First Time Writing & Self-Publishing

Getting the first book out was a big hurdle. There were lots of obstacles, pitfalls, and some pratfalls along the way. Bottom line – each time something went wrong, it turned out to be a good thing, and I was forced to make improvements – or quit – which wasn’t an option. I’ve always hated the idea of, “turning problems into opportunities”, but it really did turn out that way for me, in this case.

My first book, taddaahhhh, is titled, “100 Top Secrets of the Kitchen: Professional Tips & Tricks of the Trade.” I started it 16 years ago, ughhh, yikes, yes – it took me that long to get my act together on this one. When I originally started it back in 2001, it was more like a pamphlet – or one of those little publications you see at the checkout counter in a supermarket. I wrote down all the questions I had about cooking, even things I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know, and then I set out to find the answer by interviewing Professional Chefs.

It was a good little book, and I sent it off to a big publishing house, American Media. Shockingly, I got a call from them within a week. “We’d like to publish your book,” the man said. “Ummm, what?-Could you repeat that? I mean, I heard you, but could you say that again – because I wasn’t ready.”

“Yes, we loved your book and we’d like to publish it!!” Me-“WOW, okay, Great! How do we proceed?” “Here’s the thing,” he said. “I can only offer you $800 dollars. I know it’s not much.” “Well, would I get royalties?” “No.” “Not even a nickel per copy?” “No.” “A penny?” “No.”

You see, he explained, we get so many books from Chefs in culinary schools who offer their work for absolutely nothing, just to have it published, so they can claim to be a published writer. I told him I would have charged more than $800 just to typeset the book as a graphic artist. I knew I would be seeing my book at the supermarkets for the next few years, and kicking myself that I sold out for such little money. So, I turned down the offer. “I understand,” he said.

I shoved the book into a drawer in my desk and that was it. Over the years, I collected recipes on little scraps of paper and stuck them into the book. It was one of many projects that were in different stages of development.

Skipping forward; I got married in 2009. Then, in 2015 my wife made a little comment to me – “I never saw you actually finish something.” WHAT! That’s not true. Is it? Geez, oh no, she’s right. All these ideas, half-baked, great ideas that flowed through my brain, half-written, discouraged or plagued with self-doubt, unable to sell myself, and then tucked away in the desk. We had a baby girl, just turning 2 years old, and I imagined having to explain to her why I gave up on myself and all these projects – or worse – the thought of me dying and having her sifting through all my unfinished projects, seeing the sadness of trying and quitting. I had to get something OUT and DONE! This year or bust. Never wanting to hear my wife say that awful comment to me again.

I had all the equipment and computer knowledge to do this, and I sat down to write it again and transcribe my notes, looked for pictures that didn’t infringe on copyrights, and came up with an 80-page book. Each page contained a “cooking secret” with a little humor added. It was light and fluffy. I joined Createspace self-publishing from Amazon. (I knew a real publishing company would want to edit out my jokes, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what or how to write, so I just did it myself.)

The first bad news: An 80 page book had to be just in black & white – there goes my color pictures. Next bad news: It was too small to warrant a spine – like when you put it up on a shelf, no title and author on the side – too thin -just like a stapled pamphlet that would get lost on the shelf like a magazine. I had the first proof printed. It looked terrible with my color images printed in grayscale. There wasn’t enough information on the pages. In order to get color and a spine, I had to have a 140-page book. Ok, all I have to do is come up with another 60 pages and add another 2 paragraphs to the existing 80 pages. OH NO, wah wah wah.

I spent a month of sulking. Then started to go over all the pages and write a new outline. I researched all the topics again and made the book more informative and complete. I cooked up the special recipes and took my own pictures. My wife is a photographer, and she contributed lots of pictures. I found some royalty-free stock images to fill in the gaps. I spent another year completing the 140 color book, taking lots of time in between writing – when I just didn’t feel inspired.

Sent the book off to Createspace again. Looking a lot better. I thought I fixed all the typos, of course there were still some I missed. My original cover design was so-so. First thing a friend said was – you need a better cover. I fixed it a few times, and that’s the great thing about printing one copy at a time – I could just imagine my horror if 10,000 copies had been printed with those mistakes.

I had typeset it in InDesign first, and saved to PDF. Then came Kindle, and I had no choice but to upload it as a “fixed format” layout, so my pictures wouldn’t reflow. And I had typeset it perfectly for print, with line-returns and page breaks. The Kindle book looked good, but wasn’t available as a free-flow document – cutting out a huge Kindle audience. I wound up redoing the book as an epub document. Then I joined ACX and found a great funny narrator. It had to be narrated word-for-word to be marketed for Whispersync (Kindle readers can read and listen along at the same time, switching back and forth.)

The audio was all finished yesterday and approved. In a few days it will be available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes – in addition to the Paperback and Kindle book on Amazon.com. Oh, and did I mention – it’s getting 5-Star reviews.

Woof! – I’m done. (beat beat) Oh wait, now I just have to promote it. The sequel is already in the works. Hopefully, this next one will be easier and won’t take as long. Yeah, right.