4 Things I Wish I Knew About Writing a Book Before Writing One Myself
It’s Not a Weekend Adventure
My collection of humor essays, Inside Melania: What I Know About Melania Trump by Impersonating Her, is officially at the press. Now I finally have a moment — the first in the year+ I’ve been working on it — to tell you what not to do when you write your book.
There are so many “write-a-book-in-a-weekend” classes that I’m afraid you’ll look at my warnings and puff, “You’re exaggerating! XYZ said I can write a book in 10 hours or less!”
Pumpkin, all those Instagram ads from “creativity gurus” who tell you that “writing a book is easy peasy!” are trying to sell you their writing course. They know that the only way you’ll buy it is if they promise that writing a book is pain-free.
WRITING A BOOK WILL NEVER BE PAIN FREE.
If you do take that “book-in-a-weekend” advice, here are some options of what to do with the half-baked manuscript that results:
- You fully acknowledge that your book looks like it was written in a weekend, but you sell it to your fans anyway, figuring, even if they buy it, most people won’t read it. (A sad fact.) Be warned: If someone you respect cracks the cover and tells you so, your conscience will remind you how much your book sucks. The pain of knowing that someone you admire is fully aware that you released a garbage book will be equal to the pain it takes to write 17 books.
- You hire a production team, possibly even a ghostwriter, to clean up and produce your book since you don’t want to commit to the epic amount of time it takes to create a quality book yourself. (Make sure you pay your people well to compensate for being a lazy turd, lest they be tempted to talk on your incompetence to E! if you gain any degree of fame.)
- Consider your “book-in-a-weekend” manuscript as a starting point and set yourself, and your schedule, to the task of writing your damned book, knowing that it will require immense effort and thought.
Please do not underestimate the process of writing and publishing a book. No matter how ready you are, the book beast will still bite you in the ass.
To lessen your pain I’m telling you upfront what to expect about this process. No one wants to tell you these things. It’s like when a prospective mother asks an OG mom if childbirth hurts, the response never includes the blood-curdling reality.
1. Accept that your book will have to be one of your main projects. Plan appropriately or hate your life.
Even though I was spending about three hours a day on my book, I somehow deluded myself into believing that this was no big deal. I had zero work/life balance. I was not a great friend or a decent partner. In my first-time-author-optimist mind, writing my book was something I could do on top of everything else.
Maybe feeling overwhelmed and being a crappy person is your thing and if so, fine, but after dragging my life through this state I will never pretend that a book project is not a huge chunk of my time and attention. Ideally, you’ll want to clear “your plate” of other projects to make space for this endeavor. This is not my strength, so maybe next time I’ll simply tell the people I love that I’m going on a myopic-author hiatus.
2. You might have a project plan, a detailed outline of how long this project will take, or an approximate blueprint swimming in your mind. Look at it and multiple every estimated time allotment by 3. Maybe 5. Actually 87.
Writing a book will take you way way way way longer than you ever imagined. My publisher, Eckhartz Press, made the book publishing process easy, and it still took an insufferably long time to sort through the details.
And the amount of details is insane. You will lose your eyesight in the formatting. Not that you are actually doing the formatting, but no one (NO ONE) will care as much as you do about every single micro-detail.
There are also unforeseen and mysterious issues. For example, my manuscript erupted with rogue periods, slightly larger than the average period, and occurring at unpredictable places throughout. In 16 years of school and professional writing I have never had this problem. These marks, that I still can not figure out how to replicate with my keyboard, were the pox upon my manuscript. And I almost lost my mind finding them.
3. Hire a copy editor. Hire a copy editor. Hire a copy editor.
Your piece is humor? Hire a copy editor. Your piece is unique and weird and incorporates odd syntax? Hire a copy editor. Your piece is written in the voice of a character who has an accent? Hire a copy editor.
You think you have good enough spelling and grammar to forego hiring a copy editor? Hire a copy editor.
In shorter forms, it is much easier to sort through minutiae of each individual word and phrase. In a book, it is much MUCH harder and you will need a trained pair of eyes to help guide your decisions. A good copy editor will catch embarrassing mistakes that would have otherwise gone to print. Plus, they will give you valuable information on word use, even nerdy details that will help you accurately say what you mean to say. You do not want to have to defend bad word choice if call-out culture comes to find you.
Because my publisher is a hybrid, the expense for a copy editor came from me. It was the smartest decision of the entire process. There are lots of resources to find good copy editing talent at a reasonable price. DO IT.
4. Expect delays that have nothing to do with you.
Book production is filled with other people with their own timelines and priorities. There will be delays that will stupify (Harry Potter reference) you in their ridiculousness. It’s nobody’s fault but overloaded schedules, dogs eating homework, and COVID-19.
When all of the pain is over and you hold your precious gem of a book in your hands, you will feel elated. You made this thing. The feeling is incomparable and I hope you decide to do it, now fully knowing that labor always hurts.