book. That’s a whole different story.
For now I'll just say that we moved forward without the pre-sale for the Kindle book, and got it uploaded and ready for launch day on February 1 (more about this process in chapter 10 on book publishing mistakes because, well, if I could go back and do things differently, I definitely would have made sure we had more time to get the book ready for publishing).
Once the Kindle book was up and live it felt like a huge accomplishment and a relief, too, because it was such a long journey of hard work to get there. But that was only the beginning. There was still a lot more work to be done to promote and market the book and get it in the hands of the readers who it’s intended to help. We get into all of that in chapter 7 on how to market your book and chapter 8 on tips for marketing your book.
But first there are a few more things to consider, like what other options are there for getting a book published? And if you do choose the self-publishing path like I did, what does that mean for you, your book, your brand, and what all do you need to know? That’s coming up in the next chapter on how to start thinking about publishing your book.