Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Operation Valuable Fiend" Availability
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
The hardcover edition of my book, Operation Valuable Fiend, is now available online for immediate delivery from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

At Amazon, you can also obtain the unabridged audio recording version of the book from Audible narrated by James Conlan.

On June 3 the book will be available at all major bookstores as well as in e-book formats (Kindle and Nook), which can be pre-ordered today.

Operation Valuable Fiend gives the full account of the CIA's very first venture into paramilitary operations in the early years of the Cold War against Albania, the weakest and most isolated of Moscow's satellites at that time. The operation served as the proving ground for techniques that would be used in later actions, by some of the same operatives, in Iran, Guatemala and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

I have based the book on declassified CIA documents and first-person accounts from participants on all sides. It is a great story and it will be well worth your time reading it.

If you like Operation Valuable Fiend, please spread the word and share the book with others who may enjoy a good read as well. I would love it if you reach out to me with questions or comments.

To follow my writing career, please visit my Facebook page ( or follow me on Twitter @albertlulushi.

I look forward to staying in touch.

Best regards,

Albert Lulushi

Saturday, May 24, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 3: Drafting the Manuscript
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered the first two steps of the process: (1) Coming up with a good idea you want to write about, and (2) Researching the topic so that you can develop the idea into your book.

Sooner rather than later, you should move forward to Step 3: Drafting the Manuscript, which is what I cover in this blog.

There are many schools of thought on how to go about drafting your work, how many drafts you should prepare, and so on. Eventually, you will develop your own process, maybe borrowing ideas from others, but mostly based on what works for you. Here's what works for me:

Draft 1. This first draft is a synopsis for the book. This is a brief rendition of the story that will be covered in the book. How brief? I keep it to within 4-5 pages, double-spaced, 12 point font -- between 1,200 and 1,500 words. Although it's not much, I try to cover the entire narrative arc of a story in the synopsis. I have a beginning, a middle, and an end; major twists and turns in the story are there; key characters are roughed in. Such an approach certainly works for fiction, and it works equally well for narrative non-fiction stories, which have been my focus recently.

Once I have the first draft/synopsis, I put it in the back burner for a while. I go back to continuing my research and let the story simmer in my head. If I want to run the concept by some trusted advisors, I can do it easily over a meal or a drink. It won't take them more than ten minutes to read through my 4-5 page synopsis and we can spend the balance of the time discussing the story.

In about two-three weeks, I know whether the story has enough pull for me to go to the next stage or whether it was just an idea that sounded good for the time but, for whatever reason, I may not want to go through for the moment. In the latter case, I have "lost" a little bit of my effort, but in fact I have validated my concept and determined that it is not fertile enough to warrant any more efforts. I'd rather kill the story when it is 1,500 words long than when it is 50,000 words long.

In the former case, I am ready to move to Draft 2.  This is a detailed outline of the book. I come up with the chapter structure and then flesh out each chapter to describe the line of events that it will cover. My goal for this draft is to have a structure of 15-20 chapters with 500-800 words each. The length of the draft is around 10,000 words by the time I am done.

Once Draft 2 is finished, I have another decision to make. If I still like the story as it has developed, and if I still feel I can spend the next several months working on it without getting bored, then I commit to finishing the project. Otherwise, I cut my losses. file the project away, and move on to something more promising -- this means going back to Step 1 and starting the process all over again. I may get back to the shelved story from a different angle at a later date or I may never touch it again.

Drafts 3 through N. If I commit to the project though, it means that there will be a book in the end, no matter how long it may take. I begin turning each chapter outline into fully developed narrative and typically go through several drafts before I reach a point where the story is "eighty percent complete." I don't know how I get there exactly -- I just somehow feel it when I am at that point. Perhaps the manuscript has reached 70,000-80,000 words, all the chapters have been developed, the story flows from beginning to end, I have sifted through most of my source materials, I have interviewed most of the people in my list, or all of the above.

Once I reach this point, I consider the drafting phase finished. I am now ready to move to Step 6: Finalizing the Manuscript. "Wait," you say. "Whatever happened to steps 4 and 5?"

I complete Step 4: Writing the Book Proposal, which then is followed naturally by Step 5: Negotiating the Contract at any point between the time I begin working on Draft 3 and the time I complete the final draft. I have developed book proposals that have been accepted when I have had just a detailed outline (Draft 2) or the full draft manuscript in hand, and anywhere in between.

So, then, stay tuned for the next three steps in the process.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 2: Researching the Topic
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
I was counting down towards the June 3, 2014, release of Operation Valuable Fiend with a series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps." I just see today (May 21, 2014) that the book is already out and available, which is very exciting!

In today's blog I write about Step 2: Researching the Topic.

At the risk of stating with the trivial, you need to research as much as you can about your topic, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Even if you think you know the subject thoroughly, you will be surprised to discover new and different perspectives, facts, and details, which inevitably come up during research.

As you research your sources, look for a healthy mix of primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are previously unpublished materials you find in archives, letters, collections, oral histories, interviews you conduct, and so on. Secondary sources are books and articles that other authors have published on the subject. The more primary sources you leverage for your work, more original it will be.

As you collect information from sources, keep your notes organized and be careful to keep track of bibliographical information. Once the flurry of writing and re-writing your book begins in earnest, you may easily loose track of where the information came from and thus risk embedding it without properly crediting your sources.

I use Microsoft Word to do my writing. Under the References tab it has commands to manage sources, insert citations, and create the bibliography in the end, which I find very useful. MS Word also allows you to present the information in the style that your publisher will eventually want (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.) with a simple command. So, if you are not familiar with this functionality of MS Word, invest a few minutes of your time to learn about it and you will be glad you did down the road. Here's a link from Microsoft to get you started. And here's a 5-minute YouTube tutorial on the same subject.

How long should the research last? In a sense, you will never finish researching your subject. Even after your book comes out, you will still run into sources of information you wish you had available when you were writing. That's OK. You can use these additional sources to create new content for your writer's blog or book website -- yep, you should have one, if you don't have it already!

On the other hand, don't fall into the trap of perpetually researching your subject at the cost of never actually writing your book. It is very easy to lull yourself into thinking you are working on your book while spending hour after hour reading, researching, and browsing websites. At some point in time, you should draw the line and start putting pen to paper. As Charles Bukowski said, you are not a writer if you are not writing.

In the next blog, Step 3: Drafting the Manuscript, I write about the actual writing effort.


Monday, May 19, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 1: Coming up with the Idea
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
To count down the June 3, 2014, release of Operation Valuable Fiend, I am posting a series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps." In today's blog I write about Step 1: Coming up with the Idea.

Behind every good book there is a central idea. In a work of fiction this is called the premise. It is what the action, the characters, the plot drive towards. It is the central question that is raised in the beginning and must be answered by the end. In a non-fiction work the central idea is the hypothesis that the author sets out to prove or disprove in the book.

Obviously, the central idea is not the only idea that comes out in a work. But, as a writer you really need to pick your single central idea -- otherwise your work most likely will be out of focus.

There are many ways you can come into an idea for a book. The perennial advice is to write about what you know, so obviously your experiences and surroundings are a starting point. "Starting point" means just that -- the place you get started but most likely not the place where you will find your ultimate idea. Why? Because no matter how interesting your personal experiences are, they probably are not broad enough, deep enough or interesting enough to warrant 75,000 written words, which is the typical length of a book today.

So what does a winning idea for your book look like? The truth is that there are no objective answers or prescriptions you can follow to get these ideas. But you will feel it when you have one. For me, I feel like I have a good strong idea if it meets the following three criteria:
  1. It has a lot of questions and unknowns, which will lead me to learn new things and will keep me interested for weeks and months to come.
  2. It has the potential to be interesting to a broad swath of people, not just the people that share my background, profession or interests.
  3. It offers a unique angle or a new way to look at things, which builds upon, clarifies, expands or goes beyond what other people had said about the idea.
Next, I blog about Step 2: Researching the Topic.

Monday, May 12, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
June 3, 2014, marks a significant milestone in my writing career. On this date, Operation Valuable Fiend was released to the public, thus culminating an 18-month process that started on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012.
I have enjoyed immensely the experience of working on this project for the past 18 months, which can also be expressed in the following units: 559 days; 13,416 hours; 804,960 minutes; or 48,297,600 seconds (not that I am counting...).
Although I had written and published several books before, in many ways, it felt like I was going through the process for the first time. All my previous books had been prescriptive how-to books designed for a narrow audience of software systems designers and programmers.
Operation Valuable Fiend is a historical narrative of CIA's first paramilitary action in its history and is written for a much wider audience interested in intelligence, military, Cold War history and similar subjects. Not only was this an entirely different topic for me, but I also needed a different genre (narrative non-fiction is the technical term), different style of writing, a different publisher, and so on.
As a sort of countdown to the June 3 release of the book, in the coming days I will blog about the ten key steps in the process that carried me from start to finish. Namely:
I will keep things simple and I will describe what worked for me and how. If a book idea is lurking in the back of your mind, I hope these posts will encourage you to bring it up and out in the world.
Stay tuned for the next post describing Step 1: Coming up with the Idea.