Self-publishing a book - Part 1 - Where it all began

Posted by Filip Ekberg on 27 Aug 2012

What's this blog series going to be about?

It might not have been clear to everyone that my book C# Smorgasbord was self-published. In short self-publish means that I did not have a publisher that backed me up when writing this book.

But if I don't have a publisher how do I get my book printed? How did I get the book up on Amazon? How do I market my book?

Those are some of the questions that I receive on a daily basis. I've had in mind to write this blog series even before those questions arise. So I am going to try to answer as many questions as you might have, I don't know how many blog posts there will be. Those that have followed this blog before knows that I tend to like lengthy posts, but this time I will try to do more posts that are a bit "shorter". Because covering all of this in one post will just be too lengthy, I've joked about it and said that I can probably write a book about writing a book (bookception!).

If you have any questions just give me a comment, tweet or e-mail, I will try to answer all questions.

Where did the idea come from?

It all began long before I decided to make a book. During 2011, I blogged a lot, had a lot of in-house presentations for co-workers, did screencasts and spent a lot of time on StackOverflow.

So here I was, with all these great raw materials that I didn't know what to do with. I felt that I wanted to reach out to the people that didn't attend my presentations, that didn't read everything in my blog and that didn't even know about my work in the first place. This started to grow on me, in late November 2011 I started doing some research on how to convert a blog to a book. My initial thought was just to copy and paste everything from my blog into a (what I thought at the time) nice Word template.

This resulted in something looking like this:

At this time, I didn't have any experience at all with publishing, authoring, type-setting or anything at all like that. Once I had copy and pasted everything from my blog, I had a Word document with about 120 pages.

I showed this to a couple of other developers and got comments like:

This is the worst type-setting I've ever seen

This got me thinking, if the first reactions are not even constructive, something must be wrong. I had an idea that I liked, I wanted to take a vast variety of different, interesting and new/old concepts/technologies.

So what now?

Doing it right

I am not the kind of person to give up and once I put my mind into something, I want to make it as good as possible. I decided to contact a bunch of publishers, just to see if they liked my idea. Never ever had I contacted a publisher before so I had no idea on what they expected from me.

My e-mail to the publishers contained an introduction to myself, a Little bit about my ideas and a link to the 120 page PDF with horrible type-setting. It didn't take long before all the publishers that I contacted responded to my inquiry. Some of them had a more personal touch than others, some of them just felt auto-generated. Basically they (all) asked me to write a proper proposal and attached a quite robust PDF on how to do so. The proposal should be a chapter from the book with about 20 pages. It shouldn't be the first nor the last chapter, but a chapter somewhere in the middle of the book.

Another thing that they asked was about the name of the project. Instantly when I got that question, I thought to myself:

What is a good Word for "a vast variety" that also is connected to me being Swedish?


Since the programming language in this book was about C# I instantly gave it the name "A C# Smorgasbord" (why "A" was removed is a later story!).

What about the proposal? Let's go back to that for a second. None of the "chapters" in the PDF that I sent to the publishers contained 20 pages, I didn't have a 20 page proposal. This gave me an idea of what a publisher expects. If the publisher expects 100%, the reader expects 500% quality.

With that in my hands, I now had a goal.

What kind of goal did I have before me?

You might think now that the goal was to create 20 pages and send a proper proposal to each publisher. On the contrary, I knew that there was a lot of work to do to meet everyones expectations so I wanted to focus on making something that the end-users liked, instead of something that was according to a guideline from a publisher.

I "threw" away the PDF that I had created, never to be looked at again (not entirely true, I just took a screenshot of it). I still had a lot of raw material and what I didn't get into my first in-proper proposal was my presentations and screencasts, this is something that I wanted to cover as well.

Before I gave the idea up completely on the PDF, I did some research on "print-on-demand". I found a company in Sweden called "vulkan", I even created an account and had a dialog with them about how everything worked. There was a lot of problems with them though, one being the integration possibility with foreign stores (Amazon etc.). It was also a pretty expensive process, compared to what I later found.

I was back to square one, with only my raw material. But the hope was not gone, I now had a goal; I am going to publish a book -- but how?

Check out the other parts in the series

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