Publishing lessons from a homebrewing newbie

Science! by sean mason

Science! by sean mason

I recently entered the mysterious, tasty, maddening, stinky, and not-inexpensive world of homebrewing.

As a minor beer nerd it seemed like a good idea. I can’t stand Coors and Budweiser, but I also can’t tell you the four different Hefeweizen flavors by taste. Homebrewing looked like a great way to learn more about the process, the craft, and the beverage itself. Plus, hey, I’d have cupboards full of beer!

I bought a home brewing kit from a local supplier. It was nothing fancy, just all the basic gear and instructions to take you through the process in baby steps.At the end, with much head scratching and re-re-reading of directions, we ended up with a very drinkable American Pale Ale.

As I was working through this arcane process, Evo Terra made a Google+ post about books and beer, and it got me thinking… the homebrewing world is a lot like digital publishing.

Wait, what?

Yes, really. There are quite a few things in common between the two worlds.

it’s trendy

Our local homebrewing store keeps a huge stack of starter brewing kits right near the entrance. When I made a supply run there just before Christmas that stack was gone. Nada. Zip. Sold out. The lamentations of disappointed Significant Others, thwarted in their holiday shopping plans, filled the air.

Digital publishing lowered the bar for writers to get their work online. Homebrewing kits lowered the bar for drinkers to make their own beers. They’re all the rage.

they’ll tell you anyone can do it

…and they’re wrong. I’ve tried several friends’ homebrews and they range from the Drinkable to Nasty end of the scale. Even with a kit this isn’t cut out for everyone.

Homebrewing a mix of art and science. The science is in the chemical process of steeping your grains, adding hops at the right time, getting the mix fermenting, babysitting it for weeks, then bottling it… while keeping everything sterile the entire time. The art is in blending the flavors, exploring recipes, learning how different beers respond to different conditions, and noting how the taste develops over time.

Digital publishing means you learn the ebook storefronts, different marketing tools, fan communication tools, and pricing trends in the marketplace. All the while you keep creating and writing.

If you don’t have an interest in both sides of that equation, it won’t be fun – it will drive you mad.

once isn’t enough

Brewing one batch of beer didn’t make me a brewmaster. That batch wouldn’t kill anyone, but if I put it up for sale in a store it would about as popular as dropping my NaNoWriMo draft right onto

I have my second beer fermenting right now (an Imperial Stout), that applies all the things I learned from the first attempt. I managed to make some brand new mistakes this time, so am already contemplating my third batch (and how we’re possibly going to be able to drink all this beer). In another dozen batches I may feel confident in my ability, and people may actually request a few bottles of what I make. Maybe.

Being a digital author means editing and re-editing your current work, usually while you’re starting the first draft of your next one. It’s an ongoing process.

you need expert help

Friends and family will drink my beer with a smile. I watch their faces as they do it to see if they’re suppressing a grimace because they will always tell me it’s “pretty good” or “not my usual style, but I like it”. I have yet to see anyone actually spit it back out, but that middle ground is hard to navigate.

If I want real feedback I need to take it to some experts, like our local homebrewer’s society. These guys have great beer palettes and can discern the four flavors of Hefeweizen. They can help me spot problems and give me ideas on how to correct them.

Editors, graphic designers, marketers, and even hardcore fans all have different skills and experience they can contribute to your book. A digital author may have a little bit of each, but if you really want to improve your work you need to talk to the pros.

learn the rules before breaking them

I’m still following the directions one step at a time when I brew. More advanced brewers riff the ingredients like a chef, and throw the damnedest things into their mix. As much as I would love to make a double chocolate coffee stout with hints of vanilla, if I tried that right now I’d more likely end up with just five-gallons of chewy sewage.

Once I learn the rules – how different hops influence flavor, when to add them to the wort, the impact of adding flavors into fermentation, etc., – then I’ll understand how to break them and forge out on our my own.

There never will be a better time to try new and crazy things in the digital publishing world, but if you don’t understand how things work already you’re going to fail. Learn what others are doing, borrow from them, then head off in your own direction.

presentation matters

I’ve tried homebrews that were murky, or had no head on them. They made me nervous.

I’ve tried them from bare bottles with Sharpie names written on. They seemed half-done.

I’ve spent as much time figuring out my label as I did brewing our first batch. I love it when one of my beer pours out with a nice head and color. Those are things that make people much more willing to try it without feeling they are taking their life into their own hands in the attempt.

A quick browse through any online bookstore will show you dozens of bad covers, and poor summaries or copy. They might be tasty works of art, but why would anyone stop by to give them a try to find out?

hobby is not a career

People aren’t going to pay me money for my crappy beer. Just because I can make it, doesn’t mean it is any good. After I put in the work, learn the craft, improve myself, get input from others, and make it look nice – then it might be professional.

If you want to publish a book for the fun of it, knock yourself out. If you want to take this seriously and make being an author your career, then you need to work, work, work. The space is crammed with hobbyists, but there is plenty of money to be made for the dedicated.

Homebrewing and digital publishing are both a lot of fun to me, so I could ramble on about this all day. If you homebrew, I’d love to hear your thoughts (or favorite recipes).

Join us for Books & Beer Hangout

Got big plans for this Thursday night? Come hangout with Jeff Moriarty and Evo Terra on the ePublish Unum Google+ stream as we do a little drinking of craft beer and discussing of digital publishing.

It’s our first ever G+ Hangout of Books & Beer tonight, February 2nd, at 6:00p Pacific / 9:00p Eastern.

If you’ve got an interest in digital publishing, come join us. We’ll pick a topic before the event to have a general discussion around, but we’re very OK with answering your questions and letting the conversation flow in any way it needs. That’s helped by the beer, obviously.

So make plans to attend. Circle ePublish Unum and log into Google+ tonight so that you get notice of when we go live!

(No, you don’t have to be drinking. But we will be!)


  • Pingback: Homebrewing and Self-Publishing: Similar? « L.J. McLean()

  • Pingback: This Week in the Blogs, February 12 – 18, 2012 - How To Be An Author()

  • Jane Rutherford

    While I’m not a big fan of beer (I’m capable of drinking Heineken and Tyskie if in the mood), I really love this post. I feel that all the analogies and explanations fit so well with the writer’s mindset! Great post!

    • Jeff Moriarty

      Thanks, Jane! You should join our Books & Beer Google Hangouts on Thursday. We have some great talks about Digital Publishing and maybe – maaaybe – we can find a beer that you might really like!