Making Things Happen

July 8, 2014

Tom's Fire

When my older son Nick was a toddler, he used to sit in the kitchen and smash trucks. It went like this:

We had a long, picnic-table-style oak dining table that we kept along a wall across from the refrigerator. Nick would sit at one end, slung snugly into his hook-on infant seat, grab his big toy truck, and push it as hard as he could. It would careen clear down the length of the table, go flying off the other end, and go Crash! onto the floor.

He would laugh with unbridled glee.

We would then fetch the truck, walk it back over to him, and he would start the process over again. And again.

He got the biggest thrill out of this, and we did, too, watching him. I didn’t think it was simply the guilty-pleasure shock value of the loud crash itself that he loved. It seemed to me, it was what psychologists sometimes call sense of agency: the awareness that you are initiating, executing, and controlling your own volitional actions in the world. It’s why toddlers love to break things, drop things, toss things, as soon as they’re able. It’s not a destructive impulse; quite the opposite. It’s the exhilaration that comes with the realization, I made that happen.

I thought about Nick and his truck a few weeks ago.

I’d been a little frustrated with the process of publishing. Brandon Webb (my Navy SEAL sniper buddy and Red Circle coauthor) and I have written a second book together, but it’s taking a tortuous route to get it into the marketplace where people can actually read it.

We sold it to a publisher back in mid-2012, but since then it’s been through a complicated sequence of changing editors, different publishers, and the shifting tectonic plates of the post-2008 New York publishing world. Although we finished writing it in 2013, at this point it won’t see the light of day until some time in 2015.

In other words: we pushed our toy truck with all our might and shot it clear across the table … but we aren’t hearing that satisfying crash! on the other end yet — and won’t hear it for another year.

So a few weeks ago, mainly as therapy, I decided it was time to learn how to put out a book myself in the brave new world of instant digital self-publishing, through Kindle, iBooks, and CreateSpace (Amazon’s paperback print-on-demand arm).

I had a book I’d published back in 2007, a collection of essays and editorials on network marketing, titled The Zen of MLM: Legacy, Leadership, and the Network Marketing Experience. I’d self-published this the old-fashioned way, hiring an actual production house to print up thousands of copies and ship the whole pallet to a warehouse in Texas, where I would pay another company a commission to take and fulfill orders.

2007. That’s seven years ago—in technological time, another era. It was high time I updated the book. So I added some 64 pages of new material and got it ready to publish as a new, revised and expanded edition.

There are excellent services that will do this for you. BookBaby, which came highly recommended by my highly successful self-publishing author friend Dan Clements, will take your Word file, reformat it, and put it up as an ebook on every major platform out there. Another friend recommended a person he knows who, for a fee, would do all this complicated work herself.

But I didn’t want to pay a fee, send off my file, and let someone else do all the rummaging around, slicing and dicing and formatting.

I wanted to go into the kitchen, sort out the raw ingredients, and figure out how to cook this dinner myself.

So I did. It took a solid week to figure out how to recast the book into the different file formats that each service required. (They’re all different.) And then, as the week wrapped, I published it. Just like that. A few clicks of the mouse, and there it was, open to the public worldwide, in three flavors: Amazon paperback vanilla, Kindle ebook chocolate, and iBooks strawberry.

In that great Robert Zemeckis film Cast Away, there is a moment where Tom Hanks has finally succeeded in striking a spark and using it to ignite a fire on his desert island. It’s just past dusk. He has built his little flame into a bonfire. Sparks fly everywhere. He stands back, throws out his arms, and shouts:

“Look what I have created! I have made fire!

That’s exactly how I felt, on my little publishing desert island, viewing the successfully formatted Kindle version of my book for the first time.

“I have made book!”

Pushing the thing clear across the table … and getting that satisfying crash! as it goes flying off the other end.



  1. Art Manville

    Great post, John. It is interesting, that I was working on this new project. Something, that I had been passionate about for years. I finally decided to do something about it and created my own presentation instead of waiting for others.

    I decided to push my own truck.

    What’s interesting, though is I have noticed that now that I have pushed the truck it feels sort of complete. Even though there is much more pushing that could be done.

    • jdmann

      Art – Nice!


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