30 Weeks to Awesome: The story of writing my first book. Part 1.

Introduction

I usually downplay the fact that I wrote a book. It’s not exactly a best seller, and it is not a long masterpiece that took years of my life to write. Indeed, very few people have read it and probably few ever will. It’s also easy to be on the other side, and to reflect on how easy it really is (these days) to put something out into the world that anyone can purchase.

However, by some accounts, about 80% of people say they want to write a book someday. Far fewer ever do.

Thus, I thought I would share my simple story of developing 30 Weeks to Awesome in case it inspires you to turn your idea into action. I do not go into depth on the how-to side of things, but feel free to reach out if you have questions.

I don’t remember the moment that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I don’t even know what it means to say “I want to be a writer”. We are all writers. Some may be limited to texts and simple emails, but almost anyone in an office setting spends a significant portion of each day communicating in writing via emails.

Some people write books for a living. Some write books as a side gig or hobby. Others write a book or a few books about their profession and in support of their profession. You can write as an art, you can write to share a story, you can write to persuade, you can write to educate. There are numerous ways and reasons to create a book to offer to others.

My attorney mentor wrote Wear Clean Underwear, a book about estate planning. It is a book written to support her practice. It is valuable for many people, but it was written to support her business, not because she wants to make a living as a writer. Some writers in this category see a book almost like a business card. Many nonfiction books fall into this category, though there are certainly near full-time nonfiction writers. (Malcom Gladwell comes to mind). And there are fiction writers who write and publish as a side gig alongside another job. They may hope to become more full-time writers someday, or they may simply want to keep it as a hobby.

Attorneys, and I am one, often are writers. It is essential for most areas of legal practice, though there are differences in the type of writing based on the type of practice one has. Writing a brief about a constitutional law topic probably allows for more creativity than drafting a contract, which requires specificity but is also usually based on a template used before. Attorneys do not usually call themselves writers, nor do other professions who spend most of their days writing. It is different than setting out to publish articles or write a book.

The context within which 30 Weeks to Awesome came to be

I am a writer as an attorney, but I would like to do more. There is something about the research and creative process that very much appeals to me. I also have an idea currently that will take many years to execute, but it is exciting and I think I am a good voice for the topic. In the meantime I may work on smaller books, as 30 Weeks to Awesome was. This book is allowing me to experience the [self]publishing process.

Here is how this first book came to be. You will see how unremarkable the story is. If I can do it, you can too!

When the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the company that trained me as a health coach, offered a course to help students publish their own books, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew nothing about the practicalities of publishing.

The course is only six months, and most authors spend years producing a single book. [For an excellent view into one author’s creation process, check out this interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, during which she shares the 3-4 year process simply to do the research before writing City of Girls.] Thus, for this course, you must either work with something already largely written, or choose a very small project. I’m sure there are some that create something extensive and amazing AND get it published within a 6-month time frame, but those are going to be few and far between.

Initially I planned to write a book with twelve chapters, offering a focus each month for a whole year.

As a health coach, I initially wanted to focus on working with attorneys. No good reason really except that the profession is known for being pretty unhealthy and busy. I thought as an attorney I would somehow have a leg up in communicating with this population. (It hasn’t really worked out that way, but when I started writing this book I had attorneys in mind).

In law school we learn to write with a format, using the acronym IRAC: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. I love using this system because it is clear, and provides a good base template for legal issue analysis. It also creates a structure that can be useful for many topics. Thus, each chapter of my intended book was going to be structured in the IRAC format. It would be an inside joke for any attorneys and provided structure that would make it both easier to write and easier to follow as a reader. I had already written a chapter in this format on exercise that I offer for free to those who sign up for my newsletter (see it here).

Initially I thought that this would be a narrow enough topic to complete in my short time frame.

I was wrong. As I began researching my 11 remaining topics, it was clear that I would not be able to produce the well-researched quality that I wanted in my short publishing time frame through the course. Certainly, I could continue on the book and learn through the course without actually publishing (as most students do), but I wanted to get through the actual experience of putting a book out in the world. My goal through this project was to have the experience publishing something; so that I could learn from start to finish, more so than it was to get this particular book I was working on out into the world.

So, what to do?

I had to go simple. Even simpler. Way simpler. At this point I had only a couple of months before my publishing date.

I should mention at this point that I had extra motivation which provided a tremendous boost on this journey. There was a competition associated with the course. If we published by a certain date, we could submit our book to the course leaders. The top 10 authors would get their tuition costs refunded! Honestly, without this deadline, it would have been very easy to get lost in analysis paralysis, trying to make it perfect and never getting it finished.

But back to my decision making.

Previously, I had created a 30-day healthy foundations program. I had it automated so that when someone signed up, they would get an email each day with a small amount of factual information and an action item for the day. I was really proud of it, but the only people who had done it were friends that I asked to try it out. In other words, I hadn’t yet successfully marketed it. My program that I was so proud of sat out in the internet collecting dust. I decided to pull it as a 30-day program, and to use that content to create my book. But 30 days was really too ambitious, so I went with 30 weeks. [Now you know my secret].

Some nuts and bolts

Because I had already created most of the content, it didn’t take me too long when I decided to re-purpose it. I did re-write some sections, but the bulk of the work was done.

I figured out how to format it for Amazon’s self-publishing branch [Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP]. This was a brutally long process, but just a matter of time and frustration. Then, I had to decide how much money to invest. It wasn’t an easy decision. I wanted a real go at a book, but I was newly self-employed and not coming close to earning living expenses. I am not well-known, and there was no evidence that I would be able to recoup the money I spent on the book in sales. I could do everything myself, with resources provided in the course. This includes formatting, designing a cover, editing, and marketing. Or I could look for help for all of these things. When you look for help, the amount you can pay varies dramatically, and the results may as well.

I ended up discovering on Facebook that a friend from high school was now an editor! I reached out to her, and she was willing to do the work (for pay, but incredibly reasonable). That was an easy decision!

For cover design, I considered hiring someone in another country to create a design using Upwork or Fivrr (there are people doing decent work who are really cheap by U.S. dollar standards). I even put one request out to Upwork to see what would happen. In the meantime, I shared my struggle on Instagram. An IIN grad (another health coach from my same school) reached out and offered to help because she designs book covers.

After speaking with her, I ended up hiring her, though this investment was much greater than someone on Upwork. It was an incredible investment for me, and yet she charged me much less than her usual rates. (Again, it is fascinating to consider the variation in costs). I love the product and I am happy that I worked with her! I think she probably took more time than someone else would to understand what I liked in covers and what I wanted in this one. She started with three versions, and then we tweaked my favorite. She was also familiar with KDP and helped me get my book finalized for publication.

I should mention that there are other ways to self-publish. I decided this made the most sense for me, and it appeared it would be the easiest.

What happened when it was ready? Did I win the competition? What have I learned about marketing? Stay tuned for Part 2…

In the meantime, you can purchase the book directly from me here, AND I will donate all proceeds to the 2020 Community Assistance Fund – COVID-19 for Southeast Alaska, or you can purchase it (Ebook or paperback) here

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