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The Process Of Writing A Book: Timeline From Start To Finish (Part 1)

Posted July 8th, 2011

Bike Touring Survival GuideThis is the first in a series of articles about how my husband Andrew and I wrote the Bike Touring Survival Guide. It focuses on the overall timescale and process of writing the book.

Part 2 of the series looks at the process of creating and gathering content.

The goal behind these articles is to give other authors an idea of our process and, hopefully, plenty of helpful tips for their own writing project.

Creating A Book: From Concept to Finished Copy

Our initial idea for the Bike Touring Survival Guide came from our desire to share practical how-to information with other bike tourists in a organized and easily readable way. We mulled over the concept of a book in the final months of our world bicycle tour and began work on it in late 2009. It took us about 18 months to go from an idea to publication.

December 2009: Drafting ideas and creating a table of contents. We spent many nights putting all our ideas down on pieces of paper and then trying to organise them into a logical order. We also looked at many other similar books and noted what we liked and didn’t like in those books.

February 2010: We sent a book outline and Table of Contents to a small, traditional publishing house. We later met the publisher. Although he was very kind and supportive, we were surprised on a few points, including:

  • How little an author makes off a traditional book (in this case, about 10% of the selling price).
  • The fact that this particular publisher was not interested in eBooks.
  • Even though we might have a publisher, we would have to provide all the diagrams for the book; the part that intimidated us most, and which we were hoping for help with (the publisher would help with layout, editing and marketing).

We decided that traditional publishing was probably not for us, since we felt strongly that it was important to have an eBook version. We also felt that we could market our own book through our website, and we were keen to learn some of the other skills, such as book layout.

March 2010: We began gathering information. We created a series of files with useful links, photos and articles for each chapter, both from our own writing and that of other bike tourists. Friedel also asked her employer if she could work 4 days a week instead of 5, leaving 1 day a week free for book writing. This request was granted, starting in May 2010.

Writing A Book
Writing a book takes a lot of time, patience and many, many drafts! Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres

May 2010: Writing begins in earnest. Friedel worked through the Table of Contents draft, one section at a time. In addition to working on the book every Friday (her writing day), she also spent many evenings and weekends writing. Other bike tourists were contacted for permission, when we spotted a nice story, quote or photo that we wanted to include. We offered them a free copy of the eBook, as a thanks for contributing content. Slowly the book began to take shape. At this stage, we did not worry about re-ordering or better organizing our original Table of Contents, but we regularly added sections as new ideas occurred to us.

September 2010: We had a first draft! It was very rough and still in a generic word processor (Open Office) format. We sent it to a few close friends to get their impressions. We continued to add sections and refine the text based on the feedback we received. At the same time, we made an announcement on our blog about the book and asked people to share their bike touring tips. Perhaps our question wasn’t clear enough because we did not have many responses.

December 2010: We had refined our first draft and felt it was getting close to a final copy. We printed it and took it with us on a bike tour of Spain, proofreading in our tent every night.

February 2011: We started putting the book into InDesign CS5, using a Blurb template (so that we could easily make a print version). We were lucky because we were able to buy a copy of InDesign at an educational rate (a perk of Friedel’s job). Formatting the book in a proper layout program was key to giving it a clean, professional layout.

If we had not been able to do this, we would have used the free 30-day trial version of InDesign but then we would have needed to be much more disciplined with our layout work to get it done within one month.

Once we had an initial copy of the book laid out, we sent first drafts to people in the bike touring community who offered to help us with editing. Their help was invaluable (more on this later). Although we thought we had a final draft in February, we actually created about 10 more drafts before we were totally happy with the book.

Also in February, we began letting our readers know that our book was nearly done. We also asked for a few photos on topics where we needed photos. We did this as a contest, and offered free copies of the book to anyone whose photo we were able to use.

March 2011: We created a Facebook page and Flickr Group for the book, and Andrew began researching the mechanics of selling a book such as which eCommerce plugin to use and how to integrate Paypal.

Kindle Book
Creating a Kindle version of the book turned out to be quite a challenge.

April 2011: With a final, final, final (!) draft of the book complete, we started to create a Kindle version of the book. This turned out to be a rather painful process (more on that in a later post) but we felt it was necessary to get our book out to the eReader world. We discussed how we would price the book and we completed the sales page for the book.

This work took us the entire month to finish, and we were very stressed during this time. There were many long, stressful evenings as we tried to work out the many technical challenges. At one point we wanted to throw our book over our apartment balcony and just forget about it. “If you feel like that, then you’re almost done,” said a fellow author. At the end of the month, we published the book and breathed a big sigh of relief.

May 2011: The book was now published but our work was not done. We spent many hours answering emails from both readers and other bloggers (potential reviewers), addressing both general questions and some technical difficulties. We also started work on an ePub version of the book and got the book listed on Amazon.

Getting the book listed on Amazon was easy, but for the U.S. sales we also had to apply for a special ITIN tax number. Otherwise, the IRS will take 30% of our earnings, even though we are not U.S. citizens. This cost 100 euros and entailed a trip to a local tax agency, to get our passports and application form verified. It takes 6-8 weeks for the number to be issued, and in the meantime we asked Amazon to hold our U.S. payments.

June 2011: We focused on getting the book reviewed by other bloggers, and (unfortunately) on correcting a few minor typos. It seems that no matter how much you proofread, there are always a couple typos that slip through unnoticed, and then pop into view about a month after you think you’ve finished a book. We also worked with volunteer testers to create an ePub version of the book.

Once we had weeded out the last of the typos, we submitted the book to Blurb for printing. We worked through a few image issues that needed to be sorted out before we could release the book for sale as a print copy. These issues dragged into July.

Posted in Personal Events

Photo Essay: Another Great Day Of Cycling In Holland

Posted March 19th, 2011

We love Holland. Cycling around The Hague on Saturday, we noticed just how happy it makes us to live in a country where cycling blends seamlessly with our everyday lives.

The cycling culture (and its normality) is so different from anywhere else we’ve been, that we still spend our days around town taking photographs of all the bikes, people on bikes, ourselves on bikes… well, you get the idea. Here are some favourite pictures from our most recent day out.

We started our day at the market; more specifically at a fish stall. Lunch was fried fish (lekkerbek) and rolls filled with herring and onions (broodje haring). This is typical Dutch fast food.

A Typical Dutch Lunch

We bought some tulips (now just 5 euros for a huge bunch), and put them in a pannier. So pretty!

Tulips in a pannier

Next it was off to do some cycling. We headed for the beach, and you could see we were close to the water by the accessories on the bicycles…

Surfboard on a bike!

After about 30km of cycling, we stopped for another typical Dutch treat: apple cake and coffee.

Apple Taart & Koffie

Then we headed in town to do some shopping, but not before admiring some more bicycles, like this one with the painted chain guard.

A beautiful bike.

Dutch people don’t always have fancy bikes, but they love to decorate them, and they take them everywhere. This Haring stand had lots of bicycles around it, and of course one prominently parked out front.

Haring Stand

We did our shopping, and headed home with everything strapped to the back.

Carrying home new duvets for our guest room

On the way home, we spotted a typical kid being carted around on a bicycle. This is totally normal here. Luggage racks are not usually for luggage. They’re for carrying children, friends, girlfriends…

How kids normally get around in Holland

Just one more bike light, and we’re home. Another great day of cycling in Holland.

Bike lights

How To Host A Burns Supper For 25 People In A Small Flat

Posted January 26th, 2011

I’ve never been one to follow guidelines or do “what’s sensible”.

Unsensible escapades over the years have ranged from life-changing (cycling around the world) to just plain stupid (skydiving and breaking my ankle).

When Andrew & I invited 25 people to a Burns Supper and then discovered everyone was actually going to show up (we thought half wouldn’t come because it was a Tuesday night), we really weren’t sure what the result would be.

Inviting so many people really didn’t seem sensible. What were we thinking? Would we get so stressed that we’d just end up throwing mashed turnip at each other in the kitchen? Would we buy enough whiskey? Would anyone like the haggis?

On the day after, we’re happy to report it was a hit! Some people even went back for seconds of haggis. So… here are our tips for hosting a Burns Supper in a small flat for 25 people. You can do it too :)

#1 – The Menu

Here’s the good news: a Burns Supper involves pretty simple fare. Don’t complicate it. This was our menu:

  • Cock-A-Leekie soup (later renamed leekie-leekie soup because we made it vegan by omitting the chicken, butter and cream)
  • Haggis (150g per person should be plenty)
  • Mashed Potatoes (figure on 175-200g per person, we omitted the cream cheese in this recipe)
  • Mashed Turnip (we made 150g per person and had lots left over)
  • Cranachan
  • Coffee & biscuits & lots of whiskey!

Robert Burns Night
Andrew carrying the haggis on Robert Burns Night (Photo by Alicia)

#2 – The Logistics

You can make the soup, potatoes, turnip and raspberry sauce for the cranachan 1 or 2 days before the dinner. This makes life MUCH easier. To finish the cooking and reheating on the night, we…

  • Used a crockpot to reheat the potatoes (worked like a charm – they weren’t dry at all, despite leaving half the cheese out of the recipe).
  • Boiled the haggis on three burners of our stove.
  • Used the last stove burner to reheat the soup.
  • Reheated the turnips in baking trays in the oven.
  • Filled thermoses with coffee and hot water for tea, so we wouldn’t need the stove to make these things.
  • Whipped the cream for the cranachan a couple hours before guests arrived.

Haggis Cooking On The Stove (Photo by Christine)

We also decided to make the evening a serve-yourself-drinks party. We put all the drinks on one table with the glasses and just let people get what they wanted, when they wanted. This saved a lot of running back and forth.

I must admit that we decided to serve everything on plastic plates and drinks in throw-away cups. This goes against my normal ethics (we hate the throw-away culture) but the thought of doing dishes for 25 people was too much to bear. Sometimes convenience wins out over my conscience.

Finally, get one table and put all the food on it. You can serve from this table or let everyone serve themselves.

#3 – The Atmosphere

It’s important to set the right atmosphere on Robbie Burns day. Start by getting some Scottish music. If you don’t have any at home, Spotify has lots of Scottish playlists.

Next, make sure you print some Robbie Burns poems off the internet or buy a book of his poems. Towards the end of the night, you can encourage your guests to read poems aloud. It’s tradition! It’s also a whole lot of fun. You can go for something traditional and romantic (Red, Red Rose), funny (John Barleycorn) or just one to get the crowd’s attention (Henpecked Husband)!

And of course, if you can, it’s important to have a real Scotsman there. We were so happy that William (who we’d only just met a couple days before at a beer festival) agreed to come and read the Address To A Haggis for us. Thanks William!

#4 – The Whiskey

25 Jan 2007 (Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie..A mouse not a rat)

Whiskey! (Photo by Wonderferret)

Scotch whiskey is so important to Burns Night, it gets a whole category of its own. We’re not whiskey experts by any means but we’d suggest trying to get a few different styles of whiskey. Get a mild one for the non-aficionados and something more robust for the connoisseurs. Here are some nice whiskey suggestions for Burns night.

Also, apparently Duvel is the beer that goes best with haggis, or so we’re told!

Posted in Personal Events

Rijstafel In Den Haag

Posted January 19th, 2011

We don’t eat out very often (we’re too cheap!) but when we do, we love to go for Indonesian food.

Because Indonesia was a Dutch colony, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from and – lucky us – one of the best is not far from our house.

Every time we go, we order the Rijstafel (translation: Rice Table). It’s a fantastic selection of dishes from salads to satay and the servings are generous. I always swear that next time I’m going to bring my camera to capture this wonderful food but inevitably I forget. This time, our neighbour joined us for dinner and kindly snapped a shot.

Rijstafel

Hey, look, here we are together in one photo! Now that’s a rarity…

Posted in Personal Events

No-Knead Bread

Posted January 8th, 2011

When we were cycling around the world, we made a deal about coming home.

The deal was this. When we got a house again, Andrew was going to become an ace baker, while Friedel did the cooking. Today, Andrew made a truly awesome loaf of bread.

No-Knead Bread

And the best part? It was really easy to make. You don’t even have to knead it! Just mix some flour, water, salt and yeast together, let it sit and bake!

Sliced Bread

Posted in Personal Events