This 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 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.
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.