I Wrote a Book and You Can Too

Last week, I was incredibly nervous and excited to announce that I had finally completed my first book, The Last Exodus, which I had self-published on Amazon. I thought it would be cool if I sold even like 20 copies of it to family and friends, just so long as someone was reading what I’d been working on for over a year.

Since then, I’ve sold over a hundred copies, but even more fantastic have been all of you who have emailed me your thoughts on the book or posted reviews on Amazon. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you about the story, but a number of you requested on the initial post I made that I talk a little bit more in-depth about the process behind writing and publishing. How exactly does one write a book and sell it? I’m far from an expert, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.

I know many of you out there would like to publish a book of your own someday, and you might have an outline or a few chapters lying around. I was definitely in that same position. I currently have about four or five unfinished stories buried on my computer, including a pair of half-written screenplays that will likely never see the light of day. But you CAN turn these pieces into an actual finished work, and getting your stuff out there for others to read, even if it is just self-published, is an exhilarating experience, like completing a marathon. It’s a goal you set for yourself, and when you achieve it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
The initial key to get you over that “two chapter hump” is to pick ONE of your ideas and completely focus on it. If your mind is constantly darting between three or four stories you have bouncing around in your head, the lack of focus will hurt all of them. Once I picked The Last Exodus to run with, I thought about it every spare moment I had, from the shower, to long car rides, to the minutes before I drifted off to sleep every night. Those are the times you’ll come up with your best ideas, not when you’re sitting there staring at a blank Word document. Also, a huge factor in getting inspired is reading. You cannot be a good writer without reading, and I devoured dozens of sci-fi books over the course of the past year, and each sparked me creatively in different ways.

A few must reads for me.

The concept for The Last Exodus just hit me one day. I’d been watching sci-fi films and reading similarly themed books for years, but I had an idea I hadn’t seen replicated. What if, after the world was destroyed by an alien invasion, a survivor found one of their ships? One that worked. One that he could fly to wherever the hell they came from. That was the singular idea that was the seed for the entire story. There are definitely influences from a lot of other sci-fi sources from District 9 to Battlestar Galactica to Mass Effect as the plot progresses, but I like to think that it’s decently original at its core. I did not map the entire grand saga out ahead of time. Not initially at least. I started writing the first few chapters, and it was an area I was familiar with: The post-apocalypse, a subject covered many times over in my favorite books, TV  shows and movies.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a big influence on me in these early stages of the book. I wanted the world to be completely hopeless, one where the Earth was irreversibly dying, along with everyone on it. It was a motivation for my character to want to leave, and I didn’t want to get hung up on him coming across people trying to rebuild society and all that. It was purely about survival, hence his appearance as a lone wolf in a world where probably only .0001% of the population is still alive.

The beauty of desolation.

After these initial few chapters, I hit a wall. Why? I don’t know. Why does it ever happen? The story was decent so far, but I had no real plan. A guy and a spaceship, and he meets an alien that actually will talk to him instead of trying to eat him. That was really it. I shelved the idea like I had my other unfinished projects. One was about a high school social scene. Another a heist adventure. One a noir murder mystery. And now I had a sci-fi project to go along with them, collecting dust on my virtual shelf.

Last Christmas, something changed. My cousin, a few years younger than me and still in college, announced to our family that he had finished his first book, and had self-published it on Amazon. “You can do that?” I asked him, as I knew next to nothing about self-publishing. He said it was easy, and when I bought his book (Beginnings) and read through all 400+ pages, I was amazed how he had put so much time into actually completing a novel this lengthy.

I was inspired. I vowed that I would finish The Last Exodus (then, just ‘Exodus’) by next Christmas. I wasn’t trying to out-compete my cousin. He’s actually been instrumental in the development of my book, and has read every chapter as I’ve written it, giving me feedback, encouragement and so on.

After that, I set myself to writing. The hard part. Or, the easy part, depending on how you look at it. I decided I needed a general framework for the story, which was something I didn’t have. The fastest way to get stuck while writing is to not have any idea what happens next. An outline, even a rough one, fixes that, and allows you to see potential problems.

The issues I discovered? I was originally going to have Alpha, the alien who owns the damaged ship, be unable to speak for the entire book, and simply communicate through grunts, growls and gestures. That got old fast, and so I built him a translator. Then, when I realized that most of the book was mostly going to be a guy talking to an alien, as the rest of the world was pretty much dead, I thought that might get boring. That’s when Asha was invented, a murderous, seductive raider who had tried to kill my lead, Lucas, on a previous occasion. The idea was that Alpha needed three people to run the ship, and Asha became an unstable X-factor that made the story interesting. She went from non-existent to probably my favorite character by the end.

I mapped out where I wanted to go, including various set pieces I wanted in place. I didn’t outline the entire book, but I did know how I wanted it to end. JK Rowling once admitted she wrote the ending of the Harry Potter series during the first book. She knew where she was going, and filling in the blanks was the fun part.

It’s always good to have the end in mind.

With an ultimate end goal in the distance, I would map out the next two to three scenes in my head, and then as said above, fill in the blanks. As I wanted the book to be action-adventure oriented (I was writing with more of a movie mentality, as that’s my primary form of entertainment), I had a few battle sequences I thought would be cool. One was a shootout with bandits at a camp. When I wrote it, it seemed a bit…smaller than I was going for. I erased three days worth of work and wrote the entire sequence over again. The camp was now a village. A half dozen bandits were now a hundred. I raised the stakes without being too ridiculous about it, and it ended up being one of my favorite sequences in the book.

Plot twists and turns grow organically as you go. You can plan some out, but some will just occur to you as you write them. One thing I learned from another role model of mine, JJ Abrams, was that most compelling stories need some effective air of mystery about them. He called it “The Mystery Box.” Without that, there’s often nothing to propel the reader forward. With that in mind, I tried to keep certain plot threads under a bushel. There was the main question of course, who were the aliens, and why did they invade? But there were others as well. What were Lucas, Asha and Alpha’s backstories? I could have laid them all out in the exposition, but I think it’s much more effective to dole them out in little pieces as you go.

In terms of the actual writing, it’s tough, there’s no doubt about it. I write ALL DAY for my job here and a few other sites. It was VERY hard to be motivated to keep writing after I’d already clocked in 10,000 words by 4PM. But every day, or as nearly as I could manage that, I would set a goal that I would at least write another thousand words, or one more scene in the book. Some days I’d do it, some I wouldn’t, but as I truly did like the story I was writing, getting these sequences out of my head and onto the paper was…fun. If you hate the story you’re writing, take a breath and come back tomorrow. If you still hate it, rewrite the chapter. If you still hate it, maybe you’re writing the wrong story.

The words added up, and by the time I got to 40,000, I was over the hill. The original Harry Potter was 76,000 words, so I figured if I got to 80,000, that was a legitimate length for a story. But as the book evolved, I got to 105,000 without even trying. If you’re particularly verbose, going past 120-140K is probably a bit too much for your first book.

Once you’ve arrived, you can make books however damn long you want.

There’s also the question of motivation, and I found the best way to stay on task was to share my work with others. I know many writers want to live in little caves where no one can read their work until it’s absolutely flawless. But writing in a vacuum, you might not be able to make your work perfect. Rather, you’ll be in your cave, incredibly frustrated thinking what you’re writing sucks, even if it doesn’t.

I sent my book to my aforementioned cousin and my oldest friend from home. Both read each new section in a matter of days, and we’d talk about the good and bad. They really did seem to like it, which boosted my confidence greatly. If I liked it, and they liked it, maybe it was actually okay? I became motivated to write at an even more rapid pace.

The main writing process took about six months from Christmas, with probably 1/5th of the book that had been written before that. But also, I had probably re-read each section five or six times by the end and reworked them. I caught errors, changed plot points and by the end, I’d already read my book over a few times. I was getting close to sick of it, but it was an amazing feeling when the writing was finally complete.

Then came the editing. Super not-fun editing. My friends had been pointing out typos the entire time I’d been writing, and I’d been catching them myself, but it wasn’t enough. I sent the book to my grandma, a published author, for a read through. I sent it to my mom, who is so OCD with detail and typos it’s crazy, which is exactly what I needed. I read through my entire book OUT LOUD to myself to catch typos or awkward phrasing, then after that, read it through one more time for good measure.

My mom is deadly with an edit pen.

The bad news is that even after all this, there are still typos. Short of hiring a professional copy editor, there are going to be mistakes you miss in 100,000 words of text you’ve re-edited a dozen times. It’s maddening when I see them pop up in the final draft online, but I’m trying to bug hunt and will re-upload a totally-fixed-but-probably-not edition once I’m done finding them all.

Publishing was the “easiest” part, meaning that it only took a few days instead of the months the writing and editing did. I knew from my cousin’s experience that I wanted to try and self-publish. I didn’t want to add years to the wait to get my book out there by getting rejected from various publishing houses, as tends to happen to every aspiring author, and I know I’m no master wordsmith or great literary genius. Amazon, in contrast, has a very, very streamlined process to get your book online. It took me about two dozen formatting changes and re uploads of my book to get it looking right  in the Kindle Viewer, but after a few hiccups I got it up. I had designed the cover myself a few months back, and after some minor tweaks, everything was ready to go. (Note: an eye catching cover is a MUST for self-publishing, if you can’t make one yourself, it’s worth hiring someone to do it).

I decided to price the book at $3.99, which seemed like a good middle ground. I’ve been informed that it’s rather high for a first time author, but you know, I felt my book was worth more than 99 cents or $2 after all the work I’d put in. It was a far cry from the big name novels that were $8-$10 for the eBook, and it allowed me 70% royalties from Amazon instead of 30% which is for dirt-cheap books. Also, Amazon has a list of the “top 100 books for $3.99 and under” that I wanted to make someday, even if that was a lofty goal.

And then I published, probably one of the most nerve-wracking days ever as I waited for someone, anyone to buy it. I announced it on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Unreality, and sure enough, friends, family and readers started purchasing it, and better yet, reading it. As I said, I’ve just crossed a hundred copies sold, which is a pretty damn big milestone for me. If it keeps selling, that would be wicked cool, and I’m trying to figure out other good ways to promote it. If you liked it, please, tell your friends!

Now? Well, I don’t know. While I wait for Christopher Nolan to approach me about adapting it into a movie (haaaa), I’m busy working on the second book in the series. I realized that I couldn’t possibly fit everything I wanted into one book, and so The Exodus Trilogy was born. I have ideas mapped out for this new book and the one after, and now I continue to  fill in the blanks. That said, I’m not sure the writing process is any easier this time around, and is actually a bit harder. There’s a reason sequels aren’t often as good as the original, and I’m trying to figure out how to avoid that.

I would be happy to answer any other questions you guys may have about the writing process or the book itself, and you can post them in the comments. If you haven’t picked up the book yet and would like to, here’s the link for that.

Thanks to all who have read so far, even to those that haven’t just for supporting me by reading Unreality.

Similar Posts


  1. I purchased your book the first day you mentioned it on Unreality. I read it in two days. Congratulations on a job well done and thanks for the behind the scenes look. I promptly left a 5 star review on Amazon. I can’t wait until the second book comes out. Do you have a time frame in which the next two books will be coming out?

  2. I think one thing you should note, pricing your book at $3.99 instead of lower, is that you already have a pretty solid base of readers that trust you to deliver some pretty solid entertainment.

    You may be a first-time author, but I’ll probably pick this up just because I appreciate that you have had a consistently entertaining blog for the 4 years I’ve been reading here, so to pay for ONE thing from you, feels good to show you my appreciation. I hope your book continues to be successful.

  3. Paul,
    I have been a secret reader (I guess they are called Lurkers) for your website for years! Right off the bat, I absolutely love it. It is one of two websites that I check every single day, often many times a day. When I saw you had written and published a book, I couldn’t have been more happy for you, which may be odd as we don’t know each other even a little but after reading your stuff for years, I feel like I do know you. I’ve spent the last three years writing my own novel and this whole piece and the whole fact that you have published just gives me even more incentive (as the world of publishing is so up and down).

    Thanks for this and rest assured, I will be purchasing your book, reading it, reviewing it (I’m sure its great) and getting as many as my friends as I can to read it. Keep up the great work.


  4. Great article on how to get writing. I write screenplays very often and try to get them all made into short films (most of which are just too hard to shoot), and my advice to all of my friends who are doing the same is “treat it like a job, stick with one idea, and work on it everyday for 30 min – 2 hours a day, at least in the beginning, getting about 5 pages done, and by the time 20 days are over, you won’t ever get that script out of your head until you finish it.” It’s bizarre how obsessive the back of your mind gets when you are that deep into writing something. I’m currently working on three screenplays at the moment, one of which is a complete overhaul of a script no ones so far liked all that much, one I’m writing that I can explain to any of my friends because the idea isn’t as important as the perspective, and then a this I’m writing with my girlfriend because the themes and subject matter are things she knows incredibly well as she’s lived them. And I can’t get any of them out of my head! I’m obsessively writing pieces of them in my head, and I have to pull the reigns a little so I don’t get ahead of myself.

    But, I just want to say, Paul, congratulations, man. I’ve been reading your site for . . . four years or so? (I’m pretty sure since you did your article on things you didn’t notice in Arrested Development) and it really is amazing to see you having done this. This is a great accomplishment you should be proud of.

  5. Some solid advice in here.

    One of the things I’ve noticed in my own writings (what little there have been) is the value of a good, clear concept. Understanding the center of an idea can really grease the creative wheels, even if there’s a lot of other details and embellishments along the way.

    That, and bouncing ideas and drafts off anybody who will take the time. When writing for an audience, better make sure people respond.

    And most importantly, be a fan of your own work. Don’t love it blindly, but don’t put out stuff you don’t care about. It sounds like you really dig your story, and that’s the number one. I remember Nolan saying that at the end of the day, the only reaction you can count on is yours, so you have to make a movie (or novel, or whatever) that YOU like first.

  6. Wow this article couldn’t come at a better time for me, I have just begun working on my book again and I was about to drop it again for the 5th time but I think I’m going to stick with it this time.

  7. It’s really interesting to read how you went through the writing process, especially when it came down to what motivated you or held you back. I’ve had an idea for a story/series of stories in my head for near on a decade now and I’m at the point where I’m trying earnestly to bring it to fruition.

    It’s changed and evolved as I’ve grown older and in turn picked up new inspiration, matured as an individual and realised why the concept for the story is so important to me. It’s in the similar genre with your own work, but has elements of fantasy and horror, too. My biggest problem is being unable to just let go and fire out a draft of a chapter or two. I always try to get the perfect version done on the first try which is a stupid thing to assume can be achieved.

    If you have any other good tips on how to motivate yourself, specifically when beginning a chapter or the story itself (that first paragraph of a book tends to feel like so much rides on its shoulders to grab the reader from the start), I’d be very appreciative to hear them.

  8. hey, i read your book. really liked it. can’t wait for the next one. also, you should charge more for the next one. you’re really shorting yourself at 2.99. it kept me turning pages (well, pushing the page turn button)more than some of my favorite authors do at times. keep up the good work, and i hope you make a shitload of money from it!

  9. Oh great! Thx so much! This arcticle is just what I was hoping for. It so reminds me of writing my masters degree at university in Germany, especially when it comes to cross reading… oh man, I so envy you for the sense of accomplishment. One day I will do it…ONE DAY… 😉

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.