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To Publish or Not to Publish

Tools, tips, and tricks used in publishing my first book

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

I love creative projects!

I can spend hours putting a new project together or designing and redesigning something, but I had no idea where to begin when it came to publishing an instructional book. Luckily, there are a number of creators out there that have thrown themselves headfirst into the self-publishing world and provided us with recipes to follow. In this post, I break down the process I followed to publish my first book, Building Serverless Node.js Apps on AWS: A Brief Guide on Where to Start.

serverless aws apps ebook cover (7 × 10 in)

Content Creation

What the heck should I write about? I have written blog posts and countless engineering docs in the past, but I was completely lost as to how that would translate to a book. That’s when I bumped into Shaunta Grime’s Blog Your Own Book Challenge, where she outlines a strategy to write about a topic of your choosing and preparing the writing efforts from the month into a publishable manuscript. The challenge caters primarily to bloggers and those interested in self-publishing, but she opens the floor to anyone who’d like to take part.

Using her framework, I used the flow of one of my older article series on building AWS serverless apps. The content was redone entirely with new code examples, new process workflows, and to add value for the reader, source code and cheat sheets were included.

Editing and Formating

The content is finished! What to next? Editing. This took the longest after the initial content creation. The hardest part about this was not the corrections needed or realizing that you’ve copied and pasted one too many times, but that some of the content was superfluous. The amount of writing that was thrown out surprised me. When preparing the content, I found myself overanalyzing and filling in spaces with excess explanations. During the editing phase, these explanations were either simplified or removed to make the content flow better. Some of the content removed was saved off for later use but the rest was ejected into oblivion.

Once I was sure that I was happy with the state of the content, it was time to translate it into book format. This took the most time for me as it was entirely new. I spent days browsing around for the best way to format it into a textbook-like structure. I wanted the figures and references with links, objectives, and end-of-chapter quizzes. I wanted to provide the same experience to my readers that I myself experienced with e-textbooks. I bumped into the Tufte LaTeX template for books and pamphlets and never looked back. I was already a LaTeX user so customizing the template into something I envisioned turned out a lot better than expected.

Screenshot of Final Render for Book by Author

Once the final pdf was rendered, I was sure that it was the best choice I could have made for what I wanted. It was a fully customized template with the styles I aim to reuse on my future instructional books and it strongly resembled a micro-textbook!

The linking for the glossary and end-of-chapter resources were especially helpful. Outside of clickable links in the Kindle app, PDF viewers are able to click on the links and navigate through the book accordingly. It was the exact experience I had hoped to create for my audience.

The book was almost ready! Something that a lot of self-publishing authors will warn you about is to make sure you include your copyrighting and disclaimers at the beginning of the book. I was familiar with the inclusion of a page with the ISBN and some copyrighting information, but not a disclaimer statement regarding brands and trademarks mentioned within the book along with a disclaimer regarding the content. Everyone’s page(s) covering this will be different, definitely browse around and see what others have done.

Now for my own disclaimer: I am not a lawyer nor am I anywhere near familiar enough with the process to give advice on this, so please for your protection seek professional advice if you are unsure of how to proceed.

Self-Publishing Process

The time for publishing has come. Despite the varying tutorials, I wasn’t entirely sure of the expectations for publishing. That’s when I bumped into the Mastering Book Publishing course by Stefan James. He walks through the process of initial content creation to the cover creation and eventual publishing of your final product on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. This is where I had first published but have since expanded to other marketplaces such as Barnes and Noble, LeanPub, and Google Play Books.

Once you move past the initial pricing and product detail parts, the worst part you’ll go through is the book cover resizing during the quality phase. I made my own book cover on Canva for both the ebook and the paperback so anytime I received feedback that impacted the book pages during editing, it always resulted in a book cover resizing since it would fail the margin checks.

A lot of the authors I follow do outsource their cover creation for this exact reason. Professional cover creators are more than familiar with what the publishing platforms expect and can give you a wider array of ideas for your book cover.

After submitting the book, it’ll undergo a review to certify that some basic requirements are met prior to being unleashed on the marketplace. You’ll later get an email confirming the official release of the book.

Sales and Promotions

You are done! Just kidding! Self-publishing comes with some minor extra requirements apart from editing and cover creation…you have to find a way to be your own promoter or hire someone to do so. I’m not overly active on social media, but the impact it has had on distributing news of the book is undeniable. I was lucky to have had the support of individuals from both my job and my social network groups in sharing news and purchase links. It certainly helped the initial spike in sales and in spreading awareness.

The book is a very niche topic, catering primarily to those interested or currently working on projects with serverless architectures and more specifically, those projects built using Node.js. This of course impacted sales since the book’s subject matter catered to a small audience, but seeing the organic purchases take place in and out of the US was exciting. It was done! My book was out there, helping folks start out their journeys with this specific interest.

Key Takeaways

Don’t let the fear of uncertainty stop you from achieving your publishing goals. There are so many resources out there available now. I went through a paid course and some free mini-challenges to get to my goal, but your journey can be however you wish for it to be. It was definitely an interesting process and at times it felt overwhelming when things didn’t work out the way I had pictured them to, but knowing my book is out there and that I’m one step closer to my publishing goals makes it all worth it.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone if you don’t want to. I highly recommend outsourcing tasks such as editing, marketing, or cover creation if you aren't comfortable doing them. The most important part of this is that you work towards your goals every day and have fun creating your content. Best wishes on your writing journey!

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