The Story of My Book, Part 1

I’ve made it clear I wrote a book.  But a lot of people have asked me, how did you write it?  And how did you publish it? And where do you get your ideas from? And is the book good?  And is it for sale?  And where can I find it? And are you on Twitter?

So this is the story of my book.  On January 30th, 2010 I celebrated my 15th anniversary as a Microsoft employee.  A few months prior to that I had undertaken a server rebuild of the very blog you are reading right here and now. In doing so, my moving around the content database for the blog revealed in the past 8 or so years I had written a couple hundred thousand words.

That’s, like, more words than something that has a lot of words yet less than a couple hundred thousand.

I looked at the number and turned my head to the side and thought for a bit.  I’d basically been building all that content with three key purposes in mind.  The first, to amuse myself.  The second, to amuse anyone who might read it. Lastly, I had been putting off several book projects for lack of time to really create the content.  And here I was sitting upon a gigantic pile of words like a geek Smaug.  Other awesome people had turned their blog content into books. It just required collating it all, polishing it up, expanding it somewhat, and putting it out there.

The first part was finding a unifying thread to the content.  It’s not easy to take a bunch of disparate blog entries about “stuff” and make it compelling as an overall narrative, even if you are lucky enough that the individual stories or entries are good. So I had to set about finding my theme.  That turned out to be easy.  I was a 15 year Microsoft employee who had seen some pretty amazing things in the technology world, and who happened to have the freedom to write candidly about them.  So over the course of two months I pulled together all the posts on my blog dating back to 2002 that involved Microsoft. 

I ended up with some 40,000 words.  Good enough for a small book.  But of course I knew I wasn’t going to use all the stories, and would have to rewrite them.  I first identified the stories I knew would make up the core of the book, then another six or so stories that I would mix and match to see if they worked.  I began the process before Christmas of 2009, and got a working draft I felt was ready for an editor pass sometime around February.

As I mentioned, I already knew that I wanted to write a book.  The first most important relationship in writing is actually finding an objective editor who understands your voice.  I’d previously been made aware of Joanne Starer because of her friendship with Wil Wheaton, and he vouched for her editing abilities.  So I had already struck up a conversation with her about perhaps editing work I would product.  By February of 2010 I was ready with a 45,000 word manuscript. I submitted it to her that month and it was probably the best thing I could have done.

Because here’s the part where you shit yourself as a writer.  All along you’ve been writing for you.  And maybe some readers enjoyed it and provided positive feedback. But now some interloper, some person who just doesn’t *get you* is going to now make your work die in a fire. You send it off in fear, promising yourself you won’t check email for a few days.  Then you obsessively check email every five minutes waiting to see what shreds of your work return to you, along with a sarcastic note about not quitting your day job. And *then* she later emailed me back to suggest we meet at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle to talk in person about the manuscript!  OH NO IT’S THAT BAD? I thought.

I exaggerate, somewhat, the angst.  Joanne was actually the perfect partner and we hit it off very well over my (real) burger and her (veggie) burger at Two Bells tavern downtown.  She had run the manuscript through both a critique and copy edit, meaning she went through correcting readability and grammar as well as critiquing the text.  She had made notes and in discussing the overall flow and tone it was easy to see that while the book could be better with some tweaking, I needn’t have feared her showing up with my book printed out and lashed to a cross upside-down with her poking a spear in it’s side over dinner.

After some tweaking, some removing of stories, combining of stories, and adding in new stories, the manuscript was finally done in an edited form. The final word count came to somewhere around that same 45,000 word mark. Now what remained was getting permission to publish it, and finding a publisher!

One comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great tips. My blog content is miniscule by comparison, but thinking of it as possible book fodder is an incentive to get with it!

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