This week, an author sent me a note telling me about a decision she made:
“I’m committing to take my writing from a hobby to my work. It is scary and exciting all at once. Each day I work to open my heart and silence the doubts, and more importantly, I write.”
I replied to her that “exciting and scary” is the exact perfect place to be, and that one of the best skills to develop in a transition like this is to learn to live with the doubts. In other words: the doubts will always be there. With nearly every creative professional I know making a living on their own, their days are filled with doubt.
The key is this: they have learned to live and thrive with the doubt. It doesn’t stop them. They continue to create.
Since so many of you are writers or have considered writing a book, today I wanted to take you behind the scenes of how I wrote, published, and marketed my book which came out this week, Be the Gateway.
Okay, let’s dig in:
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the value of boundaries in your creative work. For Be the Gateway, boundaries helped define everything about what it would be, and how I would make it happen. Without the boundaries, I would still be working on a first draft, instead of having the book in readers’ hands as it is today.
The idea for the book started as a video. I run a mastermind group and record a video every day for them. One day last July, I recorded an off the cuff video titled “Be the Gateway.” While what I discussed in the video was the result of years of work, the concept of the gateway was conceived live as I recorded. Funny to think about having the moment of an idea was born captured live on video.
The members of my mastermind group loved the video, so I decided to expand it into a blog post. That received a lot of feedback as well, so much so that in emails between myself and authors, I began noticing people saying the “gateway” term back to me.
I reached out to my good friend (and book coach) Jennie Nash with an idea. I said, “Jennie — do I have your permission to self-publish a book? There is this idea that is resonating with people and I want to expand upon it.”
She said yes. Why did I ask her permission? Because Jennie is a friend and collaborator, and I trust her opinion. Soon after, my wife and I learned she was pregnant, and that defined the timeline for the book: I would have to write, edit, publish and market this book before April 12, 2017, the due date for the baby.
Looking at the calendar, I saw my birthday on March 8th and thought, “that sounds like a good birthday present,” and noted March 7th as the publication date, since I had always seen music albums and books released on Tuesdays.
This is generally how the timeline worked out:
Write the book: October, November, December, and January.
I did this in three chunks, since the book is organized into three main sections. I would arrive at Starbucks each morning at 5:30am and write for an hour. That generally worked out to 1,000 – 1,500 words per day. For me, this was critical: do the writing before the rest of my responsibilities crowded my day, and my mind. This is what the writing looked like:
I would write the first section of the book (five chapters) and then send it to Jennie for feedback, as well as get input from beta readers along the way. Then write the second part, while also revising the first part, and so on. That process worked because what I learned from the feedback on the first part made the second part much clearer. By the time I go to the third section, I was much more confident in the structure of the book because I had so much feedback on the first two-thirds.
Edit the book: December, January, and February.
I’ll say this: editing is so much more difficult than writing. For me, anyway. Jennie and my beta readers forced me to confront the clarity of the narrative, and how well I was serving my reader. I had to strike a balance throughout the book between stories that provided context, a structure to follow, and actionable advice that the readers could take.
It also forced me to confront some bad habits I have in my writing. My favorite line edit (which I saw often) was: “This isn’t a sentence.”
There were multiple layers of editing, and I had to repeat the processes again and again. I’ll detail that more below when I talk about collaborators. Editing the book has made me dramatically more aware of how to be a better writer.
Publish the book: January, February, and March. Because of the deadline of “publish the book before the baby is born,” I had to make decisions that limited what I could do. I decided to only publish the book via Amazon at launch, but take steps to ensure I could go wider later in the year. Would I prefer that this book also be available on Barnes & Noble, and through indie bookstores? Yep! Could I have done that before the baby is born without adding an unusually high level of stress to my life? Nope.
Therefore: zero guilt.
(See? aren’t boundaries amazing?!)
There are a wide range of services I could have used for the various stages of copyediting, proofreading, cover design, interior layout, file preparation, and publishing on Amazon. I decided that for each step, I wanted to have a real person to work with, because this would help me learn, and feel as though I had an expert on my team at each stage of the process.
It is here where I began wishing that each phase of the project had more time. Once the book moved into copyediting, I went through that process three times with different people. Then we kept catching things during layout and proofing. As I sat in my local library doing the upteenth proofread of the book, I tried to keep in mind that many of the books in the library contained errors.
It was a reminder to do the best that I could, but to forgive myself for the inevitable mistakes that I couldn’t catch.
Marketing the book: January, February and March.
There were two main phases for the work I did to market the book. The first happened in January when I knew the book would hit its deadline. I made a list of people whose audiences I think would appreciate this book and reached out requesting to do an interview, a blog post, a webinar, or something similar. About 20 amazing people who said they would do something with me.
That was the first phase: setting up the who, what and when of these. I also compiled a launch plan for the book, which was essentially a brain dump from me and my team for ideas of fun things we could do around the book. For instance: a pre-order campaign.
Then I stopped. This again was critical to attending to my mental health and keeping my stress levels in check. There are so many other people I could have “pitched” with the book, and I didn’t.
I again made a decision here based on boundaries: I would rather put my energy to ensure that I provide better resources to those 20 marketing partners, than stretch myself thin by going for quantity over quality. Besides, that baby is coming!
I want to honor the generosity of the people sharing the news of this book. For instance, what I provide to Joanna Penn needed to be unique from what I provide to Joel Friedlander. I spent weeks preparing original blog posts, answers to questions, and webinars for these amazing people.
Here are some of the first posts to be shared about Be the Gateway:
- On Writers Helping Writers: The Daily Practice of Growing Your Audience
- On Original Impulse, with Cynthia Morris: an interview with me.
- On Jennie Nash’s blog: A webinar (today) and homework assignment about Be the Gateway.
- On Teri Case’s blog: “I’m Opening a Gate.”
Investing in collaborators: the entire time.
As I mentioned, the concept for the book itself was conceived in collaboration with my mastermind group, the readers of my blog, and with writers I speak to.
At every stage of the process, I made the time, mental energy, and money available to invest in collaborators. Here is a partial list of collaborators I worked with:
Writing/editing: Jennie Nash.
Editing: I hired a copyeditor, but then also went through a few more rounds of copyediting before and after that included the following people:
- Hong-An Tran Tien is on my team and did copyedits before I sent the sections to Jennie for editing.
- Diane Krause is on my team, and did a copyedit on the book.
- Teri Case: is on my launch team, but did an emergency final copyedit of the book as well.
- My launch team: other members of my launch team did various reads of the book (sometimes small sections, sometimes deep reads.) The members of the team include: Lisa Manterfield, Mary Jo Hazard, Maya Walker, Iris Pastor, Becky Galli, Jack Schaeffer, and Kelsey Browning. This was another area that I considered expanding, but decided to keep it small as to not overwhelm myself. Each of these people were unbelievably generous and helpful at every stage of the process.
Book Cover designer: I used the 99designs service for this. I opted for their lowest level: $299 without the “guarantee.” I was shocked at how much fun this service was to use, and the designer I went with was super helpful. Immediate replies back, and just wonderful to work with.
Interior layout: This was one of the more stressful parts of the process, because it was an education for me to really notice how books are made. There are 1,000 things about book design that I have been exposed to throughout my life, but never truly noticed. I went through revision after revision here, ordering proof after proof at each stage. I also have to note the wonderful feedback that Joel Friedlander provided via email when he looked at the proof file for just a few minutes. His notes made me immediately regret not reaching out to him sooner. Next time!
Eric Van Der Hope: Boy was it a pleasure to engage with Eric. We met years ago, and kept in touch. When I was navigating the backend of publishing through Amazon, he gave advice, and hopped on Skype a couple times to walk me through it step by step. I asked that he get on Skype for when I click the final “publish” button, sharing my screen with him. I can’t say enough about how easy and fun he made this process.
Marketing strategy: My wonderful team had loads of great ideas and execution. Thanks to Julia Grella, Alanna Bamber, Kate O’Keeffe and the others mentioned above for their help here. My mastermind group also shared lots of great advice along the way!
The process by which you create, edit, publish, and market your work is a creative process within itself. There is no one right way. You have to take steps, make decisions, make mistakes, and learn throughout the process.
What I describe above is not a perfect process by any measure. I am already considering what I will do differently for the next book. Which I am itching to begin writing!
If you have any questions I can answer, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know. I have been answer questions via videos I’m calling #GatewayConversations on my Facebook Page. Questions I have answered this week include:
- How can you create a podcast that is useful?
- How do you prioritize which social media channel to focus on?
- “How do I switch audiences? I’m preparing to publish my first novel, after having previously published three children’s books.”
- How do you find out the answer to a question when you are not an expert?
- How can a novelist find other ways to engage her audience?