Tag Archives: writing nonfiction

How Long Will It Take to Write This Book?

Finished chapter 1 of the Boob Book today, and started on chapter 2. With all the research done, it took about a day and a half to write the first chapter.

So I’m wondering how long it will take to compile the 800 pages or so of research material that’s stacked up on the table into a single coherent book.

The book will have nine or maybe ten chapters (depending on whether I decide to break one of the projected chapters into two) plus six short appendices.

If nothing gets in my way, I can get through about a chapter in a day, or maybe two days. Chapter 1 is 2800 words, not an unreasonable amount to crank in one day. Some chapters will be shorter. But let’s say that realistically it takes two days to write a chapter: that would give us about 20 days to write the main body of the book. Each appendix should take less than a day, although the glossary may be lengthy. So maybe a day apiece for those?

That adds up to 26 days: about a month.

But, of course, as a practical matter “nothing gets in my way” will not happen.

My best paying and most reliable client just resurfaced, asking if I’m up for more copy of his. This is a guy that you don’t say “no” to. Probably not even if you wanted to…but most certainly not when he pays you so handsomely to read such entertaining material.

The online summer course is just heading into its most intense period, with three major rafts of stoont papers about to fly onto my desk.

The Latina studies journal is in full production. We’ve moved a set of academic papers but not seen the reviews, the creative work, or any of the front & back matter.

And I should be preparing my fall courses as we scribble.

We await the artwork for the next two installments of my self-publishing empire, and I’m in the process of laying out 18 serials of the Fire-Rider story, which I also will convert to .mobi files and post on Amazon. All of these will need to be marketed, something that I find quite the challenge.

The proposed porn empire awaits. My friend and I are still studying the possibilities. But to make that work will also require cranking at least 3,000 words every day or two.

As soon as I finish chapter 2, I’m sending a proposal to one of my former publishers, for whom (some years ago) I once wrote a best-seller. Unfortunately, like most other American publishing houses it has changed hands and been consolidated into unrecognizability; as far as I know, none of the old editorial crew persists there. But still, I hope reminding them of that former glory will at least get someone to read the proposal. And once anyone with even the vaguest sense of marketability sees it, it will sell.

The median advance on a single book deal today is around $25,000. That’s more than I need to live on for an entire year.

So if a publisher manages to offer even a modest advance, I intend to stand down from teaching for at least a semester, and to farm out the editorial work to subcontractors. Even if it only takes a month or two to draft the Boob Book, I may need the time for rewrites; but it looks unlikely that an advance will get me out of enough work to let me give my undivided attention to the Boob project.

But…if a miracle happens and I can move the thing to the publisher within two or three months, then if I don’t teach and I farm out the editorial jobs, I’ll have another three or four months in which to get 20 existing bookoids online and to begin experimenting with sales of racy fiction.

It looks like a phenomenal amount of work. But around here, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I already work any 18 hours of the day I choose, by and large for poverty-level wages. It would be mighty nice to work 18 hours of the day for something resembling a middle-class income.



w00t! Boob Book Intro DONE!

To my surprise, writing the introduction to the proposed book describing the choices women face when they receive just about any kind of breast diagnoses went a lot faster than expected. At this point I’m now reduced to doing the slow, mind-numbing job of organizing 535+ pages of notes.

One of the benefits of self-employment, of course, is that you can carve some time out of your day to work on your own projects. And I do: I segment my days to devote about three hours to the client’s current book, about three hours to the Boob Book, about two hours to riding herd on my three online courses (more, when student papers come in or when course prep  has to be done), an hour or two to keeping up my various blogs, and one to three hours for marketing.

But as grand as that sounds, it’s not so easy.

Problem is, life keeps impinging on one’s business. In about fifteen minutes, for example, I have to visit an oncological nurse practitioner at the Mayo Clinic — that’s a 50-mile drive, two hours through city traffic, not counting the time spent sitting around the waiting room and then chatting with the woman, probably pointlessly. Though I’ll take my laptop and work on the client’s project, it’s difficult to concentrate when people around you are yakking on their cell phones and when staff are calling out people’s names and annoying Muzak is impinging on your consciousness.

On my way home, I’ll stop by a couple of markets in Scottsdale, stores that serve the middle class that has migrated away from my part of town; there I can buy a few items no longer available nearby because not enough of the residents remaining near my home can afford to buy such things. That will consume another half hour or so.

Yesterday I finally gave in to a friend’s repeated importuning to drive to his home way to hell and gone out in Sun City to have dinner with him and his girlfriend. I dearly love this couple, but I do NOT love driving to the sprawl-infested far west side in the rush hour. Nor could I afford the several hours of the afternoon and evening that this junket required: because my business group met that morning at a venue way on the east side of the Valley, I got almost no work done. Between the time I returned from that meeting, had something to eat, and rested up from a sleep-deprived night and the time I had to get dressed and drive to my friend’s house, only about four hours of useful work time remained.

Tomorrow I have to drive even further west — halfway to freaking Yuma, in my opinion — to go with some friends to a book-signing and of course, as long as we’re convening with the friend who lives in one of the Valley’s farthest-flung suburbs, to schmooze over lunch and catch up with news. This activity will consume about half my day.

Not to complain: I’m happy to see my friends and spend time with them. And showing up at networking groups is an indispensable part of marketing your business. The point is, the best-laid plans of mice and persons often go awry…

That’s why I say it was “to my surprise” that the introduction got itself drafted so quickly. Having several days in which the work schedule went uninterrupted…wow! But it was probably a fluke.

Starting to Write a Nonfiction Book

At last I got around to starting the introduction for the upcoming book on the various predicaments of women who are presented with a breast diagnosis, whether it’s DCIS or actual cancer.

This is something I realized I could write about several months ago, between the personal experience that recently culminated in a double mastectomy and the reams of research material I collected as I struggled to understand what was happening to me and to maintain some degree of control.

A lot of material has accrued during the nine months or so the little drama occupied the center stage of my life. This morning I went over to FedEx to collect the printouts of the umpty-jillion scientific studies, journalistic articles, nonprofit organizations’ public information, miscellaneous web pages, and files full of my own notes. The pile is huge:

P1030429Two extra-large three-ring binders, packed as full as they’ll go with printouts.

So… What do you do when you write a nonfiction book? How do you go about it? This is my third, not counting the ones for self-publication. And from experience I’d say the pattern is pretty much the same from opus to opus.

Step 1. Obviously, gather information. Gather a LOT of it.

2. Come up with a strategy to manage notes and printouts in a way that works for you. Personally, I build smaller projects — articles and blog posts — with material that’s found online and stays online. But for a larger project, or for something I take seriously and think will pay well, I print everything out on three-hole-punched paper and stash it in binders.

3. Organize the material. This step was much simplified by the computer and the flash drive. Thanks to the Mac’s “Finder” function — same as a PC’s file manager — I was able to sort all the stuff into numbered, titled folders and subfolders.

The result was a rough, informal outline of the book’s contents. When the FedEx guy printed out the files in the order in which I’d placed them on my flash drive, all the material came out to match the outline. Each of those pink sheets in the binders is a divider put in by the photocopier dude, demarcating the articles and giving me handy sheets on which to make notes and paste markers. So it’ll be relatively easy to find the material I need for this chapter or that section, because all of it appears in the order in which I’ll probably use it.

In the binders, I marked the material for each roughly planned chapter with a divider page and a home-made tab:


Click on the image for a better picture.

So. This is a good start. Next…

4. Number the pages from 1 to however many it takes.

5. Sit down and read the stuff from beginning to end. Mark it up with underscore or highlighter showing the most important points you want to make. Enter key words along the margins, and note any items you regard as especially useful or important.

7. Obtain several packages of index cards. With these at hand, go through the research material again. As you go, take notes on the index cards. On each card, enter a note to each important point. At the top left of the card, write the keyword that points to this point on the page. At the top right of the card, write the page number.

NotecardExample8. When you have sifted through all the pages and prepared note cards indicating where-what-is in the pile of data, organize your note cards by keywords. You will now have piles of note cards that bring together the information by keyword. This makes it fairly easy to organize and manipulate the vast amount of disparate data you’ve accumulated.

9. Compare these labeled piles with your outline. Adjust your outline (by now you’ll have new ideas) as desired. Now, using a large table top or the floor, arrange the piles by topic, in the order in which you plan to address each topic.

10. Stack the piles into one tower and set it next to your keyboard. Place your binder or file folders of printed notes on your desktop. Turn on your word processor.

Now you’re ready to write. All you have to do is go through the note cards, turn to the printout pages marked on the cards, and translate your notes and article printouts into narrative.

If it’s a formally researched book, as this one will probably be, open a Word file or get another pile of index cards and write out the correct citation for each source, in Chicago style (unless your publisher specifies some other manual).

Sound like a lot of work? Well, yeah. That’s because it is a lot of work. I figure if I can break free two or three hours a day, I should be done by the end of 2015. But I do expect to have the introduction, a chapter, and a prospectus on the float within a month or two.

I wrote Math Magic for Scott Flansburg in a little under six months. We actually had a year to write it, but for personal reasons I had dawdled on getting started until we were less than six months from the deadline. We made the deadline — just — but only because I sat down and wrote eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week, until the MS was finished.

What with the teaching and the editorial enterprise, I’m certainly not going to have eight hours a day to spend on my own stuff. Two will be pushing it. However, if I can wrest a decent advance from someone — which may happen, given my track record — I should be able to belay some of the teaching or farm out the editorial work, and that will accelerate production of this book.

Should be interesting to see how it goes!