“Nobody wants to buy your course.” Those are the exact words I recently read from another online course creator.
The phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.
I read on. “Nobody wakes up and says ‘You know, I think I’m gonna buy an online course today.’ What people really want are the outcomes and the results that your course can potentially give them,” he wrote.
Phew! That was relieving. Aaron, Jennifer, and I have poured out our hearts and souls into BookWorthy. It’s a high-quality course that can help anyone write and self-publish a book that people will read. It’s been our hope from the beginning that our course doesn’t only make our corner of the internet look pretty. But instead, it actually helps people achieve their dreams.
Since launching BookWorthy, I’ve learned a few things. One is that we’re good at igniting a burning desire in someone’s heart to write and publish a book.
I’ve also learned that committing to a course and spending money online is a big deal. It’s especially a big deal when it’s to the tune of a few hundred dollars.
But even though our course works (and we can prove it), that doesn’t mean people will register. Often, people have a handful of questions and clarifications that are standing in the way. And I want to address the most common ones in this article.
Writing and publishing a book is hard work. It’ll take blood, sweat, and tears. In fact, it’ll take all the blood, sweat, and tears that you’ve got. There will be days when you’re ready to throw in the towel and settle with the false reality that writing and publishing a book isn’t for you.
Even the most successful best selling authors bring people around them who support them on their journey. Who help them sort out their storyline when they get stuck. Who help them find direction when they’re directionless. And who encourage them to keep going when they want to quit.
Aaron, Jennifer, and I have been through this before. We’ve put in our fair share of blood, sweat, and tears. And we’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars perfecting the self-publishing process. In short, we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to.
“This is an awesome course with a wealth of information and shortcuts to help any aspiring author. So thankful for the guidance and easy to understand layout.” —Cathi
We’ll coach you through every step of the self-publishing process. Plus, you’ll get the entire BookWorthy community to cheer you on and keep you accountable so you actually finish what you started. By the end, you’ll be a published author.
If you do it alone, you’ll be one of the many that quit before they even start.
If you join BookWorthy, you’ll to be one of the few to actually become a published author. I want you to actually change the world with your words.
2. What if I have to spend a bunch of extra money to publish my book?
It’ll cost about $10 to self-publish your book.
Why $10? Because you’ll likely want to order one (or two) copies of your own book before you press “publish.”
Why spend your hard-earned money on a course that doesn’t teach you anything? A self-publishing course should teach you how to well . . . self-publish.
We live in a day where the internet is full of hidden fees, sneaky scams, and pathetic products. BookWorthy is not one of them. We started BookWorthy knowing that we wanted to be honest and upfront with our pricing. That includes letting our customers know what they’re getting into.
“If you’re serious, BookWorthy is an awesome value.” —Terry
We’re not going to “up-sell” you. This isn’t like going to Jiffy Lube. Once you’re in, you’re in. When you register, you’ll get full access to the entire BookWorthy experience for a fair price. Plus, there are no hidden self-publishing fees that will sneak up on you. We’ll teach you how to write and self-publish your book by yourself, for free.
We’ve seen our course actually work. BookWorthy is a valuable investment for anyone considering self-publishing their book.
3. What if there’s a better option?
You won’t find a better option for the price and quality of BookWorthy.
Many aspiring authors get tricked into what’s called Vanity Publishing. This is where a publishing company promises to self-publish your book for a sizeable fee. Unfortunately, this method has developed quite a sour reputation over the years.
(Google the words “vanity publishing.” You’ll see a few less-than-encouraging headlines like, “Vanity Publishing Information Advice and Warning,” “Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse them and Pay the Price.”)
Hear from Angie who lost $10,000 to a vanity publisher.
There are other online self-publishing courses available on Udemy or Masterclass. But you might spend a fortune piecing together various courses. When, instead, you could register for BookWorthy and get everything for one low price.
You won’t shell out thousands for our course. In fact, BookWorthy is only $299. And, in our course, you’ll learn how to go from ideation to publication (and marketing.)
Here’s where your money goes. First, we make sure we can maintain and improve the course for current and future members. We pay for hard materials like the physical workbook we ship to your door. And finally, we pay our team.
And unlike most courses, we set out to be human. That’s why Aaron, Jennifer, and I (your instructors) actually coach you through the course on a daily basis.
“I absolutely love that the instructors are so readily available!” —Lisa
4. What if I don’t like BookWorthy, and I’m stuck with it?
You’ll never get stuck with our 100% Money-Back Guarantee.
I’m confident you’ll be happy with the course. Hundreds of people have been through our trainings and they almost never ask for a refund.
Of course, if you’re not pleased with your purchase, then you should get your money back. That’s why we offer a 100% money back guarantee that lasts for one year from the date of purchase. You can take the entire course and if you’re not satisfied for any reason during the first year, just let us know and you’ll get your money back. We will refund your purchase in full. No questions asked.
“Love love love this course. So happy I signed up.” —Tiffany
Want some numbers you can trust? In the last six months, less than 2 percent of students refunded the course and we processed the average refund in under 24 hours. BookWorthy is one of the best investments you will make. Guaranteed.
5. What if my purchase isn’t protected?
We understand you’re investing a lot in BookWorthy, so we’ve set up every safeguard.
This isn’t our first rodeo. We know very well that our customers pay our salaries. It’s people just like you who support our business so that we can continue helping people publish their stories.
We’ve gone above and beyond to make sure you feel comfortable purchasing from us online. That’s why your experience is our number one priority. We keep your information completely secure and promise not to overwhelm you with emails or advertisements. Lastly, our in-house support team is standing by ready to help you with anything you need, anytime.
Here’s what you should expect every time you interact with BookWorthy:
Zero Risk: One-year, 100% money-back guarantee, no questions asked
Privacy & Security: Your information is safe and secure with 256-bit encryption
Unwavering Support: We’re standing by to help with any of your needs
How do I register for BookWorthy?
Follow this link to register for BookWorthy. Next, you will arrive at our registration page. On that page, you’ll see exactly what you’re paying for. After you register, you’ll see another page where you’ll fill out your shipping information so we can send a physical workbook to your door.
As a reminder, you’re not buying an online course. BookWorthy is a personalized experience that will teach you three primary things:
You’re going to learn tactics for getting your book out of your heart and into your hands; you’ll learn how to organize the thoughts you think and the feelings you feel into the words your reader needs to hear.
You’ll get a step-by-step tutorial of how to publish your book and who we recommend you use to maintain the most rights, make the most money, and have the most creative freedom to tell your story how you want to.
You’ll learn about the marketing and sales strategies we’ve used to build your author presence and share your book with the people who need to read it most. You’ll even learn how to sell your book online and create a sustainable passive income stream for your family.
By the end of BookWorthy, you’ll have a physical book in your hands that you’re proud of and that you can’t wait to share. Register for BookWorthy today. It is a step-by-step, go-at-your-own-pace course that will help you write and publish a book that people will read. I look forward to seeing you there.
You’ve probably heard it said, “it’s impossible to make a living as a writer.” Or, “your poetry book won’t pay the bills.”
Unfortunately, too many parents, teachers, and mentors encourage the young, aspiring authors around them to go to college and “get a real job” instead of pursuing their dream.
That’s why millions of talented writers simply hide in the woodwork, dreaming about the day they’ll get to write for a living. But S.D. Smith says that if you want it, you just have to “swing for the fences.” And if he can do it, so can you.
Three years ago, S.D. left a steady job he’d been at for 10 years to pursue his dream. Today, he’s is a full-time author. In the last three years, he’s written five books—all part of The Green Ember Series, a middle-grade adventure fantasy for children. He’s one of the Top 100 Best Selling authors on Amazon and, his book, The Green Ember, spent some time as the #1 Best Selling Audiobook in the World.
Inside this episode of The BookWorthy Show, S.D. Smith shares an honest perspective on how to make a living as a writer. He doesn’t encourage any best-practices or get-rich-quick schemes. In fact, he made it clear that the shortcuts rarely work. You can’t do exactly what he did—or what anyone else did, for that matter—and expect to be successful. You have to experience your own journey. And all you have to do is start.
My books are stories I told my kids. And eventually, I just wrote them down. (5:00)
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann (7:30)
Writing is like going to war. And everyone that tells you that it’s easy is lying. (9:15)
It doesn’t have to take five years to write a book. (13:30)
Writing is a war in your mind. (15:00)
Imposter syndrome never goes away. (15:45)
Becoming a published author won’t solve your problems. (16:30)
You’ve got to start stupid and scared. (18:30)
Fear can indicate that we ought to do something. (19:30)
“I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” —JRR Tolkien (20:45)
We always wanted to make something better than what comes out of New York. (26:00)
Writing and publishing a book is not something undertaken alone. (27:00)
“Quality is the best business plan.” —John Lasseter (28:00)
You can’t do what I did and be successful. You have to do your own journey. (30:30)
The shortcuts don’t work. Take the long-cut and do the work it takes to get there.” (32:45)
What’s better than seeming is being. (34:15)
You win the championship in practice. (35:00)
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” —Steve Martin (36:00)
Simon V.: Sam, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you.
S.D. Smith: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here, Simon.
Simon V.: Awesome. It’s great to have you here. And so, just to get started, tell me what your life looks like right now. Give us a snapshot of who you are, what you do, family, all those things.
S.D. Smith: My name is Sam Smith. I write under- I use my initials to write because Sam Smith is a ubiquitous name in many artistic fields now. And most of my favorite authors use their initials, so that was kind of something that came easy. So anyway, I’m Sam and I have a family, and my wife, and four kids: two girls, two boys And we live in the southern part of West Virginia. I’m a writer. I write books for kids. Middle-grade fiction, fantasy, like low fantasy adventure, fiction. The first book was called ‘The Green Ember’ as kind of The Green Ember Series. I like to describe what I do is I write new stories with an old soul.
Simon V.: That’s awesome.
S.D. Smith: I like soccer and chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know what other more information you need.
Simon V.: Oh, man. I don’t know how you can be more relatable than that. Who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies?
S.D. Smith: Who doesn’t like soccer? Well, a lot of Americans, but-
Simon V.: And who doesn’t like soccer? I guess I said that because I’m not too into soccer, but-
S.D. Smith: We’ll win you over in the end. It’s coming. It’s the world’s game.
Simon V.: Yeah, there you go. That’s a good point. I love your Amazon author profile description: “S.D. Smith writes new stories with an old soul, featuring #rabbitswithswords, which is super awesome. It just gives you a picture of your world, and to who you are, and to what you write. So, what does that mean, “rabbits with swords?”
S.D. Smith: It is helpful if you think about it. All that stuff originated or just came about very organically. I think that I was trying to think of how to describe what I do, what these stories are like, but I was trying to think of how to describe it, and I came up with “new stories with an old soul.” Also, the #rabbitswithswords kind of indicates the fun element of it. Both of those things are true, and I think that they appeal to sort of different groups, but they’re both honest about what’s going on. I think if you’re a kid, you’re just wanting to enjoy some straightforward adventure and suspense and some action, just normal fast-moving kind of adventure. Then that #rabbitswithswords kind of gives you
an indication that’s what you’re going to get. That’s a little bit of a promise, and I think it’s true, but then there’s the sort of a ‘new stories with an old soul’ that kind of indicates what’s going on like with a heart behind the story or just like in the story that there’s a little bit more depth than just sort of like a straightforward, just action.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: So I think those things are helpful for writers to be able to sort of, you know to figure out what you’re doing and to be able to communicate that in an economical or an efficient
sort of a quick way.
Simon V.: And so you’ve written, it’s the Green Ember series, but there’s Green Ember, Ember Rising, Ember Falls, The Last Archer, and The Black Star. And that’s a lot of books. Tell
me a little bit, tell us about your journey, because you don’t just come out with five books, right. It’s one-at=a-time. It’s years of work, lots of writing, and as Ernest Hemingway would say, “a lot of blood.”
Simon V.: So tell us a little bit about where your whole self-publishing journey started and how you got to where publishing five books.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I’ll try to be succinct. Obviously, it’s a long story. Several years ago, my brother-in-law, his name is Andrew Mackay, he’d been working kind of in publishing for a while and he has this incredible skill set surrounding publishing, he knew how to put together a book and make it look beautiful, make it be beautiful, I think in a lot of ways.
S.D. Smith: We had kind of conspired for years that we wanted to do something together and initially, we wanted to publish some other authors first and that was kind of our goal, is
to sort of build a publishing group, but we really didn’t have anything else at the time, and I sort of got The Green Ember ready, which these were stories I told my kids, eventually just wrote them down. And so we just kind of went for it. This was about three, three-and-a-half years ago, and we did a Kickstarter.
S.D. Smith: We had some connection work that we’d done for years. I’ve done what a lot of other people do. I’ve written a lot of free material online and kind of made some connections. That was valuable, I think. So, Andrew and I started working and we hired this guy named Zach Franzen to do the art for the book and he was fantastic. He contributed to our initial project in a lot of ways, not just with the art but just even with the story, and so he was just a fantastic guy. So we put it out there on Kickstarter and we did pretty well and we published the books. Like a lot of people, we were really panicking. Well, I think we printed maybe 2,000, I can’t remember, maybe 1,500 books.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: So we were just terrified. We were just like, “Oh if we can just sell these first copies in 18 months, we’ll be okay, maybe.” So we were in our last year associated with it. We
went for it. We saw a launch before. We were completely ready, but we thought we had something that was good and would be generous to kids and hospitable and a good adventure. So, we shared it. We had a really wonderful response. Right off the bat there was just a lot of people really resonated with the story and seemed to really enjoy it.
S.D. Smith: It’s been an incredible journey. I cannot believe what’s happened as far as it’s been just three-and-a-half years ago.
Simon V.: Seriously?
S.D. Smith: Yes, it’s been a real—all the clichés you can think of. It’s been pretty amazing.
Simon V.: Yeah, that’s an incredible story. So, five books in three years, which is quite impressive, is it easy?
S.D. Smith: Um, no. No, it’s super hard. I think it’s hard. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s like one of those good writer quotes that say, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is most people.” Something to that effect.
Simon V.: Yeah, that’s a good one.
S.D. Smith: I think that’s so true. Yeah, I think it’s been hard. The last books I wrote were the easiest in some ways as far as that actually I was able to leave my regular day job back in the Summer of last year. And so for about the last six to eight months, I guess about eight months, I’ve been doing this full time and that’s been easier in some ways. For a little period there, I just spent some time just writing and that was wonderful. I’d never been able to do that before in my life.
S.D. Smith: I could actually just wake up every morning and get back to writing. So, I ended up writing the last two books pretty quickly, for me. It did get easier in some ways, and actually, I really enjoyed, I loved writing, particularly this last book Ember Rising. It was a big change for me to actually be in a rhythm and a routine I’ve never- It was always just
like stolen moments here and there, you know creating on the margin of life, which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, and it’s still like that, you know, in a lot of ways, but that was a cool experience for me. I’ve never experienced that before.
Simon V.: Yeah, so before you could do this full-time, it was evenings, weekends, mornings, when the kids were sleeping, you know, when your wife was out with the ladies or something, and when you could just get an hour, kind of thing.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. Yeah. All the clichés. It was completely true. Yeah, definitely just doing it where ever I can, whenever I can. My father was really, really sick in the hospital at one point
with cancer and that was during The Green Ember. And I thought, “Well I’ll never finish this book.” Every interruption you can imagine happened during each book. It was like a war.
Simon V.: Oh, see.
S.D. Smith: I think writing is going to war and everybody that tells you that it’s easy and that you can do it, is lying, I think.
Simon V.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
S.D. Smith: There are no shortcuts. There are tools and there is help. And I think that’s a lot of what you go through you guys are doing and, there are ways to help, but it’s help in a
war, I think. And is what you want to share worth fighting for and it’s a big question, because there’s a cost and it’s a real cost. And I think it’s worth it, you know if it’s something that needs to be shared.
Simon V.: With your most recent books, tell me what ‘fairly quick’ means. What was the writing process like and how long did it take to go from start to finish?
S.D. Smith: First draft, maybe like maybe two months.
Simon V.: That’s awesome. Very cool.
S.D. Smith: That’s a 94,000-word book. Significant album.
Simon V.: A significant book. Yeah.
S.D. Smith: For a middle-grade fiction, that’s pretty big.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: I think that’s what it is. Maybe I’m wrong with that.
Simon V.: Very cool.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, every day just going. I have a little, another cliché alert, but I have like the little shed-
Simon V.: A little writing shed?
S.D. Smith: … on my property. Yeah. It was like a garden shed and we had it like that for years. It used to be a cistern. We lived in this really old house, like a 100-year-old house and so in West Virginia, kind of in the country. And so this is my writing shed which I call “The Forge.”
Simon V.: The Forge, I like that.
S.D. Smith: Yeah.
Simon V.: A dream of mine, man. Someday I’ll be like you. I want a writing shed. I like that.
S.D. Smith: When you grow up, you will be like me. But the Forge is where this smith does his work, but we just kind of transfer. It’s really small and it didn’t cost too much to get it.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: And it’s been really valuable, especially since I left my job, I was just able to go out there every day and to be away, but it’s like 10 feet from my house, so it’s close enough, but it’s far enough too, in a lot of ways. I love that. It’s a sweet little space and for the first time, really, I was able to use that in these last two books.
S.D. Smith: So anyway, I wrote the Ember Rising, a first draft and then, you know how it is, you send them to your first beta readers. And while I was waiting for their feedback, I just kind of had this idea for another book. We were kind of bummed out because we didn’t have anything to give people for Christmas and it wasn’t just a marketing business kind of an idea. That was a consideration as far as what made us think, “Well maybe you should try.” I had this idea. Why don’t I just write another shorter book that I kind of had in my mind and we’ll see if we can go.
S.D. Smith: And I thought that Andrew, my publisher who works another job, and my brother works with me, and they were, “Well, let’s try it. Why not?” Probably get knocked off at one of the things that have to happen. Everything has to go perfectly. So anyway, we all just did it. I wrote it so fast. Basically, from the time I started writing it, to the time it was in people’s hands, was less than two months.
Simon V.: Nice! Very cool.
S.D. Smith: And it didn’t feel like it was rushed. I actually like it a lot. I think it was a pretty good book, but I wrote it pretty quickly, and it’s much shorter right around the 20,000 word, which is actually kind of normal for some middle-grade fiction, it’s a little bit shorter. Anyway, it’s kind of a little novella, but I loved it. I thought it was a good story. And the guy who did the cover again, Zach Franzen, he’s just fantastic. We didn’t do interior illustrations, because he didn’t have time, but he did the cover in like a week and it’s my favorite cover.
Simon V.: I like it.
S.D. Smith: It’s got kind of a rabbit-like leaping through the air-
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: … and firing a bow.
Simon V.: I like that one.
S.D. Smith: And it’s got a lightning strike behind it.
Simon V.: Which is superheroic.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, yeah. It’s like a hero shot. And for the first time in our relationship, he had not read the book, and so I was like, “Well, that looks awesome. Let’s do it and I’ll just write
that into the book because that’s not happening” Now we’re going to have rain and lightning. It happens so. That was a quick little tweak, but everything had to go really fast, so we just hustle, hustled, because we couldn’t have any delays or anything, from the printer, or anything, but we finally got it and we got it in time for Christmas and shipped it to people, and they got it probably a week before Christmas.
Simon V.: Wow.
S.D. Smith: It ended up being a great thing for us.
Simon V.: That’s really neat to hear that journey on these books. And we just recently had a gal in our course publish her first book and it took her 30 days to write the whole book. I think it was you know, it’s a 20-, 30,000-word. And, yeah, she just cranked it out. And it was just really cool to see that. I know that my perception of writing a book like two years ago was that it would take five years. Like the process was long, you know, weigh you down, and then we have these people taking our course and other people that I know that are writing and publishing books, that they’d crank out a book in 30 days. Or they’re like you, you’re like yeah, it took two or three months to do a 90,000-word book. Wow!
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I had the same kind of preconceived notions as you’ve had, and I think it does for some people. But it’s not always an indicator of quality either. I think some people
would be quick to say, it probably doesn’t have the quality, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. There are people in different life circumstances that have different things. I think a lot, for me, a lot of people, especially people who haven’t sort of taken a leap to share their work, I think sometimes we say that it’s about making it more excellent, but it might really be more about fear. And that’s a big problem that other people have, that I don’t have at all.
Simon V.: That’s funny.
S.D. Smith: That’s part of the war. When I was talking earlier, it’s not just about like, “Oh, it’s so hard to go type words.” That’s not hard. It can’t be hard if you’re sitting in the same position and you got to like take care of your body and all that stuff. It’s a war in your mind.
Simon V.: Oh, yeah. A lot of people that we talk to, they’re fearful of starting their book or the process of becoming an author, because they’re like, “Oh, I don’t think I’m a writer.” You
know or “I don’t think I have a story that’s worth sharing,” or, “I just don’t know if I have what it takes,” you know. “That dream of actually writing and publishing a book is just too far. It’s too far away.” It’s not a thing, but like, man, you sound like the people who I know who’ve already written books, and I’m sure that you have those same fears too. Right? I’m sure there are days where you’re like, “Man, I don’t know if I’m really a writer or not.” You have five books here.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, but the impostor syndrome thing never goes away.
Simon V.: Oh, man.
S.D. Smith: I don’t think for anybody and that’s another cliché, but yeah, but again, it’s like with writing, a lot of clichés are that way because they’re true. That happened. That’s absolutely 100%. And I think that’s kind of important thing for identity stuff.
S.D. Smith: I actually had a friend tell me this years ago. This was before when I was kind of hungry and looking forward to having a book out in the world with some, you know, I think I
had some ambition, I guess associated with that and some dreams about it. And he just basically said, “It doesn’t solve your problems when that happens.” And I found that to be so true. I don’t think it solves your problems.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: It’s not a really good anchor, for me anyway. I don’t feel that it’s a good anchor for my soul, for myself. My own journey is part of my identity and who I am in Jesus Christ. That’s my life. That’s who I am. And so this is something that I do, and It’s a part of me, and I love it, and it’s an expression, and for me, it’s also really related to love and service. If I’m just thinking about it as an avenue to become the famous wealthy, powerful, you know those kinds of things, which we all have that a little bit in us and-
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: … I don’t think you at all. And it’s like the end of the world, I want to be successful. I want to do a good job. I really want to be- We want to have affirmation, we want to have validation. I think all that’s fine and good. You also watch too many documentaries from like so-called sort of successful people to realize like they’re like, a lot of times they’re still hungry for the affirmation, for the validation, for the identity, and that kind of never goes away. It’s kind of a black hole. And if we fell in with the wrong thing, it’s never going to be satisfied.
Simon V.: Man.
S.D. Smith: I can’t remember why I got started talking about this, but-
Simon V.: No. It’s a good truth. A good reminder,..
My grandmother was a terrific woman. She was the matriarch of the family. The mother of 10 children and the grandmother of 21. And as one of her grandchildren, she felt so close to me. But in her last years, she battled the ugliness of cancer for five months until she passed.
As a 15-year old girl, I didn’t know how to process the pain and suffering my grandmother was experiencing. And I dealt with an unimaginable amount of grief. So during a high school English class, I decided to write about this real-life experience.
Writing created a whole new world for me as I put my invisible emotions into visible words. And through the writing process, I found healing in the pain.
That simple essay was a complex and emotional piece to write. But after I finished, I had very little confidence in myself and the story I had written. I didn’t feel like a writer. I didn’t even think I would receive a passing grade. But to my surprise, my story meant something to my teacher and she saw something special in my writing. This is where my love for writing began.
Ten years later, I was a single mother in my mid-twenties. I was trying to lead my family while working as a Payroll Administrator at a local casino. It was exhausting. I was beaten down, lost, and confused.
I was at the end of my rope.
Everything changed when I met my husband, Felix. When we first met, he was a single father who was finalizing the divorce papers in his second marriage. We had both done so many things wrong in our lives that we both wanted to finally do things right. That’s when we decided to kick-off our relationship by courting.
Felix and I wanted more than an ordinary marriage. We wanted an intimate relationship that honored God. Courting worked. And one year later, we married.
During that season of courtship, life changed so much for me in so many ways. I now had a husband who loved and cherished me. My children had a father who filled a gaping hole they had been trying to fill. And the struggles of being a single mom were no longer.
While life was now so much better, I couldn’t help but remember the pain I felt. As odd as it may sound the feelings were much like the feelings I had when my grandmother was dying of cancer.
This new season was a time of reflection and celebration. And while I hadn’t written in years, my love for writing was reborn.
This time I wasn’t writing to process the pain and grief in my life. I was writing to share the beautiful story God had written in my life with those who needed to hear it.
Felix and I started to share our story with others. As time went on, more people became interested in courtship and what the experience was like for us.
What we found was that we were the first in our circle of family and friends to enter into a courtship. In fact, we couldn’t find anyone who knew what “courting” even meant! It was in this moment when I realized that God placed, in my spirit, a story with publishing.
Last fall, during a long 8-hour drive home with my husband, I finally started writing down my story.
But had no idea how to write a book. I wasn’t confident that my story would be interesting, or worse, that no one would read it. And I hardly even considered myself a writer.
If you’re reading this, I assume you have a dream of becoming a published author. That, or you’re looking to make sense of your own life-story and share it with someone who needs to hear it. Maybe it’s because you want to create passive income for your family. Or, maybe it’s because you’re ready to finally invest some time into writing the story you want to live.
Whatever brings you this article, I want you to know that you have a story worth publishing. And you don’t need to be a writer or even have a college degree to do it. If I can do it, so can you.
4 lessons you can learn from my journey
I want to share a handful of lessons I learned on the journey of becoming a published author. These are lessons that I wish I knew when I first started out. And I want to pass the wisdom along to you.
1. Do your research
You can never learn enough. Keep researching and finding new tips and advice until you find what works for you. I continued to read articles on the BookWorthy blog while I was waiting for the course to become active. My favorite one is How to Write a Book in 30 Days. It gave me the foundation I was looking for to start the writing process.
2. Trust in yourself
You have to trust in yourself that your story is worthy of sharing. Create your ideas by using the brainstorming/brain dumping process. Get all your thoughts out onto paper as it is an essential part of the writing process. Once you get everything down on paper, then you’ll be able to organize your thoughts and keep them in order. You will have something to follow, a foundation to keep you on track.
3. Schedule your writing time
Setting time aside to write is a vital part of the writing process. You won’t be very successful without letting your creative juices flow. You can use your imagination; you can research, you can do whatever it is that you need to do. You want to make sure that you choose the time to let your mind flow without interruption. With the demands of my life and career, I knew that scheduling specific time for writing, research and creativity was mandatory.
4. Create a space for writing
Make sure that you create a writing space that is free of distractions. I have a hard time staying focus when there are too many things going on at once. So, my husband helped me create a quiet space. I made sure that I had natural light coming into the room. I have a desk with inspirational words and colors that I like. Most of all, it’s quiet.
Writing a book is a lot easier with a plan
I wish that writing Now Courting was an effortless process. It sure wasn’t effortless, but it was a lot easier with a plan.
Do you have the desire to become a published author? Do you want to share your story with someone who needs to hear it? If so, then start BookWorthy’s free mini-course: Discover How to Self-Publish Your Book. This free mini-course will give you a plan—it will show you how to get started and finish well.
I was stuck and unmotivated for years by the fear of the unknown. I got caught up in writing techniques and tools and became discouraged. But when I found BookWorthy, I finally had a roadmap. Becoming a published author became a reality.
For many, writing is the most intimidating part of it all. But, for me, writing my book was a lot less painless than I anticipated. And while writing a book used to take months, if not years, I was able to complete mine in less than 30 days.
Before I ever wrote the first word of my book, I faced a crippling fear. I knew nothing about publishing. I was completely intimidated. It all seemed too complicated even to bother starting.
I believed a lie: To be a published author, I needed a publisher. I needed an agent. I needed a fat contract and a substantial book advance. I needed an editorial team, designers, marketing strategists.
Lies. All lies.
You may have been there. You may have always wanted to become a published author. But you’re worried that unless you get a book deal, you won’t be official. Or you’re afraid that you can’t do it yourself. Or you’re concerned that no one will read your work or respect your story.
But before you worry any more, let me tell you this. You don’t need a publisher. You don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars on an editorial team, designers, or marketing. You can do it yourself. And you should.
Here are four good reasons to not seek a traditional publishing deal. And why you can (and should) self-publish your book instead.
1. You’ll be in the minority
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. But it is for anyone. As it gets more challenging to land a publishing deal in today’s word, it’s getting easier to self-publish.
Anyone can take what’s in their heart and put it into print. Amazon, CreateSpace, and Print-On-Demand technology have made it easier than ever. And that’s precisely why most aspiring authors are self-publishing.
Here’s the proof: a recent Bowker Report stated that more than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015. Five years earlier, less than 2,000 books were self-published in the U.S. That’s an increase of 375% over a five year period!
Self-publishing is no longer “Plan-B.” For most aspiring authors, it’s “Plan-A.”
Today, readers are no longer only reading print books; they’re reading ebooks on a Kindle, Nook, and an iPad. According to Forbes, 19.5% of all books sold in the U.S. today are Kindle titles. And 30% of books sold in the U.S. are ebooks.
Today’s reading culture takes even more pressure off aspiring authors. You no longer have to format and print a physical book. You can upload a simple PDF to Kindle Direct Publishing, and within hours, you’re a published author.
Publishing 1.0: The only way for authors to “get published” was with a traditional publisher.
Publishing 2.0: Self-publishing became a creative outlet for aspiring authors.
Publishing 3.0: Self-publishing is the preferred professional publishing method for many authors.
Today, we’re in Publishing 3.0: professional authors choose to self-publish their best work. Most self-published books today are well written, designed beautifully, and marketed majestically.
Self-publishing is the preferred way to share your story with the world on your terms. Anyone who chooses to self-publish their book today is in good company.
2. You’ll lose control over your story
Don’t be naive. Everyone you work with wants to control a part of the process. They want a piece of the pie you’re baking.
If you engage with a traditional publisher, you’ll have to sign a contract. But here’s the cold, hard, sad truth. Once you sign the contract, your book belongs to the publisher. Not for one year. Not for ten years. Your publisher owns your book for the entirety of your life plus another 70 years. This is known as your copyright term. While your name may be on the cover, your publisher owns your book. And it’s still your job to market and sell the book for the rest of your life after you’ve written it.
If you work with a vanity publisher, they’ll try to secure publishing rights by providing you an ISBN. They’ll want to create your Amazon listing so they can control how you market your story. Oh, and they’ll want to help you print and distribute physical copies of your book so they can scrape 20% off the top.
You see, everyone wants a piece of your story. But when you self-publish your book, you have full control. And you don’t have to give any of it up.
You control your story and, if your book is profitable, any money you make stays in your pocket. But control is more than money. Your book is your story. Not theirs. You want to tell your story how you would tell it—not how an editor or publisher sees it.
I’ve heard of authors who finally get the publishing deal of their dreams. But they end up with a title and cover that misrepresents their story. And I’ve heard of authors who finally get the publishing deal of their dreams. But their editor imposes a direction they can’t get behind because it’s not their actual story. And there’s nothing they can do.
As a self-published author, you get to control every aspect of your book. That includes the title, cover design, trim size, page color, editorial style, and more. You and you alone determine the final look and feel.
For me, self-publishing is the best way to publish a book. I love research, writing, and the weighty responsibility of crafting a compelling story. I’m an experienced designer, and I’m comfortable designing a professional book. And if I ever don’t want to, I’ll hire someone I trust who will represent me and my story well.
3. You’ll make less money
On any given book, a publisher will keep around 85 percent of net paperback sales and 75 percent of net ebook sales. Author, Brook Warner, explains these industry averages in-depth in Green-Light Your Book.
That leaves you, the author, with a measly 15 percent of paperback net sales and 25 percent of e-book net sales. Could you live on 15 percent? The simple math shows that you’d have to sell ~25,000 books each year to sustain a reasonable wage for your work. That’s a lot of books when the average book only sells 3,000 copies in its lifetime.
But, self-published authors get to keep approximately 45 percent of net paperback sales. And up to 70 percent of net ebook sales. That’s more than triple what you’d earn with a publishing deal. Plus, astute authors can make an extra four percent (or more) with a free Amazon Associates account.
Self-published authors have an advantage over traditionally published authors. They create the opportunity to make more money.
For example, I’m currently writing a book that I plan to self-publish and sell for $19.99. The trim size will be five-by-eight inches, and it will have a black and white interior. I expect my book to be approximately 200 pages. I will earn exactly $8.74 per book according to the Create Space royalty calculator. I’ll also offer it as an ebook for $9.99, in which case I’ll make $6.99 per ebook sale.
Self-published authors have an advantage over traditionally published authors. You create the opportunity to make more money. In fact, unless you are James Patterson or Malcolm Gladwell, you will likely be more successful as a self-published author.
But what I’ve found is that most self-published authors don’t believe their story is worth selling. And they don’t think that their work is worthy of a wage.
I disagree. Your book is worth selling. Your hard work is worthy of a wage. Remember, Ernest Hemingway, compared “writing” to “bleeding.” If you’re going to sit down to bleed, you better get rewarded for it.
You’ll devote hundreds or thousands of hours to writing and publishing your book. The worst thing you can do allow your book to sit on a shelf collecting dust. Selling it is important. Share it with those who need to read it. And make more money so that you can do it all over again.
4. You’ll need permission
For years, I waited for someone to tell me that I should write a book. I knew that I had something to share, and I knew how to share it, but I didn’t think anyone would care.
I felt like I needed permission. Whether that was from my wife, my friends, or even one of my mentors. I kept putting it off until, well, someone told me that it was time.
I’m here to tell you today that you don’t need permission to write and publish your book. You don’t need it from an agent. You don’t need it from a publisher. You don’t need it from anyone.
There are 7.6 billion people on this earth. I do not doubt that there are a few thousand who need to hear what’s inside of your heart. They need to hear your story, your ideas, your creativity. They need what you have. These people, they’ve had a similar experience as you. But they’ll never get to hear your unique perspective.
What if Shakespeare never wrote down his poetry or shared his stories? Consider the millions of people, generation after generation, which his words have affected.
What if the disciples never recorded their accounts with Jesus?
What if no one ever had the opportunity to encounter middle earth created by the one and only J.R.R.Tolkien?
If you don’t write your book, it’s never going to exist. If you don’t publish your book, you will never know how it could impact someone’s life.
Self-publishing your book makes your story accessible. And it could be the very source that impacts the lives of one person or even millions. You don’t need permission. You need to start.
When you should consider a publishing deal
By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that more authors are turning to self-publishing than ever before. And you should too.
Traditional publishers are no longer looking for the next up-and-coming-author. Or for the next-best-book in an uncharted niche. They’re looking for successful authors who’ve done one of these things.
They’ve already self-published (and are successful)
They’ve published before through another respectful publishing house
They have a track record of consistent book sales
They have a large, established platform of followers who will buy their book
If you fit into one of these categories, you might consider pursuing a publishing deal. You could build your platform quicker. Grow your audience bigger. And establish legitimate credibility as a professional author. I do not doubt that a publishing deal can be the right move at the right time for the right person.
But, if you’re starting out or if you’re a self-published author and you’re happy where you’re at—stick with it. You’re in good company.
Become a published author without a publishing deal
Why are we so bold to think that you can become a published author without needing a publisher? Because we have. And if it’s something we can do, you can too.
In Discover How to Self-Publish Your Book, you’ll learn the mechanics of how to self-publish your book. And we’ll show you how to do so without agents, contracts, or publishers. Plus, you’ll get our step-by-step self-publishing checklist.
By the time the young preacher took the podium, the crowd had swelled to over 250,000. Some had sought relief from the 90-degree heat by cooling their feet in the water of the large reflecting pool. But when Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered the first words of what would become his most iconic speech, the crowd stood in rapt attention.
King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Naturally, he opened by referencing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s executive order that declared the freedom of three-million enslaved people.
You or I might describe that great act as a “beacon of hope.” But not King. He called it “a great beacon light of hope.” And in King’s telling, average black Americans weren’t “underprivileged,” they were, “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Throughout the speech’s 1,652 words, King alluded to the Gettysburg Address, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and, of course, Scripture. He used the beauty of language to unite a diverse group of people around a common cause. This became the greatest speech of the twentieth century not just because of its powerful ideas, but because of the way King presented those ideas.
How you present your ideas matters. If you want your book to change people’s lives, it’s not enough to only have good ideas. You can spend months hammering out hundreds of pages of world-changing insight, but if your writing is forgettable—or worse, just plain bad—it will never live up to its full potential.
Here are three tips you can use right now to write beautiful sentences that will stick with your readers.
1. Use simple, clear sentences
If you want to write better, don’t try to sound “fancy.” Writing long, indecipherable sentences full of obscure words doesn’t make you clever.
Instead, write a clear sentence focused on a single idea. Then write another. This style of writing is called parataxis. Its opposite is hypotaxis, and it’s the writing style of the novice and the insecure.
That last paragraph used parataxis. The sentences are short and simple. It’s a breezy style of writing that requires little of the reader. But that doesn’t mean the ideas conveyed are simple. (The first line of the Bible uses parataxis, and what could be more profound than, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth?”)
Hypotaxis, which I first learned of in Mark Forsyth’s book, The Elements of Eloquence, the very book that inspired this article, is a style you probably first ran across in your seventh-grade literature class (perhaps when reading some long-dead author fond of decorous language)—a style characterized by sentences like this: long, meandering, often maddeningly complex, full of subordinate clauses, which, in case you’re less familiar with the grammatical features of our fair language, are all the little bits of information offset by commas in this sentence; it’s a style some writers are tempted to imitate in order to be Taken Seriously—a temptation to resist at all costs.
The most memorable lines from the most memorable books are not long and tedious and complex. They are elegant and profound. King’s speech is beautiful, but it’s not hard to understand. Parataxis is the style of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and pretty much everyone who has written since them.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
“To be or not to be? That is the question.”
Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare aren’t known for simplicity, but they were capable of writing powerful ideas, simply. We should strive to do the same. Or, as E.B. White and William Strunk succinctly put it in their Elements of Style, “Omit needless words.”
2. Don’t hedge
Even after you conquer overwriting, another enemy lies in wait, eager to snatch power from you’re writing.
I’m talking about weasel words.
I think just about every writer is tempted by these rascals. They probably have crept into the works of some of the most iconic writers in history.
What are they? Look no further than the last paragraph.
“I think . . . ”
“Probably . . .”
“Some of . . .”
These are weasel words—the mark of lazy and impotent writing. Who cares what I think? Readers want to know the truth: what is. When I use words like “probably” I don’t sound open-minded, I lack conviction.
“Some of . . .”? Why that phrase? Because I am gutless. I am afraid to make an absolute statement, even though I believe it to be true—and even though saying so would make for a more powerful sentence.
Every writer is tempted to hedge—even the most iconic writers in history. Be merciless. Don’t give weasel words an inch.
3. Avoid passive voice
Beware the undead.
Some writing is dead on the page yet manages to live on paragraph after life-sucking
paragraph. Why this literary pandemic?
The passive voice.
When the subject of a sentence receives the action of a verb, the verb is in passive voice. If your eyes just glazed over, don’t worry: there’s an easy trick for spotting passive voice. And it involves zombies, too. Here it is:
If you can complete a sentence with “by zombies,” then generally the verb is in passive voice.
For example: “The man was bitten.” Using the trick outlined above, we get, “He was bitten by zombies.”
Compare that to, “The zombies bit the man.” Is that in passive voice? Because the sentence, “The zombies bit the man by zombies” is nonsense, we know the verb is in the active voice.
What’s so bad about the passive voice?
Nothing, per se. If you’re writing a novel about zombies and a character is attacked by an undead hoard, at some point you may write, “The man was bitten by zombies.” But, “The zombies tore the flesh from the unsuspecting man,” would probably do better. And it just so happens to be in active voice.
But rules are for breaking. There are times when passive voice is necessary to convey your point.
For instance, let’s say I’m describing my relief after finishing this article. I might say: “The article was written. My work was complete. It was time to relax.”
I want to direct my reader’s attention to that final sentence. The emphasis is on hard-earned relaxation. Through the magic of passive voice, I draw my reader along, helping her understand my point. The first two sentences create mild suspense.
Now watch how the active voice completely alters the focus: “I wrote the article. I completed my work. It was time to relax.”
It’s subtle, but in this version, the focus is on the work itself, not the relaxation. Because the first two sentences are written in active voice, they feel forceful, less fluid. They scream for attention. In this recasting, the emphasis is placed on the work, not the relaxation.
Thus, your choice of voice—whether active or passive—alters the meaning of your sentences, even if only mildly.
But we usually employ the passive voice for less strategic reasons. We’re just plain lazy. We write, “The man was bitten by zombies,” because we’ve reduced writing to the delivery of information; we haven’t bothered to evaluate the effectiveness of our words. All of us have stood idly by as the passive voice sucked power from our writing.
To avoid this, take the work you produced in your last writing session and run it through the Hemingway editor. The app will show you everywhere you’ve used passive voice, among other things. Ask yourself, “Is passive voice helping or hurting in this instance? Will this sentence be more effective if I rewrote it in active voice?”
And while you’re at it, be sure to choose strong verbs. Verbs like “To be” (is, was, were, etc.), “become,” and “begin,” almost always “sound passive” even when they’re in the active voice. It’s often better to leave out “begin” entirely. “He began to punch the zombies,” is less direct and forceful than, “He pummeled the zombies.”
Don’t write your book in a vacuum
Talk to a seasoned writer, and at some point, you’ll probably hear the adage, “Writing is rewriting.”
In other words, your first draft isn’t a final product. The real act of writing begins after you let go of your fears, crank out a rough draft, and take a good hard look at what you’ve produced. It’s the editing, the cutting, the rearranging that produces good writing.
And if you want your writing to be truly powerful, at some point you’ll have to open yourself up to the insights of others. Whether that means hiring a professional editor, sharing it with a friend, or ultimately publishing your story, you have to let others into your writing journey.
Thankfully, we’re stronger together.
We created the BookWorthy course because we believe powerful writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have a life-changing story the world needs to hear, and we want to help you tell it. Over the course of 16, self-paced lessons, Aaron, Jennifer, and Simon will help you write, publish, and share your story with the world. And they’ll be right there with you every step of the way. When you sign up, you’ll get access to a private Facebook group where you can tap the knowledge of the entire BookWorthy team—and a group of fellow writers in the trenches right alongside you.
If you’re ready to write and publish a powerful story but don’t know where to start, register for BookWorthy today.
Can you be a parent of toddlers and still manage to write and self-publish your book? Can you balance family commitments with your dream of becoming a published author?
Elizabeth Craig says you can—and you can start by writing a page a day and reading the books you love.
In this episode of the BookWorthy show, Simon chats with mystery writer Elizabeth Craig about managing the chaos by outlining your book, learning the secrets of effective book marketing, and how to turn your dreams into commercial success.
Simon: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors just like you. My name is Simon Villeneuve and I will be your host. Whether you know it or not, your story is worth publishing. That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs just like you learn how to write and publish a physical book that people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us. Let’s get started.
Elizabeth, welcome to the show. It’s so good to have you.
Elizabeth Craig: Thanks so much for having me here. I love being here.
Simon: Yeah, awesome. Well, I’m really excited to hear more about your story and hear more about the books you’ve written, and you’ve written a lot, so we’re gonna get into that. But first, just give me some context into your life. What does life look like? What does work look like? What does family look like?
Elizabeth Craig: Sure. I am a . . . I guess a stay-at-home mom, is what they used to be called, I’m sure there’s a more professional sounding term for that, which has worked out really well for me personally. I mean honestly, I was supposed to have already started back to work at this point. My husband’s and my little set up was when the kids got to be like middle school age or something, that’s what I would do, but that’s when the books really started kind of taking off, and so I didn’t have to. Ha! So, that’s awesome.
Simon: There you go.
Elizabeth Craig: Because I’m not sure what I would be able to do with so many years at home that would really give me as much of an income as writing does. So I have a kid in college now, so obviously I didn’t hit the middle school mark with going back to work. I’ve got a kid at Virginia Tech, and I’ve got a child in high school who’s a junior, and I’ve got a husband who’s a techie.
I love just being able to stay home and write mysteries, which is what I’ve been doing since, I guess, roughly about 2005 was when I started getting serious with it. First book, I guess traditionally published book, came out about 2009 I think it was. I’m starting my 25th book now, I think, unless you count box sets and stuff like that, which I don’t. I think it’s 25. I’m losing track.
Simon: Wow. Well yeah, I would, too. So you started traditionally publishing with that one book.
Elizabeth Craig: I did.
Simon: And then you’ve since shifted to self-publishing, correct?
Elizabeth Craig: I have. I started traditionally publishing, that was really at the time, the only smart thing to do. The Kindle was just starting out and self-publishing had a really bad rap at the time.
Elizabeth Craig: I couldn’t find an agent. I sent like a hundred, 120 queries out to agents, and I had some conversations on the phone, and some of them went pretty well. It was almost impossible to find an agent, and so I started submitting directly to publishers, which of course they always say, “Do not do this. Do not send us stuff. We don’t want your stuff.” But it worked out well, and I actually had interest from two publishers on that first manuscript. One of them was Penguin Random House and one of them was Midnight Ink. But Midnight Ink had gotten me to sign a contract first, so it’s kind of a strange story.
Penguin Random House was like, “Oh, congratulations on the deal with Midnight Ink. We were gonna try to get an option for you on that, but best wishes to you.” I said, “Well, is there anything else you need me to write? I’d be happy to write something else for you.” They said, “Well, we actually are looking for somebody to write a series based in the South,” which obviously I’m Southern, “that is centered around a Memphis barbecue restaurant. Do you think you could write something like that?” I was like, “Sure I can. Be happy to.” So I started out writing a series for them doing that, and by that time I did have a agent, because I had two publishers and it was easier to find an agent after I had two publishers.
Simon: Well, yeah.
Elizabeth Craig: You know how that goes. Then I ended up with another series, which is . . . This is kind of ridiculous. My agent got contacted . . . I think I was the only southern writer that anybody knew, and they said, “Can she write another series about southern quilting mysteries? Does she . . . could she do that?” My agent says, “Can you do that?” I said, “I’d be happy to do that. I don’t know anything about quilting. I can do a lot of research.”
So I ended up with three traditionally published series, and then I divested myself, really, of each one of them, or they divested me. Either way, both. I’m very happy to be self-publishing now, and I’ve self-published more books now then I’ve had traditionally published. I think I just went over that mark.
Simon: Wow. So you had the opposite problem that most people have. You had publishers asking you to write things.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. Exactly. It was more . . . I mean, one of the series was definitely a write for hire, which was the Memphis barbecue where they said, “We want you to write this exactly.” The Southern Quilting Mysteries they said, “We would like you to write a series somewhat like this. You can come up with the characters, the setting. We just want it in the South, and we want quilting in there, and it has to be a mystery.” So I had a little bit more leeway with that one.
Simon: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So, I’m just looking at my notes here. You have written the Myrtle Clover series.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes.
Simon: Is that your self-published series?
Elizabeth Craig: That is one of them now, but that’s the one that just had one traditionally published book in it before I went self-publishing with that one.
Simon: Okay. Then the Southern Quilting Mysteries is the traditionally published series; Memphis Barbeque Mysteries is also traditionally published. So you’re still writing books, and you’re also blogging. Where did you get started in writing? Where did all this come from?
Elizabeth Craig: It’s the only thing I can do. I’m a one trick pony. I think it’s a pretty good trick, but it’s the only trick I’ve got, so I have been writing for forever. I started out just as a kid. There weren’t even any creative writing classes at all where I grew up in South Carolina, or even in college, the college that I went to, so I had to kind of self-teach, and my parents, of course, I think they were thinking, “How are you going to make . . . ” I mean, they were very supportive, but they were like, “How are you going make a living out of doing this?” And I wasn’t really sure, honestly, at the time.
Elizabeth Craig: So I kind of went into the journalism side of things for a while, and I was not really happy doing that, because I always had this great desire to go, “You know, this interview would be a lot better if this person had just said this.” And just this feeling like I just wanted to make something completely up. I was gonna be fake news back in the time when there wasn’t any. Just realizing I just always wanted to integrate some fiction into what I was writing, and doing interior design articles and whatever, it wasn’t really cutting it for me.
Simon: Wow, so what was happening? I mean, you grew up, and you’re just, I mean, like you said, one trick pony. You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer. What was happening where you thought, “You know what? I can publish a story. What I have in my brain, or what I’m feeling, or what I’m thinking is worth publishing.”
Elizabeth Craig: I think what happened was I was reading a lot more. I had this crazy toddler at the time, but the times where he wasn’t being completely wild and crazy, and he’s the one at Virginia Tech, so he ended up completely fine.
Elizabeth Craig: But the times that he wasn’t crazy, I was reading a book, and I started reading a lot of mysteries, and I read a lot of different types of mysteries, but I think the part that I kept coming back to, the type of mystery that I kept coming back to where what’s called cozy mysteries. They’re a traditional mysteries, and they have . . . they focus on the puzzle of the mystery, and they’re kind of a comforting read, because everything ties up really neatly at the end. It’s just a very tidy, neat process, and I think I needed that in my life right then. Around that time, it was actually . . . it was . . . 9/11 happened, and a lot of people started needing that kind of thing in their lives. It was just an alarming time.
It’s funny because entertainment kind of went in two different directions there. There was the super violent type of movies that did happen right after that where people found some relief in seeing it play out and have the bad guys go away at the end. There was also like the super comforting type of reads, which were the cozy mysteries, that a lot of people started reading at the time.
I was taking comfort in them. I found them fun to read, entertaining, nice, just gentle reads, and a lot of other people did too. So the genre itself started, and I thought, “I could definitely write this.” I mean, it has a particular pattern. I won’t say a formula to it, but most books that are commercial fiction, they’re going to have a particular pattern that you can follow, and the pattern that I could easily see, and I thought, “I’m gonna do it.”
I had another toddler by that time, and she wouldn’t take a nap. It was very frustrating. I was like, “Please. Oh my god. Please take a nap.” But she didn’t, and she wasn’t a TV watcher, except she would watch “Elmo’s World”, and that was it. Not the rest of Sesame Street, only “Elmo’s World.” So I was like, “Okay, I can work with this.” I could get one page done during “Elmo’s World,” and that was it. But if you do a page every single day, then in less than a year, you’ve got a pretty good sized book, and that’s how I did it.
Simon: Wow. Wow, a page a day.
Elizabeth Craig: Page a day. Yeah.
Simon: Oh, wow. This is great. So I know that a lot of our audience is interested in writing non-fiction books. They’re taking our course, because they want to learn how to write non-fiction. They want to tell their story. But you’ve gone the more fiction route, and you’ve told a fictitious story, and I know there are also people in our audience who want to go that route. They’re more interested in fiction. Where do people start? Let’s say there’s someone who says, “I have this story I want to write down, I want to tell, I want to publish. It’s fiction. I don’t know where to start.” What do they do?
Elizabeth Craig: Well, what you do is you start reading as much as you possibly can in that genre that you’re interested in, and for the sake of success, if you’re interested in commercial success as a writer, I would say let it be a popular genre that you’re interested in writing. Don’t let it just be something that you’re interested in writing, and that’s it. It needs to be something that other people like to read, as well. You just read as much as you can until that pattern starts to emerge. You start to understand reader expectations for that type of book. Obviously, I’m talking about commercial fiction here, not literary fiction whatsoever, which it doesn’t take a particular pattern. But I think starting out, I would probably even recommend doing commercial fiction, because you see that, and you can kind of follow that along.
I know that if I’m reading a cozy mystery, I’m going to have the sleuth start out right away, and I’m going to introduce the future victim, and the suspects, and see them interact with the victim, and then I’m gonna have interviews, because the victim will have died, a second body, more interviews, moment of danger for the sleuth. It wraps up at the end. You start to see that for every single type of book that’s out there, and when you can see it that easily, you know the tricks for the types of series, and you get that confidence. I think that’s the best part of it. Then I think you set yourself a really low bar every single day, like that one page.
Elizabeth Craig: Something that you know you can attain without even thinking about it, and that’s how you proceed. Then you can get that confidence going even more every day that you have a success for delivering the page until it fills.
Simon: So how much time do you spend refining the story arc, and the narrative, and stuff like that before you dive in and write it?
Elizabeth Craig: I used to spend no time at all. I used to be a complete pantser. I used to just go in there, jump in, and this was when I was traditionally published, as well. I just thought, “Okay. I’ve got a handle on it.” I would write the back cover copy first, so I had a general idea of what the story was I was going to write. Then I would just make it up as I went along. But then I had this horrible thing that happened. It was about two weeks before deadline, I think, and I realized the story I’d written didn’t work at all. Not at all. I mean, it just did not work. There was a plot hole I could not figure out how to get around it, and I was gonna hit delete on the whole book, and just start over again and ask for an extension, which is really bad. You’re not ever supposed to ask for extensions on your deadlines. I never did before. But then I had a brainstorm. I talked to a friend who sort of understood what I was going through, and knew a little bit about what I was talking about in the book, and she was able to help me out with it. Since that time, I believe in outlines.
I have actually, just today, finished an outline for the next book in the series that I am . . . one series that I’m writing. So when I’m writing one series, I write the next book for the series directly after finishing that book, and then I usually write a book for another series, as crazy as that sounds. But that way the outline happens when I’m still in the head of that character and that story world, and it makes it that much easier. I spend about a week on this outline, and it’s probably the best outline I’ve ever written, and sometimes outlines can feel confining, but I left enough leeway in this outline that I feel like I can go off into different tangents and not be bored when I’m writing the book, and that’s important, obviously. If you feel bored while writing it, you just don’t have that motivation every day.
Simon: Yeah, and your reader will probably be bored reading it, right?
Elizabeth Craig: I would think so, too. Yeah. Sure. I mean, bored writer, boring reading, so not very good.
Simon: Yeah. So, tell me a little bit more about your outline. I mean, this is really cool, what you’re saying. So what all is in that outline that took you a week to prepare?
Elizabeth Craig: That’s a good question. I’m thinking back on it going, “Why did this take me so long?” At this point in the series, for this particular series, and this is Southern Quilting, I stopped after five books in that series. I did take my characters back, and the last three books in that series I’ve self-published.
Since then, I mean, I think right after losing my editor for that series, taking my characters back and going to self-pub, we really, my editor and I, really had a collaborative relationship, and I felt almost like, “What do I do? How do I do this? I don’t remember how to write this series?” Which is crazy, because obviously I was the writer, but she would always bounce these ideas off of me, and I would kind of incorporate things in.
So I think this time I’m more organized with it, because occasionally the readers would be like, “Oh, I wish that this particular character had more of a part in this book.” I’m like, “That is a character in this series. What do you know.” So now I’ve got more of a list of the series tropes, things that always come up in every book in that series. I’ve got more things like okay, sub . . . what are these different subplots I’ve got going on with these supporting characters? It makes it so it’s just a lot more . . . I don’t know. I’m more organized with how I fit in the subplots, because subplots in my genre are very important and they need to probably tie into the mystery, as well, if I can swing it.
So, the outline has a lot of information about the different characters, descriptions about them so I don’t have to wonder. They’re completely named characters. I know who the killer is. I went through and made, actually this time, a very complex mystery, so there are two killers, which I don’t usually do. I’ve got two killers and then some sort of different event.
Usually in the middle of my book I have a second body, and in this one I have something completely different happens. It pulls it all together, so I wove it through. It’s probably about . . . I think it’s about 20 pages long, but it’s the complete story. It’s just a very small version of it, with even the opening scene, the closing scene. It’s very complete, so I know that I can jump right back into that story, and probably write it pretty quickly.
Simon: Wow. That’s awesome. So how do you go about writing your outline? Do you just sit down at a blank screen? Or do you storyboard it out on a whiteboard? Do you use sticky notes? Like what are your methods for spelling out this complex plot?
Elizabeth Craig: It’s fairly easy, honestly. I mean, I think the hardest part is probably the brainstorming, but I have the opening scene and the closing scene, so I like to have a reflection, in my series, because the important thing with my series is, obviously, that sense of completion and the full-circle effect.
In your book, it might be the change the character has gone through, so the opening scene and your final scene might be something strikingly different, but very similar. Maybe they’re in the same place, but something is very different in the beginning and as in the end. Then I have all the suspects, and just a little blurb kind of about each one them, but a blurb that helps me to realize who they are as a character, how they relate to the world, and how they relate to each other, their quirks, things like that. It’s not like a character development list, but it’s just sort of like a little summation about each one.
Then I follow it right through. This is the victim. This was the murder method. This was the weapon. This was the motivation of all the different suspects. This is who the sleuth suspects. And I just follow it straight through. It’s the same.
I mean, you’ve got the interviews, who she’s interviewing, what they’re saying, who they point to, the lie they tell, the truth that they tell, because usually in a mystery you wanna misdirect, so sometimes they tell lies, but they also tell truths, and it’s up to the sleuth to figure out which is which. I’ve got all of those listed for all the different suspects, two different sets of interviews, and then I bring it to the close, and finally have the bad guys, obviously, taken away.
So, it’s a pretty easy type of a set up, and I think it would work well with pretty much any type of book that you write. You just have to know a lot about the type of books that you write, and the audience, and what they want.
Simon: That’s good. That’s good. So now that you have this outline that you spent a week or so working on, diving into actually writing it, does the outline really help you? Does it make it easy to write? Or do you often find yourself going back and changing things? How’s that work?
Elizabeth Craig: It does make it easier to write. The funny thing is is I probably will not be writing this book until next summer.
Simon: Oh, okay.
Elizabeth Craig: Honestly, that’s where it’s heading, so it’s really going to help me, because I’m going to go, “Okay. I will be writing . . . ” I’ve got translated books coming out right now. I’ve got a lot going on with books that I’ve already done, and I’m starting a book in my other series.
So if you write more than one series, it’s especially important to have an outline, and to set it up that way, because otherwise you’re returning to the story world totally cold, and you have to remember everything about it. You have to figure out what . . . you know, you have get back in the characters’ heads again, and it’s hard to do that after a prolonged break. It’s just easier, I think, this way, and I do.
I sit down and I open up my laptop, and I’m like, “Okay. I see what I’m supposed to write today.” Then sometimes, especially if it’s been cold for a long time, it’s been sitting there, the outline’s been sitting there for a long time, I can go, “That’s a good idea in an outline, but actually I have a better idea.” So you have a chance to kind of improve on your ideas as you go along. You can also do that, obviously, if it’s not just a cold outline, and you did it . . . you started writing as soon as you finished it.
But for me, I don’t know. It just makes it easier. I’ve got almost like an editor hat on sometimes when I’m..
The evening sun beamed through the living room window, highlighting the edges of everything in its path. I was only 12 years old, but the beauty overwhelmed me.
I took a piece of paper and pen, and poured my heart out, struggling to capture what I was feeling. Enthralled by the art of rhyme, I took my time to scroll through different words in my mind, striving to satisfy my heart’s desire to create poetry.
This is just one of the millions of memories that capture my love of creative writing. As I grew up and considered what I would do with my life, I dreamt of being a published author.
I imagined what it would feel like to have my name printed on the cover of my book. I imagined sharing it with family and friends, with a smile of humility and hopefulness plastered on my face, eager to experience the moment they expressed being proud of me for reaching my dreams.
The years came and went. Soon I was in my late twenties, married, and about to embark on motherhood. I never wrote that book or published those stories. I knew I was created to write; I loved it too much for it not to be a purpose in my life. And yet, however badly I wanted to be a well-known author, lies began to smother the passion that once motivated me.
Anybody who dreams of self-publishing has faced these lies. I want to share them with you so when you hear a voice whispering them to you, you’ll know not to let that voice smother your confidence; you’ll be able to combat them with the truth of who you are and what you are actually capable of.
1. I believed my content wasn’t good enough to be published
A few years into college, I began writing my first novel. I enjoyed love stories and decided to try writing my own. I could never get past the fourth chapter. Every time I sat down to write, I got hung up on the details of the characters, the setting, the plot. I overthought every detail, wondering what people I admired would think of what I had written.
I found myself unable to pursue the story because I was constantly changing details depending on how I thought people would view me. The fear of people not liking my story was more powerful than the passion I had to finish.
I gave up before I ever really got started.
No matter what I wrote, I believed others would think it wasn’t good. I belittled my work and answered on behalf of others before giving them a chance to form an opinion. It was a defense mechanism to avoid the uncomfortable experience of criticism or rejection of my work.
I had zero confidence in what I was able to produce. I believed people wouldn’t enjoy it. I cringed at the thought of people sharing their opinions of me because I feared they would be negative.
I gave up before I ever really got started.
The truth is that other people will have opinions about your work. But you can’t keep your work hidden from the world. Authors give people reasons to form opinions, to communicate how things make them feel, and to converse about the content. Authors give the world something to talk about. Authors give people a reason to connect. We have to accept that we cannot please everyone in life, but our work is worth it for the people who do enjoy it, and who are inspired by it.
2. I believed I wasn’t qualified to be published
I never finished college. I attended for several years, I even took a creative writing class, but I never received a degree.
I had no professional writing experience and no credentials to prove I was a worthy author. I didn’t think I would be allowed to be published because I had no official title that followed my name. I feared that people would not take me seriously if I were to pursue writing.
But the truth is, if you can tell a story, you are qualified for the task.
It’s easy to give up on yourself when you believe you will never meet expectations. But we can’t limit ourselves. We can’t define ourselves by someone else’s perceived value. People understand experience. Whether or not you are credentialed or considered a professional, people are storytellers. Authors are storytellers. If you can conquer your fears and share your story, you are qualified for the task.
If you can tell a story, you are qualified for the task.
3. I believed that writing wasn’t a real job
One of my high school teachers told me that a poetry book would never pay the bills. That statement shocked my heart with a sharpness that never left.
In that moment I was convinced my poetry would never amount to anything. I believed the voice of my teacher, one that was coated in discouragement and disbelief in my ability to write. My teacher’s desire for me in that moment was to focus on the work she required of me and not the creative work I desired to pursue. I trusted her and I received the weight of her words.
I didn’t understand the value of writing and publishing books. Instead of pursuing publishing, this lie had seeped into my heart, reminding me time and time again that it was more important for me to do the work that everyone else was supposed to be focusing on. For me, that was a full-time, minimum wage job. The lie I believed had boxed me in.
As long as I believed the lie, I was stuck in that box, unable to see the opportunities that existed just on the other side.
I believe there are many voices in life we give weight to, that we are convinced by, sometimes blindly. We must be careful not to let those words define what we are capable of without challenging them with the truth.
As long as I believed the lie, I was stuck in that box, unable to see the opportunities that existed just on the other side.
The truth is that people are creative and capable of doing great things. Our motivation should not be contingent on a paycheck. We should pursue our passions even if we have to work that minimum wage job in order to do it; we should be motivated by the impact of our words on the world, not our bank accounts. Don’t let money or the fear of finances keep you from your dreams.
4. I believed I didn’t—and couldn’t—understand the process of publishing
When my husband and I finally began to research publishing, I believed that traditional publishing was all about who you are or who you know.
One of my first phone calls with an agent left me deflated. He reiterated his reasons for not representing me, which included my lack of clout and my young age.
In addition to this, self-publishing was new at the time. There was a lack of information about how to self-publish and how to do it well. We both felt lost.
I believed publishing was for A-listers, and I wasn’t one of them.
I was a nobody, so what right did I have to figure any of it out? Believing this about myself, in combination with fear of rejection, kept me from pursuing publishing. I believed I was better off if I didn’t know the how-to. And I would never be rejected if I never tried to figure it out.
I believed publishing was for A-listers, and I wasn’t one of them.
We must push past the fear of the unknown and ride the learning curve no matter how challenging it is. Learning comes through experience. So whether you have positive or negative experiences in life, don’t let them hinder you; instead, let them help shape your understanding. Then, with that understanding, crush your fears and do the impossible.
5. I believed actually writing a book would be too hard for me
If I did pursue becoming a published author, that meant I would have to write that book I dreamed about. And I didn’t believe I could actually do it.
Even when I started a book that later became my first published book, the entire process of writing was a wrestling match with myself. I would sit in front of the computer defeated, believing that it was too hard to finish. I complained to my husband that we were wasting our time trying to self-publish. I wanted to give up so many times.
Despite these overwhelming fears that hindered me from believing in myself and what I was capable of, I became a published author. I overcame these daunting fears, accomplishing the dream I had in my heart since I was a little girl. It wasn’t easy, by any means, but chasing after my dream and becoming a published author has made me incredibly proud of myself. I know the effort it took to produce my book from start to finish, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
I did it. And you can too.
Conquering your fears is necessary to fulfill your dream. You have to combat every fear you have by reminding yourself what you are capable of. And if there are moments of weakness that overwhelm you, if you think completing your book is impossible, you need to commit to the task and keep trying until you get there.
Some days you may write several pages or chapters, other days it may just be a line or two, and on the really tough days, you may be staring at a blank page. But just by showing up, you give fear a message: You are not going to settle to believe that you are not capable. You are going to persevere until you achieve your dream. You will experience the joy—and pain—of becoming a published writer.
Believe that your story is worth publishing
Once I overcame these fears, I felt a sense of freedom. I finally believed my story was worth publishing. And I want you to experience the same thing.
But my fears weren’t the only thing holding me back from becoming a published author. I remember not even knowing where to start. And once I started, I made a lot of mistakes.
In fact, it took me hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to figure out how to write and self-publish my first book. Would I do it all over again? You bet! But I’m here to tell you that I would do it much differently today than I did five years ago. I’ve already made the mistakes. I’ve learned the hard lessons. And I’ve overcome the fears.
That’s why we created BookWorthy. To help you navigate the roadblocks and actually become a published author.
I understand that writing and publishing a book isn’t for everyone. It’s a time-consuming and expensive journey that not everyone can take. But if you’re still reading this article, I think you just might be up to it.
What if you’ve already written your book and just don’t know it yet? David Sanford says that just might be the case.
David has been writing books and coaching authors for years, and he’s seen a trend. Often, an aspiring author will feel overwhelmed by the prospect of writing tens of thousands of words. But that same writer has penned dozens of articles or blog posts—plenty of words to fill up multiple books.
What if all those articles or posts could be pulled together into your first book? What once felt like an insurmountable task could be completed in a few hours.
In this episode of the BookWorthy show, Aaron and Simon chat with David about outlining your book, the importance of having fun when you write, and the many advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing.
How to Turn Your Blog into a Book with David Sanford - YouTube
Simon: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors just like you. My name is Simon Villeneuve, and I will be your host. Whether you realize it or not, your story is worth publishing. That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs just like you learn how to write and publish a physical book that people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us, let’s get started.
All right, David. Welcome to the show, it’s so good to have you.
David Sanford: Well, it’s wonderful. I’ve been looking forward to it very much, and I’m humbled and honored to be able to talk with you guys, and with your great audience.
Simon: Awesome, well it’s really great to have you. So, you’re a self-published author turned a self-published consultant, and we’re just stoked to hear about all of that. So just start, though, by telling us a little bit more about what life looks like. Give us some context into life and work and family, and all that.
David Sanford: Great! Well, again, my name is David Sanford. There are other David Sanfords out there that are authors, or that do speaking engagements, or media interviews. I’m not as smart as any of them, but I have had the privilege of over 35 years of working as a book editor for a major book publishing company that would regularly have four of the top-ten best-selling books in America. And then, working as a literary agent, representing over 300 books, and working with all the major publishers in New York, and elsewhere across the country.
But, frankly, my most enjoyable stretch of my career has been the last few years, really since December of 2009, helping new authors publish over 200 books. And so, again, for me, helping people to publish, sometimes with the traditional publisher, but more often self-publishing. And there’s so many reasons why. Even though I worked with Random House and all the other major publishers, I often advise my clients “Let’s go that self-publishing route.” And it sounds scary, it’s like “I don’t know what to do.” But that’s why you guys are here.
Aaron: Yeah. Why do you nudge them in the direction of self publishing, what’s your main focus on that?
David Sanford: Well, you’ve got five options for publishing. You can go the traditional route, you can just go and pay somebody a ton of money, and do all the work, and then you have a garage full of books. And, boy, there’s some horror stories there, where the guy accidentally emailed a draft of his book, not the finished manuscript. Even though he had completely finished it. But all the charts were missing, a bunch of his best stories, and it just had placeholders. And he had a garage full of them, and his wife wanted to divorce him. So, I don’t usually recommend that route.
And then there is custom publishing. So, sometimes an executive from a Fortune 500 company will come to me, and he says it’s got to be hardcover. And in that route, I go the custom publishing route. Number of great companies out there to do that. But these are executives who the book is basically their business card, and so they want it hardcover. But most of us don’t need hardcover, at least for most of our books.
And then, the fourth route is self-publishing. My motto is experience is the best teacher, especially other people’s experience. And so, that’s why I love BookWorthy, because you can draw on all this experience of all these different individuals . . . I’m just one small piece of the pie . . . Who bring all this experience to bear, and can help you avoid the freshman mistakes.
And the fifth option, real quickly, is sometimes you self-publish, and then you turn around and license one of your books, say for two or three years, to a traditional publisher. You don’t give them all the rights forever and ever, amen. But, you license it. And so, sometimes that’s a really good approach. But it’s no secret in the world if you sign a contract with a major traditional publisher you say goodbye to your book. You may not even have a right to do excerpts in your own blog. So there are a lot of downsides and tremendous amount of upsides.
But it’s no secret in the world if you sign a contract with a major traditional publisher you say goodbye to your book.
Aaron: Yeah, it depends on how good of an agent you have, to work out that contract in the traditional publishing world, but you’re right, essentially, the contracted, you almost have no rights as the writer. So that’s why you nudge your authors that you consult with to the self-publishing, because they can start there and move past it.
David Sanford: Well, and a lot of times they don’t want to move past it. Self-publishing has so many advantages. You lose all creative control of your book once you hit submit and send it in. Now again, hopefully you’re working with somebody who’s not just cashing the check, and sending the unread file off to be designed.
But I recommend top notch book editors, I recommend top notch book designers, left and right, simply because they can do a terrific job at a good price. Where with a traditional publisher you have almost no control, no matter how hard your agent fights for you, in what the title’s going to be, what’s going to be on the cover, what’s gonna be on the back cover, how your book’s marketed.
And since 2008, the size of the advances for traditional publishers have shrunk so much that there’s really not a huge incentive, because that advance is basically paying you pennies on the dollar. That’s not where you make money. And even if you have good royalty rates with a traditional publisher, you’re talking at best 50 cents to a dollar per book sold. Except for you’re not going to see that for 18 months, or ever, because you’ve got to earn out that advance . . . which was some glorious sum, probably somewhere between zero and maybe five or ten thousand dollars.
Since 2008, the size of the advances for traditional publishers have shrunk so much that there’s really not a huge incentive.
And I’ve had authors who have made more money in the first three weeks of self publishing than they had made in their absolutely best year ever, and that’s in the first three weeks. Which is a good problem to have. I haven’t had that problem too often. But it’s a great time to have. And so, you’re not waiting around forever and getting just a little slice of that. With the typical self published book, depending on your price point, you could be making five, 10, 12 or more dollars per book sold, and you’re getting paid now, not some distant future that you hope the company is still around and they honor the contracts, which doesn’t always happen.
And so, really, the advantages on the creative side on how soon your book comes out . . . when they find out, wow if my agent sells my book today, my book won’t be out for 12 to 24 months. I gotta finish writing it. They’ve got to edit it. They’ve got to design. But it goes through this cycle, and so when the acquisitions editor takes it to the editorial committee, or editorial marketing, and then takes it to the publishing board and they say yes, it’s like, “Oh great I get a contract.” But you basically are going to wait, and wait . . . after you’ve finished writing your book, and wait, and keep waiting, for your book to come out.
In self-publishing, you could have the book out within 30 days, with a professional designer, the whole bit. Now, you may not want to rush, but you can even do it faster than that. My most recent self-published book, I contacted my team on January 1, and by January 11 it was done. So, a week and a half.
Aaron: What was that book?
David Sanford: That book is called Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think. Which sounds like a whimsical title, but it’s actually looking at the serious subject that most of us wince when we think about— loving our neighbor. And then we go to the Gospels for inspiration from Jesus, and we wince at what Jesus is saying and doing, and we’re like, “I don’t think that I can love my neighbors like that.”
And so, what I’ve done, is go wait a second, let’s take a closer look. What is Jesus doing in these stories where we’re we’re looking at from a twenty-first century perspective, we’re going, “Oh man, you have just offended the person you’re talking to and everybody else who’s listening. Why in the world did Matthew or Mark or Luke or John put this in the Gospels?
But the reality is if we meditate on the stories and we see what Jesus is doing, we see this deep profound love. And as a result, we end up falling more in love with Jesus, and doing that makes us more in love with our neighbors. And so really it’s my own experience of how I go from wince to, “Wow. I didn’t realize how deep Jesus’ love was.” So that’s my story on that book.
Simon: Okay, so let’s go back. We were really jamming on traditional publishing and self publishing. Because, let’s be real. Self publishing is hard, right? You don’t have a team. You kind of can be doing it alone. So, as you’ve self published, and you’ve worked with other people who are self publishing books, how do you help them go through the process?
David Sanford: Well, when I first got into the publishing world 35 years ago . . . back when they were dinosaurs on the earth, the whole idea, and the culture at large, and particularly in any field like book publishing, was we’re not going to tell anybody how this world works. People have to guess, they have to crack the code.
And I thought, why don’t we just tell authors how this world works, and the ways to stack things in your favor? So, my philosophy is, I’ve taken 62 pages, and I just said okay, let me dump everything I know and put it out there. And that’s too much, to try to go from A to Z.
So I like podcasts, I like articles where we can share specific things that will help people. But mostly, you do need a team. You’re absolutely right, Simon. You need a team. The first one on your team is at least one Barnabas, a son of encouragement who is going to be your champion through the whole process. On your worst day you can call up and say, “Man, I ran out of coffee. I can’t write. I’m sick of my book.”
That’s always a hint you might be writing a little too slow. It’s counter-intuitive, but writing faster is writing better if you’re prepared. But you need a Barnabas or two or three on your team and that’s what I do. Basically if you have a question, ask me. If I don’t know I can go out to my network and I can find the answer and come back.
My children remind me, “Dad, you’re not a designer just because you took design classes back with Michelangelo. He’s Michelangelo, and you can’t even draw a smiley face, so don’t even think about it.” And it’s true. So I have only certain ways that I’m gifted, but I know a lot of people who are gifted and the great thing that you’re doing is, of course, helping people connect and say, “Oh, here’s how I can get these services to help me do what I need to do.”
And one of my mottos is have fun. But if you know you will be successful, you write faster. And you finish the book. Because you know it’s going to be published, and you know you’re going to have parties, and you’re going to be just thrilled with this end result. It’s not quite like having your first child, or second, or third . . . but having a book hot off the press in your hands for the first time, that you wrote, or maybe co-authored, is a magical experience.
And I can say after more than 515 books, if all I did was I served as a Barnabas, and I encourage that person, I answer their questions. But mainly I was their champion. You can do it. Oh, I’m more excited actually about a lot of other people’s books than I am about my own, simply because I had the privilege to be part of that team.
Now there are other people that you want on your team, as well. You might have a critique group, or you might have an ad hoc group of people that live all over the place that can’t meet together physically who can help review your book and do different things. But eventually you are going to need a professional editor, and a professional designer . . . unless you are a professional designer. But even then, oftentimes it’s better to have a third party take your crack at your book.
But make it fun. And when it’s not fun, sit down and say why? It’s because I’m doubting that I’m going to be successful. I need more team members, or I need to talk to my team members. But what is it that I need to do to keep it fun? Even if the subject [inaudible] you could have writing book, and going through the whole process of it being polished, and launching it out there to the world. The world is full of books that have never been published.
And I remember one friend got this terrible disease and he was dying. He was only, he was less than 35. And I’m like, “Ed, you finished writing your book. Can you give me a copy? And you can just email me a copy. You don’t have to print it out obviously.” And he said, “Oh I can’t do that.” And I’m like, “Well that’s fear talking. Come on. You know we’ve been friends for all this time.”
The world is full of books that have never been published.
He would not give me a copy. He gave no one a copy of his book. He died. We all went to the memorial service, and he didn’t give anybody the password to his computer. No one on earth has read his book. We don’t even know what the title is. But this guy was one of the most gifted talented smart, when he talked, I want to listen, kind of guys and . . . in heaven I’ll read it, but that will be it. So, fear is a big issue.
And I find that even if somebody is super successful, maybe they were a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and they went to the World Series, or they,whatever their field is, they’re super successful in that field. Or maybe they’re just a great gamer and they are just amazing, and I don’t try to compete with them. But, somehow, they get locked into fear when it comes to publishing their own books. And so that’s where Barnabas, or a coach, somebody needs to come alongside and help them in recognizing their fear, but overcoming it.
And those professional fears . . . and, really for me, there’s five of them. The fear of just being alone, silent, writing. I’ve got to sell the book by finish writing it and I publish it when actually that can be the most fun. You know, the fear of rejection, or failure, that people are going to say, “Oh my goodness, David, why did you ever think you could write a book?”
Now, some days I say that about my writing. That particular section of a chapter, and I realize how I just passive voice the whole way through. I’m not really telling the reader anything for three paragraphs and you. Yes, occasionally you do have to just delete and start over. But fear is just something that I don’t deal with very often. And when I do, I do the same thing that I tell my clients to do. Look at it, and say which of the five professional fears.
So, again, sometimes people have the fear, which is ironic of success.
Simon: We were just talking about this.
Aaron: We literally just talked about this.
David Sanford: I remember one author realized that David Sanford wasn’t lying, and his book was going to be a bestseller. It was going to be in the New York Times. It was going to win awards. And he started shaking at his desk. And he just is like, is he gonna have a nervous breakdown? “This is like this is going to ruin my life.” And I’m like, “What is going to ruin your life?”
“All that money.” And I’m like Gary, you don’t know anybody you could give money to? There are no charitable causes? There’s nothing that you want to champion out there. Good grief, you’ve got a sister who’s a missionary in Asia, send her some money. You’re not going to mess up your friendship with your own sister by . . . And, as a result, he’s given away hundreds of thousands of dollars. And it’s like, Gary, this did not ruin your life. But he was so afraid of the potential of success.
So, again, whether it’s my fear of silence . . . just taking the time to write. And some people talk about writing a book, but they never actually write it. So, we have to sit down and overcome the fear that I’m going to have to sell this book. Again, think party, author parties, lots of different creative, fun ways that you can sell your book without selling your soul.
You have the fear of rejection or failure, and then the fear of success. We have to recognize those. Now, for some people the fear of success is just not there. Success, what are my options? Failure or mediocrity. Well, I’ll take success. And it doesn’t mean we never fail, or we’re never mediocre. But we want to excite us. But believe me, again, being as old as a dinosaur I’ve had my failures. But it doesn’t keep me from the drive and the excitement, and being jazzed about working on my own projects and helping other people.
Just because you occasionally have failure does not . . . it just means well, that project, that was not the right time. And then five years later, boom! God opens the door. And, all if a sudden, this project was a failure is now your biggest success. And my wife and I have seen it over and over as we work with people. Sometimes you’re just a little ahead of the curve, and that’s a great place to be. And just wait, but don’t [inaudible] the hard drive and wish that nobody would ever ask me about it again. You just don’t know.
Aaron: Yeah I’d like to highlight. You said so many good things, we were just listening and I forget we’re in an interview, I’m like, “This is so good.”
I want to highlight a couple of things, I know you can sneak in too, Simon. You mentioned Barnabas, and maybe some of our listeners don’t know what you’re talking about, but he’s a Bible character and his name means encourager. And how in the course, we talk about this idea of creating for yourself a network of encouragement, a support network.
And then you also mentioned these fears, which is very ironic and apt, because we were literally just discussing the fears that authors go through. And you hit on every single one of them.
Aaron: And lead into a little bit of that of just highlighting what he was talking about because it’s so good.
Simon: Yeah. What in particular?
Aaron: So, in the course so we started off with that encouragement because beginning there. And then getting to those fears, and—
Simon: Yeah, in the course we talk about building a support team. And we talk about that being . . . it could be editors, or designers, or agents, but it also could just be that encourager.
David Sanford: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And it doesn’t matter what you call them. I happened to grow up in a long line of atheists, so remember reading the Bible for the first time when I was 13, and nobody told me to read it slowly so I read it like a novel. And I finished it, and it was like wow I didn’t get all that.
Well one of the things I got my second, third, fifth time reading through the Bible is, oh there’s this guy named Barnabas, I really like when he shows up the story. When I looked into him and it’s like oh his name means “encourage” or “suffering to purge out.” It’s like that’s my fear. I mean except for God and Jesus that’s my favorite character there.
But it doesn’t matter how happy you wake up every morning. We all need one or two or more Barnabases in our life. People who are going to champion us and believe in us, even when we have to when we don’t believe in ourselves. So, which is again why it’s so exciting you guys are putting this course together, and helping people really practically do what we’re talking about here.
Simon: Earlier you said this, you said, “Writing is super quick. You can write super fast. If you’ve prepared properly.” Let’s talk a little bit more about that. What do you mean prepare properly? What does someone have to prepare?
David Sanford: Well, I wrote a book called If God Disappears, and it came out of my own experience. When I decided to read the Bible and become a Christian, I found out that my family, who were all atheists for four generations, that I was kicked out at age 13, which was a little bizarre. We don’t think about that happening legally. My parents could kick me out of the house. But the hunting trips. Everything else was gone. Seeing my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, that all lived within 20 minutes growing up in Seattle, gone.
And so, there was quite a cost for me to make that decision. And I realize, wow, this is not what I was expecting. I thought becoming a Christian would make my life better. And so I studied under a German existentialist philosopher and all of that. But if you’d asked me in my 20s, “Do you ever envision a time in your life when you couldn’t even read one verse of the Bible, you can pray over a meal, that you were just so upset with God that your Christianity was essentially wiped out?” And I would have..
Few things are as intimidating as staring at a blank page. But if you’re going to self-publish, Drew Bird says you have to learn to face it with confidence.
The good news: it’s not as hard as you might think.
Drew’s been there before. When he decided to self-publish his book The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, he conquered the empty page by developing a plan. Instead of thinking of his book as one overwhelming project, he broke it into manageable chunks—and that made all the difference.
In this episode of The BookWorthy Show, Drew explains how to face the blank page with confidence, maintain discipline once you get started, and why traditional publishing just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
How to Face the Blank Page with Confidence with Drew Bird - YouTube
Drew Bird: Just to be realistic, I won’t pretend that every day I sat down to write and I thought, “Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to this writing all day,” because there are days when you sit down and you think, “I’ve got nothing,” and there’s Netflix in the other room, there’s a cold beer in the fridge. Or I can write, and it’s very hard to do that.
Simon V: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors just like you. My name is Simon Villeneuve, and I will be your host. Whether you know it or not, your story is worth publishing.
That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs just like you, learn how to write and publish a physical book that people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us. Let’s get started.
Welcome to the show, Drew. It’s great to have you.
Drew Bird: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Simon V: Awesome. How are you doing today?
Drew Bird: Good. Work’s back in full swing. Summer’s come and gone. It’s awesome. Busy time.
Simon V: Cool man. That’s great. Just so our audience knows, you are the self-published author of the book The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.
Drew Bird: I am indeed. Yep.
Simon V: You published that in 2016. We’re gonna talk about that book, and your experience writing. We’re really excited to unpack that. But first, give us a little context into your life. What does family look like? What does work look like, all that?
Drew Bird: Absolutely. I live in a relatively small town, actually, in British Columbia, in Canada. I live about four and a half hours inland from Vancouver. The joke is we measure distance in time because there’s no traffic between here and there, so that’s how long it takes to get from here and there.
There is traffic, but it is pretty good. I live in this beautiful town. It’s called Kelowna, it’s in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Most people don’t know about the Okanagan Valley. It’s famous for wine growing in the summer. We have great vineyards up here. Craft brewing, which I love. Golf, which I do not play. And in the winter we have five ski hills within about an hour and a half of town, so there’s lots of opportunity to ski and get outdoors in the winter.
Aaron S: Sounds like our town.
Simon V: Yeah, it really does.
Aaron S: Sounds very similar to where we live.
Drew Bird: Is that right? Where is that?
Aaron S: We live in Central Oregon. There’s wineries, breweries, mountains, skiing.
Drew Bird: A really good colleague of mine lives in Bend, so she’s been filling me in a little bit about Bend and what goes on there. I have a partner, she’s a clinical psychologist that makes for some interesting evening conversations, because of course, my interest is mostly around psychology related to work. We have some good conversations about that. Love to travel. Absolutely love to travel. It’s probably my predominant theme of life, and yeah that’s it.
Aaron S: What exactly do you do? What’s your business around, if you can sum it up in a paragraph or two?
Drew Bird: Absolutely. My company is called The EQ Development Group. We focus on helping coaches consultants organizations to bring concepts related to emotional intelligence into their work. That might mean modifying or integrating emotional intelligence concepts into existing learning and development programs, or for individual coaches and consultants. They might be life coaches, executive coaches, business coaches. I help them bring emotional intelligence tools, concepts, materials into their work as well.
Aaron S: Okay I’m gonna ask this question because I know a lot of people want to know. What is emotional intelligence?
Drew Bird: Emotional intelligence is this idea that in order to be effective in everyday situations, you need to be cognitively smart, so you need to be . . . Cognitive intelligence is around doing math and using language effectively, that kind of . . .
Emotional intelligence is how you interact and act with people. You know how when you meet somebody for the first time, and they shake your hand in a certain way, and they say the right things. They interact with you in a way that makes you feel like you know them, and you can understand them on a more personal.
It’s important in every single realm. One of my jokes is my next book is gonna be around emotional intelligence in dating, because I hear so—
Aaron S: That would be a good one.
Drew Bird: Nobody steal that. Because dating’s such an interesting social situation, if you ask one person, guy, girl, it doesn’t matter, what’s the worst thing about the date? They’ll tell you, “It’s like it’s kind of awkward. I don’t know what to say,” and she or he was doing this or doing that.
Emotional intelligence is about understanding that and picking some of that apart. Where it becomes really relevant is in leadership. In the workplace, in leadership. We consistently hear from people that they don’t like their boss. That they struggle with their boss, or with their manager, or their leader. A lot of the times the things that they complain about, they’re not that the boss doesn’t understand the work, although it does come up, it’s the way the boss behaves, reacts, acts with them.
Helping leaders to understand there is this entire construct that we need to take a look at, break apart, get better at, get more effective at, and then use that to become more effective leaders. Now, leadership’s a two-way street. There’s always somebody on the other end, so one of the principles, and I talk about it in the book, is you can’t point to somebody else and say, “You need to be different.” We all have to accept the fact that there’s a different way of being.
Aaron S: Wow, okay cool, that sounds awesome. Sounds like it’s working for you. You have enough clients that are coming in that need to learn this in the business world? Do you do any personal consulting, like on a personal level?
Drew Bird: Yeah I do personal coaching, so I work individually with people around their own emotional intelligence. It normally does have a business thrust to it, but emotional intelligence is a whole life concept. I mean, you can’t get away from the fact that . . . One of my favorite examples is this. It’s Friday night. You’re at home. You’re hungry. You’re waiting for your partner to get home. They’re late because they’ve been sitting in traffic. They walk through the door. [inaudible] in the traffic and you say to them, “What do you want for dinner?”
They turn around and say, “I don’t care, I can’t make one more decision today,” which decision making is a facet of emotional intelligence. But they say, “I can’t decide, you know, I can’t make one more decision today.” And you say, “Okay. Well I’m really hungry. I’m gonna order some pizza.” They turn around and say, “Well I don’t want pizza.”
Aaron S: I’ve never heard this scenario before.
Drew Bird: Never heard this story right? Exactly. This is a failure of emotional intelligence, but it’s a failure of emotional intelligence on both parties. If you’re the person at home, waiting for your partner to get in, you should realize that it doesn’t matter how hungry you are, I mean, have a snack.
You cannot confront them the second they walk through the door with a question about what to do next, because they’ve been completely focused on just getting home. Equally, the person coming through the door, should realize that the correct response to, “What do you want to eat?” is, “I’m not sure yet. Can you just give me a couple of minutes to, you know, get my shoes off and get a cup, or glass of something? And then we can talk about dinner.”
Imagine how different the Friday night goes when the person walks through the door, and you’re the person at home who’s really hungry, but you turn around and say, “Was traffic bad?” Nice validation. “Yeah it was terrible.” Okay, good.
“I’m really hungry so I want to get some dinner soon, but let’s just have a quick, you know, let’s just take five and sit down, and then we can decide what we’ll have for dinner.” Then that turns into Netflix and chill, whereas the other version is you sit in that room, and I’ll sit in this room for the rest of the evening, and we’ll kind of, you know.
That’s the thing is that sure, my focus particularly is workplace psychology and specifically around leadership, but emotional intelligence is a whole life thing.
Simon V: Your book deals with this topic, right? You write about emotional intelligence throughout your book?
Drew Bird: Yeah. The book is called The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence. What it’s meant to do is help leaders that have little or no appreciation, or understanding, so far of emotional intelligence, to get them in the groove.
We talk a lot about the basics, the language of emotional intelligence. We show them a model that they can use, which gives you a way of describing emotional intelligence in a very literal way. For example, there are 15 elements and one of them is assertiveness. Exactly as you would imagine, it’s the extent to which you are able to assert your opinions and ideas in a respectful way.
People that score very high are likely to behave this way. People that score very low are likely to behave this way. It picks apart that, but it also goes through a process of very practically developing an action plan. You’ve learned all that emotional intelligence. I distinguish in the book between emotional intelligence, which is knowing what to do, and emotional effectiveness which is actually doing it. Because one of the interesting things about emotional intelligence is that it is a somewhat discretionary construct.
If we take empathy as an example, I might be the most empathetic person in the world, but if I don’t like you, I might choose to be less empathetic to you personally, as opposed to somebody I’ve known since childhood friend, super empathetic to them. I can turn the nob up and down, the dial up and down on how empathetic I want to be.
In the book I talk about that. I talk about creating action plans, and developing just generally.
Simon V: It sounds like it’s a really action-oriented book. Do you have action steps in there? Discussion questions, that kind of stuff?
Drew Bird: Absolutely. There’s a complete step-by-step process. In fact, this is one of the things where working with an editor makes all the difference in the world, because the first time I sent the manuscript to her, she came back . . . And editors always basically come at it the same way. They’re like, “This is really good, but,” and then they add in whatever comes next after that.
Working with an editor makes all the difference in the world.
Her main point was it’s too theoretical. People might be interested to a point, but where does the rubber meet the road? She actually pushed me really hard to create very practical content. Truth be told, I kind of had an idea in my head, but it wasn’t fully formed. By her prodding and nudging, and pushing me really hard to get clear, all of a sudden there was a clarity, which actually helped inform quite a few other areas of my work as well.
I began to see some of the other things I was doing at are connected, suddenly became clear in other forms as well. For example, when I get to work with people in a group, in a classroom, in a training room, I’ve got the clarity now. I understand how to explain this. Her pushing me really helped.
Aaron S: That’s really good. She pushed you past theories, and fluid ideas that you could accept it or not, to solid definitives like make a statement. Say what it is and mean it. Is that what she pushed you to, your editor?
Drew Bird: Yeah. I had a process. I have a process I detail in the book called EQ123. The idea is that you pick one area of emotional intelligence and for two weeks you go through three very simple activities to try and develop or build that area of emotional intelligence.
What I’ve done in the book is explained EQ123 in some detail. I had also included the activities and everything else. You had everything else you needed. What she helped me see, I mean she helped me see many things as well. I don’t want to pretend for a second this was the only thing, but this was probably the biggest thing.
She helped me see was that I was making a ton of assumptions about where the person was already at, to give this to them. What she was [inaudible] is there’s a gap between what you described and the theory, and your development process. There’s a goal-setting piece in the middle here, which is missing.
If you’re going to be truly useful, you need to describe. I remember saying to her, “Well I do know what it is because I do it in the classroom, or you know with corporate client groups all the time.” And she’s like, “Well that’s great but you gotta put it in the book as well then. You can’t just assume that they’re gonna know that just because you do.”
Aaron S: How long have you been doing this work, teaching people about emotional intelligence?
Drew Bird: Pretty much exclusively now for about five years, but I’ve been working in this field since about 2005, so it’ll be 12 years. My first career was in IT.
Aaron S: In this field, so five years exclusively, 12 years in the genre, in the idea.
Drew Bird: Yep.
Aaron S: At what point did you say, “I need to write a book about this?” Because there’s always that catalyst. You didn’t think about it before, and then you did think about it. What was the catalyst, and what pushed you over edge to be like, “I’m just gonna do this”?
Drew Bird: What happened was I’d written lots of material before. Some of it sort of longer than just a blog post. I kind of liked the writing process as well. That really helped. I knew from the beginning of when I was doing this work, the last sort of five years was definitely specialization, I had all these notes about when I work with client group what happened.
If you’re constantly taking notes . . . One of the things I advocate very strongly in all of my work, is journaling. I looked back through my journals, and I’d realized that there’s tons of content in here. There’s tons of really good content in here around emotional intelligence, and leadership development, and how the two things came together.
One of the things I advocate very strongly in all of my work is journaling.
Now I’m not gonna suggest that I pulled my journal entries in, because that wasn’t the case, but it provided a catalyst. The catalyst for me is that, and the online course I wanted to produce was called The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, so it was the same as the book. But I realized that what I was gonna do is write the course, and then perhaps produce a book. That’s the wrong way around.
I realized I needed to write the book, get super clear on the thoughts, and then turn that into a course. That’s essentially the process I went through. I mentioned before, just before we came on camera, that I was involved in publishing before in a different life. One of the things that I learnt from that process before was the idea of sketching.
Sketching, I’m sure there’s hundreds of different terms for this, but sketching is basically sitting down and laying out the book. My first step was sit down and just lay out the book. I had all this stuff that I wanted to write out. I wanted to write about the model. I wanted to write about what does emotionally effective leadership look like. I wanted to challenge people to accept that there is always something you can do to improve your leadership.
I wanted to describe the development process. I wanted to describe why taking a whole life perspective to emotional intelligence is really important. For example, fatigue and stress really messes with your emotional intelligence. You’ll know that if you’re very, very tired, or very, very stressed, you don’t behave the way you normally do.
I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about stress management. Imagine I sat down with maybe 15 post-it notes, which represented major topics. I looked at the 15 post-it notes that were major topics and thought, “That one’s probably a book on its own, so I’m actually gonna put that one over there,” so now I’m down to 14 topics.
This is one probably not big enough to be a whole chapter. Through a whittling process, and a bit of renaming process, now I’ve got a set of chapters. Okay, this is beginning to feel like something. Then I realized that people may listen to my process and think, “Well that doesn’t sound very creative.” I don’t think I’m a very creative person. I don’t need to be creative.
Aaron S: Well it’s funny is that . . . In our course we call this process brain dump. That’s exactly what you’re talking about.
Drew Bird: Yeah, yep.
Aaron S: Where you’re like, get it out of here, put it on paper, put it on a board.
Drew Bird: Yeah, then my next step, and again, it seems like it would stifle creativity . . . I’ll get to challenges in a second, but what I do then is I think, “Well I want to book to be 50,000 words.” If the book’s gonna be 50,000 words, and there’s 15 chapters in the book, then each chapter’s probably gonna be somewhere around 3,000 words-ish. There might be an extra word along the way there. Sorry about that.
I think, “Okay. So roughly 3,000 words per chapter. Okay. Well if there’s 3,000 words per chapter, how many words per page is it? Well, how many pages is that? Okay well that’s how that works.” Now if I’m gonna have, let’s just say we’ve got a chapter that has 15 pages in it, what’s the title of the chapter? Well, theoretically I’ve already got that from my [inaudible]. What would be the five major level-two subheadings in the chapter?
Each one of those has to have between X number and Y number of words. What subheadings would there be in that? You almost, this sounds bizarre, but my process, I end up with a table of contents before I write the book. I knew kind of roughly what was in it.
Now this is extremely iterative. I mean, there was points in time where I would write a chunk of content and think, “This should actually be over there, not in here.” But this is how I see . . . Some of my colleagues they’ve either tried to or have written books. This is what they do, they sit down with a blank screen. They’re like, “Come on. I have all this knowledge in my head. [crosstalk].”
[inaudible] there and nothing comes out. What I end up doing through my process is writing a couple of hundred three-paragraph sections, and prodding them, placing them all over the place. Yes, you get lost in it. Yes, I do sit there at the screen and stare at it for hours without writing a thing. I do that when I’m writing a blog post. I mean, I can sit and stare at a blank page for a really long time.
But that really, really helped. About halfway through, I started using a product called Scrivener. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Scrivener but it’s kind of intended to be a distraction-free word processor. I actually put up on it, I was reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. He mentioned somewhere in there about using Scrivener as a tool for writing. I actually find it does really help, because it lets you write chunks and sessions, and then move them around.
Writing a book, [is] like writing a blog post. . . .You put it out to the world and there is something inherently risky and rewarding in doing that.
Aaron S: Can you send us a link to that after we’re done with this? We’ll add it into our tool set.
Drew Bird: Yeah. Absolutely. I found that with Scrivener it lets me reorder my thoughts more easily. I really enjoy that. We’re going on, we’re going on, we’re going on. We’re doing the writing process, and eventually you get to a point where you cannot make any more progress on your own. You cannot make any more progress on your own. All I’m doing now is moving paragraphs around from here to there, and rewriting stuff, but not really making it any better. That’s the point where you have to say, “I need an editor.”
Your best friend, or your partner, they’re not your editor. They can’t be your editor. They’re not really invested or interested. It’s the truth. I mean, if you’re writing a sci-fi novel, if you’re writing something like that, I mean my partner is a clinical psychologist and I still can’t get her to sit through and read an entire book on emotional intelligence. She’s just not specifically interested in that topic.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the spark. My stories collected dust and my writing got rusty. Without even realizing it, I’d given up on my dream.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was in eighth grade, my friends and I would sit in a sheltered nook in the school courtyard, exchanging the stories we’d written throughout the week. I’d always been a ravenous reader with an active imagination, but it was during those meetings that my dream of becoming a published author was born.
But by the spring of 2017, I hadn’t written a word in five years. Then, suddenly, I felt the match strike; the spark rekindled. On a flight back to Arkansas from Texas, I pulled out my journal and wrote six poems in forty-five minutes. The words poured out of me, and my dream of becoming a published author was reawakened. Only, this time, I was determined to make it happen.
One year later, and I’ve done it: I am officially a published author.
Perhaps you’re like me: you once had a dream of becoming a published author, it’s only recently reawakened, and you stand at the opening of the trail, prepared to begin your journey. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. As I traversed my trail, I learned a few lessons that I want to pass along so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
Self-publishing is much easier than getting published
I have a stack of poetry books on my nightstand published by Andrews McMeel, Penguin Press, Harpercollins, Alfred A. Knopf — household names in the publishing business. When I first started my publishing journey, I wanted to see my name on the spine of a book, right next to the logo of one of those publishing houses.
If they don’t ask to see your book, they won’t look at it.
However, traditional publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts; if they don’t ask to see your book, they won’t look at it.
It’s like applying for your first job: the employer wants experience, but you need the job to get experience. How was I going to get Penguin Press to ask me for my manuscript? I wasn’t.
Most authors use an agent to reach out to publishing companies so that the publisher can ask for the manuscript. I was a college student living at home, vacuuming my parents’ living room as rent. There was no way I could afford an agent.
To succeed in traditional publishing you need connections and money, and I had neither. Thankfully, I discovered self-publishing. I realized that there’s an affordable way to put your story into the world, and it doesn’t have anything to do with who you know.
Self-publishing puts full control into your hands
When I first started looking into self-publishing my book, I didn’t like what I saw.
I scanned website after poorly-designed, ill-formatted website, growing frustrated with the selection. None of the so called “self-publishing companies” looked trustworthy, let alone professional. How was I to believe that self-publishing was legit?
Using my admittedly subjective beauty standards, I narrowed down self-publishing companies until I found Pronoun, the self-publishing imprint of Macmillan. The site was gorgeous and very user-friendly, and eased my initial misgivings about the viability of self-publishing. I finally felt confident.
And then, one day in November, I got an email from Pronoun. They were shutting down and would no longer publish new books, effective immediately, and would stop distribution of previously published books after the new year.
I was frustrated. So far, the process had been relatively easy. Even eliminating traditional publishing had been easy. Now I was going to have to search for a self-publishing company all over again.
On my second search, I searched for one that was user-friendly, minimized hidden costs, and didn’t look like they were going to go out of business. IngramSpark, AuthorHouse, Archway—I looked at them all before finally settling on CreateSpace.
CreateSpace was one of those sites I had dismissed in my first campaign. I saw it as an ugly website, and as such, it didn’t meet my standards. Once I looked past its beauty shortcomings, I realized that it was incredibly user-friendly, and was excellent about minimizing hidden costs. They even had an in-site cover creator. It was better than Pronoun. My confidence returned.
Self-publishing with CreateSpace had major advantages over traditional publishing: since I would be doing all of the work myself, I wasn’t paying an agent to peddle my work, I wasn’t paying an artist to create a cover for my book, I wasn’t paying an editor to nitpick my carefully chosen words. I had complete control of my writing. This expedited the publishing process as well. I wasn’t waiting several months for someone to approve the final edits, I could approve them within a matter of hours or days, especially with the help of a handful of my friends who served as my editors. My only deadlines were the ones I set myself, which made the process fairly stress-free.
I wasn’t paying an agent to peddle my work, I wasn’t paying an artist to create a cover for my book, I wasn’t paying an editor to nitpick my carefully chosen words. I had complete control of my writing.
With CreateSpace, it wasn’t long before I realized my dream of becoming a published author.
Publishing your book is only half the battle
If you’ve ever hiked to the summit of a mountain, you know about false summits. You think you’re at the top, only to reach that bend in the trail and discover you still have a bit to go. Publishing is the false summit of being an author.
I’d written thirty poems. I’d gone through the tedious task of researching self-publishing. I’d painstakingly worked through my manuscript line by line, word by word, correcting typos, reformatting, spell-checking, and ensuring the final product was in perfect condition before sending it off to the printer, receiving a final proof, and, at last, publishing my book. I had reached the summit. But there was a new problem.
I never thought about how to get people to read it.
In addition to a publishing plan, I needed a marketing plan, and I didn’t realize that until I hit the publish button on my book. If people don’t know your book is out there, you can’t get it into their hands. Part of the joy of being a published author is having people read your work, but they can’t read it if they don’t know about it.
At the end of the day, I accomplished a goal I’ve had since I was twelve years old: I am a published author. Even if the only people who ever bought a copy were my parents, I’d consider it a job well done. I decided that my voice was worth hearing, and therefore that my poetry was worth publishing.
What’s keeping you from publishing your book? Share some of your story in the comments below.
Becoming a published author doesn’t have to be so difficult
Aaron, Jennifer, and Simon have been here before. They’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars making mistakes you don’t have to make.
Imagine you could spend three months with someone who saved you three years of mistakes and missteps on your journey to becoming a published author. What if they provided shortcuts and revealed blind spots that would have kept you from realizing your dream of becoming a published author?
If you’re ready to become a published author but don’t know where to start or where to turn next, consider registering for BookWorthy. It’s our go-at-your-own-pace course that will teach you how to become a published author, from ideation to publication (and marketing).
It’s our goal that by the end of the course, you’ll hold your own published book in the palms of your hands. Your story is worth publishing.