The Path to Publication

Counting from Zero Book Cover

Counting from Zero Book by Alan B. Johnston

In my first blog posting, I covered the writing the first draft of Counting from Zero.  I thought that was the hard part, until I realized the path in front of me to get to publication!

First, I needed feedback from readers, so I enlisted various friends and family, some in the publishing industry, some not.  My brother Chris was an early reviewer and gave me good feedback on the part on the water. (I’m being deliberately vague for to-be readers who haven’t yet read the book!)  I made quite a few tweaks and changes, and fixed seemingly a million typos and nits.  I probably went through four major drafts over a period of about eight months.  Fortunately, I had my IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) standards writing experience behind me, which had taught me how many revisions are sometimes needed before something is ready for publication.  I often describe IETF standards work as the ultimate peer reviewed documents.  For example, one of the documents I co-authored underwent 21 revisions over 9 years before it was finalized and published as an RFC document! (Here is only the latter part of the journey!)

Once I felt I had the manuscript ready, I had it copyedited and proofread.  I then wrote a one page ‘query letter’ to literary agents and began sending it all over.  I was shocked at how many agents will not accept a query from email!  They actually require you to kill a tree, pay money to the postal service, and have it delivered as snail mail – just so they can read it on a piece of paper!  I didn’t query any of those agents – if they are so last century in their business methods, would they even appreciate my high tech thriller?  Not likely!  I probably sent out about 120 queries in total.  I ended up getting about a dozen requests for a partial or full manuscript.  Then I waited… and waited… and waited.

Then the whole Wikileaks Internet wars started.  I knew something amazing was happening when I saw a USA Today headline that mentioned botnets!  The timing was right, and I could not wait forever (or more than 8 weeks) for someone to skim a manuscript.  I did eventually talk to one helpful agent that was interested, but she warned me that it would be about 6 months before she could get to work on it, and then it would likely take 12 months to land a publisher, and then it would likely be 12-18 months of publisher rewrites, edits, and process delays before it would be published!  And I thought the 6-8 month times I have had with my technical book publishers, Artech House and Wiley, was a long time!  For technology topics, these timelines are outrageously long!

So, I decided to take the plunge and self-publish.  It was not as difficult as it might seem, although writing the promotional material was really, really hard.  I had some help from friends in the industry, but that was definitely the hardest part.  I used an app from Amazon called ‘kindlegen’ which worked pretty well to product a .mobi file from a .html source file.  I was also pleased to be given the opportunity to sell my work the Amazon Kindle store without any DRM (Digital Rights Management), but that is a topic for another day…

I used the excellent online tools at Smashwords (great name!) to generate the other eBook formats, and I was quite happy with the results there, although there are a few font issues that I wasn’t able to fully resolve in all formats.  The community at Smashwords seems really great as well, and I look forward to getting involved there.

For me, the two best things about self publishing are that I kept creative control of the book (there isn’t anything in there I didn’t want) and that I published on my timeline, not anyone else’s.

So right now I am quite happy with the experience, and getting feedback from friends, family, and people I don’t know about my book is just the best!   Next time I’ll share some thoughts about my experiences using social media to promote self-published eBooks.

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