Since starting on the long journey of writing a book, I’ve learned so much. While I attribute most of what I know to advice and wisdom from others, I thought it would be helpful for other aspiring authors to compile some of those important lessons into a single, easily-accessible place.
If you’re thinking of writing a book (or are knee-deep in the process already), this post is for you!
1) The world needs your book.
I wrote a book (and two devotionals) about the intuitive eating philosophy. If you haven’t already read them yourself, there are plenty of other books about intuitive eating already on the market. In fact, the namesake title of the intuitive eating movement is, unsurprisingly, Intuitive Eating. It’s a great book that I highly recommend to family, friends, and patients of mine. That being said…I still wrote my own book about intuitive eating.
Because I had something new to say about the topic. The book I wrote isn’t the same as Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche’s book. It’s not the same as Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size, or Christy Harrison’s Anti-Diet. My book is unique because it includes my story, my insight, and my perspective about why intuitive eating is important in the Christian life (or rather, God’s perspective.) My book hadn’t been written yet, so I wrote it.
Throughout the process of writing my book, I met other authors who wrote about food from a faith based perspective. Just like my book is still valid and important, their books are too, even though they have parallel themes. I think that more professionals and more authors need to be writing about and working with these topics. One book won’t change the world, but a community of authors can.
Here are links to some other books on the topic of food, exercise, and dieting from a faith perspective from authors I know and respect:
- Move for Joy by Kasey Shuler
- Grace, Food, and Everything In Between by Aubrey Golbek
- Diet Detox written by authors of the Body B Loved Group
2) You’re not writing for yourself.
When I first started writing, I pretty much just dumped everything I wish I had known 10 years ago into a word document. It was my personal manifesto that was, I’d convinced myself, going to change the world. Or at least, it might change the nutrition perspective of those who read it.
That is still my desire—I’ve seen so much harm caused by our diet-obsessed culture, and if I have a captive audience (like the reader of my book) I’m sure that I can at least get wheels turning about a new perspective. However, what I can’t do is rewind back in time and change my own experience, as much as I’d like to. In light of this, my publisher encouraged me to write not the book that I needed ten years ago, but rather to write the book that other women need today.
This change in perspective made writing substantially more difficult. Instead of automatically writing from my heart (like I do with this blog), I needed to pause, reflect, research, and zoom out of my own self-focus and see the bigger picture of what other women were going through. As a functional medicine doctor running a nutrition practice, I have a lot of opportunities to gain insider knowledge into the experiences of other people. However, much of my counseling up until the point of writing the book still came from my own experience. “This is what I went through,” I thought, “so it’ll work for you, too.” While some of that was true, sometimes it wasn’t, and so taking a knee and humbling myself to the realization that other experiences (besides my own) are equally valid not only made me a better writer, but a better clinician, too.
3) You’ll have to write a lot more than a book.
My first manuscript was about 75,000 words. That’s a lot of words…but I probably wrote that many or more in creating book proposals.
A book proposal for a non-fiction book is essentially a book report on your book. It includes summaries of different lengths (one sentence, one paragraph, one page) as well as sentence-long and paragraph-long descriptions of each paragraph. You also have to write detailed explanations of the book’s intended audience, author bio and qualifications, the felt need that the book will meet, and more. Each book proposal has different requirements according to the publisher’s own standards, but each of mine were roughly 15-20 pages long.
When I drafted my first proposal, I had no clue what I was doing, and it was pretty terrible. However, I’m very fortunate that my mother-in-law works in publishing and gave me some helpful feedback on the proposal to improve it. I owe a large percentage of the credit for my book’s existence to her, as pretty much everything I did ‘right’ in the publishing process came from her.
4) Finding a publisher is like dating.
I sent my book proposal to sixteen other publishers before I was offered a contract by Broadleaf Books.
However, I had a list of about 50 more that I had researched. The thing with publishers is that not all books fit in with all publishers. First of all, not all publishers take non-fiction books, and not all publishers take fiction books. Just like authors themselves, publishers operate according to a list of values and are often very purpose-driven in their work. So, what does that mean?
For me, it meant that looking for Christian publishers was a no-brainer. My entire foundation of Fulfilled is biblical truth, and not only did I know that secular publishers probably would want nothing to do with it, I knew that I definitely wanted the support of a marketing team that knew how to advertise to Christian women.
That being said, not all Christian publishers are the same. Many prefer to publish books about Christian living or other types of topics outside of the realm of health and wellness. Others focus only on bible studies or textbooks. Putting together a list of publishers takes quite a bit of work, and even if you get a response from an editor, that relationship requires a little finesse. I had a couple opportunities fall through because both of us were unwilling to compromise about certain topics/themes in my book…and that’s okay!
5) Platform is important, but it’s not everything.
Almost every best-selling book comes from writers who have huge platforms and are already celebrities before they start writing. While that isn’t true for everyone, platform plays a big role.
Your author platform includes your social media following, your blog, public speaking that you do, and connections you have to influential people in your community. This is important because the more connections you have and the more of a captive audience that already exists for you, the easier it will be to tell people about your book.
When I signed a contract with Broadleaf Books, I had a substantial social media following, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly large. I’d say it was pretty average…I had about 500 page view on my blog per month, and roughly 2,000 Instagram followers. My Facebook page had about 50 likes. However, once I secured a contract, I really upped my efforts in terms of trying to grow my platform so that when my book’s release date comes, more people are around to hear the message! This is important to me not because of money (first time authors don’t get rich) but because I really believe in my message.
Maybe one day soon I’ll write another post about how I grew my platform so I’d have better success with my book, my blog, and my business.
6) Don’t pay to publish.
There are two routes to publishing a book: the traditional way through an established publishing company, and self-publishing.
Self-publishing means that all the editorial, formatting, marketing, and selling of the book is on you. That is, unless you hire someone to fill some or multiple of those roles. With traditional publishing, a publishing house essentially purchases the rights to your book from you in exchange for a cash advance and the editing/marking legwork. They sort through the legal stuff, offer guidance to improve the book’s content, design a cover, front the money for print material, and support the marketing of the book. However, they keep a large percentage of the proceeds from book sales.
In the past 10-15 years, hybrid publishing companies have emerged that offer to do that editing work for you but rather than them paying you with a cash advance, you pay them. The marketing work still falls all on you, and yet some of the rights to the book end up belonging to the publishing company. I know that some people have been successful with this route, but I personally feel it is unethical and a total scam. If you’re still doing the vast majority of the work, why should you pay someone else?
I have written two devotionals (and an intuitive eating workbook/guide) that I self-published through Kindle Direct Publishing. The difference with KDP is that there are absolutely no upfront costs at all. I wrote the books, I edited them, I formatted them, I marketed them…and KDP puts them out in print. The cost of printing the book is deducted from the sale of each book on Amazon.com, and it’s only roughly $2.00. That means that I am able to keep almost the full list price (minus taxes, of course) from the sale of these books. When it comes to self-publishing, this is 100% my recommendation.
If you are concerned about your tech skills, don’t be. I’m not a tech person at all, and I put in the time and effort to learn how to format my book and make a cover I like. I think this extra effort helped me appreciate my publications even more, and I’m even more proud of them than I would be if I’d paid someone else to do it.
7) You don’t have to do it alone.
Writing can be lonely. Most of the time, it means late nights, early mornings, lots of dedication and focus, all by yourself, in the quiet, sitting behind a computer screen. That being said, you don’t have to do it alone!
There are so many writer’s groups on Facebook, Instagram, and in your local community. Follow like-minded accounts on Instagram, including authors of books that are similar to the one you’re writing. Sign up for workshops and keep connected with the other students in your class. When it comes time for edits, reach out to you friends and family and ask for their input! Then, when it comes time for book marketing, they’ll be more likely to share the news. After all, they worked on it, too!
8) Anything you write can be made better.
By the time I signed a book contract, I’d already written—and completely re-written—Fulfilled. I’d had 5+ trusted friends and family members help me by reading and giving feedback on the manuscript, and made so many edits that I’d basically deconstructed and re-written it a third time.
When my editor sent me the first round of her own edits, I had a little bit of a mental breakdown. The timing in my own life was part of the problem, as I was wrapping up a semester of medical school, studying for my board exams, and then…I received back all 200 pages of my manuscript with at least that many pages (or more) of commentary, red lines, and highlights. I really count myself lucky for this one, because that first email from my editor came on March 12th, 2020. The very next day, March 13th, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. My school took a hiatus, my part-time job was essentially cancelled, my board exams were postponed 3 months, and I suddenly had an abundance of time for editing.
I sent my revisions back in April, but received further edits in June, July, August…and every month until October when the copyediting department told me that the typeset pages were finally ready, and the book would be sent to the press.
I won’t lie, I thought my book was perfect back in September. I’d already put in so much work at that point, I couldn’t fathom what else could be done. Thankfully, my eyes were opened, and I’m shocked by how much improvement each round of editing brought. It was draining and frustrating, and there were times that I was so sick of re-reading the same sentences over and over again that I wanted to call it quits.
9) It always seems impossible until it’s done.
By the time my book is released (on March 2nd, 2021) I will have been working on it for three years. That sounds long even to me, but I know now that it’s completely normal.
Writing a book is hard work, and requires a lot of dedicated effort as well as sacrifice…if I’m being totally honest. But when you get that email from your editor with the book cover, or with the news that the pages have been sent to the press, or you see it live for pre-order on Amazon, it starts to feel real.
10) Just do it.
There’s not much else to say, here.
If you have an idea, and you feel led to share a message, do it. If I can tell you one thing it’s that when God places a calling on your life, you’d better hurry up and listen.
I hope your book ends up being a best seller—and I hope mine does, too. But even if it doesn’t, I know that it’s been an experience that leads to tremendous personal and professional growth, and that the book will end up inspiring and encouraging those who read it. It’s worth it not because of the accolades, but because the world needs our words!
My book, Fulfilled, is a non-diet, non-fiction book written through a lens of faith. It’s designed to help readers ditch dieting and learn to become allies with their bodies so they can let go of shame, embrace who they were made to be, and eat the foods they love without guilt. Fulfilled is available for pre-order on Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, the Broadleaf Books website or wherever you usually buy books—whether online or in retail stores.