When I started planning the writing of The Great Hop Forward, I read that a successful Kickstarter campaign results from an audience built ahead of time. Therefore, the first thing I did was set up a Twitter account to do just that.
I like Twitter because I find it more conducive to establishing relationships than Facebook. I also like how Twitter allows you to create lists of those you follow in order to segment different audiences, communities, and information sources. And when you find suitable people or organizations to establish a relationship with, their followers are likely to be of interest to you, too, saving time hunting around for more followers.
To interest people in following you, you need to offer them something of value. My value proposition is to be the best information source in English for craft beer developments in China. I also want to encourage people to travel to China to experience the excitement of its economic and social transformation – craft beer being an interesting microcosm of that change.
Building an Audience
Ideally, visitors to China should be able to speak some Mandarin. So as a content marketing tactic, I came up with the idea for a Mandarin Beer Word of the Day (#MBWOTD) tweet. For those interested in learning Chinese beer vocabulary, it would be a reason to regularly view my Twitter feed and, hopefully, generate some dialogue.
As I was unable to find any published Chinese introduction to craft beer, such as Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, I needed to find sources for Chinese beer vocabulary. Fortunately, craft beer geeks are gregarious. They like to share their enthusiasm and information. It was just a matter of finding good websites online.
Gradually, I came to realize that many beer styles lacked established terms in Chinese. Either European words are used or they’re transliterated into Mandarin. But which homonyms to use? There is more than one way to approximate “lager” or “faro”. Then there are the conceptual translations. “California common” is elegantly rendered into 蒸汽啤酒 (zhēngqì píjiǔ), or “steam beer”, but “bière de garde”? Not so.
From Birdsong to Book
In creating the content for Mandarin Beer Word of the Day, I needed to synthesize the terminology I found to address those questions. Aside from already well-established words and phrases, I had to decide which ones best expressed the original European terms. Then, in compiling the content to publish #MBWOTD on Twitter, I quickly realized that this would also be useful as a document. Why not turn it into an e-book?
I could have just presented the terms in a single alphabetical list. However, I remembered from when I started to study Mandarin that it doesn’t help to learn the words if you don’t understand how to use them. So, I decided to include additional resources to increase the liklihood the book would be used.
Thinking of what process the first-time beer traveller to China would go through, I chose to include
- An overview of the development and current state of China’s craft beer industry.
- A comprehensive list of China’s craft breweries & brewpubs.
- An explanation of Chinese drinking etiquette.
- A typical scenario of spending an evening in a Chinese brewpub.
- China travel resources, including language and travel apps, visa information, and how to connect to Chinese social media networks.
- A select bibliography of books and videos to inspire further study and travel.
Easier Said Than Done
It’s one thing to have a collection of tweets and an outline of supporting content to write. Turning that into a professionally-published book is quite another. Like the adventure I hoped to encourage people to take, the creative process is a journey where you interact with numerous people along the way. What happens en route decides whether or not you’ll reach your destination. An unexpected turn can easily take you in a different direction, for better or for worse.
Often when I undertake a writing project, one of the first things that I do is to come up with a title for it. A well-chosen title not only helps to focus my writing, it’s also useful to succinctly communicate what you’re doing to other people. If the common reaction you get is one that you are hoping for, it confirms you’ve made a good choice. If not, you may want to come up with another title.
Glossaries and dictionaries are not terribly sexy. They are reference materials. That doesn’t mean they have to have boring titles. Many still do. I could have added to that pantheon by calling this book, Green’s English-Chinese Craft Beer Glossary. Such an academic-sounding title would have killed my interest in writing it. Instead, I aimed for something that spoke to what I wanted the book to do, not what it is. How to Drink Beer in Mandarin (HTDBIM) struck me as being suggestive of language learning, yet with enough ambiguity to encourage curiosity. I left it to the subtitle to answer the typical first question.
Writing the content was actually the straightforward part of this book, although building the vocabulary and tracking down details of new breweries in China were time-consuming. The more challenging aspect, for me, was getting it published. Should I publish it in print or electronically, via a publisher or independently? Where to turn to for advice? Google, of course!
From Manuscript to Book
Thanks to Google, I found Jane Friedman and her “How to Self-Publish Your Book” webpage. This was an invaluable resource. I highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone who is interested in publishing a book. It is how I discovered Smashwords and Mark Coker. Thanks to Mark’s free books – The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, Smashwords Style Guide, and Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – it confirmed for me that self-publishing HTDBIM as an e-book was my best approach. His publishing platform puts greater control back into the hands of authors, thereby bringing greater democracy to an industry that has become exploitative and restrictive for writers.
As I worked on building an audience by growing my online presence, I hammered away at completing the book. The one key element that was beyond the scope of my capabilities was designing a book cover. Fortunately, my friend, Yumi Ang, has a talent for graphic design. She very kindly agreed to take the time from her busy schedule to assist me.
Just before commissioning Yumi, my professional photographer friend, Brian K. Smith, was in China. I arranged for Brian to visit Xian Brewing in Xi’an, Slow Boat and 京A Brewery in Beijing. He was able to get some great images for me to use in the book, and I advised him of the sort of shot I was looking for to use on the cover. With that in mind, I provided Yumi with the art direction for my concept, including some crude mockups.
When working with creative people, however, I always like to leave room for their inspiration. Collaboratively engaging the creativity of other people can often lead you to a much better result if you open yourself up to other possibilities. Yumi proved this to me again with the concept she came up with. I was looking at the cover to illustrate a scenario in which you would find yourself when using HTDBIM. Her idea expressed what the book actually is, an English-Chinese craft beer glossary.
I liked both versions of the cover Yumi designed, so I decided to conduct an informal online survey to help choose the cover. The result? Yumi’s concept was the undisputed favourite. Nevertheless, the beauty of electronic publishing is that you can easily replace the cover to see if it will make a difference in sales. I had Yumi provide me with both covers, just in case.
Done, But Not Quite
Now I had a manuscript, illustrative photography, and a book cover. I was ready to publish, right? Ah, no. That’s called a first draft. At this point, I needed other eyes to spot errors and omissions, especially with the Chinese. Fortunately, I had a receptive friend in Manning Cai (蔡少曼), a lecturer in the Foreign Language Department of Shantou Polytechnic in Guangdong Province. I also recruited a team of receptive beta readers in China, Canada, and the United States who were familiar with craft beer. Some also had experience with China, some not.
For any author, editing is a critical process to go through – the key word being “critical”. Criticism can be a tough thing to swallow if you allow your ego to drive your emotions. Stepping outside of yourself and the blinders of your point of view is easier said than done. At the end of the day, after all the invested effort, a book is a personal expression of one’s self. Nevertheless, your editor and beta readers should be offering their advice as to how you can improve your book. Therefore, it is important to choose people who will employ a critical eye, not simply provide you with platitudes while avoiding glaring problems. Based on the feedback I received, I made some alterations and additions to the first draft that made me much happier with the manuscript. My ego survived, as did my friendships.
Are we there, yet? No. Like the ending of the Lord of the Rings film, Return of the King, you think it’s done, but the story just keeps on going. Before running my book file through Smashwords’ Meatgrinder to convert it into various e-book formats, I had to ensure the document was formatted correctly; two more days of work. Then, to publish HTDBIM, I needed a book description and author bio for the website, a selling price, and an ISBN number. American authors need to purchase their ISBN numbers. Fortunately for Canadian authors, ISBN Canada issues numbers to them for free!
With everything finally in place, I published How to Drink Beer in Mandarin: An English-Chinese Craft Beer Glossary on February 15, 2016. When I started compiling my Mandarin Beer Word of the Day for Twitter on July 10, 2015, it was to start building an audience for The Great Hop Forward. Now, I was a book author before my guidebook was even written. Such is the unexpected turn writing can take you. I wonder what is next…