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4 Tips for Getting Started and Self-Publishing a Book

4 Tips for Getting Started and Self-Publishing a Book

    I make a living as a professional organizer. You’d think that it would have been a cinch for me to get organized to write my first book. Unfortunately, when it comes to enormous new projects that I’m scared to death to do, I need more than my organizing skills to get me going.

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    I had known for years that I had a book in me. I believed that writing a book would be beneficial for clients who often left my seminars and speeches wanting more information. And, I’d even made some feeble attempts to get started. I kept getting hung up on the organization of the content of the book. I had so much information to share. I just couldn’t figure out how arrange it in a simple, easy to understand outline.

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    In 2009 I began working with Mark LeBlanc, a business success coach, to help me launch myself as a national speaker. In the first session he said, “I want you to write a book in 90 days.” After taking a deep breath I squeaked out, “OK, and how am I going to do that?” He replied, “Write 50 minutes a day five days a week.” I said, “I can do that. Can I still use Rock Scissors Paper as the title?” He asked me to clarify the meaning of Rock Scissors Paper. After I explained the meaning of the words he said, “Great! And, the three chapters can be Rock, Scissors and Paper.” With those words he gave me the solution for the organization of the book. I was off and running. The bulk of the content of the book was written in less than 90 days. And the finished product was in my hands 7 months later.

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    If you’re reading this article, I imagine you’re looking for some help to make the enormous task of writing a book less daunting and more doable. Here are four lessons I learned that may help you with your journey:

    1. Tell others, especially people who have already published a book, about your intention to write a book. You never know what kind of helpful advice you might get! Those of us who have been on the journey to book publication are happy to share advice and resources that could make your experience easier.
    2. Start with tasks that you can do. Doing anything will give you momentum to keep going. Writing a book is much more than writing the content. Other tasks include editing, layout, cover design and then choosing a publisher, not to mention marketing the book. Part of the reason I was afraid to really commit to writing a book was because the whole process from start to finish included so many unknowns. For example, I had no clue how to choose a cover designer or editor. But, I could look at other books of the same genre and make some decisions about the look and feel of my book. I found an organizing book with a cover and layout that I just loved. It gave me a model to use when I was making design choices about my book size, the cover and content fonts and layout.
    3. Consider blogging to get yourself writing and develop your content in small bites. Dan Poynter, the guru of self-publishing, first introduced me to the idea of “blooking”. Blooking is writing blog entries until you have enough content to organize it into a book. The idea of writing a whole chapter is pretty overwhelming, but writing two to five paragraphs is much more doable. Doing it as a blog entry and publishing it also gave me the opportunity to try out my content on interested readers before committing to a whole book.
    4. Ask others who have already self-published to share their resources with you. My coach, who had already published a book, gave me the name and contact information of his cover designer and publisher, and recommended a reputable editor. What a relief that was for me! I hate researching services! I liked the look and feel of Mark’s book, so I knew I would be in good hands if I used his resources.

    If you have a book inside you, don’t let overwhelm and fear of the unknown stop you from giving birth to it! Writing and publishing a book can’t be a solo project if you want to successfully complete it. Start where you can and be open to help from knowledgeable others.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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