The Making and Editing of My Self-Published Book

In my last post, you got a sneak peak at how the cover was made for my new book, Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety.

In this post, I’m going to give you a glimpse into the OCD / perfectionist tendencies that inevitably come with the editing process.

I started this book in September, 2013. I wrapped up editing at some point in December.

I think…

The number of major revisions made during that time… Two dozen? Don’t know, it’s a blur.

The book started out at 12,400 words. Now, it’s about 25,500 words. Not a long book by any stretch (the average book you’ll find in a bookstore is between 60 and 100,000 words), but it’s packed with all of the information my ideal reader would need. And thankfully, the feedback I’ve received affirms that the book is short and compelling enough to read in one sitting.

I wanted Play It Away to be succinct, clear, and practical. I didn’t want to waste a page or fluff it up with information that wasn’t useful. For instance, I put the copyright info at the end of the book, so people previewing it on Amazon wouldn’t feel shortchanged (Amazon allows readers to preview 10% of the book). I also took the endnotes out and put them online, so all of my references were a click away.

Every time I made a major revision to the book, I put in an order to have FedEx print it off (black and white, double-sided, coil bound), read it out loud while walking around, and made edits by hand. I read out loud to ensure the book sounded as conversational as possible, which is surprisingly difficult.

Once I reached a point where I wasn’t embarrassed by the book, I asked a handful of my smart writer friends if they’d be willing to give it look and provide feedback. Then I asked for beta readers through my blog and mailing list (more details about that process here). About 100 people applied, I chose a quarter of them, and they all sent me their feedback…

Then the whole process started over. I incorporated the best feedback, revised the book, and printed it off a few more times. And each time, I read the book out loud with a pen in hand, marking the bad spots and writing down notes.

The evolution of one page over several revisions

Here’s a 17-minute video of me showing all of the files I was juggling:

Once the PDF was done, I uploaded it to Gumroad. They’ve been fantastic — really great interface, super easy to use (for me and the customer), and only take a 5% cut of all sales.

Then I uploaded my 5″ x 8″ PDF to Createspace (for paperback) and .mobi file (for Kindle). Createspace and Amazon take a much bigger cut (20-40%), but the value they provide — distribution, marketing, ease of purchase, ease of production, etc. — is worth it.

# # #

I’m happy with how the book turned out, and really glad I entrusted some of the creation process to my readers. Their feedback was honestly invaluable, and it gave me a chance to connect with them on a deeper level.

The book isn’t perfect. Even though there’s a lot of honesty in my writing, I still feel like I could have gone deeper and really torn back the emotional curtain. That’s been a struggle for me, because I’ve gotten a fair number of comments that certain sections were pretty raw and vulnerable. I’m working on going even further — being more honest, more naked. Because each time I do that in my writing (and in my life), people respond so much better.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. My improv teacher mentioned that I come across as self-assured in a lot of my characters — that I consistently project that I “have it together,” even in moments of distress or weakness. And I started noticing how much I polish my own surface in real life, every day, showing the good and hiding the bad. You can see it in my ‘About’ page on this blog. It’s ridiculous when I think about it, only showing my best accomplishments over the last six years, like that’s all that happened. No one gets to see the failures and embarrassing moments, which far outnumber the glorified ones that are proudly on display. And I’m guessing that — for a lot of people — to only see that side of me must be un-relatable, or even insufferable. I don’t know. All I know is that I really respect writers who talk about how much they struggle, not always painting this perfect idealized version of themselves. And I want to work on getting better at that.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around. More to come in the very near future. The paperback, Kindle, and PDF are up for sale now, but hold off a little longer if you want the iBooks version.

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Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living and Recession Proof Graduate. His work has been featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour, Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. Previously, he was the Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss. Currently, he is the Head of Video at Book In A Box. He lives with his wife and daughter in Austin, Texas.

This Post Has 10 Comments

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  2. Karim

    Congrats Charlie! Well done.

    You said you’d do it and you delivered. Few people can say that.

    Must have been one heck of a launch. I don’t imagine you got much sleep. Hope you played some away;) to manage stress!

    I was curious. Did you share your manuscript with beta readers in PDF format? Were you worried about security? Esp with people your never met before.

    1. Charlie Hoehn

      Thanks Karim! I managed to play and sleep for most of the launch, though I did get a head cold for a couple days.

      Yep, I delivered the manuscript as a PDF to beta readers. Honestly I wasn’t worried about it leaking or anything. I filtered all of these people through an application, got a bunch of them on the phone, and we helped each other. I treated them like friends, and they reciprocated. Couldn’t have been more harmonious and I’m going to do it again for my next book.

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  4. Bruce Brodeen

    This was SUPREMELY awesome! I’ve written five books in the last 3 years but there was so much careful insight for a very un-anal person like myself from a OCD/anal person like you have self-avowed!

    It was a ‘great watch’! :-)

    I’m off to buy your book(the physical version) and, for the record, I’d buy a book of you outlining your lessons learned with writing this one.

    1. Charlie Hoehn

      Wow, thanks Bruce! Super nice comment :)

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  6. Edward Druce

    Hey Charlie,

    Really great post.

    Can see you’ve taken a lot on from Tim with the manic notes!

    I’m half way through the second reading, and the effort of sanding down all the rough edges really has made for a smooth finish : )

    Especially interesting to read:

    “Every time I made a major revision to the book, I put in an order to have FedEx print it off (black and white, double-sided, coil bound), read it out loud while walking around, and made edits by hand.”

    I think you’ve done an incredible job of being vulnerable with it, and actually wanted to ask: Have you found anything particularly helpful in making your writing more honest?


    1. Charlie Hoehn

      Thanks Ed! What’s been most helpful for making my writing more honest is spending time around people who are that way, and writing to myself. I used to just write pages and pages to myself, bringing out all the craziness and insecurities. Eventually, I got comfortable with seeing it. But this has been YEARS of slowly building up, practicing, and I’m still not even close to where I’d like to be.

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