Writing and Publishing – A Behind the Scenes Look at The Military Guide
I seem to spend a lot of time on the finances & lifestyle issues of military retirement and early retirement. Let me shift gears for a bit and talk about the book’s creation.
Over our years of service we veterans accumulate wisdom, experience, and martial culture that is politely referred to in the Navy as “sea stories”. Witty repartee is always appreciated on sea duty (if sadly rarely encountered), and my shore duty always involved a lot of writing. As e-mail evolved into a new way of communicating, I got a lot better at sharing my sea stories.
A couple years after retirement my spouse observed “Nords, you need help have a book in you.” Family dinner-table conversations eventually decided that military retirement was a good topic (I’m not ready to write about my submarine experiences yet), and we began to develop the outline of the table of contents. Our kid gleefully saw this as the ultimate grownups’ English-paper assignment, so we enjoyed talking about how to explain the subject and how to write each chapter. Eventually she stumbled into an AP English class where she really honed her skills, and you have her to thank for the idea of the book’s chapter checklists.
Other books were being written while we were brainstorming “The Military Guide”. Bob Clyatt, author of “Work Less, Live More” sold his ER proposal to Nolo Press and was discussing the book on Early-Retirement.org. He agreed that a military ER book might have an audience, and he taught me to use lots of personal stories from contributors who’d have a broad appeal to every reader. Instead of filling the book with my own sea stories, I realized that we needed to hear from all the services.
Everybody loves a good story, and ER volunteers were plentiful. I spent the next four years collecting ideas, writing chapters, and being edited by reviewers and proofreaders. When my nephew (an Army Ranger) started telling me about his soldiers returning from Iraq & Afghanistan, I realized that the book shouldn’t just teach veterans about ER– it should also help them. It turns out that a lot of veterans are willing to share their experiences if you’re giving your royalties to their favorite military charities.
The hardest part of writing is moving the computer’s cursor from the top of the page to the bottom. The process of sharing your writing is easier than ever. Early-Retirement.org set aside an invitation-only discussion board for us veterans to contribute our stories and to dissect the results. After writing a chapter, I was able to generate password-protected PDFs from Word documents and post them on a MSN Skydrive archive. Veterans (equipped with the password) could download the PDFs and make suggestions. Occasionally I’d get a long e-mail contribution or someone would make the arduous trip to Hawaii to lunch near the beach and discuss how tough it is to write out here. One very smart and articulate Air Force Reservist wrote most of the text for the Reserves/National Guard chapter and then approved my efforts to broaden it with other Reserve/NG contributions.
A couple years (but only a couple chapters) later, Billy & Akaisha Kaderli updated their “Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement”. They self-published a CD and later turned it into a download. Their efforts have been at least as successful as Bob’s book, and by self-publishing an electronic guide they avoided a lot of the traditional hardcopy publishing expenses (and received a lot more of the revenue). I began to consider doing the same.
I eventually decided to stick with paper. First, if I couldn’t sell the book to a publisher then I’d still be able to self-publish. Second, I think most military veterans still appreciate being able to stick a hardcopy book in their pack, take it out to the field (and to sea), and pass it around. Finally, I realized that a tremendous number of military families spend a lot of time in the exchange. The only way for a new author to get into that distribution network is through a military publisher. I can always reach the rest of the world by converting the paper into an e-reader format and selling it on Amazon.com.
Eight query letters (and most of a year) later, Impact Publications agreed with me. The first thing they did (after we signed my first author’s contract!) was ask me to draft an accompanying 64-page pocket guide. I never would have thought of that if I’d self-published! I’m enjoying the learning process and I’m looking forward to the galley proofs. Of course we’ll see how much I enjoy this after I get back the edited copy.
For the next couple months (when I’m not editing) I’ll be trying to make WordPress, Faceboook, and Twitter play more nicely together. The next step is to create this blog’s blogroll– other retirement and military blogs that expand my appreciate of military retirement & ER. Later on I’ll post a long list of recommended reading (with links) and bring in other social-networking sites like LinkedIn. Soon after that it’ll be time to reach out to the traditional media to publish interviews in financial magazines, military publications, and other veteran’s websites.
This has evolved from a fantasy into a labor of love. I’m paying forward all the efforts I’ve received over the years, I think I’m helping veterans, and I’m enjoying the heck out of this. Please let me know what else I should be doing to improve the publishing & marketing!