I just finished rocking a baby to sleep (for the second time tonight), and I’m exhausted and overwhelmed with gratitude for my new life. There have been so many delays in getting here, but I see it finally coming together and I couldn’t be more excited.
Which leads me to the topic of today’s post.
Sometimes waiting is the right thing to do.
Earlier this week, I met with two different authors who are in the middle of horrible, awful moments in their lives—moments that they rightly realize will likely define them and become the lens through which they see the world for years to come. And they’re both writing through the experience, which we know (from research) has a substantially positive impact on the healing process.
But people don’t usually come to me when they’re writing to write or heal; people come to me when they’re writing to publish.
So both of these authors came to me because they wanted to get my opinion on whether what they had is publishable. And while, of course, I couldn’t say that at this early stage in their process, I also cautioned them not to worry about publishing at this point. Focus on the writing and the healing.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ways that writers sometimes choose Resistance and put off the writing they know they should be doing. But there are also a lot of writers who make almost the opposite mistake: they pursue publication before they or their book is really ready. And I see this often with both prescriptive nonfiction and memoir authors, like the two authors I just mentioned. Prescriptive nonfiction authors sometimes pursue publication when their career is just barely beginning to take off and they haven’t actually fully developed their ideas and a business ecosystem that would support the book. These authors have had some success in their careers—usually just enough that they start to get a little cocky and they’re scared of losing momentum, so they jump into writing a book as a way to try to cement their position.
I tell them all the same thing: Wait. Slow down. Don’t rush. The book will still be here waiting for you.
And so on that note, I wanted to try to dissect the gut instinct I have inside me that tells me when an author is moving too fast—to put some feelings into words to help you develop this instinct inside yourself as well.
It is admirable and good that so many memoir authors want to help others who are going through hard times. But trying to publish while you’re still healing is very difficult to do because it’s almost impossible to put yourself in your reader’s shoes when your world is falling apart. That’s what makes it worthy of a book—because it is a paradigm-shifting, world-changing experience that you’d rather save others from. But when you’re writing to publish, you need to be able to step back and assess your work with the cool objective gaze of marketability (as much as any of us ever can!). For most people, living it and writing it just does not allow room for that; it’s all emotions, all the time—which, while a powerful experience for you, will not be interesting for your readers.
The other reason to wait is that most of the time, when you’re living the experience, you don’t yet know what your transformation is. That’s why #2 is…
Remember, all books are stories of transformation. As Liz and I wrote in a post for Jane Friedman, “Fiction is about the transformation of a character; memoirs are about the transformation of the author through an event/situation; and other nonfiction books are about the transformation of the reader.”
You have to know who the hero of the story is (who will be doing the transforming), what their current state is at the beginning of the book, and how they will be transformed by the end of the book. Memoir writers, you have to have a super clear picture of how your life has transformed based on your experience. And prescriptive nonfiction authors, you have to know how the advice that you share is going to make a difference in your readers’ lives.
In other words, you’ve pressure tested your ideas through getting bylines in major publications or speaking/consulting on your topic. You’ve made sure that your theory holds weight. You’ve had people ask you questions. You’ve been challenged. You’ve had to do research. You’ve seen the impact of what you’re saying with real people that you’ve worked with. You’ve thought about it and re-thought about it, and second guessed yourself, and continuously iterated on the idea until you got it just right.
You’re not just throwing something out there for the sake of getting a book done. You’re sharing a message that you know better than the back of your hand and that you believe in with every fiber of your body.
Having a direction for publishing is important because it helps you make the best choices for how to direct your time, energy, and money. Unless you publish via Amazon’s KDP process (which produces the absolute bare minimum book), then moving from manuscript to book is going to take time, and you’ll have a LOT of options to consider. Generally, I find that authors think they want one thing (usually traditional publishing), only to find themselves in over their heads and not really ready to see that path all the way through to completion.
Helping people make the right decision for them is one of the most important parts of my job. That’s why I’m actually working on an online workshop that I’ll be sending out to all of you soon, on this very topic! Keep a lookout for it in the coming weeks.
Regardless of how you publish, you will need a plan to make your book successful. In traditional publishing, this is a book proposal. If you’re self-publishing, no one’s going to be asking you for proof that you can make this book successful—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the same work and the same planning. A book proposal is, essentially, a business plan, and you want to be just as ready to support it as any traditional publisher would.
If you want to learn more about how to write a winning book proposal, I’ve got a free 7-day course that will guide you through the process. Sign up here!
Here’s the last thing I want to say: You don’t have to have all of this figured out right now. But you should be working toward it. And that’s exciting! Taking the step to actually put your book into the world is brave and important. I’m proud of you, and I’m excited for you.
Keep going, hungry author.