So you want to write a book? Here are the tools you need

The problem: The biggest problem to writing a book is sitting on your ass and typing. I can’t help you with that. But I can help you with the 2nd biggest problem, which is, the nuts and bolts of how you write a book. Many people get hung up here, and stuck in an analysis paralysis, get nowhere.

In this blog, we’ll look at all the tools you need to write and sell your book, like:

  • Writing software
  • Software to create PDF / Kindle / Print books
  • Editing and Cover Design
  • Where to sell your book
  • A few marketing tools
  • Both Fiction and non-fiction books

Let’s get started.

Writing Tools

Most people will start with Ms Word, but that is actually a terrible tool to write a book. Word was built for sharing documents on a computer. Not to mention, it inserts all sorts of horrible formatting codes in your book which will really mess things up.

For writing books, I recommend special software.

Scrivener

Nothing beats Scrivener. It is the tool for writing. For a long time, it was only available on the Mac, and the Windows version, when it came out, was very basic (though it has mostly caught up now).

Scrivener is great for many reasons, like the fact it’s very lightweight, it allows you to see your chapters on a corkboard and move them around easily, it easily creates epub and mobi files (if you don’t know what they are, these are the two main formats ereaders use. epub is an open standard, mobi is Kindle specific).

You can also tweak the settings to create CreateSpace (printed paper books, see below for details) ready books.

Leabpub

If you are writing technical books with lots of computer code, nothing beats Leanpub. They are actually a publisher, but provide their own tool to write books.

You can either write the books online in the browser, or on your machine using Markdown. For the latter I recommend Typora, a tool I just discovered a few days ago, and on which Im writing this blog.

The great thing about Leanpub is that they create PDF, epub and mobi formats for you, and these are pretty good. There are many websites that claim to do this for you, but they create broken eBooks.

Editing and Cover Design

Editing is a word that means different things to different people.

Most people think of an editor as someone who goes over your book, offering you suggestions on how to improve it. Just remember this: Unless this person is paying you a large amount of money, they are not qualified to tell you anything. There are many scams where so called book doctors will offer to help you fix your book. If these people are so good, why don’t they write their own books?

Since I self publish all my books, I never use a book doctor or content editors.

Copy Editors

Copy editors, on the other hand, are a must. No matter how many times you read your book, typos will slip through. Copy editors will fix your typos, minor grammar issues, and make sure your book uses the same format (for fun, try reading what the Oxford comma is).

I strongly recommend hiring a copy editor. You should ask around for recommendations. If you can’t find anyone good, hire someone to do a sample read on Fiverr, and if you like them, hire them for longer jobs.

Exception to above: If you are writing a programming (or any other technical book where the text part is not the main thing), the readers care more about technical correctness and the code working, rather than the fact you mixed American and British spelling, or the fact you decided to ramble about how sad your life is, instead of teaching them Python. (Ahem)

In this case, I recommend good first readers. While you can pay for technical readers, I’ve found that many people will volunteer to read your book for you in return for early access, and they will find many typos as well.

Warning: Stay away from grammar checking software

Whatever you do, never, not in a million years, use a software to check your grammar. Spelling is okay, but not grammar. The reason being, English is a very fluid language, an evolving language. Most of these automated grammar checkers will make you sound like a dead cockroach with no personality. Have you read those papers/articles that go blah blah blah? That is how what happens when you follow the rules of grammar strictly.

And it doesn’t help most of these checkers are based on Strunk and White, a completely idiotic book people still follow. That’s not me saying, that’s a Professor of English saying that.

If you must, hire a human, people! Like I said, English is a fluid language, and your copy editor will work with your writing style (the good ones anyway).

Cover Design

Again, Fiverr. You can get a good cover for around $10-$20. If you want a print cover as  well, expect to spend 40-50 dollars.

If you know Photoshop or Gimp, you can do it yourself, keeping in mind that you must buy the images you use. Don’t Google for photos and use those, you will get sued. It’s safer to always buy the image.

Most designers on Fiverr will offer to buy an image for you (that you choose).

Selling Your Book

I will assume you have at least the PDF, epub and mobi formats, as these are the minimum you need. Many people, including me, read mainly on mobile devices. If you have an iPhone or Android, they have apps like the Kindle, and you no longer need a dedicated eReader.

Traditional Publishing

If you don’t value your time, and you want to remain a hobbyist writer for ever, then by all means send your book to a traditional publisher (also called legacy publishers). You will be paid a pittance, won’t be paid on time, the publisher will use creative accounting to screw you over, and the contract will make you a virtual slave.

The worst thing is the rights grabs. They will own the first rights to almost every book you write, and many authors have to ask permission from their publisher to write a frickin’ blog post. Like you are in Kindergarten and need to ask permission to visit the loo.

The only advantage is the so called exposure. So if your landlord accepts exposure as rent, and your super market will take the exposure tokens as payment, then by all means, go ahead. You can tell all your friends about how you spent three years writing a book and got paid in exposure.

In case I haven’t been clear: Legacy publishing is a cesspit full of blood sucking leeches who make their money off your hard work.

If you still want to work with them, at the bare minimum hire a good Intellectual Property lawyer to go over the contracts (and never hire an agent. Agents are in bed with the publishers).

For selling fiction and low priced non-fiction

Amazon

Amazon is the big daddy of publishing, and with good reason. They have the most readers, and for good reason. They go out of their way to please customers.

Have you ever walked into a physical store and seen all those bestseller lists? Yeah, they’re fake. Publishers pay to get on that.

Amazon was the first company to recommend books readers would actually like, rather than which publisher paid them the most money.

The great thing about Amazon is, once your book picks up momentum, it will automatically be recommended to new readers via the Also bought engine.

The downside of Amazon: To get 70% royalty on your books, you have to price them $2.99 and $9.99.

Which maybe okay for a few people, but when I sell my programming books, I sell them at $39. At that rate, Amazon would pay me 30% royalty.

I sell my novels on Amazon, but sell my non-fiction directly.

Apple iBooks, Kobo etc

These are all rivals of Amazon, but have never made much of an impact. And they have the same problems as Amazon. If you want to sell via them, I suggest a distributor like Draft2Digital, which will submit to many publishers at once. Avoid Smashwords.

Createspace

If you want to sell physical books, Createspace is the best service. Unlike their rivals, they are free, and since they are now owned by Amazon, your books are listed on it easily.

You need to format your book and cover specially for this, but it is beyond the scope of this blog. For covers, people on Fiverr will do this for an extra twenty dollars or so. For formatting, you can tweak Scrivener and OpenOffice.

Creating print books is slightly tricky. That said, it’s not that much work, once you get the hang of it.

The best way to sell your non-fiction books

Non fiction books are different, because you need a platform for them. Even if you go via legacy publishing, they will ask you to build a platform. But if you are doing all the work, why would you give up 90% of the profits?

Leanpub which I mentioned earlier, will sell you books for you.

But the absolutely best, The Best (TM) for selling books is Gumroad. Seriously, I ? Gumroad!

There user experience is the best I have seen for any website. You can start selling in 3-4 clicks. They pay you every few weeks, handle VAT and other taxes for you, and did I mention they are a joy to use? Most software is painful to use, but Gumroad is a real pleasure to use.

You can not just sell books, but software, recurring charge courses, WordPress plugins, Excel cheatsheets, anything you want.

Use Gumroad! ?

Other software

Email list

I found email lists useless for my fiction, but for non-fiction, they are a must.

I have tried a dozen services, and they all suck in one way or the other.

Mailchimp is an okay choice, and free to start with.

Creating your website

Nothing beats WordPress. It is easy to use and has millions of themes and plugins.

You can get a free site at WordPress.com, who will also host your own domain for a small price. They have a few restrictions about which you can install, but handle security and updates for you. If you know nothing about websites, they are a good option.

If you want full control, you can also host WordPress on your own website, from as low as $5/month. Just remember, you get what you pay for, so I wouldn’t for the cheapest option.

Finally…

We come to the end. If you Have any more questions, feel free to drop me a line.

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