Five years ago, I signed my first book deal to write A Girl’s Guide to Poker — back when I had less than $10,000 in poker tournament winnings on my Hendon Mob. Heck, I’m not even sure if I had $5,000. I was a rookie.
But not when it came to writing.
As I pitched to my (fantastic) publisher, D&B Poker, I was a writer first and a poker player second. By the age of 25, I’d already written articles for the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Los Angeles Times. I had a full-time role as a newsletter writer. I was unafraid to use a semicolon; punctuation had its place.
To me, it was clear there was a gap in the market. There weren’t many poker books easily understood by beginners. And almost none of them had a sense of humor.
I wanted to write the newbie-friendly poker book that I truly needed. One that was easy-to-read and relatable. Thus, the idea for A Girl’s Guide to Poker was born. I viewed myself as an SNL skit writer — every paragraph had to have a punchline. (Curious? Take the opening lines of the back cover as an example, which reads as follows: So you want to play poker. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the cash. Maybe you’re turned-on by guys in hoodies and sunglasses.)
This is my journey on what it was like to write a poker book.
Planning the Poker Book
When I signed the book deal, there was only one rule: 45,000 words. My contract stated I needed to hit that target. Uh-oh, things were getting real. As a former newsletter writer, my writing style was short, punchy, and quick. Bullet points? Now you’re speaking my language. I wasn’t expecting to write something so apparently verbose.
It immediately became clear to me that word count would be my biggest challenge — and for good reason. Love it or hate it, people judge books — yes, even poker books — not only by their covers, but by their lengths. They don’t “respect” books that aren’t substantially meaty. Now when I work with clients who want to self-publish books, I am grateful that I had a publisher pushing me towards that word count. After all, my book was printed in pink — I had enough issues with being taken seriously already.
In order to abide by my contract, I made a spreadsheet (yuck). In it, there were three columns: chapter subject, estimated word count, and final word count. By creating these estimates at the earliest stages, I created an outline which organized my topics but also assured that I’d meet my word count goals. The last thing I wanted to do was pour my heart out writing the Great American Novel only to find I’d landed at 20,000 words.
Next, I went to the bookstore and purchased every poker book I could find. There was one of particular interest: Texas Hold ‘Em for Dummies. Not just because it was intended for a beginner audience (although, in my opinion, it’s quite stiff!). What struck me most was the section labeled “About this Book.” Here the author said something quite fascinating. This book was not necessarily meant to be read in order. I loved that! Basically, it was not a novel meant to be read front-to-back, from Point A to Point B. The idea was that you could open it to any page — any relevant chapter — and hop right in.
This was perfect inspiration for the type of book I wanted to write. It also inspired me to stick to my guns and keep my short-form writing style — instead of writing the lengthy chapters typical of a novel, I could write “mini-chapters” the size of an article. Short reads that would take about six minutes. Poker is not a game you learn overnight; you need to be able to flip back to certain ideas you have already learned for reference. This strategy would make it easy.
Writing a Poker Book
Now that the bones of the book were taken care of, all that was left was the actual writing. When I had previously worked as a salaried writer, my specialty was politics and foreign policy. The only thing more complex than finding peace in the Middle East? Texas Hold ‘Em poker, of course.
I knew that if this book were to succeed, it needed to take out the jargon. As my fellow poker book author (and Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor) Chris Wallace explains, “I think the biggest challenge for most poker writers is explaining a complicated subject in an uncomplicated way.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
“It’s not unlike writing a technical manual for a piece of equipment,” Chris continues. He notes that whereas there definitely are writers-turned-aspiring-poker-players as I was at the time, there is also the conundrum of the “high level poker player who wants to write down what they know, which means they have trouble expressing it because they are usually better at playing than teaching. Their books tend to be either very dry, or overly complex.” Amen.
So how do you write a poker book in a way that isn’t… well… boring?
Tips on Writing
Firstly, you must vary your commas. No one wants to read strings of long, rambling, never-ending information dumps disguised as helpful sentences. They’re not helpful if your reader finds themselves zoning out.
Secondly, you need to write with personality. Raise your voice! Just as with speaking, how you say something is just as important as what you say. Your writing needs to carry your unique style and tone—if someone else could’ve written those same sentences you just did, you’re doing it wrong. Every word needs to be undeniably YOU.
I have favorite journalists I look up to simply because of their ways with words. Even though I disagree with much of her politics, I’ll never forget when the Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin started an article with the word “Bizarrely.” Art! I also love The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson for the ebb and flow of his writing. His economic theories are almost always beyond me—I have no way of verifying if any of his financial takes are true — but his literary game is so strong I’ll even read an article about the real estate market if he wrote it. Why? Because it is… So. Uniquely. Him.
If you want to improve your own writing, start by reading. Find what you like (and don’t like). Take notes on how you would write that poker book better.
Lastly, the key to writing a book is routine. When I work with my book-writing clients, I don’t have a magic pill to make words appear on the page—but I do provide structure. A weekly spot on the calendar is enough. Even though I pride myself on being a “creative-writer-type” resistant to hard structures and rules, I recognized I had to implement some sort of schedule. I signed-up for a daily fitness class next to a coffee shop; and, after my workout, went to write some prose. I don’t know if I would’ve had the discipline to just sit down and write as its own commitment. But by binding it to my workout regime (which I had already paid for), it became natural to park my laptop next door post-workout.
The end result was the completion of A Girl’s Guide to Poker, clocking-in at 47,413 words. I also finished the book by the deadline. My publisher told me I was amongst only 10-15% of authors to do so. If I can do it, so can you!
P.S. I will be signing my book at Cardplayer Lifestyle’s Mixed Game Festival VI at Resorts World Las Vegas on November 29th! Hope to see you there!