You often ask me, “how did you write and publish a book?”
From the outside looking in, it can seem like the most mystifying process in the world.
It certainly looked that way for me, when I was first beginning the process.
But in hindsight, I realize now that there were really only two steps in the process:
- Write the book.
- Publish the book.
Now, are either of these steps quick? For most folks, no.
Are either of these steps easy? Nope. Or at least they weren’t for me.
But just like when we are working on our recovery, our career growth, a cherished relationship, or any goal of deep personal significance to us, if the potential payoff is worth the price, we will persevere through any amount of discomfort, confusion, hardship or impatience to realize our dreams.
So very briefly, and with lots of caveats that there are many ways to accomplish steps 1 and 2 above, I will review with you what I did to write and publish my first book, “Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back.”
P.S. For any reassurance it may provide, I also want to share that the process I’m about to describe really DOES work for me, since I went on to write a second book called “Love & Feathers: What a Palm-Sized Parrot Has Taught Me About Life, Love, & Healthy Self-Esteem” using the same exact process, except for when I got to the publishing part, and decided to self-publish instead.
Step One: Write the Book
When I first began working on my first book (the one that was to become “Beating Ana“), I was lucky in the sense that I had some prior experience with writing. I had previously been a songwriter with a bit of success to my credit. I had always done very well grades-wise with writing projects in school. I also had a longstanding passion for both reading and writing, and some small affirmation from past writing teachers and professors that the raw talent was likely there.
It still took me five years to write my first book.
At times it was magical – beautiful – like watching water flow downstream. At other times it was excruciating, tortuous – like watching a garden snail try to compete in a marathon where all the other runners were wearing steel-toed boots.
But I kept writing.
I wrote because I had an idea – an idea I was passionate about. I had thoroughly researched my idea and had looked high and low to see if anyone else had written about what I wanted to see in print. I hunted and searched, queried and questioned, but no one knew of the existence of any such book. So I knew this particular book had yet to be written, and I really, REALLY wanted to be the one to write it!
I wrote down the premise of my book-in-progress to keep me focused. The book I wanted to write would share the single most transformative tool I had found in my battle to overcome my eating disorder – the help of my mentor. I wanted others in recovery to be able to learn about the miraculous shifts that can take place when a recovering person chooses to add a mentor, or recovered person, to their recovery support team.
Next I strategized about how best to accomplish my goal. I decided that to write this book, I would invite several of my own longtime mentees to share their correspondence in the form of “question and answer” sessions with me. Each chapter of the book would first feature a common question I had received from my mentees over the years, and then would share my answer to that question. Following the Q&A I would offer readers a chance to “practice” learning the skill my mentees and I had worked on in that piece of correspondence. Then, to close each chapter, I would offer a Life Celebration Affirmation, because I remembered from my own recovery battle how challenging it often was to affirm myself that I truly was working hard and making progress.
Once I had outlined the structure for how the body of the book could work, the writing part became a bit easier.
But I still needed lots of help and support along the way – so I invited a friend and colleague who was a professional writer to become my writing mentor. I also asked for lots of help from advance readers, who would read what I had written and tell me if it made any sense, if it was helpful to them, if they thought it would be helpful to others. These reader-mentors helped me at each step along the way to write, re-write, edit, refine, revise, re-word….whatever they thought the book needed to be most helpful to readers who wanted to use mentoring as an aid and a tool in their recovery journey.
In the process, I developed a very thick skin, and a willingness to hear critique and commentary from a very humble, teachable place.
Finally, my writing mentor, my reading-mentors and I all agreed that the manuscript was sufficiently well developed to earn the title of “book”. We gave it a working title (“Letters to a Young Anorexic” – a title I still love and the title that initially sold my literary agent on representing the book, even though the publisher who bought it changed it right away. Snif.)
Step Two: Publish the Book
My writing mentor told me that the first thing I had to do before publishing the book was to write the book proposal. This was not difficult, but it was time-consuming. Several other authors had recommended a book called “How to Write a Book Proposal” by Michael Larson. So I bought it and followed the directions.
Presto! (well, not exactly). But eventually I produced what both my writing mentor and I felt was a workable book proposal, complete with sample chapters.
During the course of my research, I discovered that there are many ways to publish a book, including self-publishing, contacting publishers directly, and finding a literary agent to shop the book to publishers on the author’s behalf.
After researching the pros and cons of each, I decided that I wanted to look for an agent.
(This next part reaaaalllly isn’t glamorous)
I got on the internet and looked up “literary agents”. I hunted around for agents who shared that they were seeking submissions for the topics of self-help, recovery, women’s issues, and eating disorders. I studied each agent’s submission guidelines. From this I learned that some agents liked to receive only a sample chapter. Some agents liked to receive the book proposal only. Some agents wanted the book proposal and a few sample chapters. And some agents only wanted a query letter (sort of like a very short book proposal summary).
For each of the 75 agents (yup, 75!) I approached, I sent them exactly what they asked for, personalized with their name and any small tidbits of information that I thought might forge a preliminary interest in reading my inquiry.
I kept all of their information in a spreadsheet, and told myself very firmly when I began querying them, “Shannon, be sure to celebrate each ‘no’ because that means you are one step closer to the ‘yes’ you are looking for!”
And I really followed my own advice to the letter. I would actually celebrate the ‘no’s’ – checking them off my agent spreadsheet, getting all excited because the ‘yes’ was getting closer!
Looking back, I still firmly believe that this is the only approach that works in the competitive, rejection-filled world of writing. You don’t need ten ‘yesses’, or even two. You only need ONE yes. So just focus on getting that one ‘yes’ and don’t waste energy worrying about all the ‘no’s’.
About two months after I started searching for an agent, I got the ‘yes’ I had been waiting for.
One month after that, after a few more tweaks to the book proposal and sample chapters, my agent landed me a publishing deal for with Health Communications, Inc., who immediately renamed the book “Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back.”
NOTE: As is common with publishing offers, my offer was contingent upon agreeing to a title change. I loved my original title, but I loved the idea of being a published author more so I agreed to let them change the title.
And that is how I wrote and published my first book.
It took approximately six years of writing/revising/editing/shopping to get the book deal. It took approximately 32 years of life experience to qualify me to write the book.
And it was worth every bit of that time to see my dream come true!
So keep dreaming – and keep writing – hope it helps!
p.s. Just one more thing. I firmly believe that in addition to a freshly printed, new-book-smelling book, every new writer should have a “book mascot”. The book mascot should be very cute and fluffy with big, soft eyes that stare at the casual shoppers and plead, “buy me! buy me now!” For obvious reasons, I bring my book mascot to every signing. 🙂