Writing Another Book

by Mike Shea on 5 june 2010

So I'm a good ways into writing another book. Actually, the words are all done and I'm going through my second round of personal edits and Michelle is halfway through her first round of edits.

It's a short book built around the same model as the awesome book Rework by Jason Fried, the co-creator of 37 Signals, a great small web company. I loved the book's short and to-the-point essays on small business, each with a single focused lesson. I loved the art too.

So I wanted to do a book like that for Dungeon Master Tips. It's about 12,000 words long in total and I wrote it in about two weeks. I wrote it in Evernote one chapter per file which turned out to be a mistake. I would have been a lot better off writing it in Markdown in a single file - which is the format it is in now.

Last weekend I spent about 10 hours on formatting, which is a stupid thing to do when all you have is a first draft. I thought I'd get the kinks worked out on how to publish the thing while I was waiting for Michelle to do her edits. I copied the whole thing to Apple Pages with a plan to publish both the PDF and Lulu hardcopy version from the export of Pages. I spent about four hours on the Pages formatting only to then realize it would likely take me about that same time to do it again, later, when the edits were done.

I first tried to do the edits in Google Documents figuring that Michelle could edit it directly and it would let me see the changes and all of that stuff. Turned out that the formatting between Pages and Google Docs turned it into ASCII soup. It was a mess.

So I ended up reformatting it BACK to text and then marked it up with Markdown. What I have now is a nice single file Markdown text file for the entire book.

I plan to publish it to four platforms: PDF, Lulu Print on Demand, Amazon Kindle, and the Apple iBook store. I might try to get it out a couple of other ways as well like RPG Now, but that will likely also be in PDF.

It's really weird writing it for so many formats. The weirdest part is that two of the four are very rigid in formatting: PDF and Lulu's print on demand while the other two are more like HTML with fluid text sizes and unknown page counts. It doesn't help that Apple's iBookstore uses ePub while the Kindle uses its own proprietary version of HTML. Luckily, the PDF version will double as the base for the print on demand version with some slight modifications for the cover inclusion.

Oh yeah, the cover art will be done by Jared von Hindman of Head Injury Theater. His art is awesome, very unique and fun. It's a far cry from the serious sort of art you see in most fantasy publications, but it will be great for my book. He'll be doing the cover and some black-and-white internal art as well.

It's fun to write a book and it's going to be great when it comes out. I remember how much I loved seeing Seven Swords in print. It didn't sell worth shit (at all really) but it was nice to have created something that I really liked. I think this book will do better than Seven Swords, but I'm most looking forward to seeing a copy sitting on my desk or hanging out on my iPad.

When I'm done with the whole project and I've seen some outcome from it, I'll post another note with the tips and tricks I learned. Here's a quick list of tricks I've learned so far:

  1. Write the book in Markdown. It lets you format it easily to HTML and with some style sheets makes it easy to import into a decent word processor to make a PDF version. The HTML version can also export more easily to the Kindle format and to ePub.
  2. Use Calibre on the Mac to take HTML and convert it into ePub. I don't know how well this works with images yet, but I'll find out soon.
  3. Dropbox works really well for something like this. Every time I save the file, it syncs it to the cloud and handles versioning. While regular periodic backups are nice, it's nicer to know every sentence is saved the second I save it. I wish Text Mate auto-saved things.
  4. Writing is easy. Editing is a pain in the ass. I've read this thing so many times now that even I'm getting bored of it.

Anyway, we'll see how the whole thing turns out. I plan to have it published by early August, in time for Gencon. It's a fun experience and it's fun to create stuff again. It might even be fun to earn a little bit of scratch for the effort.