Jack and Noah's Big Books

A ridiculous website devoted to a ridiculous book series

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My two books are self-published.  While there still may be a stigma associated with self-publishing – what, your book isn’t good enough to be published by a real publisher? – the great majority of books and e-books introduced each year are self-published.  Of course, the big publishing houses still have the most market share, but some industry observers predict that publishing-house books will represent less than half of all books sold by 2020.  

Why write a book?

Since I published my first book, I’ve had many friends comment that they have always wanted to write a book but never got past the ‘want to do it someday’ stage.  Why did I write a book?  For the same reason that other people paint pieces of art they give to friends, sing in the church choir, play guitar in an underappreciated rock band, act at the local theater, coach a Little League team, etc.   Whatever your passion, you enjoy it so much that you’re not afraid to let other people know about it. 

If you have a passion to write, or perhaps you just want to share your story with others, it’s never been easier to publish a book.  It’s so easy, in fact, that I expect that self-publishing a book will become a normal part of a junior high or high school curriculum in the next decade. 

How do you self-publish?

This page isn’t intended to be the ultimate guide to self-publishing.  The internet is full of advice on self-publishing, and I can only share my experiences.  If you find better options, please e-mail me and I’ll update this information. 

There are dozens of web-based companies that will help you self-publish.  A simple Google search of ‘self-publishing companies’ will yield many results, and you can even buy self-publishing how-to books on Amazon.  In the midst of my five-year odyssey to write my first book, ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Day,’ I spent six months researching publishing companies before selecting CreateSpace (, a division of Amazon.  I concluded that if any company can provide self-publishing services in an efficient manner, the world’s largest bookseller should do it best.  With CreateSpace, you don’t give up any rights to your book and, most importantly, it appears to be the most inexpensive printer I could find.  In fact, when I was ready to distribute copies of my final draft of ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Election,’ it was cheaper for me to print bound copies through CreateSpace than to make photocopies of my 8.5”x11” manuscript. 

One of your self-publishing options is to select a ‘full-service’ self-publishing company.  In addition to printing your book, these companies will charge a fee to do virtually anything else.  For example, for $3,000 they might edit your book, format it for printing, arrange for a graphic designer to create your book cover, give you 100 copies, provide promotional posters and web memes, and maybe even arrange a book signing.  In effect, you hand them a manuscript and they do almost everything else – for a handsome price. 

I’m not a fan of these full-service publishers.  They might shorten the time it takes to publish a book – and it should be significantly shorter since they’re supposed to be the professionals – but they don’t do much to increase sales.  It’s a very expensive way to publish, and since the company collects nearly the same amount of money regardless of whether your book sells well, they don’t have nearly as much at stake as you do.  Much of the satisfaction I’ve gotten during the self-publishing process has been from learning and performing each of the steps necessary to get to print. 

How much money do you want to lose?

Here’s the harsh reality – you’re probably not going to get rich publishing a book.  I read a few years ago in the Wall Street Journal that the average title from the large publishing houses will only sell an average of 1,000 copies.  Sales for the average self-published book are less than 100 copies.  I’ve sold over 900 copies of ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Day’ in the book’s first three years, and I’ve probably lost $1,000 on the book.  However, let’s put that in perspective.

Let’s pretend that you love golf.  You love it so much that you play in a golf league on Tuesdays and you always find time on the weekend to play at least once.  If you live in Nebraska, you’ve got at least a six-month golf season, so you play golf at least fifty times a year.  During that six-month season, you’re away from your family at least ten hours per week due to golf, so that’s over 200 hours in a year.  I’m not a golfer, but fifty rounds of golf have to cost at least $1,000 – so you effectively lose $1,000 per year doing something you love.  I love to write.  If I lose $1,000 and spend about 500 hours writing over a five-year period – I guess that just makes my writing hobby a little less expensive than your golfing hobby. 

So… back to the money side of self-publishing.  Yes, you’ll probably lose money.  However, if it’s a passion for you, it’s worth the investment. 

My first advice to future authors is to start with low expectations.  Unless you’re famous or particularly well-connected, you’re not going to sell 10,000 copies of your book.  This is your hobby.  Do it because you love to write. 

The guts of writing a book

There’s no perfect recipe for writing a book.  I learned a lot during the five years it took me to publish ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Day,’ and as a result I wrote ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Election’ in an entirely different way.  In fact, I learned so much that I’m going to focus almost entirely on how I wrote my second book.

1.            Formulate your key ideas and your target market.   You’ve got a lot of ideas bouncing around your brain.  Once you seriously consider writing a book, book ideas will pop into your head all day long.  Stuff a stack of 3”x 5” note cards in your briefcase or purse and capture those ideas when they hit you.  At some point you’ll figure out if you can piece together a story.   Until you have the backbone of a story – and a reasonably good idea about who would want to read it – don’t go beyond this step.  I wrote note cards for ‘Big Election’ for four months in 2014 before I had enough material to move forward.

2.            Write an outlineWriting a book takes time and it’s easy to lose your focus.  However, if you take all of those note cards from Step 1 and organize them into an outline, you can get a better idea about whether your book makes sense, if there are gaps that need to be filled, etc.  Most books have characters or themes that repeat throughout the book, and an outline is a great way to make sure you’re not forgetting these ideas.  My fully-developed outline was 16 pages long; each numbered item was meant to reflect an entire chapter, so my outline included a paragraph (not well-written, but heavy on substance) for each chapter, with multiple ideas to be explored.  According to my writing log, I spent 15 hours creating an outline for a 100,000-word book.  Once your outline is finished, share it with friends and family.  Ask them to tell you if it’s a compelling story.  If the feedback isn’t good, then keep working on the outline. 

3.            Write a first draftSimple, right?  Not so much.  About 50% of the entire writing process is devoted to the first draft, and many writers never finish this step.  I suspect the best approach is to do it quickly.  The National Novel Writing Month is held each November to challenge novice writers to pen the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in just thirty days.  I love the idea of writing a first draft in a month – and it’s entirely possible if you have a good outline and you can ignore the rest of the world for one month.

Unfortunately, I can’t ignore the world for an entire month.  I have a wife, three kids, a fairly demanding job, and I also coach youth sports.  Consequently, I had to take a ‘bits at a time’ approach, mostly by getting up at 5:00 a.m. and writing until 6:00 a.m., when it was time to get ready for work.  If my family was out of town, I could bite off bigger chunks of the first draft, but those episodes were rare.  I wrote Chapter 1 of ‘Big Election’ on June 18, 2014 – and I wrote the final chapter on January 10, 2016.  I didn’t touch the book from March 2015 through October 2015, thanks in part to our Little League’s wildly successful season. 

Formatting issues become fairly important when you get ready to publish, so you might as well use the correct format when you type your first draft.   The best way to have a well-formatted book is to use the Word templates that CreateSpace provides.  To find these templates, go to the ‘search site’ area in the upper right-hand corner of the CreateSpace home page and type ‘CreateSpace Word template.’  The templates will appear in that search.  You’ll have to commit to a book size when you pick the template.  If you don’t know your appropriate book size, go to the library or bookstore and look for books in the same genre. 

4.            Edit your first draftIf you wrote the first draft quickly, you didn’t dwell on minor story line flaws and misplaced events.  The first draft is simply about getting something down on paper – if you aim for perfect on the first draft, you’ll never finish.  Once the first draft is done, read the entire book and make notes as you go.  Don’t fix major problems as you read; instead, just write something like, 'I didn’t introduce this character’ or ‘this isn’t interesting.’  You can decide how to fix the problems once you’ve read the entire first draft.  Make those fixes, then repeat the process by reading the entire second draft.  Keep repeating the read/edit/rewrite process until all the major flaws are gone.

5.            Share your manuscript with friends and family.  After two or six or twelve drafts, your manuscript should be good enough to share with friends and family.  My wife is an avid reader so she always gets a copy.  Since I’m writing children’s books, I make my kids read it.  My target audience is school-aged children, so one of Jack’s teachers read an early draft of ‘Big Day.’  I work with someone who owned a bookstore and has a good eye for writing, so she provided a different perspective.  You get the idea.  You should have similar resources at hand – people who are intelligent enough to give good feedback, and who like you enough to invest the time to read your manuscript.  Ask for frank feedback and incorporate changes into the next draft.

There are two kinds of friends – those who skim and those who actually find errors.  The skimmers will probably give you good feedback on your storyline, and the detail-oriented people will find your typos.  For one of my books, I know I had at least fifty errors in my next-to-last draft, but most of the people who read the draft copy didn’t find more than five errors.  Proofreading is a skill.    

6.            Hire a professional editor.  If this is your first book, I’d suggest you hire a professional editor who works in your specific genre.  I found an editor in Oregon who also writes children’s books.  For just under $1,000, he read my Word manuscript and made editing comments inside the Word document.  His comments were crushing – in short, my 20,000-word manuscript was horrible.  However, he gave concrete guidance on how to make it better, and a year later he reviewed my much-improved 40,000-word manuscript.  Of course, he still had suggestions for improvement, but the lessons he taught me in the first round of edits were priceless. 

I did not use a professional editor for my second book, ‘Big Election.’  If I had, I know he would have suggested changes.  I’d like to think I learned enough with ‘Big Day’ to apply this level of scrutiny to my own book, but only time will tell.

7.            Upload your manuscript to CreateSpace.   By this point you should be about 95% complete with your manuscript – close enough to get a feel for its finished length.  You’ll need to register with CreateSpace (free), create a project (your book title), and upload your manuscript.  The most predictable upload format is with an Adobe pdf file created through Word, although CreateSpace does allow Word documents.  I shared in Step 3 how you could find the CreateSpace Word template. 

8.            Determine your book price.  Even before you upload your manuscript, you can get a rough idea about how much it will cost to print your book through CreateSpace.  Go to and click on the ‘Buying Copies’ tab.  Once you know the cost, you work into a retail price.  If you ever plan to sell your book at a bookstore, your printing cost needs to be about 40% of your retail price.  For example, if each copy is going to cost you $4.00 and you set a retail price of $10.00, a bookstore will typically pay you $6.00 for each copy.  If they sell the book, they make a $4.00 profit ($10.00 retail - $6.00 their cost), and you make a $2.00 profit ($6.00 wholesale price to bookstore less your $4.00 cost).   Again, you can browse the bookstore to determine the retail prices for a similarly-sized book in the same genre.

9.            Design your book coverYou probably know someone who is a graphics designer.  The CreateSpace website has very detailed instructions on how to design a book and Kindle cover.  The first step in designing a cover is to create a rough draft of what you want to see.  For example, I write the verbiage I want on the back cover of the book, and then I describe the images I want on the cover.  My graphics designer (he lives in Asia) takes that information.  We go through multiple versions of a book cover before we land on the final version. 

Most self-publishing bloggers will tell you that it’s crucial to have an eye-catching, well-written book cover.  If the cover looks like a second-rate production, potential buyers will assume the writing is inferior.  You should expect to spend at least $500 for a good book cover.   However, my graphics designer also offers do-it-yourself book cover resources at his website,

10.          Final proof.  CreateSpace allows you to order up to five book proofs at a time before you release the book to public consumption.  This final proof will be your actual book – the only difference will be that the last interior page has ‘Proof’ typed on it.  When you think you’re nearly ready, use this option to evaluate your final product.  You can make changes and order new proofs as many times as you want until it’s perfect.  Of course, ‘perfect’ is a relative term.  If you’ve got OCD, your book will never be perfect.  If your attention to detail is slightly better than a sixth grader’s, then your book will have quite a few errors.  However, a book is never perfect.  If your book has been edited by people who know grammar, then at some point you just need to take a leap of faith.  I know for certain the ‘Big Election’ has a few typos – but 99% of readers won’t notice them.

11.          Create your e-book.  Amazon’s Kindle has approximately 70% of market share in the e-book world, followed by Apple iBookStore and the Barnes & Noble Nook Store.  I don’t like to read books on the computer, but my high school sophomore reads most of his assigned books on an iPad.  Some authors will only publish on e-book because it’s cheaper and faster; if you choose to publish a paper book, it’s almost essential to create an e-book.  I sold significantly more paper copies than e-book copies of ‘Big Day,’ but my experience with ‘Big Election’ could be vastly different.  

Once you’ve finished your paper book on CreateSpace, the website will offer to set up your Kindle book.  I found that CreateSpace’s conversion from paper to e-book didn’t work well for ‘Big Day,’ so I went directly to the Kindle website and uploaded a Kindle-friendly Word document for ‘Big Election.’  Kindle prices are much cheaper than paperback, although royalties for a $4.99 e-book (around 70%) are better than those for a $9.99 paperback (around 20%). 

You’ll also need a different cover for the e-book, since the Kindle books only need a front cover.  Again, the technical specifications for a Kindle cover are pretty easy to find on CreateSpace. 

12.          Promote your book.  If you’re self-publishing, you’re probably not famous or a well-known author.  The only way that people will buy your book is if you make the effort to let them know that the book exists.  My Outlook address book has 2,000 contacts from my work and personal life; I feel like I know 800 of those contacts well enough to tell them about my book.  I don’t bug them much – after three e-mails, it becomes shameless begging – and if they haven’t bought my by then, they’re never going to buy it. 

In my introductory e-mail, I tell my friends how they can buy my book, including direct links to Amazon.  I also direct them to my website – which is a must-have if you’re serious about promoting your book.  I was able to buy, and there’s a good chance that is available too.  I bought my domain name at, and I also purchased a website design package.  You could buy the domain name from GoDaddy or any number of other websites; I prefer  Once you have a website, make it worthwhile to visit and free of typos.   If you have a poor website, readers will think you have a poor book. 

You should also consider creating a separate Facebook account for your book, which is a double-edged sword.  If you were to gain a following outside your circle of friends, you don’t want strangers to be following your personal account.  You also don’t want to abuse your friendships by subjecting your friends to daily posts about your book.  However, you should expect that your book Facebook page will have far fewer followers than your personal account.  Even if you invite all your Facebook friends to follow your book Facebook page, most won’t.  Accept that.  You can also have a Twitter account for your book, but the success of that depends largely on what you’re writing about it.  If you’re a fiction writer, Twitter isn’t a great medium unless you’re trying to prove you’re funny.  If your book is about sports, politics or other current events, then perhaps your daily Twitter musings will create interest for your book. 

13.          Bookstores.  Omaha is fortunate to have a local bookstore, The Bookworm, that supports and promotes local authors.  They have shown a willingness to stock local authors when chain stores would not consider it.  As I noted earlier, bookstores typically pay wholesalers no more than 60% of the retail price - they need at least 40% to make a profit.  That leaves very little profit for the author.  However, The Bookworm is a gem, and I’ll trade profits for a presence at the store.

Other semi-important self-publishing ideas:

14.          ISBN:  If you do most of your own self-publishing work, you’ll need to buy your own ISBN identifier, which is a unique 10- or 13-digit code assigned to each published work.  You’ll need an ISBN of you plan to sell your book.  You can buy an ISBN at  One ISBN costs $125 (as of May 2016), or you can buy ten numbers for $295.  You’ll need a different ISBN for each format (paperback, hardback, e-book), so you might as well buy the 10-pack.  Once you have an ISBN, you should include it inside the book and you’ll need to incorporate it into a bar code for the back of the book.  The internet has free bar code creators. 

15.          Copyright:  Technically any of your original works are protected under US copyright laws even if you don't register for the copyright.  However, if you’ve gone to the effort of writing an entire book, you might as well file for a copyright.  Go to to submit your manuscript and register for a copyright.  I’ve found that it’s easier to register your copyrights prior to publishing. 

16.          Writers’ clubs:  You can find writers’ clubs in most mid-sized cities.  Writing has always been a solitary venture for me, so these clubs are not my thing.  However, they can be a great resource if you’re looking for a communal experience. 

17.          Library open houses:  I’ve attended these events where you and dozens of other authors promote your books to library patrons.  I haven’t found them to be helpful.  When a mom could direct her kids to a children’s section that had 1,000 free books, why would she stop at my table to buy my book?  I love libraries.  They’re just not great places to sell books. 

18.          Good grammar and spelling is important.  If you can’t get over those hurdles, it doesn’t matter how compelling your story is. 

19.          Sales for ‘Jack and Noah’s Big Day’ plummeted after about six months.  I’ve read that the best way to promote your first book is to write a second one.  I’m about to see if that’s true.   

20.          Failure:  Fiction and non-fiction stories are more compelling when the protagonist overcomes failures and setbacks.  Think about it.  Bambi’s mom died.  Frosty the Snowman melted.  Rocky lost his first fight to Apollo Creed.  Failures make your book that much better. 

If you love to write, you should write.  If it’s been your ambition to write a book, then write a book.

Good luck.  Feel free to e-mail me at if you have questions.