G'day, Internet (tips fedora obnoxiously)! Almost two and a half years after I started writing "We Don't Live a Thousand Years," the book is finally live on Amazon. Even though my main message is simple: go buy the book — I also want to tell you how I managed to sum up 10 years of my life and research into a 350-something-page manuscript. I'll walk you through the main milestones and the process I followed.
The main takeaways (or how the kids on the Internet call it — tl;dr):
- Whether you think you can do it or not, you need to write and publish a book — it's affordable, and you can tell a story or two!
- I found a perfect co-author with experience in writing books, laid out all the main points in an interview-ish way, and helped to compile the manuscript.
- I contracted a group of fact-checkers who found all the sources and checked everything I was talking about (surprise-surprise: I was wrong more than once).
- I designed and formatted the book in Adobe InDesign, and it suuuuuuuuuucks.
- I contacted many publishers and agents for non-fiction — and after getting ghosted by all of them, I decided to self-publish on Amazon.
- Amazon cut my proceedings from the book by a factor of 3-5 — and the real reason you see a lot of Kindle titles at $9.99!
Find above and beyond below! (I waited long enough to make this joke).
The humble beginnings
It was June 2021, and my wife was in her third trimester with our first child. Suddenly, I decided to undertake one of the most extended projects of my life, lasting more than two years. I had already gathered quite a bit of non-conventional knowledge about the surrounding world and got tired of explaining the same things repeatedly to different people. I even built several websites to answer the most basic questions about sleep and diet: Magic Pill and Fix Sleep.
It was time to act — but how? I've read so many books yet had no publishing experience. As usual, I decided to "screw it; let's do it and figure it out along the way!" I posted a quick call for a co-author on my now-defunct Telegram channel, where I only post unfunny jokes and unwitting comments. Unsurprisingly, a few people reached out to me, including Julia Carlucci. She was the most genuine of all candidates and already had experience co-authoring similar books. I decided to give it a go, and the rest is history!
We had 1-2 multi-hour calls per week the following year, where I tried my best to lay out most of the knowledge I had gathered from various sources over the previous decade. I talked most of the time (if not all the time), and Julia took many notes. We recorded all our video calls and then transcribed them by a professional. Julia then used the notes and the transcriptions to compile a good-looking and nicely flowing chapter after chapter.
Before we started working, we agreed that this would be a long-term contract with a specified price per project. We then divided this price by the approximate months the project would take and got the monthly fee I would pay Julia to compile my blabbering into something more comprehensible. The project ended up longer than expected — but I was expecting not to expect something, so it doesn't count. In fact, having majored in practical development management at the "Life University™," the fact that we finished this project amazes me to this day.
As usual, the reason writing the book took longer than expected was due to a lot of uncertainties that we've experienced. Apparently, anybody who ever wrote a book knows that — and I also knew that you eat the elephant bite by bite. Bite. Bite. Bite. Boom — the book is complete! Persistence is the word you're looking for! Turns out, if you keep making small steps, you end up somewhere far away!
First, we came up with a list of four sections. I knew the most about communicating with others, personal productivity and health, rational thinking, and launching projects in IT. We tackled the most obvious ones and then got to the more challenging parts. Slowly but steadily, through trial and error, we devised a writing style that we both preferred.
The ambitious process
Next, I decided to not waste any time and started working on fact-checking and proofreading even before we finished the whole manuscript. I hired a group of fact-checkers (some of whom I worked with before — others reached out after I called for them on the aforementioned Telegram channel), and we started chiseling through all the facts.
We've worked in a series of shared Google Docs all this time. The book was written in Russian initially, so don't be discouraged by the Cyrillic text in the screenshot. The number of comments with fact-checks got well over a few thousand!
The whole process started to squeak like crazy. You might have worked with 10-20-100 pages of documents in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, but the sheer amount of comments, notes, edits, and text overwhelmed any app I used. No collaborative tool on the market can handle writing a semi-decent book with a team. Prepare for a slow and buggy experience, even using top-of-the-line MacBooks!
Nevertheless, we pushed through it and persevered! In the end, we had a team of five working on the book (and everyone was on my payroll — yikes!) In total, I think I spent around $ 5,000-$10,000 on the whole process. The team temporarily got larger with quick contracts for the proofreader, the illustrator, and the formatter (not sure what you call the professionals who compile a printable version of the manuscript — lol, and I've published a book 😂).
Unfortunately, we ended up parting ways with my original illustrator after she ghosted me when I paid her to translate the cover into English (this was $50 if I remember correctly). As for the formatting — I ended up redoing most of the work because the formatter didn't use much automation provided by InDesign. For instance, the black line to the left from the "musings" and "fun facts" was formatted manually for every instance. And here was I, wondering what took her so long!
However, in the end, I got a nice list of styles with inheritance that I've used throughout the book! Message me if you ever want to borrow my list of styles. I'm happy to share the work. I learned a lot of InDesign and formatting basics. For instance, the stupid rules about not leaving short words like "a" and "an" on the previous line — and how to make InDesign do this automatically! I read a lot of blog posts and support tickets on the Adobe forums to do a thing so simple — format a large piece of text into a book.
The amount of bugs and things that don't work (and no one knows how to make them work) in InDesign is dumbfounding. For instance, I still don't understand why my paragraph borders look like crap in EPUB format — so I manually turn them off before exporting. Anyone who has ever seriously worked with InDesign knows how much it sucks — and I'm here a living example of such a person. Even on my beefed-up MacBook, the app is so slow I can steep a cup of tea while the document loads the preview of my style changes.
The first launch
It was July 2022, and I caught COVID-19 for the first (and hopefully the last) time. I've been holding strong till then, but somehow, somewhere, my guard slipped, and I got to experience the COVID Tongue. After a couple of antigen tests showed that I was positive, we decided as a family that I would self-isolate in an airbnb somewhere in the Lower Mainland. My whole family caught COVID then anyway, but at least I got a few days of working on the launch alone.
The Russo-Ukrainian war has recently entered the active conflict phase, and the putler supporters started massacring and justifying the genocide of the Ukrainian people. This complicated my relationship with my country of origin, and I decided to give precisely zero cents in taxes to the russian government. Given the book's content teaching people to reason, I couldn't use traditional publishing houses — and they wouldn't want to work with me anyway. Who knows — maybe the readers would realize that waging war is stupid in the 21st century?
Fortunately, I've lived in Canada for a good portion of my conscious life, and I had no obligation to support the war with taxes. Sometime then, Balaji self-published The Network State. Given that he has invested in the company I've cofounded, I thought he wouldn't mind if I stole his website idea. This is precisely what I did — I created a quick website where one could buy the book's Ethereum token and read and download the book. You can still purchase the book there!
Judging by the fact that there are 410 token owners and that I was selling it for around $35, I got $14,350 in sales for this first launch alone. Not bad!
In the meantime, high-profile people started DM'ing me about how the book was one of the best reads in a while. Anton (a cofounder of 1inch) even called the book "a manual to the brain that we are so desperately lacking" (an indirect quote that might or might not be less or more favorable of the book — I'm telling you a story here, bear with me). At this point, I realized that I needed to expand the readership drastically by
Translating the book to English
My knowledge of "Great Britain is the capital of English" is good enough to translate a lot of stuff or even write the articles you guys subscribe to. However, my time is also limited — I don't live a thousand years, lol. I want to spend time with my children and family and advance my startup that I work full-time on. In fact, this is why you're reading this text on Monday — I spent Saturday waiting for a car detailing shop to finish cleaning up the glass from an early morning break-in in the building I live in. And this is precisely when I wrote this blog post.
So, I did what I do best. I called for a Russian-to-English translator on the aforementioned now-defunct Telegram channel. And behold! Various contractors quoted me up to $25,000 to translate the book into English. No bueno — it is more expensive than I spent on the book. However, one person — a translation student in Russia — quoted a reasonable hourly rate. I decided to try it, only to realize that you must be familiar with the cultural differences to translate well enough. You must live in an environment to say, "Oh, that doesn't sound right." Some translations make perfect sense on paper, but people don't talk this way.
I then tried — and failed — to translate the book independently. However, GPT-4 just came out, and I realized I can make it translate stuff! Back then, there was still that stupid limit of 25 messages every 3 hours — unless you used API. So I took Chatbot UI — an independent open-source project that connects to OpenAI API and allows users to use GPT-4 without limits — and translated the whole book from Russian to English a few pages at a time. This was a tedious — but relatively cheap process. I believe I only spent about $300 on the API calls. Compare this to a thousand bucks I spent translating just the book's first part that I didn't even use.
Then I hired an experienced English editor on Upwork — and he proofread the whole book, added necessary context, and explained some things that I apparently failed to adequately describe to the reader! He even pointed out why the animal is called a cow, and the meat is called beef. I read about it around the same time in "The Power of Babel," but this personal touch was great.
There was a lot of copy-pasting. I copy-pasted from InDesign to ChatGPT, then from ChatGPT to InDesign, and then did the same with the editor — I copy-pasted so much that I dreamt of copy-pasting. However, by the end of it, I had a fully translated English edition of "We Don't Live a Thousand Years," maintaining the tone and adjusting for the cultural differences. Translators are out of work — the machines do the translations so much better now.
Now, the renaissance of AI has started to speed up. Midjourney was coming up with better and better image generation models. I used it like I was crazy. I made 5 illustrations daily within the same "astronaut in a space suit with a nebula in the background" style for months, and I've illustrated every chapter on the website. I have also generated the cover with Midjourney. We truly live in the best time ever to create content.
Did I ever mention that I've also generated a music album with AI and published it on all the major streaming platforms? Yeah, I did that, too, in the meantime. I explain in the book how I stay so productive. Seriously, go pick up the book!
With a few quick modifications (and bug-adding) to the book's website, all token holders could now also enjoy the book in English! It was time for the big boys' league.
Searching for publishers
I've never published a book before — so I did what I do best. First, I annoyed the hell out of everyone I knew, close or adjacent to the publishing industry. I even messaged one of the cofounders of one of the largest publishing houses in Europe, currently living in the US. He promptly ghosted me like a few distant relatives after we inadvertently made them drive an hour to drop us off at a motel when we came to visit. I don't blame them — I'd ghost myself too!
After reading enough about the publishing business in North America and talking to many people familiar with the subject, I learned that:
- No one will look at you without an agent (because agents filter out the trash).
- Agents reply in 8-156 weeks (this is not a typo).
- Actually, agents mostly don't reply (as they politely state: in case we don't receive a reply, then they have looked at the proposal and thrown it away).
- If you propose a fiction, you need a full manuscript ready; if you propose a non-fiction, you need to send an idea and maybe the first few pages.
- The main purpose for the agents is to find you a publisher and get a 15% cut of all your proceeds.
- The main purpose for the publishers is to take a deal, print the books, sell the books, and keep their high percentage of profits.
- Nowadays, most publishers make the authors promote their works; yes, wtf the book industry?!
Now, what do I do if I not only have a full non-fiction manuscript but I've also sold over 400 copies of it?
Apparently, I get auto-replies, and no one ever reaches out to me. I've applied to a few agencies — yet I have never received a response. Granted, there might be glaring issues in my queries, and I've only tried Canadian agencies — but I got so fed up with all this ghosting that I decided to sell my soul to the Devil himself — Jeff Bezos.
You know what — if I have to market the book myself, I'd rather do a poor job myself than outsource it to a publishing house that will do a poor job as well! After all, I'd like to only blame myself for the book (and maybe my co-author, too, a bit).
Having exclusive and full rights to the IP (not
127.0.0.1, but the book's text), I decided to try my luck at Kindle Direct Publishing. Obviously, I did not read any manuals and simply asked ChatGPT to walk me through the process step-by-step.
Fortunately, Kindle Direct Publishing is as easy to use as possible — even though the UI is pretty dated. You upload the cover, the text, and some metadata. I ended up feeding the first few chapters of the book to ChatGPT and getting it to write an involving description — it did fine. I had no idea what keywords to use, so I asked ChatGPT as well, asking to optimize for discoverability.
Kindle Direct Publishing also has a tool where you can import your docx files (lol) and format the book specifically to look great on Kindle devices. Unfortunately, this tool doesn't know how to work with the InDesign files, so I simply uploaded the pre-formatted exports of InDesign. Screw the DRM, so I opted out of that. I then filled out my Author profile on Author Central (obviously, generated the bio with ChatGPT because I already had a dialogue with the first chapters in — basically my short biography anyway).
In around 48 hours, the book was published on Amazon in all three editions — ebook, softcover, and hardcover. Before you publish the book, you can use a smart preview tool that checks your formatting and tells you if you need to fix anything. Fortunately, I only had to slightly modify my cover to suit the larger printed version of the book.
Now, why does my book cost $9.99 for the Kindle edition? That's because Amazon gives you two options:
- Price the book between $0.99 and $9.99 and get 70% royalty minus the printing costs (free for the ebook editions).
- Price the book between $0.99 and $200 and get a 35% royalty.
What the actual hell? When I was selling my book on the book's website, I was getting 100% of the proceeds minus the taxes. I sold only 410 books and got $14,350! If I sell 410 ebooks, I get $2,867.13. This is roughly 5 times less money! And in my world, five times less money sucks.
So now, why are so many titles priced on Kindle at $9.99? The answer is quite simple: to get the same royalty for a book priced above $9.99, you have to start at $20! Again, whether you buy an electronic book for $9.99 or for $20 at the Kindle store, the author gets the same ~$7! So it's worth it to price the book at either $9.99 or at like $100 to get me the same $35 as I was getting before!
Are you sure a first-time author like me would price their books at $100 to have 0 sales? Of course not! So enjoy "We Don't Live a Thousand Years" at the low price of $9.99 — thank you, Jeff Bezos!
So here we are — two years later, I have published "We Don't Live a Thousand Years" on Amazon, available worldwide in various editions. I also retained all the rights (if I understood the fine print correctly), and I only had to sell my soul to one evil billionaire.
It's been a wild — and mostly lonely ride. We finished the book in the first year, and I got the most feedback about it (all positive) in the first quarter of the second year. Then came the year of copy-pasting, AI, and constant ghosting by the industry titans.
I hope you found the article above at least somewhat useful, and at most entertaining. I don't think I've talked to machines as much as I did over the last year — and all of it just to bring you, the readers, the knowledge that I've gathered over the last decade.
So, please, go pick up a book — even if it's just a $9.99 ebook copy — and share your thoughts on the Kindle store as a review. I'd appreciate all the good reviews — and would like you to refrain from posting angry reviews. Remember, when you buy on Amazon, sellers can see your home address!
P.S., if you have the book's token, you're eligible for a free printed version! DM me to get it.