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Writing a Book: 11 Lessons I Learned as a Self-Published Author Writing for a Traditional Trade Publisher

Yesterday, I completed the book I was contracted to write by a trade publisher back in December. It turned out to be almost 70,000 words in about five weeks. I still have some work to do, eg, working with the development editor (yeah, another editor) to get the manuscript to where they want it to be, but the brain dump of writing has been done – almost two and a half weeks early.

I was proud of myself for meeting that deadline, because it was a tight one to begin with. I think the contract was signed on like the 8th of December, and the manuscript was due in full on the 28th of this month – 60,000 to 65,000 words. So I had to pump! Anyway, I’ll talk more about this below.

I learned a ton on this project – a ton; more than I thought possible. I think I assumed that because I come from a trade publishing background and I knew subject matter so well (the book is about how to start a freelance career) that it would be relatively straightforward.

Self-Published Author Writing for a Traditional Trade Publisher: 11 Lessons Learned

For the most part, it was, but there were so many things I discovered along the way. So without further ado, let’s get into some of them. I’m sure more will come as I go through the editing process with the new development editor I’ve been assigned. Of course, I’ll do a post on that and link back to this post, but here’s what stood out to me about this stage.

1. Excitement

You’re gonna be excited. I don’t care how much you love self-publishing — and lord knows I do! I’ve self-published about 90 ebooks to date – fiction and non-fiction – and I was still psyched when I got that email.

I was just going through my email late one afternoon and there it was – in my Junk folder; Subject line: “Author Needed for Freelancer’s Guidebook‏.”

We want to hire you to write a book for us!

I think it was the validation of a career’s worth of work that got me excited.

I’ve been freelancing in one form or another since 1993; full-time since 2007. So to be recognized by the industry that you’re in … well, it’s kinda like getting a SAG award or an Oscar.

You’re literally like, “They like me, they really like me!” a la Sally Field’s Oscar speech (though that’s not really what she said, as I discovered when I researched this quote). I never knew!

But, I digress …

Lesson: There isn’t one. There’s no shame in being excited, even if you proudly self-publish. Do your happy dance. You deserve it!

2. Negotiating Contracts

After I got over the exhilaration of “winning an award,” we got down to the serious stuff right away. The acquisitions editor who contacts me sent over a contract.

I worked in legal publishing for 10 years, so went over it with a fine-toothed comb. I requested a few changes, which they readily agreed to. After a little more back and forth, the contract was signed happily by both parties.

Lesson: Luckily, I have a background in legal and in publishing, so knew what to look for. If you don’t have this background, have someone you know and trust go over any contracts you receive from a publisher. Also, research what industry norms are so you’ll know if they’re low-balling you.

My contract was pretty standard. I’m nowhere near able to retire (unless the book sells a million copies!), but it put a chunk nice chunk of change in my bank account for the month and I know I’ll be able to capitalize off of it in other ways, which, to be honest was one of the mitigating reasons I took it.

Being able to add to my professional bio that I’ve been traditionally published is a boost; no doubt about it.

FYI, the payout was 50% on the signing of the contract, and the other 50% upon completion of the manuscript. It took a little over a month for the payment to hit my account, as I elected direct deposit into my account instead of a check (because I live and work abroad – Jamaica – and the publisher is U.S.-based).

3. Self-Confidence

Once all the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed on the contract, I started writing … and guess what, all of a sudden, I was nervous. Are they really gonna like what I write? Am I good enough? Am I qualified enough?

Am I good enough? The Fear of SuccessNow remember, this is a book about freelancing. I’ve only been at it for 23 years or so. Why the f**k was my confidence so friggin’ shaken?!

I hate that feeling, especially when I know what I suck at, and I know what I’m good at. And one thing I know is I’m a decent writer, and the other thing I know is … I KNOW FREELANCING!

I hate to give myself one of my, “Girl if you  don’t stop this doubting crap, I’m gonna slap the black off’a you” talks.  I basically told myself, “Hey, you got this. Cut the crap and get to work!

So I did.

Note: The book is not about starting a freelancing writing career; it’s about starting any kind of freelance career, so I think that’s why some of the nerves came on. But still, I was pissed at myself for semi cracking under perceived pressure. That’s just not me – and again, I hate that feeling.

Lesson: Don’t allow your nerves to get the better of you. If a publisher contacts you, know that they’ve done their due diligence. They like what they see. Yes, you’re good enough. Hold onto that.

FYI, when you experience emotions like this, it’s really the fear of success rearing its ugly head – and it can be as detrimental to your success as its counterpart (if not more so). Everyone can relate to the fear of failure, but fear of success is just as real. It’s not discussed nearly enough, which was one of the reasons I addressed it in the book

4. Sticking to Deadlines

This is where the reality of what I was in for set in. After I met the deadline for the first chapter, I was like, this is gonna be more difficult than I realized Again, it’s because I was writing about freelancing in general, not freelance writing in particular.

So I had to do a lot more research than I’d counted on. A lot!

My goal was to make the guide as helpful for an aspiring freelancer as possible. I didn’t want it to seem like it was tailored to freelance writers. That’s not what the publisher ordered. So I was super keen to keep the discussion of freelancing broad.

All that research ripped the deadlines I’d set to paper to shreds though. I struggled mightily getting through certain chapters and when I’d tell my editor that three chapters were coming on Friday but only sent in two, I hated that feeling.

I’m a Type-A personality and a stickler for deadlines. So if I promise something, I go over and beyond to deliver – but there were a couple of times that I just couldn’t deliver what I said I was going to deliver.

Now I was still way ahead of schedule, and thank goodness my anal-ness made me plan for that because if I’d lollygagged at all, I could have gotten into serious trouble. And not for nothing, but living in a third-world country, internet can be spotty. Although, I have to say, it’s been awesomely great since I switched providers about five months ago.

Lesson: When you write for yourself as a self-published author, the only person you’re accountable to is yourself. But when a company has laid out thousands of dollars for a project, and you’re contractually bound, you feel the pressure. Trust me.

FYI, here are some great tips for how to meet – and beat – deadlines. Number three was the most helpful and is exactly what I did, ie:

Look at the big picture and draw a road map of exactly what you need to do. … Create an outline labeling what needs to be done and by when.

The book has 14 chapters, based on an outline I created and the publisher approved. I gave myself daily and weekly deadlines. I knew which chapters I was going to be working on during a given week, and I knew which ones I was going to tackle each day – right down to the projected word count. It made for some long days, as chapters were anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 or so words.

I went over the maximum word count by almost 5,000 words. Pfft, more is better, no?

5. Your Normal Workload Will Suffer

My personal projects – working on my latest romance; updating the romance writing ebook (which was supposed to be done last month); updating this blog and its sister blog, SeoWritingJobs.com – all of these had to take a backseat to stay on schedule with the book.

Lesson: Don’t feel bad. This is what prioritizing is all about. And trust, for the time that you disappear, you won’t be missed nearly as much as you think. I’d kinda gotten back into a regular posting schedule on my blogs since the beginning of the year (posting once a week). This knocked me off and I felt bad, mentally jumping through hoops thinking, “I promised that post on XX date).”

Even though I hope I’m missed when I don’t’ blog (you do miss me, don’t you), no one is staring at their computer screen waiting for my latest and greatest pearls of wisdom. So realize this, get your work done, then get back to your normal workload as soon as you can.

If you’re going to take an extended absence from blogging / being online, you should let your community know (blog readers, social media followers, newsletter subscribers, etc.)

6. Writing in a Different Voice

When I write and self-publish my non-fiction books, I write in the first person (eg, I, me, my). For my non-fiction romance novellas, I write in third person (she, he, they). They wanted second person (you, your). All I can say is, for me, writing in second person sucked!

And it took me a while to get used to it. I adapted, but it did take me a while and to the very end, I had to be conscious of it. I’m sure a lot of the edits are going to be around this (oops!).

Lesson: Suck it up and give the publisher what they want. Next!

7. Researching

I know a lot about freelancing, especially as it relates to freelance writing. But because the book is for a broader audience, I had to do a lot of research. Turns out, what I know about freelancing can fit on the head of a pin compared to what I don’t know.

I ran across so much great information, the book could have literally been half a million words! So knowing what to cut, cut, cut was major problem. To be honest, I’m astounded that I only exceeded the word count by 5,000. I have a new appreciation for editors – and I know why writers shouldn’t edit their own stuff. It’s hard to cut your own slaved over, hours of research to find that one shocking statistic, writing.

This is making me realize, I’m probably in for some brutal editor cuts.

Do I push back? Hmm …

Lesson: Research will produce much more content that you can ever use. Drill down to what’s most important that fits in with the message you’re trying to convey. It’s the only way you’ll ever find yourself out of the research forest. Otherwise, like a mouse hunting cheese in a maze, you’ll wander around lost for hours, days or weeks if you’re not careful.

8. Learning a Ton!

As I said in the beginning of this post, you learn so much when you write – even on atopic with which you’re intimately familiar.  I’d have to say the biggest areas where my knowledge base was really expanded was in:

(i) Healthcare for freelancers: You’d be amazed at the options available now. And I’m talking beyond Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act). Speaking of which, I now know the inner workings of it better than most Senators I’d bet. I devoured the law, the Supreme Court challenges to it, and why it was such a bloodbath to get passed.

All I can say is, those states that didn’t opt to expand Medicare under Obamacare, shame on you! It left a lot of people uncovered — many of them freelancers, solopreneurs and small business owners.

Freelancing, Healthcare & Obamacare

(ii) Technology: Even though I write and specialize in a new age, new media niche (SEO), I’m in the dinosaur age when it comes to gizmos, gadgets and emerging technologies.

Did you know you can flush your toilet in Sweden if you’re in Russia with your cell phone? Ok, I’m kidding, but really, I was gobsmacked by the amount of crap people can do with their phones!

Productivity tools like Evernote , Unroll.me, Toggl are just a click away, keeping you organized while sitting on top of some Himalayan mountain chanting with a Buddhist priest.

I have a smart phone (ok, not one of those what I consider over-priced Apple jobbies (forgive the pun), but an i-like-smart-phone. However, I don’t do crap on it but text and talk. I can count the number of times I’ve been online on it on one hand, and I’ve had it for over a year. And I only recently started to use WhatsApp. I’m online all day at home when I work, so the last thing I want to be is “plugged in” when I’m out socializing.

Do I Skype? Nope.

Do I video chat? Nope.

Yeah, I’m in the stone ages – me and a Rich Text file is all I need to stay organized. By the time I catch on to all this new technology, freelancers will probably be opening up offices on the moon! While I was impressed by what’s out there, it was all a bit much for me.

It almost seems like you need a productivity app for your productivity apps. Speaking of, here are 6 great productivity apps for freelancers you might want to check out. Love #4; it’s just for writers, and #5 is simply brilliant for getting “unstuck” as a creative.

Lesson: Soak it all in and use it: in new blog posts, to share on social media, as material for new books, and even … possibly start a new site with all that unused research. Hmm….

9. Staying Organized

Keeping all the moving parts of the project going was interesting. It wasn’t hard; it just required some attention to detail. This is where I tend to excel as a freelancer – staying organized, especially when I have a deadline.

Between the editing, writing, researching, inputting edits from my editor, I also had to reach out to other freelancers. The book required success stories from other freelancers, so I reached out to a ton. Half a dozen entries made the cut into the book.

This process surprised me because a few people I reached out to promised submissions, but never delivered. And I’m not talking about those who were professional enough to let me know up front that they “may” send something in if they had time, but made no definite promises.

I’m  talking a few who made solid commitments, saying, in effect, “Yeah, I’m definitely going to send you a submission no later than this Friday” – and poof, never heard from them again.

I even had a phone interview scheduled with one successful freelancer. I called and called and emailed and emailed – and nothing, even two weeks later. To me, this is just very unprofessional. But, c’est la vie no?

Good thing I’d reached out to many. I only needed five success stories, but like I said, six made the cut. I couldn’t for the life of me whittle it down by one more story, so I decided to be a wuss and let them make the call (secretly hoping that they include them all because they all provided such valuable insight).

Lesson: See the deadline beating-tip in #3 above. You gotta stay organized to stay on schedule.

10. Leveraging the Fact that I’m Now Traditionally Published Also

I always have a few ideas for books rolling around in my head. I’ve thought of maybe pitching some other ideas to this publisher (and some others), but I hate the querying and waiting process. I reason that by the time I research publishers, figure out what they want, write a pitch, and figure out who to send it at the company, I could write a book, publish it and already be getting sales from it.

This is the way my brain works as a self-publisher – taking an idea and running with it. The ebook writing and self-publishing tournament I instigated a few years ago proves how well this works too. So I’m not sure how I’m going to proceed yet, but being traditionally published has opened up career paths that I hadn’t thought about before, and that’s kinda cool.

Lesson: Definitely figure out a way to capitalize on such a major career achievement.

11. Finishing

It’s hardest near the summit they say, and I’ll be danged if that didn’t prove true. Even though I finished a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, I had my own self-imposed deadline for a reason.

I’m travelling from Jamaica back to the states next week. I’ll be gone for a couple of months. I hate to have a project on tap when I’m travelling because there are too many unknowns – eg, where to get online, what I’ll be doing, what I’ll want to be doing (instead of working),etc.

So I wanted to at least get all the writing done so I could have a few days to decompress and at least get to my destination and get settled in before I had to turn my attention back to the project again. The week the final chapters were due:

(i) I had a dental emergency which required me to go in twice in one week (cutting into the work-time hours of two days);

(ii) I was in pain and on medication which made me kinda sleepy so concentration was a factor;

(iii) The apartment below me is being renovated, which means there’s a constant banging (literally banging with a hammer – thud, thud, thud – for HOURS on end each day). I usually prefer silence when I write; at the most, a little CNN on in the background.

Writing through this noise – which began before 7 each morning and lasted until at least 6 or 7 in the evenings — was like some form of pre-historic torture. Want to really punish someone? Don’t draw and quarter them; bang a hammer on a floor for hours on end. I was about to lose my mind, and because I was on meds, I couldn’t even have a drink. I had to endure this torture completely SOBER!

Uggghhh … Calgon take me away!

(iv) And after all of this, the editor requested edits back sooner than I’d planned on getting them to her; and

(v) I realized that I have to pay my Jamaican taxes before I leave. This means I have to carve out a day to go to the next town over to file them before I leave because I’ll be gone for a while.

REALLY! WTF!” I thought. This has got to be a joke. I couldn’t have had my dental emergency two weeks ago. The editor – who is a breeze to work with and practically never asks for stuff back — couldn’t have waited three more days for the edits?

Lesson: The best-laid plans folks, the best-laid plans. Something is always going to up-end that nice little apple cart. You can count on it. And this is why it pays to be organized as a writer, whether you self-publish your own books, or write for a traditional publisher.

Really, being a self-publisher with a lot of balls in the air helped me a lot during this process because I’m so used to having to juggle so many things. I’m also used to feeling the pressure of having so much to do. All of this helped me to center myself, focus and get the writing done.

Writing for Trade Publishers: A High-Paying Freelance Writing Niche?

Although this publishing contract fell in my lap, it’s something you can pursue on your own. In fact, many freelance writers specialize in working with trade publishers — selling their book ideas and making a name for themselves in a defined market. There are tons of niches that need qualified writers, eg, education. Why not you?

You get a chunk of money of front, and maybe even some on the back end if that’s the way your contract is structured. This can be a nice supplement to other types of freelance writing you do.

Know going in that it’s a ton — TON — of work, but again, the pay comes in big chunks and is something most freelancers can easily live off of if they land just one gig every month or two. Really! Just something to consider.

Got Questions?

If you have any questions for me about this, I’m all ears. I’ll answer as many as I can. If you’ve been traditionally published and self-publish, what are some of the things you’ve learned? What did you like, not like about the process? Please share in the comments section below.

P.S.: Ready to make money as a self-published author?

ebook-publishing-packIt’s what led to this “traditional” publishing contract for me. I didn’t seek it out. It fell in my lap because I built a rep in a niche as writer. You can do the same.

Get the complete self-publishing packagewhich teaches you everything you need to know about how to write a book and self-publish it — and start building your own publishing empire.

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    Comments

    1. BriceLGoss says:

      Great info. Lucky me I discovered your blog site unintentionally (stumbleupon).
      I’ve bookmarked it for later!