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How to Build an e-Book from Your Fiction

I’ve spent a lot of time this week talking about e-Books and pitching my new product for professional bloggers. One of the questions I’ve been asked (and that I very much anticipated) is, “How does this apply to the creative writers who make up so much of your audience?” The answer isn’t a sales pitch — it’s a story.

There was a time in my adolescence — back in those awful primitive days before ubiquitous cell phone adoption — when my family had three teenagers involved in all the social drama teenagers get involved in, two grown-ups seriously overcommitted to projects that kept them busy at all hours, and one telephone line.

We didn’t get a second phone line because it was too expensive, and we didn’t get call waiting because my dad thought it was “rude.” Instead, we fought. We fought and fought and fought over the precious use of that phone line.

Then I had a revelation. At some point I was given a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook (as was every male of a certain age and interest, at that era in history). I read through the whole thing, and instead of trying to buy or build any of the naughty little devices it discussed, I came away completely obsessed with the subsections on Phishing, or manipulating the nation’s telephone system.

Most importantly, I came away with the realization that it’s all just wires. There’s no magic to telephone communication (or there wasn’t in those days, anyway). If you’ve got an electrical circuit, you’ve got a connection. There was also a passing mention of the live test connections at the top of every telephone pole, where technicians can connect and make calls out.

And we had a telephone pole in our backyard.

So I stopped fighting over phone time with my sisters. I stopped trying to convince Dad to invest in a second line. I dedicated all that time to research and planning. My goal was to climb the pole, splice into the test connection, drop a wire down into our yard, and route it to my bedroom closet. I’d have my own private line, free and clear.

I never thought about what would happen the first time a technician climbed the pole. I never thought about how Dad would respond next time he went to mow the back yard and saw a wire snaking across it. I never got that far.

One Friday afternoon, after school, I decided to see if my plan would work at all, so I went out back and climbed the pole to see what was up there. It was a lot messier than I’d expected, and being up that high was a lot scarier than I’d expected, and I climbed back down without really figuring anything out.

And then on Saturday, some very scary gentlemen from the FBI showed up. Turns out a neighbor had witnessed my little expedition and made a call. I wasn’t home, so they talked to my dad, and when I got back he talked to me. I didn’t get in nearly as much trouble as I should have for that, but I dropped my plan completely. Instead, I started saving for my first cell phone.

“It’s All Just Wires”

I’ve got an e-Book for sale. You know that by now. It’s called How to Build an e-Book, and it details a single, specific process — transforming a vast blog archive into a discrete product focused into a cohesive message. So how useful is that to creative writers?

It depends. It’s not aimed at creative writers. I wrote it to all the people already trying to build professional blogs, and heavily invested in that process (not necessarily the people who just decided it would be a good idea last week).

There are an awful lot of those people out there on the internet, and I know people who know a significant chunk of them. So the book has a real potential market, even if its overlap with…well, you, in the plural, is approximately zero.

The trick to creating any effective How-To — whether it’s an e-Book or a book-book — is to isolate a single process and convey it in a way that is accessible to your target audience. In other words, you’ve got to reduce the massive, magical complexity of, say, a nationwide telephone system into something as straightforward as “it’s all just wires.”

The problem is, it’s always more than just wires. That doesn’t invalidate the process by any means, it just makes things a little confusing. When I told Carlos my e-Book wasn’t really aimed at creative writers, he frowned, confused, and said, “But aren’t creative writers supposed to have professional blogs?”

They are. When I told Justin, one of my reviewers, that I didn’t really expect the process to be useful in his current project — converting a serial novel into an e-Book for sale — he wrote back and said he’d found it useful enough that he’d gone back and reworked an earlier (fiction) e-Book using some of the principles I’d taught.

That’s not to say, “If you want to be a serious novelist, you should buy me e-Book.” Not at all. The point is that, just like the phone system, there’s a lot of different elements involved in writing. Some of them matter to you, and some don’t. Some of them you’re aware of, and they make the whole process seem amazingly simple, and others you will only discover when scary men come knock on your door to tell you you’ve made a mistake.

If you’re trying to do design and layout on a novel to self-publish, this e-Book would have a lot of powerful technical advice to offer you. If you’re just trying to write a novel, though, you don’t need it at all.

How to Build a Novel

There’s a valuable lesson for you in the onslaught of marketing material you’ve seen in my big launch this week, though. Maybe you don’t need to build a professional-quality e-Book, but that’s just one of the systems at play.

Creative writing is composed of a host of powerful processes you need to be able to perform at various stages in your career. To name just a few, there’s

  • Basic written communication
  • Rhetoric and style
  • Characterization
  • Plot development
  • Markup and revision
  • Platform and promotion
  • Audience and market analysis
  • Page layout, flow, and design
  • The publication process (paper)
  • The publication process (digital)

Each of those is a technical, teachable process. How many of those are you good at? How many of those are you even working on? And how many do you think will matter to you someday?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions, where I’m assuming the answers are “not many,” “not many,” and “all of them.” The answers are going to be different for every writer, but it’s important to at least consider the questions so you’re not caught off-guard somewhere down the line.

The good news is, you’re already working on all of them. How to Build an e-Book got you thinking about document layout and design, even if you decided not to buy it. I’ll have How to Build a Novel out sometime around September, with a heavy emphasis on characterization, plot development, and the revision process.

Those are major undertakings — two to three projects a year, dedicated to detailed discussion of a specific process. But you can count on me to keep providing regular weekly discussion of all those topics and more, completely free, here at Unstressed Syllables. In the coming weeks I plan on talking about

  • Managing work flow, collaboration, and revision in Google Docs
  • The New Market for fiction, and the prospect of self-publishing
  • Serial novels, and the ups and downs of showcasing your work online
  • Making the most of research without sacrificing your voice
  • Why, when, and how to build a document outline
  • Managing a storyline so reader’s don’t get lost
  • And, of course, much more.

You can count on me to keep bringing the content, as long you keep coming around to read it. If there’s anything particular you’d like to hear about, let me know.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

7 Responses to “How to Build an e-Book from Your Fiction”

  1. Julie Roads says:

    See now, I climb hills, not telephone poles. Though I might have if I’d needed that phone line. And now, I’m realizing that you might be all of 25? Because when I was a teenager, there were no cell phones to be saving money for. I mean, there were, but they weighed 20lbs., came in a bag and had to plug into your car.

    Fabulous post – you’re right. Most every smart, clever person can find value, information and guidance in something as well done as your ebook – *even* if it doesn’t appear to have been written for them and their tasks specifically.

    And all of your readers are smart and clever, right?

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Every single one of my readers is smart and clever. I can attest to that.

      Actually, I’m halfway done with 30. I said I started saving for my first cell phone. I didn’t get paid a lot in those days, so I was saving for a while.

  2. Mamma mia! Bring on September! WOOT!

  3. I too await September and the Novel book! Still you can use this current book and a bit of creativity to make a fiction book. The outlining was particularly helpful because, I hate outlines. I have hated them since high school. I avoid them whenever possible. But I need one for this project. I am working on a stay at home dad book that REALLY needed an outline. It was a great reminder how to structure writing. Basic writing 101. whodda thunk I’d still need it?
    Thanks for the mention Aaron!

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      That chapter really hit home for Carlos, too, Justin. I’m glad it’s been so helpful!

      Right after writing it, I started outlining all of my blog posts. I really hadn’t, before then, and as I was writing about all the benefits of outlining I kept thinking, “Why don’t I do this?”

      Now I do. And I love it. Saves me a whole draft, and really improves the logical flow of a post.