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Top 10 Lessons: writing a book

top-10

I’m still so giddy about speaking with Megan Silianoff at the Texas Style Council blogging conference a couple Sundays ago. We met so many rad ladies with rad happenings up their sleeves. Grateful to be a part of it all, and extra grateful for those who the took the time to hear us talk. Megan is the woman behind Greetings from Texas. She wrote the memoir, 99 Problems But A Baby Ain’t OneShe named her baby, Macy, after Jay Z. Need I say more?

During our workshop, we chatted about how we turned our blogs into books. I wrote last Monday about tips and tricks on the journey to publication. Today I share with you the top 10 lessons we learned on that journey.

1. It’s better to start somewhere now than to start somewhere later. 

When I originally had the idea for I’d Rather Be Short, I knew it was good but I sat on it for a year because starting is hawd (that’s ‘hard’ in whiny speak). Then I ran the 1/2 marathon in March and had oodles of energy when the race was over. I channeled that into a month of drawings so I could pitch the idea to agents that May.

Guess what!

When I finally got started, the drawings were terrible!

Like this one and this one.

The good news is that by starting I got through the bottom feeders faster than I would have if I was still stalling just because starting (AKA decision-making) was hawd. 

2. At least try.

Megan didn’t always see herself doing this book thing, but realized she loved writing. Life dealt her an unexpected hand—she got cancer while she and her husband were trying to adopt. She felt compelled to keep everyone upbeat during this hard time, so she started a blog and from there she went. One thing I loved that Megan said at the conference was that she was so determined to get her query to the agents who represented her favorite books. She’s proud of those rejection letters because she got it into their hands. She gave it her all. 

I freaked myself out one too many times thinking about how a tiny girl from a tiny town could have a real book in a STORE. I felt like a fake. Then I realized that every book in every store is either that author’s first book or they have had a first book. If you know of any second-time authors who don’t have a first book, please let me know so I can correct this point I’m trying to make.

3. Be protective of your dreams.

No, I don’t think you are going to steal my dreams. This is about protecting your sensitive, fragile, dreaming heart from others’ lack of enthusiasm, naysaying or preemptive praise. Watch Derek Sivers’ TED Talk (it’s only three minutes). Studies show that people who talk about their goals (before putting in the work) are less likely to achieve them. We get a tiny dose of satisfaction just from talking about it, and that’s enough to derail the EFFORT part of the dream. In my case, I knew that I had something good on my hands and I didn’t want somebody’s, “Oh, that’s kind of cool” comment to bring me “back to reality”. How can we expect them to be over the moon for an idea they just heard—an idea we’ve been stewing over for days/weeks/months/years? It’s not fair to them or to you, so keep it to yourself until it’s time to tell someone who will keep you accountable to seeing it through.

4. Must be delusional.

This one takes reminding. We have to be so crazy about our ideas that we work at them as if they just might work. Otherwise, beers with friends, Breaking Bad and sleeping in seem like more of a priority. I could have had better life-balance during that time, but I was crazy, so that’s what you get.

5. Level up.

Run a long race. Start a conference. Do that “thing you couldn’t do”. Then you level up. You realize you have the energy, will power, confidence, others’ support, etc. to do the next thing. You realize the doers aren’t super humans; they just do. 

I’m not suggesting you add an unnecessary step in pursuing your dreams. I’m just saying that these things build on each other. Megan and I didn’t know it at the time (she started the Houston Blogging Symposium, and I ran a long race), but those feats gave us the confidence to do the next thing. We accidentally realized we are “that type” of person. (See Amy Cuddy TED Talk. One of my favorites).

6. You are who + what you surround yourself with.

This one is simple, but possibly the most impactful for me. I started the book partially because I wished it already existed. I didn’t love being so short. I thought that since so many people brought it up when they first met me (for 25 years!), I must have had what people didn’t want. I was okay enough with it, but embracing it seemed far from my reach. Throughout the process of making the book I looked at the words, “I’d rather be short” hundreds of times.

It sank in.

Recently at the airport I realized I actually would rather be short. I love my child-size self. If I got that from a few months of work, I can’t imagine how impacted I/we are by what we read and look at everyday.

I only have time for things that bring me life. I intentionally invest in those things and (try) to blow off the rest.

7. Go to conferences and writing classes! 

Their our 2 many reasons 2 name 4 now, but if u go, u will right well.

Wasn’t that sentence hard to read? That’s why writing workshops and conferences are so good. Kidding! Kind of…

You really can’t lose. You’ll gain friendships with like-minded people, and you’ll become who you hang out with (remember what we just talked about.) Megan suggests BlogHer Writers, New York Pitch Conference, etc. I really love Spike Gillespie’s workshop in Austin. It’s really life-giving and you get to hear other people’s stories, essays and poems. I learned a lot by listening to them share. I didn’t do this stuff before mine got published, but I have a friend who is a writer who helped immensely before sending it to the fancy folks in New York.

8. You are going to embarrass yourself. Just do it in front of the right people.

This was Megan’s point. Preach it! She said when she turned in an early “final” copy of the manuscript, her editor/writing coach told her it definitely wasn’t done. She looks back on it now and realizes how right he was.

This whole, “it’s going to be awkward” point is worth making.

Perhaps it’s like talking to kids about drugs. You need to tell them the drugs are out there, so they’re already prepared to use one of the methods they learned in D.A.R.E. to just say no. This post is the opposite of D.A.R.E. because we think you should just say Y.E.S. to looking like a fool. Put your work out there. Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist and Newspaper Blackout) is a big fan of showing your work (see his new book).

9. It’s a new Era in Publishing. 

Anything can happen. Now we can set our sights high—if it’s clever, good or low brow enough, your work can go from 0-60 in 15 seconds. I’d opt for the highbrow, but it’s your call. Don’t have a publisher or an agent? There are still millions of eyeballs glued to the internet right now. Every eyeball is looking for you. Make this easy on the eyeballs. People are looking at cat memes at 2 AM and puppy memes at 2 PM. The good ideas are not all used up. Embrace the opportunities that come with e-books and self-publishing. See last week’s post with tips and resources for that.

10. Know your comparative titles + shoot them an email

Sooner or later you’re going to have to know what your book will sit next to on shelves. Why not make it earlier? You’ll need to know for pitching to agents and publishers, but it helps in explaining it to everybody else. It helps you find your audience and it helps to see what those guys did right. I love reading interviews with Jory John and Avery Monsen (All My Friends Are Dead). Since our books will eat lunch at the same table, I think it’s wise to see what they did. Reach out! I’ve emailed several authors and almost all of them have gotten back to me. They’re people I admire and I wanted to tell them that. I didn’t always do this. We can assume our idols are too cool and busy all we want, but it never hurts to give it a shot. They are people too and if their work impacted you, do you think they’ll be upset if you tell them that?

We made it! These are a few of the many things I’ve tucked away for the last year. Take or leave it as you wish, but know that it’s all sincere. We hope it helps gain clarity, confidence or enthusiasm.

We’re just two dorkos who put our work into the world and we’d like to help others do the same.


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From Blog to Book: nifty tips & resources

blogtobook

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I had a great time in Seattle for my friends’ wedding on Saturday, then back in Austin for Texas Style Council‘s Summer School on Sunday. Megan (Greetings From Texas) and I had a hoot co-leading a workshop on turning our blogs into books. We mentioned our stories as well as heaps of resources we promised to provide. This post is for anyone at the conference who wants a list of what we mentioned, as well as anyone who wants to know how to navigate through this publishing process.

Today I’ll tell you who we are, what we’re publishing, and a few directions you can take for your forthcoming book. Tomorrow I’ll post the top 10 lessons we’ve learned from this journey.

1. Who we are 

I wrote and illustrated I’d Rather Be Short. It’s 100 reasons why it’s great to be small. Published by Penguin/Plume Books and will be available where books are sold October 29—but you can preorder it today! ←see side bar. Please come to my book signing at Book People October 29 at 7 PM. My favorite thing about this adventure is meeting new people, so let’s make it happen!

My co-host was Megan Silianoff, also a former midwesterner turned Texan. Check out this cute post of her, Danny and Baby Macy on the Every Girl. Megan is the founder of the Houston Blogger Symposium and somehow has the time to do that, freelance, keep up her blog, write a book, then promote it. She’s superwoman! Her book,  99 Problems But A Baby Ain’t One, is a memoir about cancer, adoption and her love for Jay Z. She is hilarious and unbelievably inspiring. And her baby, Macy, is the cutest.

“Whoa. I can’t believe you have a kid!” —me
“I know. I’m just as surprised as everyone else.” —Megan

bookreport

2. Your book

It should be noted that like snowflakes and stomach growls, every journey to publication is different. Don’t be discouraged if yours doesn’t look like either of ours. If you’re reading this post, you’re on the right track. Starting somewhere now is better than starting somewhere later. I hope some of these pointers give you a bit of direction. If you want to know more about my book’s origin story and how I got a book deal, you can read this post. If you want to know more about Megan’s, head over to greetingsfromtexas.com.

I highly recommend querying lit agents vs. submitting directly to publishers. I recommend it so much that I’m going to tell you right now to NOT submit to publishers. I used agentquery.com and skimmed over the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents (the back has an index, which lists specific genres of agents). These two resources give you the direction you need to write a proper query (a query is the sample you send to agents to reel them in, so they want to see the rest of your book proposal and hopefully represent you to publishers). If you get an agent to represent you, that’s great! It’s not easy to get one, so when you do, it means they really believe in your project and they’re willing to invest in you. This site is very thorough; they should have plenty of answers to your questions. My friend Chad showed it to me, and though it gave me all the information I needed to query, it was more than helpful to have him help me write the query. I also had my friend Beth, who is an editor, help look things over. I recommend having another writer or editor read over everything and help you draft a sharp query. Don’t over think it, but do make sure it’s polished and professional.

I submitted a cover letter, summary, bio and four or five sample drawings that represented the direction of the rest of the book. I did not submit my full 100 reasons list. Every agent will have specific requirements for submissions. Follow their rules. They get so many queries; you don’t want to get deleted because you refuse follow directions on your first interaction.

Generally fiction is the only kind of proposal you need to have finalized before submitting. I had all 100 reasons, but not all drawn. That was enough for me to tell them that I knew exactly what direction this was going, how it will look, and offer space for feedback before finishing the book. Luckily they let me run in the direction I intended.

When you get an agent, remember that they are your ally. My agent, Laurie Abkemeier, has been a saint and I’m so thankful for how much she’s helped me. NOTE: I don’t know of any agents that cost money. I’d be leery of someone trying to charge you. Laurie signed me without taking a dime. When Penguin paid my advance, that’s when Laurie got a cut. This is great because it gives everyone incentive to sell many books. Laurie has an app called Agent Obvious. It’s a helpful tool for those already in publishing, or looking to acquire an agent.

A note on advances. I don’t think I properly covered this during yesterday’s talk. The way it worked for me is that the agent picks up the author (no fee), then the publisher picks up the author (author gets advance). Now that the publisher is paying the author (split into thirds, in my case: upon signing the contract, turning in final manuscript and book release), the agents gets a percentage. The agent will always get a cut of what that author makes from that specific project, whether it gets turned into a movie or the book does so well they have to do reprints and the author starts making royalties (most authors don’t make royalties because they have to earn back the advance in the amount of the royalties, maybe 6-10%. It’s less common for them to sell that many books. It doesn’t mean they have to pay back their advance, or it’s a sour deal, it just means royalties=real good book sales.)

The more I learn about self-publishing, the more I’m intrigued. A lot of writers have no desire to work with a traditional publisher. Some make more money doing it themselves or their audience is best suited for this method. They can work faster and they don’t have to answer to anyone. My friend Josh Long has some incredible books he’s published himself. Part of his message, hence the title, is EXECUTE. It makes more sense for him to put his book into the world at his pace and on his terms. When you publish yourself, you make all the money (vs. small percentage from the publisher), but you (usually) don’t have the name recognition or access to the media on a massive scale to promote it. 50 Shades of Grey started out self-published, but Random House must have picked it up when it got popular. Megan went with Brown Books in Dallas, where she invested in the books, but gets to keep all of the earnings.

Michelle asked how we get our books into book stores. Since I have a traditional publisher, they have a special sales team already in place. They sell to book stores like Barnes & Noble and have a specialty sales team for places like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, boutiques, etc. If I meet someone who wants to carry my book in their store, I am SO HAPPY and I pass their information along to Penguin. It’s not my job to land the sales from book stores; it IS my job to get the people into the stores to buy the book. Knowing how many copies your book has sold is a bit tricky because book stores can return books to publishers for free, and then those books may get recirculated in order to avoid unnecessary reprints. I’ve heard it takes about six months (after pub date) to know how many copies it’s really sold. I could be wrong though, as I’ve never done this before. If you’re producing your own book, you’d be in charge of getting it into stores. I know places like BookPeople have a section for local authors. Megan talked about how one could hire a publicist and a team to help cary that load. It just depends on how you want to split your time.

txsc13

3. Resources!

Self-publishing. I’ve never used these sites, but they have been recommended by friends:
reKiosk
Packgr (great for publishing blog content into newsletters, books, etc.)
Smashwords
Amazon, Independent Publishing
CreateSpace

On finding agents and drafting a query:
agentquery.com
2013 Guide to Literary Agents

*Megan noted that she looked in the back of the books she liked to see who represented the author. That’s a fantastic idea because authors almost always thank their agent and editor in the acknowledgements.

Writing classes/conferences:
Write with Spike (Spike Gillespie, Austin-based. I go to this on Tuesday nights)
New York Pitch Conference (Megan went to this and recommends)
BlogHer Writers (another one Megan recommends)

Other noteworthy links:
Derek Sivers: Keep Your Goals To Yourself, TED Talk (3 min)
Anne Lamott’s Bird By Birdfantastic book on writing. Funny and inspiring.
Agent Obvious, my agent, Laurie’s app that offers insight into the publishing world.
How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0, I highly recommend this TechCrunch article by James Altucher.

I hope this was helpful. I’m sure I’ve missed things, or didn’t uncover some dirty secrets you want to know. Feel free to leave a comment (I always read them and respond) if there’s something you’d like to know, or something you’d like to correct that I’ve said. I’d love to know what resources you’ve used or heard of. I expect to add more when you let me know what this list is missing! Feel free to email me at beckycmurphy@gmail.com and I’ll supplement this post with whatever I missed. Be sure to check out Megan’s post on Greetingsfromtexas.com.

Special thanks to Langford Market for sponsoring our talk.


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Mom, do these glasses make me look hipster?

This weekend I went to the Texas Style Conference. I am by no means a fashion lady, so you should understand why I was so scared to go. The girls would have mile long legs and wear flashy patterns. The patterns that would match without matching and they would look fabulous. They would all have long hair and they would be beautiful and they would all know each other.

Everyone was 100% fabulous, yes. One thing I took away from the conference was that I need new shoes. And by need, of course I mean need. But by the second need I really mean want. There were some cool short girls too who will have to teach me how to dress. Even some that are in a roller derby league.

I was so impressed by how kind and gracious everyone was. New friends galore! I learned a lot about using social media, some avoidable habits, and how to remind myself that this blog is just a blog. Wait a second…you already knew that?

One more thing: free loot. We were treated like royalty. I need to write about the sponsors and other little lessons, but for now I must head to the office so I can slap fives with my jolly coworkers.

Confused Becky, Diana and Rocio in photo

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