Toilet Bowl took me nine years to write. Here's what I learned

Never listen to anyone who says writing a book is easy. That they have figured out a miraculous process that makes the whole experience quick and painless. That you could knock a novel out in a few hours of spare time.

That type of advice is about as reliable as overnight abs or a recipe for the best-microwaved lasagna.

The writing should take a long time. It's arduous work. For example, I started my novel Toilet Bowl in 2008-2009 and didn't finish writing it for another nine years.

Now, granted, that's a pretty slow pace. And I wasn't always focused. There are authors who have written better books than mine in a matter of weeks. I think Sly Stallone wrote Rocky in a weekend. But, even in those fast-paced instances, their process involved marathon twenty-hour days, ten cups of coffee, no going outside, no sleep.

Ten years or ten days, no one ever casually writes a book.

So yeah, that part isn't getting any easier. But, what has changed, is the ease of taking a book from a finished rough draft to available for purchase.

I want to show you a step-by-step process of what I did, give you the road map to follow if you are thinking about writing a book, in the middle of a rough draft, or just finished a rough draft and not sure what to do next. This post is long, but I wanted it to have tangible steps that you can save and come back to. Have it be like the IKEA instructions for self-publishing. In this post, you won't find any generic, "Keep trying, keep doing your best!" or the weird, "Gotta wake up at 5 a.m. every day and do naked yoga in the street." Nope. I'm focusing solely on all the steps you can directly implement.

Here we go:

Find your Supreme Court

Once the rough draft is finished, find 5-9 people to read it. They don't all have to be grammar experts. Don't all have to be English majors. It's better to have a mix. The goal here is to find out which parts of the story work, which parts suck, which scenes drag on, which sections don't make any sense, which characters do people like. The more brutally honest feedback, the better.

I think you want to go with 5-9 people here because you'll get a variety of opinions without it all becoming confusing. If you have 100 people read it, you might find 55 who like the ending, 45 who don't, and then you second guess every move. Or, the reverse, if only one or two people read it, you might not be getting a full enough picture of what to change.

And don't worry about your Supreme Court catching missed commas. The grammar clean-up is a long challenge of its own. Your Supreme Court is only helping your book pass the, "Will someone read the whole thing" test.

My Supreme Court was my mom, my dad, college roommate, two friends from work, one person I've never met before, a friend I've known since second grade, and then my Chief Court Justice was a fellow English Major who has helped me with editing since college. The group ended up being an even split 4-4 men/women, which I think is always important, but especially for fiction since you want to have your female and male characters both sound believable.

Six weeks away

Stephen King talks about this in his On Writing book. Ideally, this lines up with the Supreme Court review. Take six weeks of not even looking at your book. Start working on something else. Spend your regular writing time reading instead. Go on an actual vacation. Whatever you want. But don't work, look, or think about your rough draft. If a thought comes up, jot it down somewhere. I go with the Notes app on my phone, so it doesn't end up in a jeans pocket in the washing machine.

This vacation from the book allows you to feel more distance. What I've always found is anything I wrote yesterday I'll still be in love with. Ah yeah, that was great! Right now this blog post feels flawless. But a month later, I can look back at the same piece and go oh man; this part sucks, that joke was unnecessary, this part makes no sense. A year later, two years later, I may look at an old post and say this is a pile of wet garbage.

The Supreme Court saved me time by seeing the things I might not see for another few years, or some things I may have never seen. As authors, we're too biased towards our work. It's like how a parent can look at their kid and see nothing but perfection but a friend can see that same kid and think, "That kid is the biggest brat I've ever met."

When I returned to the draft, the combination of the Supreme Court's notes, plus six weeks away, allowed me to no longer see things through rose-tinted glasses. It was time to get to work. Rip things apart. Start entire chapters over. Write new chapters. I spent about a year and a half working on revised drafts. I even changed the ending for a little bit only to go back to the original.

It was a long process. At first, I thought the rough draft was about 90 percent of the way to the finish line. In retrospect, it was more like 35-40 percent.

Grammar

If you have a friend that will go through the whole thing and do an intense grammar check, hey, that's amazing. They're a saint. If you have the money to hire a copy editor, that's great too.

But a quick note on copy editors. The pricing varies, however here's a ballpark range that author Blake Atwood (Don't Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor) used in this article.

For a 70,000-word book, your editing costs could be:

  • Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $5,600 total
  • Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $1,260 total
  • Proofreading: $.0113, or $791 total

Again, all this stuff varies depending on who you ask, but my main point here is that I didn't have that type of money to spend. 

Now, maybe there's a price discount for larger books. I don't know. I'll leave that to any editors in the industry to clear up in the comment section (I would also be glad to give you a guest post as well, email me - chris@mediumraresizzle.com)

Also, one other note, 70k words is around 250 pages, a 500-page book is more like 120 - 130k words.

I ended up purchasing "Grammarly" instead. They offer three packages, monthly, quarterly, annually. If you buy a whole year, it comes out to be $11.66 per month ($139.95 total) vs. $29.95 on the monthly plan.

I'm a cheap man, so I get it, $140 seems like a lot, but look at the numbers above ($2,500 / $1,500) for comparison. And you're not limited to one book; you can use this for regular blog posts, short stories, even your emails at work.

And it's not perfect, sometimes it will suggest things that make no sense to me, and I'm sure there are still a few mistakes somewhere in my book, but the combination of Grammarly + The Supreme Court gets pretty close to a hired professional level.

Time for a cover design

I got lucky. Where I work (Jellyvision) has some incredibly talented artists. I saw the work of one of my colleagues, thought wow, this guy's awesome. I sent him an email asking if he ever did book covers. He said yeah. Couple of weeks later I spent $300.

I would start by trying to find artists or graphic designers where you work. That way you can meet in person after work, go over revisions. But, if that doesn't work, check out Fiverr.com search "book cover design" or "Ebook cover design." You'll have tons of options to choose from. I've also heard really good things about Kat McGee's work at https://daringcreativedesigns.com/

Budget somewhere between $100 and $500 for the cover. This is an expensive piece of the puzzle, but it's important. One thing you're battling if you go the self-publish route is making sure your book looks as close to a traditionally published book as possible. The cover and grammar are the two most apparent ways to do this well (or, the reverse, if done sloppily it's a quick way to make our books stand out in a bad way.)

Note - If someone's charging you $2,000 or $3,000 for the cover I feel like their past client list should include JK Rowling.

If the money's not there in checking/savings, there's never been a more noble writer’s use of the credit card. Don't cheap out here. $300 is just $5 a day for two months. That's easy to make back; just do two months of PB&J lunches.

I'll put it this way, when I saw the final draft of Bruno's work, my overwhelming thought was, "This is exactly, and more, than I'd hoped for," not, "This is great, but I sure wish I would've saved that $300 and made something in PowerPoint instead."

Pick the size of the book

I went 5.5'' x 8.5''. And that was just me going to my bookshelf with a tape measure and seeing what other novels measured out at. Other common measurements were 5'' x 8'' or 6'' x 9''.

Format the book

I went on Fiverr.com again, searched for ebook formatting and formatting for a 5.5'' x 8.5'' book. These are both things you can do yourself in Word, but 1) this Fiverr option saved time 2) it was peace of mind that it's all being done by someone who's done this before.

Aaaaaaand Publish

This is where a long segment could break out on the merits of publishing traditionally with a literary agent and an official publishing house vs. self-publishing. I wrestled with this question for about a year and got a few rejections from agents along the way.

I don't want to spend too much time here since the post is already long, and also because that step is not really repeatable. You could follow an industry standard template for the query letter, but there are so many variables - what that agent represents, do they represent new authors, are they looking for your genre of book, did your email end up in spam. There's not much you can directly control in that step other than doing your best with the pitch and developing a thick skin for the rejections (or, arguably worse, hearing nothing back.)

So here's maybe just two things to consider.

One of the rejection emails I received took six or seven weeks to get back to me. In that time I had done a full grammar check through Grammarly, worked with Bruno to get a final cover design, and got back the perfectly formatted Word Doc that was ready for upload on Createspace.com.

In comparison, the traditional route feels way too slow.

If the thought is to go traditional so that the book can become the best it can be, well, that's what the Supreme Court is for.

If the thought is the publisher has editors that can clean it up, you can do that through Grammarly or contract with a copy editor directly.

Well, they have cover design help. Again, you can find a designer.

They would be in charge of distribution. Counterpoint - you've already got that solved with Amazon.

"I want to get into bookstores." You’ll be in the biggest bookstore in the world, Amazon, but also here's Toilet Bowl on Barnes and Noble. All I did was select "Expanded Distribution." Didn't cost anything extra. And you can always walk into the local bookstore, make a pitch, see if they'll add it to their local authors section.

Granted, I would love to have a traditional publisher and agent, but it's not necessary anymore if the goal is simply getting the book out there. And, dreaming big here, but you could always start with self-publishing then, if it does well, be picked up by an agent and publisher. That was the path for Fifty Shades, the Wool series, and The Martian.

It has never been easier to self-publish a book, but, as you've seen from all of the steps above, I wouldn't describe this alternative as an easy process. Or cheap. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 - $2,000 on everything, which still freaks me out, I mean I'm the guy who can't order the mozzarella sticks appetizer for fear of budgeting the extra $7. But, it's 100 percent worth it. I have a book that's up there forever. It looks exactly how I wanted it to look. And I can always pay back a credit card (which I know sounds like the famous last words of someone in deep deep credit card debt.)

A few final thoughts

I went with Createspace instead of the new KDP beta on Amazon. Createspace is still affiliated with Amazon, so getting your physical book setup, the ebook setup, getting it up for sale on Amazon.com, all of that's really pretty easy. I like Createspace better because you can order physical copies of your book (the price for me was between $2.50 - $4.50 depending on book size), select the expanded distribution to get your book into bookstores, and their customer service was far easier to contact. Unimportant note - I always ended up talking to an Irish person too, which was awesome. They gave me a lot of street cred for the O'Brien last name.

If you run into any problems at this final uploading step (for example, my cover design was like 0.005 inches off, I just went to Fiverr paid $10 to have someone adjust it) you can always message me here, on LinkedIn, or email me at chris@mediumraresizzle.com

And then one last thing... 

I have no idea how to make all of this profitable. Just like the advice on how to quickly write a book, I'm very skeptical of anyone who has a sure-fire way to turn your next ebook into a $100,000 a month venture. Act now for this limited time offer!

Nah. I don’t buy it. Plus the joy in the process of writing, creating, that should be the goal, not the sales. The publishing process was new to me, now the sales/marketing part is brand new, so I'm learning just how hard it is to sell ten copies, let alone 10 million.

Sales is a long journey of its own. The common knock against self-publishers is "we fear rejection, " and maybe that has some truth to it. But I see the rejection being at the sales level, or when a reviewer doesn't want to read it for their blog, or a bookstore saying no thank you. Or just that feeling of damn, I worked on this for years, and that's it? Those are my sales numbers?

Rejection is unavoidable. Feeling down in the valley at times is unavoidable. So why add another layer of that before the book's even out on the market?

In the end, if the goal is writing a book fast, I don't know how to help out. If the goal is to sell millions of copies, I don't know how to do that either. But my hope is you can save this article as a user manual and that the steps above can take the publishing process from, "I have no idea where to begin/what to do next" to "Wait, that's my book on Amazon? I'm... finished??"

And again, if there's anything you need help with along the way, let me know. Happy to assist.

toilet-bowl-cover-for-blog

I've been doing several posts lately on the writing process. If you are interested in writing/publishing a book, you might also enjoy this one on why a big story idea isn't that important to get started, or this one on turning a long blog post into a short ebook, or this one on how the literary agent landscape is changing but how they still play a big factor

Next Wednesday I will be doing one called "Fifty Shades of Fear" focusing on what held me back for a year, kept me scared to hit publish. 

And if you're like dude, I just want some good ol fashion Medium Rare again, I got you covered! on Monday I'll be doing a post called "The Slow Death of 'lol'" I've also got one on the Subway meatball sub coming before Thanksgiving. 

Toilet Bowl is available as one full book on CreateSpaceAmazon.com, or Barnes and Noble. You can also split it up with Book 1: Meet the Godfreys and Book 2: Tour de Bathroom. Ebook and physical books available for all titles. 

What's the story about? Check out the book trailer below.

Other stuff - if you are an NBA fan, I have the spinoff site "Medium Rare Basketball." We've got the "Fast Break Lunch Break" podcast and in the early early stages of this kind of bizarre podcast show about the Sacramento Kings. 

Finally, if you'd like to subscribe via email, just enter your email address in the box below or email me directly at chris@mediumraresizzle.com. Thanks for stopping by, see you Monday!

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