Since my book The Joy Plan came out a few months ago, people have been asking me a lot of questions. And surprisingly, one of the questions I'm asked most often has nothing to do with the content of the book. "How did you do you it?" people want to know, referring to everything from the actual banging out of 80,000 words to getting an agent, publisher, distribution in every Barnes & Noble in the US, making of an audiobook, and worldwide publication in Spanish.
Perhaps you have this same question. Do you dream of writing a book or have an idea so hot it's ready to burn itself through your fingertips? I feel you. I always wanted to write books. In fact, I started churning out stories (and recording my own audiobooks) when I was only five years old. But I didn’t have a clue about publishing, and although writing remained a big part of my life and career, I let my dream of writing books stay asleep.
Until I had a story so compelling that I literally couldn’t stop my hands from writing it, and the rest is history. I still didn’t know much about becoming a published author, and because the industry is always changing, I’m sure I’ll always have a lot to learn. But there are a few things I wish I would have known a long time ago. So if you're thinking about writing a book and don't know how to go about it, this is for you.
1. Get clear about your goal.
Why do you want to write a book? You may be surprised by the variety of reasons people have for this. For some, it’s a desire to tell a great story—either true or fiction. Others long to share their unique knowledge with the world. And for some, being an author will provide credibility and access to speaking engagements or other career opportunities.
For me, my goal was simple: I wrote The Joy Plan because I wanted to read it. I struggled with anxiety and depression after a major setback and needed a plan to get my life back on track. I keep the book on my bedside table now to refer back to when I need a reminder.
2. If you’re a writer, write.
If the reason you want to write a book is because the idea sets your soul on fire, then that impulse is telling you something important. Just because you’re not a published author doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. If you long to write, you’re a writer. And writers need to write. Every day. When we don’t, some part of our soul withers. If you’re a writer, write your book for you, get lost in the unfolding words, and don’t worry about what comes next until it’s finished.
One of my favorite writers of all time, Elizabeth Gilbert, said she writes a few versions of each book: one for the public, one for her closest family and friends, and one just for herself. I did the same with my book. And as soon as that book was finished, I started writing another one. Writers gotta write.
3. If you’re not a writer, work with a professional.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: way more books are written with help from a professional writer than you realize. Believe me, I’ve been a ghostwriter for nearly 20 years. If you’re having trouble with the concept, structure, or sheer mechanics of writing, there’s no shame in hiring a pro to work with you. It’s probably more affordable than you think, and will help you finish your project much faster than if you go at it alone.
This is something you should especially consider if your goal for writing a book has nothing to do with a deep longing to spend hundreds of hours engaged in the writing process. I’ve helped lots of people bring their stories to life who are amazing story tellers but frustrated writers.
4. Your editor is your best friend.
Even if you’re planning to follow the traditional publishing route, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor to go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb before you send it out. If you decide to self-publish, hiring an editor first is an absolute must. Your work of art deserves to not only be typo-free (or as close as possible), but honed and polished in a way that only a detached third party can accomplish.
Before I signed with a literary agent and got picked up by a mainstream publisher, I hired an editor who helped me not only make my manuscript better, but trim away all the bits and pieces that weren’t necessary. She was the motivational coach I needed to help me cross the finish line, and well worth every penny.
5. Many different roads lead to “published.”
Traditional publishing involves getting a literary agent who then shops your manuscript around to the appropriate publishing houses in your genre. It can be hard to break in to this system as a first-time author. If this is your dream, establish a platform or network of some kind that gives you access to readers first. All publishers want this and it will really help your chances.
However, traditional publishing isn’t your only option, and in most cases it isn’t your most profitable option. There many ways to self-publish these days, including print-on-demand services and traditional publishers that offer a self-publishing branch. Do some research and decide which model fits your book best.
I hope this helps point you in the right direction so you can stop dreaming and start writing. Because the world needs your unique story and perspective!
About the Author
Kaia Roman is the author of The Joy Plan (Sourcebooks, July 2017 and coming in Spanish from Harper Collins in 2018). She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California and is a blogger for minbodygreen and other sites. She writes about how she went from joyless and anxious to grateful and optimistic so she can remember how she did it if she forgets. For everyday joy and mindfulness tips, sign up for Kaia’s newsletter at TheJoyPlan.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.