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JISHOU, HUNAN — Like a lot of other writers, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book. So far, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with the notion, though, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the first Wheat-dogg bestseller. It’s still in the preconceptual stage.

Certainly, there is fodder for a book from my experiences as a foreigner teaching English in China. Many ex-pats end up writing books or ebooks about their lives abroad. Having read a few as market research, these books (and for that matter, blogs) fall into a few main categories:

  • My life abroad was wonderful, life-changing! You should give it a try.
  • My life abroad has made me an expert in all things abroad. Read my book!
  • My life abroad was a crappy experience, but I am going to write a funny book about it anyway.
  • My life abroad showed me that America is the bestest place evah in the whole world.
  • My life abroad showed me that America is traveling down the road to ruin, but my chosen living place is a virtual paradise. (By the way, I’ve got some land to sell you if you wanna come here.)

I want to write something different, of course. I need a catchy hook to get started, but as yet, the muse has not provided me any imaginative hook, despite a boxful of bait.

The bait, of course, includes three years of posts about living and teaching in China, as well as some unpublished items sitting on my hard drive for later development and use. Believe it or not, most of the posts exist only on WordPress database backups, since I usually compose directly on the admin panel of WordPress (as I am now). Until recently, I had no compilation of China-related posts for facilitate my bookish yearnings.

There must be a plugin for that, I thought, and lo and behold there is. The one I used is called BlogBooker, a free, online service. It takes your WordPress blog and turns the posts into a Adobe Reader PDF file. You can publish your entire blog, or just posts with the same tags. Two downsides of this particular plugin: editing PDFs is not so convenient — a MS Word or text file would be better, and the website apparently generates spam WP trackback comments from your archived posts and inserts them contextually in other blogs. This last side-effect bugs me a little, since spam comments are royal pain in the ass, but at least I have a readable archive of my efforts for the last five years.

One short-term project is to compile my China posts into a downloadable book format, for anyone interested in my experiences here to date. A longer term project is to search those posts for a suitable hook for a real book. I’ve started reading those earlier posts, and it’s amusing to see what seemed so fresh and new to me way back in 2008. After three years, I’m still far from being an expert, but at least I’m wiser in some ways.

I also discovered how really easy it is to self-publish nowadays. In the old days, “vanity publishing” cost an arm and a leg. Now, websites like Amazon and SmashWords offer cheap and relatively painless ways to get your pearls of prose (or poetry) turned into ebooks for distribution and/or sale online. While I was aware of this technological assist to would-be authors, I never looked into the details until just last month. Basically, if you’ve got something to write, you shouldn’t limit yourself to the traditional paper book publishing world.

At the moment, I teach 22 classes a week, so any dedicated literary efforts will need to wait until the new foreign teacher arrives sometime in November. But I’ve got the bug, so perhaps 2012 will witness my first ebook.

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