I recently self-published an e-book based on my blog, and I want to share what I learned. This post focuses on the editorial process; in subsequent posts, I’ll share tips on coming up with a design for your e-book cover, choosing a publishing platform (I went with Kindle, for now) and marketing your e-book.
A quick bit about me, so you know who’s offering the advice below: I’m the former editorial director of PBS.org, and am currently a freelance writer and online marketing consultant. My book is called “Feeling My Way: Finding Motherhood Without Losing Myself,” and I self-published it in April. It’s based on a series of personal essays about pregnancy and new motherhood that I originally shared on my blog.
Without further ado — here are 10 steps to write and edit an e-book based on your blog:
1. Cut and paste
Begin by cutting and pasting all relevant blog posts into one massive Word document.
2. Read, and read again
Read through your Word doc in one sitting, and then do it again. Your goal is to re-familiarize yourself with some of your older posts and to get a feel for what the narrative is like when all of your posts are strung together in one place.
3. Eliminate content that doesn’t serve the narrative
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. I deleted a couple of posts that just didn’t fit in, like an attempted humor piece that, in retrospect, wasn’t all that funny.
4. 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?
I was completely surprised by how many revisions I found myself making to the text of my original posts, but in retrospect, it makes sense that this would be an intensive process. After all, a book is an entirely different form of storytelling than a blog, and demands a different kind of context. You may find that you need to flesh out ideas that you touch on briefly on your blog, but that warrant more exploration in the context of a book. And if you’re anything like me, when confronted with your writing anew, you’ll see opportunities for improvement — tightening, rephrasing, etc. — and you’ll take them.
You’ll likely need to write some new material to serve as narrative glue between your posts. In my case, 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 No. 7 — I realized I needed to write some short intros to each section of my book, as well as a final chapter and epilogue.
7. 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 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.
8. 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. And don’t rush this part of the process.
9. Make final revisions
Once you’ve decided which of your editors’ feedback to take, make your final revisions. Note that these changes 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.
10. Be done
You can’t edit forever. At some point, you need to let this baby be born. I recommend setting a deadline for yourself at the outset, to help you maintain focus and momentum; otherwise, the process may drag out indefinitely, which sure can take the wind out of your sails. In my case, I made the decision 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 time frame, for me, for a book my size. You may need more time, or less — but I highly recommend that you give yourself a deadline, and stick to it.
Questions? Suggestions, based on your own experience with e-book publishing? I’d love to know. And if you’re writing an e-book — good luck!
This post originally appeared on Amanda Hirsch’s blog.
Amanda Hirsch is the author of Feeling My Way: Finding Motherhood Without Losing Myself. In addition to writing and performing, she runs Good Things Consulting, which specializes in raising the impact and visibility of good things like art, public media and nonprofits. Amanda lives in Brooklyn, but she does not raise artisanal bees. You can follow her on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.