A few years ago I had the idea to write an ebook based on my experience in a long-distance relationship. My thought process was that I would take all the lessons I learned during that period and put them in an easily readable format for others.
That was in 2009. Four and a half years later, I've only just managed to publish my book. It hit Amazon just two days ago.
This is the problem with writers. We're huge procrastinators and we never get around to doing that thing we always say we'll do. But we can only be successful if we push through that instinct and actually do what we're going to say we'll do.
Jon Acuff wrote about this just the other day, with some fairly specific instructions - "just shut up and do it". It took my three and a half years to actually start the book. A year to finish it. (A full-time job and other commitments doesn't help.
In any case, it's out. I consider this my first jump into the self-publishing pool, and in a large part I actually felt obligated to do this. The future of writing is in building a following around your personality and writing style. Really, no writer is without excuse. The internet allows a huge amount of possibilities with regard to writing and publishing, and it's up to the individual to make sure they're creating stuff that people actually want to read. If you're not creating anything, you're going to fall behind.
In any case, I learned a few things along the way which might help any aspiring writers who are trying out other projects of their own - especially if they're doing so with limited time or resources.
Time management is everything
I have a fairly busy schedule. I regularly work more than 40 hours a week, closer to 45 or 46. I have personal commitments with a band, freelancing work, commitments to my church, and of course, my wife! So writing isn't something I can just choose to do for six hours at a time.
So I have to prioritise. I would get up early on Saturdays and write for a few hours. I would use my commute, writing for 30 or 40 minutes on the way home. I tried to use as much spare time as I could in order to maximise my free time.
When doing personal writing projects aside from your main gig, you need to have a laser focus in your schedule. Got a spare hour? Write. Train yourself to just jump straight in.
Don't skimp on the quality
I hired a quality designer for my book project because I wanted to stand out from the rest of the Amazon Kindle crowd. Most ebooks have terrible art and they don't sell as a result. If you're doing something on the side, go all the way - don't just think people will give you a chance. They won't.
You have to write when you don't feel like writing
The mark of a professional is someone who can do what they do even when they don't feel like it. If you're handling full-time commitments and still want to write something, then you're going to be tired and grumpy when you sit down to pump something out. You're going to have to do it anyway. Suck it up and move on.
Draw from your experience
I'm a huge believer in writing about what you don't know and relying on experts to fill in the blanks. But drawing on your own experience is invaluable. I didn't have to do a heap of research on this book because it was all in my head. This strategy breaks down when your experience really isn't all that interesting - which means you have to do a bit of questioning to figure out whether your experience really is worth telling. But if it is, then go for it.
Don't make big promises you can't keep
I've seen every so often some writers promising they're working on books. They broadcast the fact in their social media profiles or reference it in conversations. Then it never comes. It's okay to mention it once in a while, but if you're going to work on something - actually do it. Don't just say you'll do it and never deliver. Remember - under-sell and over-deliver is a path to blowing people away.
I really believe in the age we live in, when the internet is probably the greatest equalizer writers have ever had, going above and beyond is what will take to become successful. It isn't enough to just think you can get some commissions here and there. You need to diversify yourself as much as possible. Drawing on your experience and making people know your name is a crucial strategy.
But don't make people know you name if your products are terrible. Make good stuff, and put it out there for the world to see.