Tractor Big Year: What’s the worst that can happen?

In the Old World, pre Kindle, you, the writer, sought the attention of a Big Publisher who stuck your paperback in Billy’s Bookshop. You can still opt for this strategy in 2018 and it can be sensible. What might you expect? At best . . . an Oprah bestseller! Or you might sell a few or more than a few. What’s your worst outcome? No Big Publisher notices you . . . not one . . . you don’t end up with a book at all!

In the Old World, pre Kindle, if you were REJECTED (note the jilted lover language), you could (and still can) pay someone to print your PDF and Photoshop’d cover, stick the book in your garage, and hawk it to friends. This was the old “Vanity Publishing” approach, one rightly stigmatised.

In the New World, your strategy can be to Self Publish your ebook and pbook. This is NOT Vanity Publishing – you mimic the professional steps of the Big Publishers by paying for editing, for cover design, for this and that. Your ebook and pbook will NEVER end up in Billy’s Bookshop. What might you expect? At best . . . a bestseller! Or you might sell a few or more than a few. And your worst outcome? Because it’s not in Billy’s Bookshop, no one even notices its existence and all you end up doing is hawking a few to friends.

The worst outcome in the New World is no worse than it was (and can still be) in the Old World. At least your garage doesn’t smell of mouldy books!

Tractor Big Year: It’s a confusing world out there

Five days out of every six in 2018, I’ve spent an afternoon hour puzzling how to self publish. I can’t be more pleased with both my diligence (my “off” days have been travel or sick days) and my improved situation of the complex, messy world of publishing.

Needing to be bold, and acknowledging I might be mistaken, here’s how I’ve begun to see my environment in deliberately simplified language: (i) old people still buy paperbacks from Billy’s Bookshop, but ebooks will demolish all but a handful of bricks-and-mortar establishments within a decade; (ii) for romances, sci-fi, mysteries, and thrillers, self-published ebooks priced at $1 to $5 dominate the sales charts (in spite of all those James Pattersons you see in airports and supermarkets); (iii) kids’ books and textbooks are still physical; (iv) my history book lives somewhere in between those worlds.

Readers and writers, both, can choose to live in either the ebook world or the pbook (paperback) world. Readers and writers can stick with the Big Publishers or opt for the great unwashed world of Self Publishers.

In this interregnum of epochal change, there is no obvious optimal strategy. Me? I’ll aim for the future, take risks, and try to have fun.

Tractor Big Year: Better data on who publishes and sells what

Plenty of guff gets written about ebooks versus “real” books, and self-published books versus those produced by Penguin, Hachette, etc. For a huge industry, the publishing world has crap data, but over the past few years, a mysteriously named Data Guy, on a website called Author Earnings, has been gathering fresh data, especially from Amazon, and he has just published a landmark report that reinforces my plans. I can’t say I fully understand Data Guy’s analysis versus that from the older data providers, but other more experienced observers  trust his work and consider it to illuminate.

Take a look. Browse Data Guy’s findings. More than half the books sold recently are ebooks, and the share of market held by traditional publishers is steadily declining. Once upon a time, if you self-published, you ended up with a vanity project and a garage full of mouldering books. Now, self-publishing holds its head high.

Tractor Big Year: Inspiring good fun!

Every afternoon (mornings are for “real” work) I’m meant to spend an hour investigating the modern publication scene and tooling up to produce an ebook plus a paperback. The good news is that I’ve managed to do just that, each and every day (it hasn’t been easy to fit this in). The better news is that it’s a thrill a minute. If bookshops are still your thing, you’re missing out on the revolution-in-the-making that is rolling out, mainly courtesy of Amazon. Daily I’m amazed, discovering how much power modern authors hold in their hands.

That doesn’t mean self-publishing at the tail end of this second decade of the 21st century is easy, cheap (heck, no) or profitable (double “heck, no”), but more of that in future posts . . .

Tractor Big Year: This book is a great overview of self-publishing

An hour a day learning how to produce a book. How to self-publish. It’s more complicated than it looks. At each stage of the process, companies have sprung up to do it for you, for a buck or a cut. Such a wide subject cries for an introductory text and I’ve found one: Choosing the Best Self-Publishing Companies and Services 2018: How To Self-Publish Your Book” by Jim Giammatteo & John Doppler.

Here are the seven stages I need to navigate:

  • Write
  • Edit
  • Make me a book cover
  • Physically make an ebook or print book, including delivering the text in a suitable format
  • Distribute the ebook/print book to the places readers come
  • Market and promote
  • License other rights (audio, libraries, etc.)

I’m doing the first part right now. In the meantime this Big Year enforces discipline in negotiating all the complexities of the other six stages. The Giammatteo & Doppler book evaluates options for each stage and recommends the best ones. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Tractor Big Year: What is “fair use”?

Tractor Big Year is me doing an hour of work every afternoon on the nitty gritty planning preparatory to publishing/producing/making my damned book when it is ready. Why do this? First, in this era of digitization, this is a fascinating topic. Second, being ready is efficient. Third, it motivates drafting.

So . . . a first issue is something I’ve never thought about before. Attempting to bring history alive, I’ll be quoting others – participants in history, commentators, other historians – as often as I can. But I can’t quote willy-nilly. When do I have to ask for permission and when might it not be necessary? In the United States, a concept that reigns is that of “fair use,” which sounds logical but how the heck do you apply it?

Brianna Schofield and Robert Walker of the Author’s Alliance have written (108-pages as a PDF) what might be a most useful guide: “Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors.” Do I need to get copyright clearance each time I quote?They say: “In some situations, unlicensed use may be legally permitted by virtue of the “fair use” doctrine, a well-known (but oft-misunderstood) limitation to copyright in the United States.”

In I dive . . .


Hello, Big Year: Tractor

I’m over the moon anticipating this Big Year, but it will prove to be a major challenge to fit it in and, more important, make it productive.

”Tractor” is my code word for the book, which has a working title of Reactor (you don’t use or abuse precious words like names and titles), and the idea of this Big Year is to make sure I rigorously pursue the mechanics of self publication. What outlets will I use? How will I ensure there is a physical book as well as an ebook? How does one format an ebook, especially a complex one? Pricing? What cover design is best? What about copyright of the many quotes I plan to use throughout my book? And so on . . .

I could wait until the words are written (and I know some of you would tell me I shouldn’t let anything distract me from drafting). Instead my Big Year involves me spending one hour, no more, no less, each and every afternoon (except for some “off” weeks travelling), researching, exploring, readying, experimenting, etc.

I don’t expect the Tractor Big Year to be simple to achieve (my afternoons are nearly full!) or straightforward (what exactly am I to do and how do I ensure I don’t just pfaff around?). But I’ll try to excite myself daily and thrown myself in hard.

Andres’s Big Decade: How to obsess in 2018

I can’t wait for 2018! So much is going on in the lives of me and my family and friends. For the third Big Year (I’m turning 63 next year) in my Big Decade, I’ll swing at four obsessions. They range from all-consuming to “should be simple to fit in.” Not all details are settled yet but here’s 2018’s framework (beyond the joy of life itself):

1,000 Big Year

The nuclear power history book is still my albatross. After a maddeningly ineffective 2017 attempt to frame my writing push, in 2018 I focus on process and output. For each day in 43 weeks*, I draft 1,000 words (4 pages); draft uninterrupted between 5 AM and noon; ban morning Facebook and emails; micro plan, monitor & review.

You’ll note none of the “finish this or that by such-and-such date” project plans I’ve issued over the last two years and then clawed back. That doesn’t mean I won’t plan. I will and I’ll publicize in order to increase my accountability.

Tractor Big Year

Huh, you say? The working title for the book is Reactor but you don’t suck the life out of a title by using it all year. Hence Tractor, rhymes with Reactor? For each day in 43 weeks, I spend an afternoon hour researching, planning, readying for, and executing publication of Reactor.

Freshness Big Year

In 2016 I jogged a lot. This year I’ve tackled “fitness” by introducing cycling and arriving at an “exercise daily” regimen that works. Next year I’ll still exercise daily but at slightly lower intensity, plus I’ll address alcohol, diet, and insomnia.

“Freshness” is code for wellness, energy, and vigor. Note that 2018 can’t be the year to cycle huge distances, to do much tough or long-distance hiking (with one notable exception), to race, or to speed up. Instead I’m setting artificially strict regulations for 52 or 43 or 39 weeks (depending on which rule). I’m sure you’ll be amused at this quirky list:

  • 90/30/3 – each week, and only in the afternoons, exercise 9 times, cycling 90 kms, jogging 30 kms, and gym’ing 3 times. (Annual targets are 3,000 kms, 1,200 kms, 100 gyms.)
  • M-W AFDs + 14 – absolutely no alcohol for the first three days of each and every week, and no more than 14 standard drinks per week.
  • 2 alarms – each and every day, set an alarm to go to sleep and one to rise.
  • No snacking cheese – each and every day, stay away from cheese platters (cheese in recipes is fine).
  • No afternoon snacking at home – each and every day.

Stillness Big Year

“Stillness” is code for mindfulness, meditation, peacefulness, etc., etc. I could have called this the Headspace Big Year, but Headspace is a commercial product. I commit to spending 10 minutes each and every day following guided meditation according to the Headspace app.


Doing four Big Years flirts with overstretching but I believe I’ve structured the obsessions suitably. One big year, the most important one, carries a massive time commitment. Two of the four require an hour or two a day. The final one only takes ten minutes a day.

I’m now deep into practice for each of 2018’s four challenges, so that I can leap out of the gates on January 1.

2018 is bound to be a fascinating twelve months. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s also joyous, effective, and balanced.


* Travel and family commitments mean that, depending on which Big Year is involved, 2018 is 52 weeks or 43 weeks or 39 weeks.