Should I Write A Book? Where do I even start?

A conversation with Jean Humbrecht, author and attorney

After writing and publishing my (hopefully first) book in 2020, I learned a lot about the process of writing, publishing, and promoting-and how to do all of those things during a worldwide shutdown.

I learned what parts of the process I could and could not do, and more importantly, what parts I should and should not do.

I also learned how to promote my book in unconventional ways, since traditional in-person promotional events were not possible.

Why Did I Write A Book?

The impetus for me to write a book was twofold: one, I always wanted to write a book, and two, I wanted increased exposure for my business.

The problem was, I didn’t know where to start. I don’t consider myself “creative” and did not see it in my future to ever write a fiction book.

So, being an attorney, I decided to write about the law.

But, what about the law? There are so many topics I could have written about, and just thinking about all of them was overwhelming. There are endless topics within criminal law and endless topics within the subject of criminal defense alone.

And just because something may be interesting to me does not mean it would be interesting to other people and they would want to read about it.

One burning question that I had trouble answering was, what will people actually want to read or learn about?

So I thought to myself: What will most people be interested in? What can most people relate to? What do I know a lot about? What will be useful to people? What topic will not require so much research that it takes away from my day job (going to court and practicing law)?

And it hit me like a ton of bricks-most people have received speeding tickets.

And a lot of people do not go to court to fight them for various reasons — they do not want to take the time, think it is pointless, etc.

So I decided to write about all of the consequences (often unknown) of speeding ticket convictions in Virginia.

How is this Related to Criminal Defense?

It also occurred to me after I came up with this idea that a lot of people don’t know what a criminal defense attorney actually does.

You might even be thinking, what do speeding tickets have to do with crime?

A lot, actually. And I often get asked this question. In fact, traffic charges and issues can quickly become criminal, and people often do not realize this until it is too late.

For example, if you are convicted of a certain number of speeding or other traffic tickets in a short period of time, the Virginia DMV WILL suspend your privilege to drive in Virginia. If you drive while your license is suspended and are caught, that is a criminal charge which is punished with possible jail time and additional mandatory driver’s license suspension.

Additionally, driving over certain speeds in Virginia can be charged as Reckless Driving, which is a crime and cannot be pre-paid without going to court.

Writing the Content

I had my idea – finally. Great! I thought that was the hardest part. I was wrong.

I know about speeding tickets. I know the laws and penalties, I know when speeding can be charged as a crime, and I know about DMV points.

But once I started writing and explaining everything, I researched to find the exact code section. And that code section referenced a code section I was not aware of.

So, there was more research to do. And I wanted to make sure everything was verified, so I cited everything and have lots of footnotes (and some footnotes have multiple references within them).

As I began writing, I got more ideas for chapters than I originally had planned.

If I learned one thing I didn’t know before starting this process – no matter how small or insignificant – I researched that topic.

I wanted to make sure I covered different variables and contingencies, which resulted in more research.

Before I knew it, a book for which I originally thought I could only gather enough information for the size of a pamphlet exploded into over a hundred pages.

I Wrote Everything I Wanted To – Now What?

Now the content is written. Again, you think the hardest part is done. But, what do you do next? How do you get that content into an actual book and formatted properly? And do you want it in hard copy or as an e-book?

I knew I needed to cut down on the number of pages because it was just too long. I also needed a book cover and I needed to figure out how to actually upload my book to the online selling platform I decided to use.

Editing the Content

It got to the point that I had so much information in my book, I knew I had to cut some things out and be more concise or no one would read it.

This was difficult for me to do. I have always struggled with writing concisely, but being in the position of publishing a book forces you to be succinct. There was no requirement on how long or short my book needed to be to publish – but I just felt like it was too long.

And going through this process, I found that there was a lot of information in the book that was repetitive.

While there are 22 chapters on the 22 topics, a lot of the information references other sections of the book.

While writing, sometimes I would move sections and chapters around because it seemed to flow better. And in doing that, I sometimes had the same information multiple times in different parts of the book.

I had to make sure I covered it sufficiently the first time I mentioned the information in the book and referenced the correct section or page number when I discussed it in a later chapter.

After that process, which took a few months in my downtime (time not in court), I cut it down to almost half of what it was.

It was so hard to do, but it had to be done.

E-Book or Hard Copy?

Easy decision right? Nope.

It is not as simple as uploading your book and clicking boxes for different publishing and formatting options.

The actual layout of the book has to be different for a hard copy version and an e-book of the same content. This is something to think about before getting to the publication part of the process. You will need to figure out how to do the different formatting for the book or else pay a professional (discussed below), as it takes more time and more work.

During this process, I found out that e-books (at least as of the time of publishing my book) were more popular for fiction than non-fiction. Since my book is non-fiction, I decided to just stick with the hard copy version of my book for the time being.

Choosing the Right Book Cover

I am not a creative person, so I did not think there was any way I could design my own book cover. Luckily, there are programs and services out there that make this process much easier than I expected.

Amazon, for example, makes the process so simple by providing stock book covers that you can use that have been previously designed. This will save you time and money, but keep in mind that someone else may have the same book cover if his or her book is published by Amazon.

Alternatively, you can design your own book cover with programs such as Canva, or you can outsource to companies where you can find a bargain designer, like Fiverr. You can also pay a graphic designer to design the cover for you.

Using a Professional for Editing, Layout, and Cover

When you first start writing a book in a Word document, you might not think about how it will convert to a book format whose pages are not 8½ x 11.

You take a guess, google how many Word pages equals a book that is a certain size, and get an estimate on cost.

But there is much more to it than this. Citing to another page of the book presents another issue-if what you are citing is on page 10 of an 8 ½ x 11 document, it will not necessarily be on page 10 if the book is smaller when published – as most books are.

It is possible to do the layout of your book on Amazon or another online platform yourself. They have the tools and software you can download quite easily, and there are tutorials and YouTube videos that walk you through laying out the book so it can properly upload and print the way you want it to.

I tried to do this myself; I tried over and over again, but could never get the layout to look the way I wanted it to look.

After many weeks of working on this and other things in my “spare” time, I finally broke down and hired someone to do the layout for me.

And I am so glad I did.

The book was completed almost instantaneously, it was laid out exactly the way I wanted it, and at that point was immediately available for publication. When I say immediately, I mean within a couple of hours.

As a business owner, you wear many hats.

In fact, you usually wear ALL of the hats at the beginning (and sometimes throughout the life of your business). You answer your own phones, keep your own books, do your own taxes, and maybe even work on your own website.

You learn how to do certain things you were never taught in school out of sheer necessity.

By default, you also may think you can learn how to do all of the parts of publishing a book yourself. I learned how to design a website or do taxes, I can surely learn this, right?

While this technically may be true, it is analogous to learning when you should outsource certain business tasks that someone else can do and on which you should not spend your time.

If you can pay someone to do a task that frees up your time to do other things that only you can do for your business (for me it would be researching case law, reviewing evidence and discovery, preparing my clients for court, and actually going to court), then that is the way to go.

It is sometimes hard to recognize when we need to do this when we are overwhelmed dealing with a growing business.

But the same considerations apply to publishing your book. Some professionals design book covers, work on the layout, provide editing services, and work in marketing (including social media marketing).

Yes, Amazon has pre-designed book covers you can use for free, and yes they have tutorials on how to layout your book when uploading it from your version to their website.

But consider hiring someone to help with these tasks so you don’t spend countless hours trying to do this yourself, to no avail. You will save yourself time, heartache, sleepless nights, and frankly money, as your time would be better spent on earning more money for your business than it would cost to have a professional handle these tasks.

After it is designed, you can upload the book cover along with your book to the platform on which you want to publish your book. Most graphic designers have experience uploading books to Amazon and other online selling platforms and may even be able to help you with this process.

Uploading to Online Selling Platform

Amazon makes it incredibly easy to upload materials. You can even update your book again if you want to make changes or print a newer edition, and the new edition is available almost instantaneously. You can also upload your own book cover, as mentioned above, or choose a cover that Amazon provides.

Publishing the Book

After all of this hard work, spending money on various aspects of publishing the book, and then finally publishing the book, of course, I wanted to actually make some money.

But we were in the midst of the pandemic. The in-person promotional events I had scheduled were canceled (or at least postponed with no new dates in sight).

So how could I promote my book?

Promoting Your Book in Unconventional Ways

How was I going to promote my book when we were prohibited from gatherings above certain numbers, as well as people not feeling comfortable going in public (even if legally allowed to)?

My option was online and social media.

Because I had been networking for a long time and grew up in the DC area, I knew a lot of people and had a lot of connections.

I leveraged connections I had within different Chambers of Commerce and other networking organizations to arrange talks, presentations, and workshops discussing the content of my book.

I was a guest speaker on podcasts and other people’s live-streamed videos and spoke at Rotary Clubs and other groups. I even collaborated with a fellow Chamber member who also recently published his first book about doing a joint book tour to help each other out (my audience would see him and his audience would see me), and as a result, we were both panelists at a presentation with the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce about “How to Get Your Book Written”.

One important part of this promoting process was that I took the initiative to reach out to people.

I was assertive and not afraid to have someone say no.

And actually, no one said no to any of my requests. There could be a variety of reasons for this (I only approached people I knew for a long time, I offered to do something for them in return such as promoting them on my social media channels, etc.)

I would have had none of those speaking opportunities if I didn’t ask.

And that is where having your established network comes in very handy.

In addition to being an author, Jean is the CEO and attorney behind Humbrecht Law PLLC. Check out Jean’s book, More Than a Fine: The True Cost of Speeding in Virginia.

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