This entire blog takes its name from an article I wrote 20 years about the publishing process and how you, yes, you!, can become an author of non-fiction. The article I originally wrote was supposed to sound like something out of the 50s and 60s: partly from old matchbook covers that said “If you can draw this girl, you could become a commercial artist!” but mostly from the ads in the back of DC comic books and Boy’s Life about “Hey, kids! Make $5-$15/week selling Grit, America’s Greatest Family Newspaper!” Becoming an author really is something like that, without quite so much of the tabloid newspaper elements (usually). You can do it and it’s fun.
Let me start by telling you how I got here.
I got into writing books when I was but a wee sprat. I must’ve been a wee sprat because I started writing books 22 years ago and I still feel like I’m 33, so I must’ve been incredibly young when I wrote my first book. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I’d been a tech writer for a couple years and someone who had a lot more experience in the biz suggested that I should write a book to broaden my horizons. Well, that sounded like a good idea, so I started thinking about it.
I hit on a topic almost immediately, too: computer bulletin boards. This was 1986, after all, and BBSes were on their way up. I’d gotten into BBSes a couple years before–I still have a BBS list from the Telecommunications Users Group that showed all 20 BBSes in the Puget Sound area at that time!–and I really felt like there was a market for a book on BBSes and how to use ’em. I got some advice from some of the non-fiction authors I knew, notably Grant Fjermedal, and wrote a book proposal, and started shopping it around to publishers.
I learned a lot about shopping book proposals (which I’ll tell you later) but finally, Jeff Pepper at Osborne/McGraw-Hill said “We don’t think this book on BBSes will pay well enough, but stick around, kid, we like the way you do things.” They got me a contract for “Microsoft Word Power User’s Guide,” a book about Word 4.0 for DOS, the first good release of Word, and off I went.
And you know, I really liked writing books! There’s something about it I find terrifically satisfying. No other writing task really lets me sink into the creative reverie so much, nothing lets me get as involved with the writing process, and there’s nothing that gives me so much freedom with what I write, either. As soon as I finished my first book, I was hot to do another one!
I found a publisher who wanted to do my BBS book, did that one with him, picked up another book with Osborne/McGraw-Hill, and then there was no stopping me. At this point, since 1988, I’ve published 26 books. My biggest year saw four books come out. Every book has a story about it, too: fastest, biggest, best-selling, first award, most quoted, most fun, and many other things. I’ve co-authored many of them, contributed chapters to a few of them, but it’s a huge pile of writing. And I really like it.
The point of all of this is that all this can be yours!. Even if you can’t write the Great American Novel, you may be able to write the Great American Manual. There is a huge market for non-fiction–books on software and computers, fixing cars, photography, mountain-climbing, cooking. As this series unfolds, I’ll be telling you everything you need to know about how to talk to publishers, how to pitch an idea, the basics of contracts, if you need an agent, the downside of writing, and what writing a book is like before, during, and after. I’ve even got a recommended reading list to share with you.
The whole point is that becoming an author is not impossible, nor do you have to know a secret handshake to get in. You do need to know a few concepts and how to wend your way through the publishing process, but that’s a lot easier than you might think. I’m going to teach you how to do all of this.