Source: Kristin Meekhof
“We tell each other stories to live.” –Jeanne Didion
As a social worker turned bestselling author, this quote from Joan Didion is one of the reasons I wrote my book. And one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How did you write a book?” People also want to know how I attracted more than one publisher and how I got support from a literary agent, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, as well as best-selling authors and media personalities Katie Couric , Deepak Chopra, MD, and Maria Shriver.
What follows may surprise you, especially since the literary and editorial community can be a bit of an enigma. Nothing in my educational background or professional experience prepared me for the publishing industry. It was a kind of baptism of fire. Through my undergraduate training in psychology and then my graduate studies in the helping field, I learned to be empathetic and compassionate. My first experiences with the media and the world of books were anything but a warm welcome. I remember an initial jab with a PR woman (who has worked with several respectable authors). After reviewing some of my writing samples, she said, “I knew you were on a learning curve, but I didn’t know you were at the bottom.”
The criticism stung. However, I knew perseverance would win. And within days I was exchanging emails directly with Dr. Deepak Chopra.
I also focused on why I wanted to write a book. After my husband died in 2007, I read everything I could about loss and grief, and it didn’t have to relate to that of a spouse or partner. I was curious to know how people were doing. I noticed that there were a lot of women’s accounts in the bereavement/loss literature. And sharing the stories of resilient women mattered to me.
Here are seven things everyone should know about writing a book:
1. Chances are you’re already an expert in the category you want to write about.
The grief/loss category of my book is full of well-known authors and experts with more degrees than me; however, I knew no one could tell my story like I can. I also understood, by interviewing women who have lost their spouse or partner, that I would share untold stories and that is new content. It’s not uncommon to undermine your life experiences because you don’t see them as “professional” or relatively small work and yet they are situations that make you communicable. Others can learn from them and your ideas.
2. Pursuing a new project can promote personal and professional growth.
If your business follows a typical pattern, chances are you are moving in a certain circle. You may feel valued within your social or professional networks, but you see the same people. In the midst of a new project, like writing a book, you broaden your impact and seek out new resources. It means trying and learning new ways to enrich yourself and engage with new communities.
3. Digital platforms provide access to influential people.
I was taken completely by surprise when I found out that I was responsible for getting blurbs and support for my book. Without any connection or professional PR experience, I knew my hope was online. Digital platforms, such as the use of Twitter and other social media, provide access to influencers. And as an introvert, it made me really think about my word choices. Using Twitter and other social media, I made direct contact with Deepak Chopra, Katie Couric, Maria Shriver and other media influencers. The good news is that this means the people involved in the topics you care about are accessible. It should go beyond just saying “hi” and not “asking” for something the moment you log in. When I teach people how to connect, I remind them that many well-known people are in the service of well-being.
4. Non-traditional publishing channels are possible.
As a book consultant and author coach, I worked with a PhD-level psychologist who went straight to a book publisher and submitted her manuscript. Her non-fiction book is set to launch later this year. It should be noted that a literary lawyer reviewed his agreement before it was signed.
5. Transformation can happen without leaving a full-time job.
At the time of writing my manuscript, I was working full-time as a social worker. I set myself a rigorous schedule (two evenings a week and several weekends) to do my research and write. With the luxury of a paid vacation, I used it to take trips and in-person interviews. Few people I have known, other than those on sabbaticals, have been able to dedicate all of their time to a book project.
6. The pursuit of profit doesn’t mean you have to spend buckets of cash.
Things like reaching out on social media or sending an email are free and effective. These things can influence more than you think. By leveraging my social media influencers and asking my family and friends to rally behind me, my book was ranked #1 in many categories (i.e. Grief/Bereavement) even before its launch. I only made one paid ad. It was last year, not to support my book, but to help another caregiver’s non-profit organization.
7. Moonshot mindset matters.
Some may see becoming a first-time author or writing another book as a moonlighting opportunity, but I knew to focus on my passion project and get results (i.e. finish a chapter, get an interview) would bring fulfillment. Every time I created an opportunity by reaching out to someone (eg cold call, email), I imagined success. It didn’t mean a favorable response every time, but 90% of my efforts were successful. Exploring new things affected me in a positive way, which encouraged me to nurture more relationships.
Resilience can supplant writing anxiety. The reality is that most have doubts about pursuing something new. Focusing on who you want to reach and why you want to do it can transcend old fears.