Source: Kristin Meekhof
“We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.” –Joan Didion
As a social worker turned best-selling author, this quote by 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 garnered 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 next may surprise you, especially since the literary and publishing community may be a bit of an enigma. Nothing in my educational career or professional experiences prepared me for the publishing industry. It was a baptism by fire sort of thing. With my undergraduate training in psychology and then graduate work in the helping profession, I was taught how to be empathetic and display compassion. My initial experiences with the media and book world were anything but a warm welcome. I remember an initial gut punch with a public relations woman (who 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 of it.”
The criticism stung. However, I knew persistence 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 pertain to that of a spouse or partner. I was curious how people coped. I noticed there were many women’s narratives within the grief/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 wish to write.
My book’s category of grief/loss is full of well-known authors and experts with more degrees than I have; however, I knew that no one could tell my story the way I can. I also understood, by interviewing women who lost their spouse or partner, that I would be sharing never-before-told stories and this is new content. It isn’t uncommon to undercut your life experiences because you don’t see them as “professional” work or relatively small and yet, these are situations that make you relatable. Others can learn from them and from your insights.
2. Pursuing a new project can enhance personal and professional growth.
If your business follows a typical model, chances are you operate within a certain circle. You may feel value within your social or professional networks, but you’re seeing the same people. At the heart of a new project, like writing a book, you’re expanding your impact and seeking new resources. This means you’re attempting and learning new ways to enrich yourself and engaging in new communities.
3. The digital platforms allow access to influential people.
I was caught completely off guard when I found out I was responsible for obtaining blurbs and support for my book. Without any connections or professional PR experience, I knew my hope was online. Digital platforms, like the use of Twitter and other social media, allow for access to influencers. And as an introvert, it allowed me to carefully think through my word choices. By 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 this means people involved with topics you care about are accessible. It must go a step further than just saying “hi” and not “asking” for something the moment you connect. When I teach people how to connect, I remind them many well-known people are in the service of well-being.
4. Non-traditional paths for publishing are possible.
As a book consultant and author coach, I worked with a Ph.D.-level psychologist who went directly to a book publisher and pitched her manuscript. Her non-fiction book by Ella is set to launch later this year. It is worth noting that a literary attorney did review her agreement before it was signed.
5. Transformation can occur without leaving a full-time job.
At the time of writing my manuscript, I was working full-time as a social worker. I set a rigorous schedule (two evenings a week and several weekends) to do my research and write. With the luxury of paid vacation time, I used it to do travel and in-person interviews. Few people I’ve known, except for those on sabbatical, were able to devote all their time to a book project.
6. The pursuit of profit doesn’t mean you need to spend buckets of money.
Things such as 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 family and friends to rally behind me, my book was ranked No. 1 in numerous categories (ie, grief/bereavement) before it even launched. I only did one paid ad. This 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 moonshot opportunity, but I knew focusing on my passion project and getting results (ie, completing a chapter, getting an interview done) would bring fulfillment. Whenever I created an opportunity by reaching out to someone (ie, cold call, email), I imagined success. This didn’t mean a favorable reply every time, but 90% of my efforts succeeded. Exploring new things affected me in positive ways that encouraged me to nurture more relationships.
Resilience can supplant writing-related anxiety. The reality is that most have doubts about pursuing anything new. Focusing on who you want to reach and why you desire to do so can transcend old fears.