A lot of people say they want to write a book, but don’t have the time or know where to start.
While most of the country has been working from home these past few months though, many of us find ourselves with a little bit more alone time on our hands. It’s easy to use that time, picking up old hobbies, redecorating the house, or wasting it away on social media.
What if now is the perfect time to write that book?
According to The Guardian, book publishers and agents have seen a spike in book proposals as a result of the coronavirus and so many people being stuck in quarantine. The article says, “Literary agent Juliet Mushens, of the Caskie Mushens agency, usually receives between 10 and 15 appeals for representation a day from new writers. Last Monday alone, she received 27.”
Other book publishers have confirmed the same: proposals from new writers have doubled.
For those curious about the publishing process, I co-wrote a book two years ago called The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World, and it was quite the journey: birthing the idea, putting together a book proposal, pitching it to editors, working through multiple rounds of edits, cover design, pre-launch marketing, etc. It was published by Seal Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, and taught me a lot about what it means to build an idea, bring it to fruition, and ultimately find a book publisher to make it a reality.
So, if you’re thinking about writing a book while you have a little extra time on your hands, here are a few things you need to know about the process of getting published.
1. Book ideas can come from anywhere. Trust your gut.
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I always knew I wanted to start my own business — and today, I run a PR agency called Stanton & Company.
But to be honest, I never actually wanted to write a book.
The book idea came from personal experience and a moment where I realized I was out of balance, but not the typical work-life balance we always talk about (which I don’t think is possible, by the way!) I realized I had created this tough, assertive, direct work persona (let’s call her “Bossy Amy”) and was holding back my softer qualities, my sensitivity, emotionality, vulnerability—because I thought that was necessary to thrive in “a man’s world.” This set me off on a journey to explore femininity at a time while people were talking about feminism, female empowerment, women’s rights, but not this other “f” word (femininity). As I started talking to both men and women about this, it turned out that I was not alone in feeling like I was holding parts of myself back, and that this was a topic that needed to be explored and shared. Spoiler alert: our feminine qualities are not weaknesses, they are our superpowers, but I digress…
It turns out that many people who write books have a similar story. They aren’t really sitting around trying to come up with a book to write. Instead, they’re living their lives, until one day a book idea pops into their head—and they know it needs to be written.
These are the moments you want to pay attention to. Follow your experience and your curiosity.
2. You should care deeply about your book and its message.
Our agency has supported a number of authors with their book launches in the past, so I was fairly familiar with the process of launching a book and all of the key components to a successful launch. But being the author as opposed to the PR team made it a completely different experience.
Writing a book is hard. And generally for first-time authors, it’s not a money-making venture. So that means you’ll need a deeper motivation beyond money or being able to call yourself a published author. In my case, I felt strongly that we as a society needed to have a discussion around femininity—at home, in the workplace, everywhere—and that redefining femininity as powerful both individually and societally creates space and opportunity for us to make meaningful systemic changes. I was excited to help people express themselves fully (research is ‘me’search) and live happier lives as a result.
That was my motivation, and that was also the vision the publisher connected with as well. In today’s world more than ever, people are looking to make a difference and support messages that are meaningful, now and in the future.
3. Traditional publisher vs self-publishing. Which is better?
The age-old question.
I knew that I wanted to go with a traditional publisher (if that was an option—you don’t always get to choose) because as someone in PR, I had seen the benefits of working with one of the big publishers and the resulting credibility as we’re pitching editors, writers, producers.
Self-publishing can be a great avenue for certain writers, but I knew from the beginning that if we were able to sell our concept to one of the top publishers, even if that meant a long, drawn-out, and more challenging process, that was my preference. We would be taken more seriously (and take ourselves more seriously) and we’d learn from the more traditional path. While the publishing industry is antiquated in many ways, publishers still have some big advantages in terms of sales, marketing, and legitimacy. Neither my writing partner nor I had published a book before, and we were aware of what we didn’t know.
Different paths are right for different authors. Think about what you need in order to bring your idea to life—and if you find the right publisher who shares that same vision and it feels right, then I’d say go for it!
4. Writing and publishing a book is (usually) not a solo endeavor.
For some people, writing a book can be a solitary task. Other times, it’s a group effort.
In my case, my agent, Coleen O’Shea, was on board at the beginning and cheering me on along the way. And then I brought on my co-author, Catherine Connors. And then, we interviewed more than 50 people for the book, gathering varying perspectives on the subject of femininity. We also worked very closely with the publisher—on everything from the title of the book, the way chapters were organized, making sure that the book would be the best version of itself.
As a writer, it’s important to know that working with a publisher is a partnership. You have control over certain things, they have control over certain things. When a publisher buys your proposal or book, they’re buying into the idea because they believe in it and believe in you—but they are also bringing a lot of experience to the table and their experience can be tremendously valuable to you, especially as a first-time author.
There are multiple chefs in the kitchen and everyone is aligned around one goal of making your book a success.
5. Marketing your book starts with understanding your audience and your niche.
Understanding your potential readers and why they care is an important step as you start the process of writing a book.
As mentioned, there were so many important conversations going on around feminism and all things women, many of which were written into books. That said, I knew femininity remained untapped yet important… it was a topic that was brewing under the surface and could light the fire of a totally new conversation and a new way of approaching female empowerment. Before I could even think about writing the book (much less marketing or PR for the book), I needed to have a very clear understanding of this starting point: where the book fits and why it matters.
The book proposal helps get you there since it’s 50 pages of just that. Writing the proposal is an exercise in understanding where your book is going to fit on the world’s bookshelf. What’s the niche? Have other books written about this subject before? If so, are they any good? What hasn’t been said yet?
These are the questions publishers want answers to before they decide whether or not your book is publishable.
6. Working with a traditional publisher puts pressure on your writing schedule.
Some people thrive under pressure—I’m one of those people.
When you’re writing a book with a traditional publisher, you are suddenly “a professional writer.” You’re being paid to write. This means deadlines. Milestones. Expectations. Check-ins. And at a certain point, because the publisher needs six to twelve months to prepare for the book to be printed and launched, you just have to put a pin in it and send it off. Even if you have more ideas, even if you want another year to work on it, because you’re on the publisher’s schedule (and not the other way around).
7. Start talking about your project out loud.
I believe we manifest what we speak into existence.
When I first started working on this book, I started by just talking about the ideas to other people. I didn’t realize it at the time, but saying “I have an idea for a book” was a way to hold myself accountable. And the more I talked about it, the more I felt like I had to make progress on it, I had to write it, I had to finish it.
With all that is happening in the world right now, now may be the perfect time to write. However, it’s also important not to force the process, or feel like you have a limited window to write a book while working from home and, if you don’t get it done now, then you never will. The truth is, if you are curious about a topic, you’re going to spend time thinking about it. If you’re excited about the idea of writing a book, you’re going to make time for it. And what’s most important is that whatever you write or create is a reflection of you and what you care about.
What may seem like a crazy idea can soon become a reality if you set your mind to it and there’s no better time than the present.