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7 hard-won lessons from creating my latest blog series and ebook

September 14, 2015

The Future of Birmingham

I launched a new blog series and ebook on Friday! The Future of Birmingham is a look at the transformation of a city and what happens next. Both are free, so I hope you’ll read and share at

The project is a collaboration between me and 20 contributors. It marks the 10th anniversary of my first blog, Wade on Birmingham.

I’ve created several blog series and one ebook before. In putting it together, I picked up a few ideas on what to do differently next time …

1. Avoid making launch day on Friday afternoon. A better time would’ve been either Monday or Tuesday, but I wanted it to line up with my Oct. 6 anniversary date. C’est la blog.

2. The last 24 hours isn’t an ideal time to explore new publishing platforms. I was trying out Amazon’s CreateSpace, hoping the time I put in on designing the print book with that free site would save time in putting together the ebook for the giveaway. Nope.

I ended up going back to Plan A, which was to slap it together in InDesign. Fortunately, I can update the ebook whenever I like, and I do have quite a few photos to add.

3. Persistence pays off in securing contributors and a sponsor. I didn’t land a sponsor, because I wasn’t nearly persistent enough. Having a company pay to be a part of the project would’ve added some clout and promotional power, and also added some easy options for marketing and production. That doesn’t mean someone still can’t step forward as sponsor (contact me for details).

But I did land 20 co-authors, which is awesome! I had 21 contributors on “The Social Media Stars of Birmingham” (their submissions were simply answering a couple of questions, and they had no idea it was going into an ebook) and 13 contributors on my last blog series, Birmingham’s Best Eats.

4. Ask and be straightforward. You were going to ask me how I landed all those great writers and photographers, right?

In early August, I came up with a dream list of nearly 50 collaborators, almost all of whom I know. I emailed them about the project, the licensing, the word count, the deadline, the benefits (I fibbed when I told them no compensation — I’ll have a small token for each of them within the next few weeks) and the planned presentation. Some jumped right in, some had questions, a few graciously declined … and many simply never saw the email.

Having great collaborators sparks word of mouth and social sharing. They can be proud of their well-crafted essays and show them off to their readers, their fans and their loved ones.

Next time, to land 30 contributors, I’ll start a little earlier with a larger list. I’d really rather have more voices than me writing multiple pieces (and mostly at the last minute). Birmingham’s Best Eats was done completely by the team and not me.

5. Have several cover ideas, just in case. In thinking about the cover, only the most important image of the whole project, I landed late on “Complex Vision,” the recently restored sculpture on the exterior of UAB’s Callahan Eye Hospital on Southside. It’s a beautiful piece by Yaacov Agam, but it’s challenging for me as a designer in incorporating text … you know, like the title and author.

I wanted to avoid Vulcan on the cover (plus, that gets into licensing issues). “Complex Vision” felt right as a metaphor for the series and book. But I’ll probably tweak the cover quite a bit, time permitting.

6. Edit for readers, not writers. One of the conditions to writers was that the blog version would be 500 words or less, while the ebook version could be up to 2,000 words. I didn’t make the writers submit two versions, though.

I went in knowing that I’d be editing through pages and pages of first drafts. This has been one of the joys of my career, though I did not leave time for much collaboration on edits. I cut, I trimmed, I slashed.

The writers who have worked with me before know my process and my skill with tightening copy. Those who haven’t worked with an editor (or with me as an editor) may have been surprised at first, but hopefully understood that a finely honed essay elevates them in the readers’ esteem. We shall see.

7. The book has many functions. First of all, it’s an effective email-building tool. Second, it’s a companion to the blog series, offering more content and portability for those who want to read it offline. Third, it’s something special for the readers and the fans, a freebie to reward their kindness. Fourth, it’s a promotional tool as a digital item, since it will also be available (soon) in Kindle format on Amazon. Fifth, it will also be a print book (soon), allowing for all kinds of giveaways and campaigns.

It’s up to me to be creative in its distribution. I can’t wait!

This has been a fun project to mark 10 years in blogging. I hope you’ll stick around for more online adventures, and grab a copy of my book, too.

Get the free ebook


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