How I Did It: Nate Burgos’ eBook BROKEN

By Lisa Hazen

BROKEN: Navigating the Ups and Downs of the Circus Called WorkNate Burgos and I have worked together for quite some time. I edit his blog pieces on Design Feast, and my husband has done some illustration work for him. Last year, he asked me to help him edit his most ambitious project yet—an eBook he called BROKEN, a book that focusing on common workplace dynamics and challenges. But particularly how to make changes in the office to both work better and produce better work.

I wanted to interview Nate for this site because authors commonly consider their process a solitary one. A writer, a laptop, lots of time and lots of coffee. But from the start, Burgos chose to make his effort a collaborative one. Stephanie di Biase was his cowriter. I was his editor. Although Nate did not consider himself a writer by trade, he still had both the skills and resources to tell his story. Here’s how it all came together.

What inspired you to write BROKEN?
Work experiences fed BROKEN. Patterns were gleaned of how people do, don’t, can, should, treat each other in the workplace, on a project. BROKEN is about working better—for people to be better at working well. This is a basic need, a ruthlessly persistent one.

How did you collaborate with Stephanie during the process?
Stephanie joined as co-writer on February 2, 2012. For a year, she shared the same activity to contribute to every chapter. No formal due dates were given. She dictated her time to write.

Web-based app Backpack was used for the initial round of writing. Then the writing was switched to using the Text Documents feature in Basecamp. In retrospect, though not deemed a writing tool, Basecamp was more than sufficient for this book project, considering that its adjacent project-management related features, especially Discussions, were very useful. In a way, Basecamp is a writing tool wrapped in a project-management environment.

With each iteration of the manuscript, we met on Skype to clarify, brainstorm, vet (and vent) discuss, and decide, with nourishing moments of laughter here and there.

What greatly supported the ease of collaborating with Stephanie was the book’s subject matter of working on digital projects, working with clients, working as part of a consulting team—in a nutshell, working. Like me, Stephanie is a designer. This project revealed that she is also an excellent no-frills writer.

How did you balance the process of writing the book with your “day” job?
I don’t have a strict time during the day, or a fixed schedule, that I repeat to invest in writing. My habit of writing is whenever I can, whenever I feel like it. I’m a slow-cooker when it comes to writing. Wish I was a sprinter-writer.

Since you are not a writer by trade, how did you approach the process of writing this book?
By writing. The first form was a list. From June 2010 through January 2011, bits, related to the subject matter of BROKEN, were gathered and collected. This list was then printed and each entry was cut in preparation for a clustering exercise. This led to the chapters in the book. Entries from the list served as bricks or scaffolds to help guide and stimulate the writing of each chapter. Making a list is a very useful method to make a book. The origin of a book is a list.

What sort of budget—both in cost and in time—did you allot yourself during this process?
Considering that having illustrations made and having eBook formats built were decided early on, these were known expenses. The difference was that I envisioned the eBook part to be an expense only consisting of energy and time. I was anticipating either to use a tool like Tablo or furbish an eBook from InDesign, which I used to design the layout. But my lack of patience and confidence to learn a do-it-yourself approach, plus a nagging feeling about whether or not the result would be seamless on current eBook reading devices and platforms, steered me to use a service that specialized in producing and (the other advantage of) distributing eBooks. From a recommendation by Jessica Karle Heltzel, co-author of Kern and Burn: Conversations With Design Entrepreneurs, I signed up with Vook, who were awesome to work with.

Typefaces became another critical need that was realized later, because I originally intended to rely on my staple collection of fonts. Craving to use different typefaces was strongly felt when it came to designing the front cover and interior. There are so many wonderful choices by independent type designers and foundries. BROKEN was an opportunity to try a different pair of fonts. To echo the book’s colophon, Okay Type’s Harriet and Dunwich Type Founder’s Recovery were selected.

How has the book been received since it was published?
So grateful about the reception, like this by designer and Graphic Icons author John Clifford and this by Hike Conference co-organizer Laura Helen Winn, sparked from when BROKEN finally was announced. Dave Cuzner featured the book at his awesome blog Grain Edit. And I’ve been invited to talk about BROKEN at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology. So far, so (gratefully) good, with spreading awareness about the book.

It’s very satisfying—and humbling—to reach this part of the process, the post-book launch process. Like making the book, promoting is also an iterative process, with different approaches applied to copywriting, communication, pitching ideas to people or groups that may find a mutual benefit with helping to promote the book. Promoting a book is just as involved, if not more so, than writing, editing, and designing it.

What would you do differently next time?
Since I started to share about how BROKEN was made, this would be a great topic to examine, considering that the opportune time to reflect on a project is when it’s done and delivered. One top-of-mind thing I would do differently is take more time to review the (Thanks to you, Lisa!) edited and re-edited manuscript before submitting it, in order to have it turned into eBook formats. I caught errors that should have been fixed way earlier. Then again, blatant errors, in a manuscript, tend to conceal themselves in full view.

Any advice to others who are considering publishing their first book?
This statement by author and speaker Seth Godin, featured by Swissmiss, serves a necessary push of crystal-clear motivation:

“The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, ‘I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.’”

Once motivation is kindled and kept alive, work quietly. I only shared that I was working on BROKEN after the manuscript was designed and entered eBook production. So keep your project to yourself. Sweeter to share in this manner, as you’re already close to making your book available, compared to being far from the I’m-not-quite-there-yet line.

Here’s to you taking the book inside you and putting it out there! Wish you all the best in starting your book and seeing it how it unfolds, from heart to paper to readers.

Lisa Hazen is a Chicago-based Web Designer specializing in author sites. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or the WWW.