The Simplest Way to Self-Publish a Book (and Still Take Yourself Seriously)

Declan Wilson
Photo by Chris Spiegl on Unsplash

Writing a book is a noble, if not a gargantuan task.

First, you have to take a jumbled mess of ideas and organize it into a stream of consciousness people will understand. Then you have to get it down on paper. Then you have to painfully re-read your rough draft and resist the temptation to throw your entire computer in the trash can. Then you close your eyes and meander in the dark, clanking your head and stubbing your toes until finally, one day you have a book.

You breathe a temporary sigh of relief but then realize you gotta sell the darn thing. And here’s the thing, people don’t like books as much as they say they do. Blame the public school system if you want, but some people think books are just extra work.

At this point, you may even question why you wrote a book in the first place. And for that, I turn to Seth Godin who recently said:

“Writing a book is an act of hubris. It’s saying I want something that will transcend space and time. The book gives us a handy, magical container and we can hand it to someone else and say ‘Let’s read this together.’”

So, my question is this: Why overcomplicate the book-writing process?

If a simpler “act of hubris” exists, why not give it a try? Well, that’s exactly what I did this year. I wrote a book. And made it as simple as possible.

Here’s how I did it.

Blog a Book

There’s no rule saying that writing a book has to be an isolated, drawn-out, slugfest of an experience. Sure, Kurt Vonnegut once said, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth,” but you aren’t Kurt Vonnegut, are you?

Here’s the beautiful thing about the 21st century, you can practice in real-time. The internet has given writers the ability to test ideas in the open. Just look at Mark Manson, the origin of his now-famous The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK is a blog post on his website. Making the jump from blogger to author isn’t so hard anymore.

If this feels like cheating let me ask you this, do you prefer to watch your favorite football team play on Sunday, or do you wait for the box score to publish? They both give you the same result in the end, however, there’s a joy to watching humans do what they do best.

Why should writers be confined to silence?

I began this year with one goal, make writing my livelihood. I had no idea how I’d do it, but I was gung-ho on writing mostly every day and seeing what came about it. I wrote about creating side-hustles, I wrote about friendship, I wrote about cookies.

I didn’t have an agenda other than simply getting things off my chest.

Around August, I noticed a general pattern to my online articles and started to formulate an idea: I could package these into a book. I asked my email list if they noticed a theme to my work this year. One person wrote back: the pursuit of contentment.

That was enough to get my wheels spinning. I sent that person a copy of my book since he practically helped name it.

Have Something to Say

You can write a lot without actually saying anything. What is your One Big Idea to steal a phrase by David Perell?

“The world is more complex than we see. When you look at the world through the lens of your One Big Idea, you see opportunities others are blind to.” — David Perell

I wrote a book five years ago that was a hodgepodge of ideas. I was a young writer and too afraid to stick to my guns and dive deep into one thing. Instead, I somehow scraped together a book that was half self-help, half motivational, and half ramblings of my own desire to escape my 9-to-5. You don’t have to do the math to realize the book was more than it needed to be.

This time around, I focused on one idea: finding happiness in life’s simple things.

A lot of my writing this past year focused on the small ways I was finding happiness, such as sticking to a simple fitness routine, paying off credit card debt, adjusting my career expectations, and spending more time with my kids. Even amongst the chaos surrounding our lives, I was finding happiness in the often overlooked areas of my life.

And so, I found what I wanted to say.

What are your big ideas? If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of them and don’t know which ones to choose. That’s okay. You can always save them for another book.

Keep the Layout Simple

A typical self-published non-fiction book is roughly 40,000 words. Taking your One Big Idea, you can break it down into the following supporting arguments:

  • Twenty 2,000-word chapters
  • Ten 4,000-word chapters

A 2,000-word chapter is about the size of an eight-minute read here on Medium. A 4,000-word chapter is a long-form essay and might be too long for a chapter if it’s not broken down into smaller subsections.

Either way, looking at your book as a collection of arguments that support your One Big Idea is a lot more manageable than thinking “how am I going to write 40,000 words about one thing?”

Go back to the Blog a Book section above. This is where you get to test your ideas to see if they are even worthy of your book. Blog posts are just rough drafts. As readers give you feedback (positive and negative) you’ll be able to refine your blog post into an actual book chapter.

Packaging Matters

Some people are not going to like this advice: your book cover matters.

Sure, your one big idea is one-of-a-kind and awesome and everyone will want to read it. But if you wrap it up in a dud of a cover, no one will. Ergo, turn to the experts.

By “experts” I don’t mean your friend’s cousin who took some Photoshop classes at the community college. I mean actual experts who specialize in creating beautiful book jackets.

For my book, I turned to the fine folks at 100Covers and Formatted Books to design the outside and inside of my book. Just an FYI, these are not affiliate links, nor was I asked to promote these businesses. I’m just one happy customer who’s eager to share their work.

After designing and formatting my first book five years ago, I knew this time around I didn’t want to waste hours of my precious time on a subpar result. All I had to do was fill out a questionnaire and give my feedback on each iteration until I was happy with the result.

It was also really satisfying to see someone else bring an idea to life.

Don’t skimp on the book cover. Think of it as an investment.

Now Do It Again

You might be expecting a section here on how to sell your books, but like you, I’m still learning. I’d much rather play the role of a writer than a marketer and for that reason, I offer this parting advice: do it again.

The end of a book project is a relief. Yes, you have to list the book on Amazon and send a bunch of emails to your friends, family, and newsletter dropping the good news. But honestly, this is the time to start thinking about your next project.

Writing a book doesn’t have to be hard. Once you’ve gone through the process it’ll become less scary and overwhelming. Eventually, it becomes something fun to do.

Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got to get started on my next project.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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