Tips for first time book author

I wanted to share the tips while they are fresh on my mind. I’ve been working closely with Packt Publishing. My first book is scheduled for December. A nice Christmas present for myself 🙂

Be a Contributor first. This lets you contribute a chapter before you attempt to write the whole darn book. Even 1 chapter, which should be around 20 – 25 pages, is not a small undertaking. Writing a chapter is much harder than writing a series of blogs. I know a few friends who have tried that and could not pass 1-2 chapters. Yes, they have been blogging for years! By being a contributor, you also get to experience the book publication process. Speaking of process….

Work with a close friend who have published before. The entire process of publication is more complex and longer than you may assume. Working with a good buddy who have gone through the process and have established working relationship with the editor mean you can focus on the content instead of the process. I used the word friend, not acquaintance. It has to be a person you know well, both in personal and professional capacity. You can avoid a lot of pains with a coach 🙂

Certainly, you may skip the points above. I did that (which kind of explains the unnecessary pains I went through). If you do, keep it short. Aim for 100 pages for your first book. The other reason for 100 page is you can always add later. My book started with 100 and ended up at 200, and eventually became 250 after the publisher formatted it. How I wish it was 100 page only! BTW, a publisher may ask you to write for at least 200 pages. That’s not a hard and fast rule.

Once you are ready to be the main author, try to do it alone. Working with multiple authors can have its complication. I know a friend whose book is delayed because a co-author was busy for an extended time. If you need multiple authors, make sure the outline is solid and finalized first. A book has to be very structured and precise, so differences in opinion can occur as there are many details to iron out. It is also hard to have consistent writing style.

Write around 50 pages before you approach a publisher. If you are using that 100-page target, you are half way done! At least complete the first 2 chapters, so you have something to show. A publisher will certainly appreciate real content when assessing the viability of your book proposal to them. It lets them judge better and faster.

Use the publisher template early. This avoids reformatting, and let you visualize what it will look like early. If you are writing for Packt, I can pass you the template. The template helps you to be mindful of keywords and texts that appear on screen. They also have guidelines on quotes and tables. I spent a lot of time on this because I did not use the template.

Give it time. Believe me, you may get sick of reading your own book! After you finish a chapter, leave it for at least 1 week. Come back to read it with a fresher perspective. Do this a few times. You should also read multiple chapters to see if they flow well, avoid any repeated content and ensure the entire structure is completely logical. I call this the process of stabilization. Some may just call it “Soaking It”.

Be clear on the Primary audience and Secondary audience. Virtualization touches a lot of things in IT, so there are many roles that you can target. In my case, the primary audience is VMware engineers, architects and administrators. They may work in VMware, partners or customers. As you know well, a VMware professional deals with many different roles in his/her organization. Do not be afraid to target different Secondary audience in different chapter.

Get reviewer early. But know them well. By knowing the reviewer knowledge and perspective, you can better understand the feedback. A feedback is always contextual, written from the reviewer view point. Know the context, and you can better decide whether you want to include it or not. Choose the wrong reviewers, and you get wrong reviews.

If you are writing about a product (e.g. vSphere), avoid working with versions that are not released yet. Minor details can change, even after a long period of beta. In my case, I have a lot of screenshots and metrics. Reviewing every screenshot and metric to see if there is any change was time consuming.

If English is not your first language, reduce the theory part, and focus on the hands-on part. English is my second language, and those chapters where I focus on the concept were harder to write. I kept rewriting and reshuffling the contents. There were occasion where I shifted an entire sub-chapter!

Decide the writing style. For my case, in my region a lot of readers don’t speak English well. I remember how I myself struggled with basic English when I first learned it. So I’m keeping it simple and conversational. In addition, infrastructure is also a dry topic in my opinion, so I want a light language. I also want to build relationships with readers via my blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn, so the language is very casual and personal. I want you to feel as if I’m talking to you as a friend. I deliberately do not want a written English.

For screenshot, keep the width below 800 pixels. Otherwise, the text will be too small on iPad or 13″ laptop. The length is less of an issue due to the book format. I had to retake quite a number of screenshots.

If you are quoting, ask for permission. Include the exact quotation, and why you’re using it. Assure the owner that you will provide proper acknowledgement.

Hope you find the tips useful. Feel free to add or correct in the comments section below.

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  1. Pingback: Why you can, and should, write a book

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