Writing Next Step Devotions was a labor of love that started in late 2020 and culminated with its publication in November 2022. Since this was my first book, I learned a lot along the way, doing some things well from the start but having to backtrack and improve afterward what I didn't do well initially. Perhaps some readers, especially aspiring authors, will enjoy reading about my experience writing the book, so below is a timeline. I explained in another blog post why I wrote Next Step Devotions, so I won't repeat that part of the story here.
October - December 2020:
Having decided in late summer 2020 to write the book, the first step was to read through every New Testament chapter and write down possible devotional topics. Some chapters yielded only a few possibilities, while others added many. I took notes during my daily devotional readings, eventually producing a 51-page, 27,000-word document with a master list of possible devotion topics by New Testament chapter.
January - February 2021:
In early January 2021, I went through the possible topics for the Gospel of Matthew and selected those for inclusion, being mindful not to repeat the main point of multiple devotions. I wrote the first few devotions on January 4 and kept writing at a reasonable pace throughout the month, completing the first drafts of 40 devotionals. I documented the completion of drafts, reviews, tasks, and more in a spreadsheet.
Writing a draft for one devotional, which I insisted on being less than 400 words, generally took about an hour - sometimes more, sometimes less. That included multiple readings and edits until I was ready to put it aside for later review on another day. A few days after writing each initial draft, I reread it at least three times, always finding things to improve. I had at least three of these future review sessions for every draft, each with at least three rereads.
Upon completing a month's worth of drafts, I sent them to several people to review for their feedback. Two reviewers were former pastors, both highly knowledgeable in the Bible. One was a published author of more than 20 books and my mentor through the process. The third reviewer was a former work colleague with tremendous communication skills whose feedback I valued from a communications perspective. All supplied helpful feedback that resulted in improvements. Not all three reviewers stayed with me through the book, but my mentor did; his input was invaluable. By the end of February, I had written 75 devotions.
March - June 2021:
Writing came to a screeching halt in early March 2021 due to moving from Louisville, Kentucky, to my hometown of Winchester, KY, in late April. There was far too much to do in selling one home, buying another, and settling into the new home and community to concentrate on writing. Therefore, I wrote nothing from March 6 through May 23. I started dipping my toe in the writing waters about a month after we moved into our new home, but I only wrote one devotion in May and two in June.
Out of curiosity, I visited a few publisher websites and inquired about their services. Most of those contacts became ongoing annoyances and not helpful. I was inclined to self-publish through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
I could finally focus again and start on a regular writing schedule in July 2021. That continued at a pace of about 21 devotions per month until all 366 devotions were drafted by July 2022.
The most significant thing to happen in July 2021 was my introduction to Grammarly software. I was unfamiliar with the tool until my mentor told me about it. I purchased a premium subscription, an expense worth far more than the cost. With Grammarly finding a host of items to review from that point forward, I learned much about good writing. Of course, I didn't always agree with and accept its suggested changes, but there were far more helpful suggestions than poor ones. My main gripe about Grammarly is that it would sometimes show another batch of hundreds of suggested edits out of nowhere, whereas there were none the day before when I closed the document. I don't know why Grammarly does that, but the new suggestions were almost always legitimate, so I'd grin and bear it. Another complaint about Grammarly is that the add-in for Word doesn't allow for ignoring quoted text in its suggested edits. No, Grammarly, I will not revise my Scripture quotations or make all the corrections you want to make to the Apostle Paul's writings.
August 2021 - May 2022
This was a long period of plugging away at the process. By late summer 2021, I was resigned to the reality that the book would not be finalized for a late 2021 release as I had initially hoped. I wasn't sure if I could get it done early in 2022. If not, I would probably be better off spending the bulk of 2022 on it, making it the best I could for a late 2022 release. As a dated devotional book, I suspect many readers would prefer to start reading the book on January 1, if possible, so a mid-year release wasn't as attractive as a last-quarter release. Between my mentor and Grammarly, I had a steady flow of suggested improvements in addition to those I determined myself through the ongoing reviews.
I was able to get away from home for a week in June 2022 and focus on writing while housesitting for my son and daughter-in-law in Louisville, Kentucky. I even made a new friend in Chloe, their cat. This was my first of two writing retreats away from my daily routines and commitments. It was tremendously successful in the quantity of work completed. I can't say enough good about the value of locking oneself away in a different environment with none of your regular responsibilities and distractions hindering your focus. If I ever write another book, I will attempt to spend at least one whole week per month in solitude away from home to focus on writing.
One of the most significant events impacting the book for the better happened in July 2022. I watched the videos of sessions held in June at the annual Kentucky Christian Writers Conference. I registered for the conference once I learned about its existence in the spring, but I couldn't attend it live since it occurred over three days when we were keeping our grandkids. I finally set aside time in July to watch the sessions, read the chat transcripts and handouts, take many notes about resources and suggestions for better writing, and follow up on them. This was a game-changer! After viewing the conference sessions, my list of things to review and change about my writing was extensive. I had violated many of the rules mentioned by the conference speakers. It would take a while to go back through everything I had written (about 80% of the book) and make changes, but it would eventually be worth it. To do so, I added another massive final review of all devotions to my schedule once I completed all drafts. The good news is that I had those new writing tips in mind from this point forward as I finished the last 20% of devotions for the book, making the final ones better the first time around than I had done with those written earlier.
In response to an episode of the Christian Publishing Show podcast (which I learned about through the conference videos), I started creating an author website on the Wix platform. Wix has an author site template, which was a significant factor in my decision. I started tinkering with the platform and slowly building the site to launch simultaneously with the book. Having done web development through the years, the task was doable for me, so I looked forward to learning a new platform.
After benefitting much from the June writing getaway at my son's house, I eagerly scheduled another ten days in seclusion at a friend's house in July while she traveled out of the country. This time I made a new friend with her dog, Rex. During this getaway, I finally finished the drafts of all 366 devotions despite having COVID for a few of those days. Phew! What a relief! This was a significant milestone. This left the final edits plus writing the introductory parts of the book, the back indexes, the book cover, and the KDP publishing process (not to mention marketing it).
August - October 2022
Most of these months were spent making the final significant edits for all 366 devotions. Among them was the goal to make each more concise by shortening them from around 390 to 330 words each. Doing so required implementing many of the writing conference speaker suggestions. It also allowed a little white space at the bottom of each devotion for notes, which I wanted since each reading ends with a "Next Step" prompt that might require note-taking for best results.
I also wrote the front matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, acknowledgments, Introduction, and How to Get the Most from This Book), reviewing them numerous times over several weeks. I added a Scripture Index and a Devotional Subject Summaries section at the back. Everything was coming together, but I still lacked a cover design.
I started tinkering with KDP's publishing process in the days leading up to the book's content and cover design completion. This helped remove the lack of clarity about the process for this first-time book author. The process nudged me to other discoveries regarding ISBNs, QR codes, pricing considerations, and more. My mentor answered a few KDP-related questions.
I had several discussions with one of my sons about cover design over a few months, tinkering with ideas occasionally. As we got down to the wire and all we lacked was the cover, we finally dove into the challenge. I was unimpressed with KDP's cover creator tool due to limited customization options. Designing my own or hiring it out was necessary for a professional look. After a few drafts, I awoke in the middle of the night, thinking of going in a completely different direction. When I arose that morning, I chose a royalty-free graphic from Pixabay.com and designed the front and back cover by mid-day using Microsoft PowerPoint. It went much easier than I had expected, especially with the required size dimensions and a graphic overlay from KDP based on the actual size of my book.
My mentor's suggestion regarding ISBNs was to purchase a group from Bowker.com rather than have Amazon assign one. I hope to publish several editions of my book, each requiring a unique ISBN. It also makes a difference when publishing to non-KDP platforms. The Bowker purchase was a quick and easy process and the source of the QR code for the back cover and other marketing materials. I used Bowker's tools for assigning an ISBN to the book and then added that to the book's copyright page.
By the afternoon of November 4, everything was complete in KDP, so I ordered some proof copies. They were on my doorstep by Monday morning - genuinely impressive to me. Based on the proof copies, I made a couple of front and back cover changes. After submitting them, I focused on making final changes to my new website for a few days. The website changes went well, so by November 10, I was ready to release the book and website to the public. I was surprised that KDP takes up to 72 hours once you tell them to publish before the book and its details are available on Amazon. I can understand why but given the quickness of getting proof copies days earlier, this was a bit disappointing. Over the next two days, everything else in the KDP publishing process fell into place, so the book and description were available by November 12. I created an Amazon author page linked to the book and connected my new website blog RSS feed to the Amazon author page so that visitors to the Amazon author page will see my latest blog posts with links to them.
So, what's next?
Getting the book written and published is a significant accomplishment, but not if nobody buys and reads it. So now comes the next ongoing job of promoting it through various avenues. I intend to devote about four hours daily, Monday-Friday, to the task, including managing the website forum, blogging, marketing, social media, events, public speaking, teaching, and more. What happens in this regard in the months (and hopefully years) to come warrants a future post when there is more to tell.
I realize that many suggest doing a lot of marketing before a book release, and I understand that. I've been vocal about it personally and on social media for a long time. However, my profession before retiring was to manage a thriving online community for a fortune 50 company, taking it from its inception to an award-winning community of 85,000 people over ten years. I prefer the slow and steady approach to growth over the Big Bang approach, so I consider my part-time job now to be growing a readership and online community over time that makes a positive difference in others' lives. I have many other avenues of volunteering through my church and a commitment to being with my 88-year-old parents as much as possible, so I won't lack anything to do during these misnamed retirement years.
As for the next step for Next Step Devotions, I intend to produce different editions that quote other popular Bible translations. I used the Christian Standard Bible in this first edition because of its readability and ease of understanding. People often have their favorite translations, so it's reasonable to produce future editions that use translations such as the NIV, ESV, KJV, and others. There may also be other editions for smaller groupings of devotions, but it's too early to commit to that. It's also too early to say if there will be an equivalent volume based on Old Testament passages.
The process of writing a book is serious business. It takes discipline and commitment. It is not for the faint of heart. But holding a printed copy in my hand and having an opportunity to impact others positively is an incredible reward for that effort. I learned much along the way, both what I did well (I think) and what I wish I had known before I started. That goes with being a newbie, and I'm okay with that.
I look forward to continuing to learn and get better at my craft of writing, teaching, and public speaking. As long as God gives me breath and life, I'll have work to do making disciples who make disciples.