My most recent book — Solopreneur Success: How to Plan, Create and Run a One-Person Business — has been available on Amazon for over a year now. Writing this book started as a quickie pandemic project that I estimated would take a few weeks. Like most projects I’ve tackled in my self-employment journey, it took much longer than expected (specifically nine months). In this blog post, I share some of the lessons I learned from this project.
10 Lessons from Writing a Book
- Make space in your life. Writing a book is a big goal that will take up a significant amount of time. Figure out the specifics of when and where you will write – and then show up at the scheduled time. There are two approaches that work for people. One is to schedule an hour or two each day to work on your book. Writing is intellectually exhausting and this keeps you moving forward without burning out. The other approach – and the one that works best for me – is to block out complete days (or preferably even a week) where you can focus 100 percent on your book. While this can be tiring, it also keeps you immersed in the book and you don’t waste time figuring out what to do next.
- Take it one step at a time. I found the idea of writing and publishing a book to be totally overwhelming. I wondered who would design the cover and how to obtain an ISBN number (the identification number that is used by publishers, booksellers and libraries to order your book). My recommendation is that you focus solely on writing the book before you fret about editing and distribution challenges.
- Keep the tech simple. There are many outlining programs to help you write your book, including Scrivener (which I used for my previous books back in 2014). I started writing Solopreneur Success with Scrivener and quickly got frustrated by the learning curve. I’d recommend that you keep it simple and use Word or Google documents. Make sure that you understand Styles to make the book design process easier. (Check out this article for more information on Styles.)
- Know the purpose of your book. Before you begin writing, determine what your book will deliver to your audience. In my case, I began with a collection of blog posts and a vague idea to “help solopreneurs succeed.” The result was a messy collection of posts that, to be honest, was not very helpful. The book started to come together when I set the goal of explaining how people can start, plan and thrive in their solo business. I also wanted to convey that a solo business is inextricably linked to your personal life, which is why it’s important to consider your personality, home situation and available time when you’re planning your business. Having a defined purpose will make the writing portion much easier.
- Get organized. You will save yourself a lot of time and angst by making organization a priority. First of all, look at your physical space and make sure that it is appropriate for writing. You will appreciate good lighting, a private space, and an ergonomic office setup. Next, figure out a way to organize your research and notes. This can be simple (such as Google docs) or more complex (such as Evernote or AirTable). Finally, make the time to create an outline that presents your thoughts in an organized manner. Having an outline will save you a lot of time and keep you on topic.
- Write a crappy first draft. I have worked with writers for more than 20 years and believe this is the most difficult step. Your goal in this stage is to get your thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry if you don’t love your phrases or are missing a crucial piece of information. Make a note (I do this in the document) and continue writing. Don’t let perfectionism take you away from the flow of writing. Everything you don’t like can be changed or discarded. My book went through at least four major edits – and a lot of pruning — before I was happy with the result.
- Hire editor(s). An editor will make sure that your book is clear and delivers what you promised. There are four kinds of editing. You may need one (or all) in the process of writing your book. Some editors can perform multiple functions.
- Developmental editor. A developmental editor will look at the “big picture” of your book. They will look at the organization of your book and whether the ideas are presented in a way that makes sense. In my case, my editor pointed out that my compilation of blog posts was confusing and the book needed more structure. This was painful to hear but he was correct. (In hindsight, I would have saved a lot of time by starting the book with a formal purpose and outline, which is why I recommend that you know the purpose before you begin.)
- Content Editor. This is also known as “substantive editing” and is a deep dive into your mostly-completed manuscript. A content editor will look at whether the information in your book is presented clearly, logically, and consistently. They will also look at readability, the structure of the book, and grammar and spelling. My first major content edit came back with more than 1,500 comments that included everything from punctuation errors to recommendations about reordering and/or combining chapters.
- Copy editors. Copy editors channel our high school English teachers and focus on grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Despite using grammar and spellchecking programs, it took an actual human being (a big thank you to my dear friend Bonnie) to discover some of my errors. One of the biggies was when I described Conrad Hilton as a “hotel magnet” instead of a “hotel magnate.” By this point in the book process you need a fresh set of eyes to find your errors.
- Proofreaders. This is the last person to read your manuscript. They will look for any remaining errors or consistencies that were missed by the previous editors.
- Be ready to make significant changes. I’ll be honest … the editing process is brutal. It’s like someone is criticizing your baby! It hurts to hear that your personal anecdotes are boring, your examples are irrelevant, or you’re overusing specific words. At some points I found this very demoralizing, but I also knew that my editor was correct and that each change led to a better book.
- Outsource when needed. Because I have decades of experience as a writer, I was not worried about the writing portion of the book. However there were many aspects – including cover design and manuscript layout – that I did not have the skills to do. This is the magic of outsourcing. I hired a cover designer, as well as someone to lay out both the softcover and electronic versions of my book. This was money well spent and ultimately saved me from making some expensive mistakes.
- Deal with doubts. I have more than 20 years’ experience as writer, business coach and solo business owner. I am incredibly qualified to write this book. But that didn’t stop me from facing doubts about whether anyone cared what I had to say or if people would buy the book. Figure out a way to manage your mind – through meditating, journalling, chatting with a friend, or distracting yourself – so that you don’t stop before the project is complete.