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Jonathan Little Explains the Poker Book Writing Process

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With 20 written or audio book titles carrying his name, the two-time World Poker Tour (WPT) champion, Jonathan Little, is the most voracious author in the business today. 9 of his titles were included in our original list of 129 poker books, and 3 of them made it into the final list of 86.

Writing that First Book

We wanted to find out more about the process of writing a poker book, and who better to ask?

Talk me through the course of writing your first book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker?

My first book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker, was somewhat simple to write, mainly because before D&B Publishing approached me, I already had a bunch of articles written about various concepts that I used to help my students improve specific areas of their games that were lacking. D&B approached me because they loved my poker training videos and thought a book filled with my thoughts about all things about poker would be groundbreaking poker literature.

I sat down and made an in-depth outline, listing everything I thought was important about preflop play, flop play, turn play, river play, short-handed play, heads-up play, adjusting to the various stages of tournaments, the mental game, tells, and being a successful professional. After writing as much as I knew about each topic in the outline, I ended up with a 600-page book. The publishers didn’t think publishing a 600-page book was a good idea, so we chopped it up into two volumes.

What came naturally to you?

Before becoming an author, I had recorded numerous well-received poker training videos for my training site, FloatTheTurn.com, plus I had coached many students who went on to have a high level of success. Through this experience, I learned how to express clearly challenging poker concepts in a way that is easy to understand. I simply write as I speak.

What did you find the most difficult?

In dissecting my poker strategies, I found a few spots where my game was lacking. For example, I was not defending the big blind well enough, and I was not well-versed in preflop 4-bet and 5-bet pots. Writing Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker forced me to delve deep into every aspect of my game, which ultimately made me a much better poker player.

What are the ingredients of the quintessential poker book?

I think the quintessential poker book has to explain fully all of the concepts that are necessary to master if you want to succeed in the form of poker the book is addressing. It is also mandatory that the book is written by someone who is an expert at the game they are writing about.

Recently, there have been quite a few books written by players/authors who are simply not winning in the games today. Those should be avoided. Learning to beat the games of 10 years ago won’t be too beneficial to you.

From and Idea to Publishing the Final Product

Self-publishing or an established publisher and why?

I have published both ways, and both forms have their benefits. A traditional publisher will be able to get your books in physical bookstores and will usually work hard to promote your book. They also deal with everything besides the actual writing of the manuscript, such as editing, inserting images, designing the cover, etc.

If you self-publish, you have to do all of these things on your own. The primary benefit to self-publishing is you can essentially do whatever you want. For me, this means putting out books on a more frequent basis (traditional publishers usually want one book per year, or less) and writing books of various lengths (physical books "need" to be at least 150 pages so the title can be placed on the spine, so people know what it is when it is sitting on a bookstore's shelf).

Your work rate is phenomenal. Walk me through the process of an idea through to final product?

First, I find a topic that needs to be addressed. For example, I recently noticed there were very few books on how to win at small stakes cash games, so I decided to write Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Cash Games.

I then put in a decent amount of time playing $1/$2 cash games as Borgata to get the adequate experience to address that specific game. As I played, I listed everything I saw players do incorrectly. I turned all of those points, such as how to adjust to the main player types, specific situations that were particularly exploitable, and thoughts on bankroll management, into an outline.

Once I had my detailed outline, I essentially locked myself in my room and wrote 10 hours per day for a week until the rough draft was finished. I then edited the book as I re-read it a few times. I then showed the book to some of my students for further comments and editing. While waiting for them to turn in the edits, I created the cover, added free bonus training videos, and got it ready to publish on Amazon.

Once I had all the edits from my students back, I recorded the audiobook version, which allowed me to catch a few more things that didn't read too well. After that, I formatted it to be a physical book. Once the audio and physical books had been approved, I submitted the book on Kindle.

Once the book was available on Amazon, I created a few blog posts for JonthanLittlePoker.com discussing various aspects of the book, posted about it on Twitter/Facebook, and emailed my students about it.

So essentially, I found an idea that needed to be addressed, made an outline, wrote the rough draft, edited the manuscript, had other people edit the manuscript, produced various formats of the book, put the book for sale, and then promoted it hard.

Hardest versus Easiest

What has been the most difficult book to write, and why?

I experienced the most difficulty writing Jonathan Little on Live No-Limit Cash Games, Volume 1. I initially wanted to dissect how I play in every common cash game situation. This wasn't too difficult preflop and on the flop, but it turns out there are thousands of situation that arise on the turn and river.

For example, one situation I addressed was how to play with a missed premium draw on the turn in a 3-bet pot from position, when the preflop raiser continuation bets the flop then checks the turn.

Obviously, you can tweak any of the variables and end up with an entirely different situation. I wrote about 1,000 pages and was only halfway through the turn section. I decided to muck that work and approach the book in a different way to make the book much more readable. I am happy with the final result and think it is one of my best books.

The easiest?

In general, most of my books have been relatively easy because very little research is involved. I just write about what I have learned from my 13 years as a professional poker player.

I suppose the easiest books have been my self-published books on small stakes games because they are shorter than my other books (one is 80 pages, and the other is 120 pages), and concisely address a few key points that many small stakes players get wrong on a regular basis.

From Poker Egos to Poker Biographies?

Talk about Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em. There were a lot of egos in that book. How did you manage to get the work completed?

Excelling at No-Limit Hold'em is a 500-page book that features 18 world-class professional poker players and mindset experts. I allowed each author to write about their particular area of expertise. For example, Olivier Busquet wrote about Heads-up No-Limit Hold'em, and Ed Miller wrote about how to move up in stakes and stay there. Once I had the topics to be addressed in place, I worked with each author to ensure there was very little overlap between the chapters.

Once all the chapters had been completed, I put them in the order I thought was optimal, essentially completing the rough manuscript. It then went through many rounds of editing; I recorded the audiobook, and then D&B Publishing did their work to make the cover, get it in every major bookstore, and promote it.

As for lots of egos being involved, every author was an absolute pleasure to work with. I allowed them to write about what they are passionate about, and they all turned in an excellent job. Also, each author agreed to host two webinars over the next 18 months. So far, Ed Miller and Jared Tendler have done their webinars with a tremendous amount of success. I am looking forward to the rest of them. You can sign up for the free webinars at HoldemBook.com.

A lot of the people I approached to help me with my poker book project had never read a poker book and yet have had tremendous success. Talk about this format of learning versus the other forms out there, and where books rest on that tangent for you?

There are many ways to learn poker. You can study textbooks, listen to audiobooks, watch training videos, discuss poker with friends, and get experience at the table. Personally, I do all of these things. When I first started learning poker, I read every poker book on the market. I still read many on poker, today.

Excelling at No-Limit Hold'em essentially sits down some of the best players and mindset experts in the world and has them discuss, with you, their area of expertise. Unlike many other books, which are laid out more like a college textbook, Excelling reads like a casual conversation.

Is there a concept in poker that you have struggled to put into words?

There hasn’t been, yet!

What book do you have inside of you that you have never written and why?

My next self-published book is going to be on how to increase your level of aggression to become a better poker player. Many players learned how to play from various now-obsolete books that suggest playing an overly tight, aggressive style.

While this strategy will allow you to win a small amount, if you want to be truly successful, you must get out of line and steal pots that don’t belong to you, allowing you to be hugely successful. This upcoming book will detail numerous situations where you can get out of line and exploit your opponents.

I have also been tinkering with the idea of a biography. I have done a lot of things right, and a lot of things wrong throughout my life. I want my students to learn as much as I have from my successes and failures.

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