Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

How to become a publisher – part 2

Posted in Articles, My publications, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on June 21, 2003

In the second article in our series on how to publish your own book, Mohammad Al-Ubaydli outlines the process of writing a complete book.

A website is a great way to start sharing your knowledge and skills. However, as the text starts to accumulate, it may be more useful to your readers as a book.

Books about writing books

Many newspapers have small adverts for books that explain a scheme to get rich quickly. Each scheme will be different, but apparently, the surest such scheme is to write a book about getting rich. Similarly, many of the richest authors are those who write books explaining how to write books.

Nevertheless, many of these books are very useful. One that constantly dominates the bestseller list is The Self-Publishing Manual. It is already in its 13th edition; its author wrote his first book, the Parachute Manual, because he thoroughly enjoyed his new hobby of parachuting but could not find a good textbook on the topic. I found his The Self-Publishing Manual to be extremely useful as it gave me a good overview of the full process, explained where to look for detailed information, and most of all, helped me believe that it was possible to do all this.

Tools to use

Write your book using a computer, no matter how tempting you find a typewriter, or how comfortable you feel with paper, or intimidated you are by computers. If you want to improve your typing skills, consider using a program such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (www.mavisbeacon.com). Most computer shops sell copies of the software, and occasionally computer magazines give away free copies.

As you might expect, there is a wide range of software to choose from. This includes “professional” software such as Quark Xpress, and “specialised” software that claims to be dedicated to book creation. You do need not to spend money on any of these (especially not the latter). Instead you should use the word processing software that came with your computer. For example, Microsoft Word has excellent tools for dealing with large amounts of text, such as a book. These will allow you to divide the book into sections, chapters, and subsections; the program keeps track of all your references, footnotes, and endnotes; and it has a good toolset for dealing with layout and diagrams. As long as your book does not have too many diagrams, Word is all that you need.

Timing

Some authors—for example, Steve Manning (www.writeabooknow.com)—claim that anyone can write a book within 14 days, even while holding a day job. Perhaps this is true, and perhaps finding out how to do this is a good reason to pay the money to receive his course. However, in my experience such a deadline is ambitious. Give yourself time, and ideally make it uninterrupted time, such as a holiday or sabbatical.

Having said that, it is still useful to have a deadline. Your brain will always come up with reasons why you shouldn’t do a bit of writing today. A deadline is often the only counterargument.

Finally, there are several other small tasks that involve other people and so potentially greatly lengthen the time that it takes for your book to be ready for publication. These include having colleagues proofread your book, getting an ISBN number, and coordinating a printer. However, you can do many of these in parallel with your writing, so a little planning saves a great deal of time. The next article will cover the ISBN, printing, and other aspects of publishing your book. For now though, a word about proofreading.

Proofreading

Proofreading costs money because it is a vital and difficult task (www.elance.com). You can save money by making use of friends and colleagues to help with this. Many amateur heads are better than one, so give each proofreader a small section of the book and make the sections overlap. To speed things up, send the sections out as soon as you finish them, even as you continue to write more sections. Give the proofreaders advance warning about the date that you anticipate sending out a section, and ask them to devote a block for the task. Finally, make use of the “track changes” featured in your word processor (in the “Tools” menu of Microsoft Word). Even though you and the proofreaders have gone over it many times, it is astonishing how many errors still turn up after all these efforts.

But the efforts are worth while. At the end, you should have a professional, inviting, and readable text that you will be proud of. It is time to publish.

Published in the 21st of June 2003 issue of the British Medical Journal

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