September 2nd, 2011, 2 Comments »
While eating lunch on Tuesday, James Erwin noticed a question in the AskReddit section of Reddit.com, the popular social news site, that struck his fancy. Another user asked: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion?”
Drawing on a degree in History–he recently finished an encyclopedia of US military actions–he began writing this piece of fiction under his Reddit user name, Prufrock451:
The 35th MEU is on the ground at Kabul, preparing to deploy to southern Afghanistan. Suddenly, it vanishes.
The section of Bagram where the 35th was gathered suddenly reappears in a field outside Rome, on the west bank of the Tiber River. Without substantially prepared ground under it, the concrete begins sinking into the marshy ground and cracking. Colonel Miles Nelson orders his men to regroup near the vehicle depot – nearly all of the MEU’s vehicles are still stripped for air transport. He orders all helicopters airborne, believing the MEU is trapped in an earthquake.
Erwin wrote 3000 words over the next two hours. They read like the first chapter of a novel, a kind of Romans vs. Marines companion piece to World War Z.
Reddit goes nuts. Reflecting the opinions of many, one Reddit user asked Erwin, “Do you have a job? Because this should be your job.”
Within hours of his first post, Erwin was the star of a ‘sub-Reddit’–a categorized section of Reddit.com–and now has nearly 7000 readers clamouring for the next installment of his work.
They’re also helping Erwin out. They’re debating historical minutiae, mocking up book covers and offering him authorial advice.
Erwin, a technical writer from Des Moines, Iowa, tells me that he’s overwhelmed by the response. “I’m astounded that something I churned out over my lunch hour turned into this,” he writes in an email interview. “I’m excited and very grateful and a little terrified.”
What’s most striking about Erwin’s story is the speed with which he accidentally assembled a readership that any writer would envy. However, as my publishing-savvy friend Monique Trottier points out, the trick is capitalizing on this burst of interest. “Really good publishers are looking for this exact sort of untapped talent–particular someone who is able to build an audience.”
Traditionally, publishers would rush to have the author write and produce the hardcopy book, a process that can take six months to a year. Instead, Trottier recommends that Erwin self-publish an ebook. “The period of time when you can make money off a book is shrinking. Ebooks obviously offer a much faster production cycle, and they work particularly well in the fantasy and science-fiction genres”.
Erwin plans on turning his instant fame into some kind of published work. “When people are literally demanding to give you money, that’s a no-brainer. But I’m carefully weighing my options on when and how. In the meantime, I appear to have a winning formula, so I’ll try to push it forward a bit and provide some meagre reward to my readers.”
Image by Reddit user JamieTeamCool. Used with his permission.
2 Comments »
November 24th, 2009, 21 Comments »
As regular readers know, I recently co-authored a business book. Though I once wrote some humongous manuals as a technical writer, and we previously wrote a 100-page ebook, this was my first grownup book. As you might expect, I learned some lessons about the process. On the day of our book launch, I thought I’d share eleven lessons with you:
- It’s way more work than you think it will be.
- A co-author is an excellent idea.
- This may be obvious, but if you get a publishing deal, you’re immediately on a schedule. There’s no looking back. If you want to write the book on your own time, write it first and then look for a publishing deal.
- There’s probably just enough time to write the average book in a year and a half of evenings and weekends.
- If I had to divide up the process, I’d say it’s 40% thinking and research, 30% writing a first draft, and 30% rewriting and proofreading.
- Don’t be precious. As a professional writer, the more I’m paid to write something, the less likely I am to receive credit for it. So I’ve learned to be fairly fire-and-forget about my writing. It’s probably not worth the emotional effort to argue with your editor or publisher about small stuff. Win the big battles, and let go of the rest.
- Once you submit a first draft, a ton of people touch your book. Our book had an editor, technical reviewer, copy editor, proofreader, production manager, graphic designer, cover designer and indexer (a soul-destroying job–I speak from experience). That excludes the marketing people and the publisher himself.
- You’ll never have enough time to make the writing as good as it could be.
- I forget where I heard this, but there’s so much truth in this quote: “Publishing isn’t an industry, it’s an organized hobby.”
- Amazon punishes publishers for missing publication dates. So publishers tend to initially set a publication date which is strikingly far into the future. Don’t let this panic you.
- This was something I already knew, but it’s worth mentioning: don’t write a book to make money. For the vast majority of authors, it’s not a moneymaking proposition. Write a book to spread your ideas, to earn ‘because-of’ income through speaking, consulting and so forth, or to get the perceived endorsement as a capital-a author.
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July 23rd, 2008, 3 Comments »
As you’ve probably heard, Google Knol launched publicly today. It’s considered a more or less direct competitor to Wikipedia, as it permits anybody to author an article on pretty much anything. It doesn’t have the same degree of ‘wiki’ collaboration as Wikipedia, though–it’s more about individual experts. From the Google blog:
The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It’s their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.
With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call “moderated collaboration.” With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!
What’s the marketing angle? In the coming days, I anticipate a great land grab as people author ‘knols’ on topics that matter to them. They’re going to permit multiple knols, but I anticipate something of a first-mover advantage. If Google Knol takes off (and odds are that it will), then it’s probably a good idea to write a knol on a topic in which you’re an expert. Knols may not be direct traffic drivers, but they may help cement your expertise in the space.
Julie and I put together a knol on social media marketing. It needs work, but I think it’s a satisfactory start. If you have the time, please consider rating, reviewing, editing or commenting on it.
And now I must try to resurrect my blog on Google Knol.
3 Comments »