So ICYMI, I wrote a book.
And while I have been desperately seeking positive feedback to nourish my ego, I’ve come across a lot of women who are actively trying to write their own book. They ask for advice, insight, or even have specific questions on what it’s like. So I figured I would address it all right out in the open so that any of you who are too shy to email me can still reap the benefits 🙂
Sooooooo here’s my advice on what it’s like to write a book and sell copies!
Self-Publish vs Publisher
The new trend right now is *all* about self-publishing. You write up your own book, you edit it, you package it, you design a cover (or let’s be real you hire someone to do that for you) and you use a distributor to get your books in front of people’s eyes. The pros are that you retain wayyy more of the profit (sometimes 100% if there’s an upfront distribution fee) and you have more control over the final cut. It can be a great fit for those who are scrappy, hardworking, determined, and patient.
I considered doing self-publishing…for like, a second. I’m a terrible editor. You all know this by now. On any given blog post there are bound to be 5-7 spelling or grammatical errors give or take – so let’s just say self-publishing could have been a reckless disaster for yours truly. Lucky for me, Thought Catalog, a popular media website geared towards none other than millennial females, has been syndicating my blog posts for years AND has a book department. Boom.
Not only did they edit my work (Thank GOD), but they designed a beautiful cover with a photo taken by the lovely Jason Flynn (if you are in LA he should be your go-to photographer), they customized the layout and sourced production, they placed it on Amazon, and created a super kewl PDF version for the Thought Catalog site itself.
All I had to do was submit a manuscript (I’ll get to that later).
However, using a publisher does come with some drawbacks. For instance, my profits from the book are WAY less than if I were to self-publish. By going through an actual publisher, you are giving away a hefty amount of monies from future sales.
But to me, it was worth it.
I like that I have the name Thought Catalog behind my book and I like that they provide free marketing for my book (not a ton – don’t get me wrong – but some). Self-publishing does not establish as much credibility in the space, and for a niche like female self-help, I wanted to make sure readers knew I at least somewhat knew what I was talking about. I also like that the book looks incredibly professional (no thanks to me) and that any avid Thought Catalog reader will be directed to my book while on the site.
For me, it was the perfect fit. But if you are someone who truly enjoys editing and isn’t afraid to shamelessly promote your book without any backup, then definitely self-publish. Ideally you’ll make more money depending on the success of your marketing, and you don’t need to get the green light from anyone other than yourself to put your work out there. Win-win.
Don’t Start from Scratch
Oh, gawd. Why would you EVER want to start from the beginning when you could start from the middle?
If you’ve been reading my blogs at all AND purchased my book, you will see that there are some similar concepts lurking around in both. Eerily similar, in fact. The book I wrote did not hatch out of a dream I had years back. It did not take me years and years to write. It did not encourage me to stretch my beliefs and force in new concepts in just because they were novel or clickbait.
I just wrote what I knew. And what I knew, was already written.
Now before you get all uppity – I did not take a bunch of blog posts and glue them together and slap a cover on it. That would be tacky and super redundant. And you would probably be pretty pissed at me that you paid $14.99 for something you could get for free. Eeeek.
What I did do was take my favorite posts that I thought had a lot of merit and I reconstructed their fundamental essence. As I kept adding to my “faves” pile, I realized they sorted themselves into nice little categories. Self-Confidence. Friends. Relationships. Career. Quarter-Life Crisis. Which makes COMPLETE logical sense, because those are the topics I focus on the most during coaching, too. Le duh.
And guess what?! My book miraculously has five sections to it! *Gasp*
Point is, you already have everything you need in order to write a book. You have already been writing on napkins or on a blog or for other outlets or on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. You have been creating content for a while now, in fact. Maybe you just didn’t realize that a bunch of Instagram captions could actually be turned into anything of value. Trust me, they can. So don’t try and come up with this larger-than-life pitch because you think that’s what you need to impress people. The best writing comes from those who TRULY believe in their work.
A great example: Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl Strayed has not reinvented the wheel, guys.
Her writing largely surrounds the death of her mother, her rebirth as a good human, and the struggles she’s faced as a young adult. That’s it. And she’s BRILLIANT. But she doesn’t sit down and churn out brand new concepts with brand new words that hold brand new meaning. No. She focuses on her basics. What makes her who she is. Her audience knows what’s coming and can depend on Cheryl for some hearty advice and soothing semantics.
So take it from Cheryl and grab some of your original content that you’re proud of and see how you can tweak it to become something more. Once you focus on that, you’re already halfway there.
Your Different Audiences
This is going to sound weird, but when you are writing a book – or a blog, for that matter – you have to pretend like no one is going to read it.
I know, I know. That sounds ludicrous. The entire POINT of writing is so that SOMEONE, ANYONE (please?) out there reads it. (Unless you are writing for cathartic reasons and then I solute you.)
However, I have found that if you are writing creatively, thinking about others’ reactions and opinions will obstruct the process. You’ll start taking parts out, wondering if you are being too “expert-y” or “raw,” you’ll second guess everything you’ve typed out and want to start over from the beginning. You’ll ask yourself if you’re any good.
People don’t want a piece of writing that was solely intended for them. It feels creepy and inauthentic. It’s like in the movie Groundhog Day when Bill Murry tries SO! HARD! to win back Andie MacDowell by doing what he THINKS she wants, and it never works out. She always gets the heebie-jeebies. It’s not until he starts being himself that she actually falls for him.
Same goes for writing. People genuinely want writing that was tugged out from someone’s heart and put on paper because the author had the cajones to share it. And the only way to do that is to forget someone is at the other end of the screen.
Ok now things are about to get a *leetle* confusing so stick with me.
At the same time, you must always remember your audience.
But your audience is a vague term, not a specific one. For example, I know that my specific audience consists of my friends and family who feel guilty if they don’t read my blogs (especially when I’m casually like SO WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT MY BLOG TODAY???????), and clients who have decided I know what the hell I am talking about (thanks guys!).
Outside from those special people, my vague audience consists of twenty and thirty-something women who are feeling stuck in at least one aspect of their lives. So when I write my book, I am not thinking about my specific audience because that would scare the shit out of me. Knowing that one of Andrew’s friends who I semi-know and has a decently good impression of me is reading about my embarrassing breakup (plus other humiliating tidbits) would cause me to never never click “publish.” It’s too intimidating and vulnerable and scary AF.
So, when I write any blog, book, caption, whatever – I’m using my vague audience to make sure I’m staying “on brand.” I want to avoid writing a book about pizza and skiing and furniture and politics because none of that goes together and that would be a shit compilation. It’s my vague audience keeps me grounded. It guides me to remember that any interested readers want to learn about how they can get UNSTUCK.
But in my head they also don’t have faces or reactions other than “Kali is a genius” so I like writing for them.
DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE?
(Yes, Kali. You are a genius. Go forth and prosper.)
Aww, thanks vague audience!
Finding a Publisher
So I pretty much already gave away how I found my publisher, and to be honest that’s the only experience I have. I do know that finding a publisher has proven to be difficult for a lot of people, and I have a few ideas how to circumvent that. Otherwise, I think my publisher is pretty bomb and you should check them out.
First, in order to find a publisher for a book, you need to find a publisher for your smaller work. That might be via Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Elite Daily, Bustle, or any other media outlet that takes contributors. It really doesn’t matter. You just need an established source to publish an article so that another established source would consider publishing your mother of all works: a book. And, if the media source has a book department, that’s the best way to land a book deal.
It’s a sad reality that a lot of large media outlets don’t pay their writers. It totally sucks. However, it’s also great for new and upcoming writers who just want exposure and credibility to their name. Honestly, I feel torn about it. I don’t love contributing to the problem by submitting my work for free (which undercuts the market for paid writers), but it’s also given me incredible opportunity to grow and expand my audience. I guess the jury’s still out on my ultimate conclusion. But if you don’t have any ethical dilemmas about submitting free work, go for it. There are plenty of organizations who would jump at the chance for your beautiful words.
Anywho, as I mentioned before, I found my publisher because years ago I submitted a recycled blog to Thought Catalog for syndication (yes, for free!). There, I met my producer Kendra, who is a fabulous go-getter and works her butt off to make TC approachable and intriguing. From there, we established a relationship and she knew that she could pull whatever blogs she thought were relevant to the Thought Catalog audience as long as she cited the work and gave me authorship credit. Pretty standard.
After I had submitted ~15 blogs, Kendra set me up with their book department. My editor, Alex, asked if I would like to submit a book proposal for consideration. Due to the fact that Thought Catalog already trusted my writing, they essentially asked for me to pick a topic and piece together posts for a full manuscript. They would then edit completed work, design a cover, and do all the things I talked about earlier.
And that was it.
Not too stressful, y’all. But that’s because I had already established trust with my publisher. I already know them, and they knew me. We trusted each other. And that’s the ideal situation.
Be Uncomfortably Shameless
I have a confession to make: I hate promoting myself.
They say that when you write, 20% of your energy should be focused on creation, and 80% should be focused on promotion. Yikes.
Whenever I hear that breakdown, I cringe. Why? Because it’s SO STUPIDLY TRUE.
Writing a book is honestly the least of your worries. You can do it. I have zero doubt. It’s the marketing and promotion part that you need to beef up for.
If you are anything like me, you are going to feel icky and narcissistic and egotistical and desperate and embarrassed whenever you promote something you’ve worked for. I know that I have issues about it, and they probably won’t ever fully go away. But at the same time, I think a lot of people feel this way.
It’s vulnerable to put your heart on a platter and force-feed it to strangers walking by.
Some people get really turned off by self-promotion and that’s part of the game. But if you want to get your book (or blogs) in front of others’ eyes, you have to do it.
You have to post it on all of the social platforms. You have to reach out to reporters and influencers to see if they have any interest in reading a book to cover or share. You have to give away free copies to people who seriously aren’t interested. You have to hit up people to review your book (PS WILL YOU REVIEW MY BOOK?) and share it with their friends and buy copies as gifts. Your book will sit and collect dust if you don’t push it out there – even if you have a publisher. The success of the book will fall on you.
Talk about pressure.
And if I’m being honest, self-promotion is going to be the source of almost all of your success if you are working for yourself. I know that my short-comings have been due to my lack of shameless promotion. Because IT’S THE WORST AND I HATE IT.
But we gotta get over it together.
So please, take it from me and be 295783589735879% prepared to push your incredible, talented, and inspired work onto the world whether they welcome you with open arms or not.
Most of the time, they won’t. But when they do, it’ll feel like magic.
If you are still determined after reading how to write a book and sell copies, I say go for it.
But you’re going to need encouragement along the way. The process can be invasive, exhausting, and intimidating – so it’s a requirement to have a support group helping you keep your spirits up along the way! Thank goodness we have a team of life coaches ready to do just that for you. Work one on one with a coach who can guide and mentor you throughout your book writing process, and everything else in between.