How to Make a Book Step 1: Get Yourself Some Text

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it!

The most basic thing every book needs is some text. Some words on some pages, whether they’re virtual or on paper. Fiction? Needs words! Nonfiction? Still needs words! Poetry? Needs some very specific words in some very specific places! (Comics don’t always need words, but the process of creating comics and graphic novels is a whole different ballgame from your words-on-pages book project. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how that magic happens, so I won’t cover it here.)

For many people, getting the text to make a book means making the text. You have to write it yourself. And revise it yourself. Then you show it to your writing group, your beta readers, your book coach, your developmental editor — whoever you choose to trust with those words. That person might not be the person you married, and it almost definitely isn’t your mom.

This isn’t a series on writing advice or practice; there are loads of excellent resources out there for support as you muddle through the process of writing a book. Follow any author whose work you like on Twitter, for example. They’ll almost always offer some great advice based on their experiences. There are also podcasts and websites and Facebook groups and #bookstagram. Really, writing nerds are everywhere online and in the real world, and there’s a flavor of advice out there that will help you write your next project.

Other Ways to Get Text into Your Book

I’ve written and published three of my own books, but for this project, I’m reissuing Life Among the Paiutes by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins. This book was first published in 1883, and in it she details her life as an interpreter between the Paiute people in northern California, Nevada, Oregon, and eventually Washington state and English-speaking settlers, agents, and army officers. Her descriptions of midnight rides across vast territories to deliver messages during the Bannock War are thrilling, and she pulls no punches in her assessment of the government’s treatment of her people. It’s amazing in both enlightening and disappointing ways how relevant this book is more than 130 years after its first publication.

So finding books that are in the public domain is another way to get some text when you want to make a book. Being in the public domain means that the copyright is no longer legally binding; anyone is free to reprint or remix the text. Copyright is very tricky and sometimes involves estates that are protective of the author’s intellectual property, so be careful about going this route.

In the United States, generally anything that was published more than 95 years ago is in the public domain. For 2020, that means anything published in 1924 or earlier. There’s a quick explainer on Book Riot and another explainer on some of the books that fell into a midcentury registration loophole on Boing Boing.

Of course, publishers also get text for making books by buying the rights to the brand-new books that you write. Publishers large (Penguin Random House) and small (Forest Avenue Press) get text this way.

Next Time

Step two will give an overview for making a publication schedule. This is super handy to have as an indie publisher! And also nerve wracking and intimidating!