A good idea is a good idea. Four months later, my book was born: Feeling My Way: Finding Motherhood Without Losing Myself. In its first week, it was #9 on the Kindle bestsellers list in the Motherhood category, right alongside Bringing Up Bebe, Anna Quindlen and Jessica Alba. Not too shabby!
Here’s what I learned about the process of writing and editing my e-book. In subsequent posts, I’ll share how I got my book cover design and how I figured out where and how to publish my book, plus how I’ve been marketing it.
10 Tips for Writing and Editing An E-Book Based On Your Blog
- Cut and paste: I cut and paste all relevant blog posts into one massive Word document.
- Read, and read again: I read through the Word doc (aka “Book, Draft One”) in one sitting, and then I did it again. I wanted to get a feel for what the narrative was like when all the blog posts were strung together like that.
- Eliminate content that doesn’t serve the narrative: I deleted a couple of posts that just didn’t fit in. One was an attempted humor piece that, in retrospect, wasn’t all that funny. Even if your mission is to weave your blog posts into a book, that doesn’t mean you need to use every single post — no one’s keeping score! Your job is to make the book as compelling and readable as possible, and that might mean letting go of a few posts, even ones you love. It’s ok — they’ll still be there online!
- Begin establishing structure: Do you want each blog post to be its own chapter, or could some posts be combined into a single chapter? Do you want your chapters to be organized into sections? Begin thinking about this now. How can section/chapter titles help you tell your story? (For example, if someone is skimming your Table of Contents to decide whether to read your book — what information will they be able to glean about the substance and tone of your story?)
- Revise: I was completely surprised by how many revisions I found myself making to the text of my original posts. There were two reasons for this: First, I found I needed to provide additional context for people who didn’t know me from my blog (from small things, like, “Cosmo” is my dog, to bigger things, like — I’m a writer and performer based in Brooklyn, I run my own consulting company that helps raise the visibility of good things online, etc etc). Second, I found I wanted to flesh out ideas that I had touched on briefly on my blog, but felt warranted more exploration in the context of a book. Finally, in some cases, when confronted with my own writing, I saw opportunities for improvement — tightening, rephrasing, etc — and I took them.
- Write: I wrote an introduction to provide some context (there’s that word again) for my story upfront. Later, after I got feedback from my editors — see #7 — I realized I needed to write some short intros to each section of my book, as well as a final chapter and epilogue.
- Get people to edit you: Even the best writers need editors. Do not skip this step. I sent an early draft of my book to a fellow writer/editor, and then later, I sent a nearly final draft to…my dad! He has a journalism degree and is a fabulous editor, and doesn’t follow my blog very closely, so most of this content was brand new to him. That was critical, because it helped him see some holes in the narrative that someone closer to my blog might have missed. He raised questions and also observed some themes I hadn’t even realized were there, which helped me weave them more mindfully throughout the entire book. His feedback was essential. I highly recommend having one of your editors be someone who isn’t familiar with your blog and who’s outside your demographic — they’ll see things that a close buddy may not.
I’m also lucky to have a husband who’s a fabulous editor. He gave me feedback at various stages throughout this process. If you can have a go-to sounding board like this, it’s a real gift.
- Sit with it: Sit with your editors’ feedback and decide which changes feel right in your skin, and which don’t. This is a delicate balancing act between being open to other people’s good ideas and staying true to your own vision for the book. In general, I took more ideas than I ignored, but in some cases, even though I understood what they meant — it just didn’t feel right to make the change, so I didn’t. Trust your gut. Don’t rush this part of the process.
- Make final revisions: Once you’ve decided which of your editors’ feedback to take, make your final revisions. Note that these may be structural as well as sentence-level — for example, you might decide to move part of your story earlier in the book, or maybe you’ll decide to group chapters into sections, at the same time that you’re rephrasing descriptions or reconsidering some of your word choices.
- Be done: You can’t edit forever. At some point, you need to let this baby be born. I recommend setting a deadline at the outset, to help you maintain focus and momentum — and to avoid having the process drag out indefinitely, which can sure take the wind out of your sails. In my case, I decided to write my book in January, and I realized that Mother’s Day would be a big marketing opportunity, so I knew I wanted to publish by the end of April. That ended up being a perfect timeframe for a book my size. You may need more time, or less — but give yourself a deadline, and stick to it.
Questions? Suggestions, based on your own experience with e-book publishing? Let me know! And again, stay tuned for subsequent posts, where I’ll share tips for designing a book cover, choosing a publishing platform, and marketing your e-book. I also recommend checking out MediaShift’s coverage of self-publishing — I find it extremely useful.