“7 Things I’ve Learned So Far” (this installment written by Margaret Greenberg, co-author of PROFIT FROM THE POSITIVE) is a recurring column where writers at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction, as well as how they got their literary agent—by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
1. You Don't Have to Go It Alone
You’ve probably heard nightmares about collaborating with other authors. What you may not know is that collaborating on a book can be an enriching experience like it was for my co-author, Senia Maymin, and me. Why? Because we have complementary strengths. She was good at doing the research; I was good at translating it. She was good at looking at the book structure holistically; I was good at breaking the structure into smaller chunks. Her best writing time was in the evenings; mine was in the morning. We both agreed to a weekly afternoon conference call (we are in two different time zones) to check-in on progress and scope out our work for the next week. Before you ask just anyone to collaborate with you, be sure to talk about how you will work together. I also recommend that you each complete a strengths assessment, such as StrengthsFinder, so you have a language to talk about your similarities and differences. The added bonus of having a co-author? Whenever doubt crept in for one of us, the other would play coach to get her co-author back on track. Grit, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness—whatever you want to call it—is needed to see a challenging project through to completion, but moral support is the balloon that lifts your spirits along the way.
Margaret H. Greenberg is a certified executive coach and the co-author of the best seller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013) which has been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Last year her book was developed into a Certificate Program, which is rated among the top 11 positive psychology courses you can take online. She delivers keynotes and workshops at Google and other companies, associations, and universities around the world. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Hartford, and a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania She also co-authors the Positive Work column for Live Happy Magazine, and is a regular contributor on LinkedIn. Follow her on Twitter @ProfitBook.
2. Just Write
Although I had published a dozen or so articles, I knew nothing about writing a book. Some people would buy a book about writing a book (do you know there are over 900 of them on Amazon?) before embarking on such an endeavor. Instead, I took the sage advice of my dear friend and author, Gina Greenlee, who said, “Just start writing and keep writing until you find your voice.”
Senia and I wrote. And wrote. And then wrote some more. Then we had an opportunity to show a sample chapter to someone in the publishing industry who told us, “thanks, but no thanks,” informing us that the material had already been covered in other positive psychology books. Rather than ruminating over the rejection (OK, we did for a little bit), we realized that he was right—the positive psychology slant had been covered before. But we were not aiming to write a positive psychology book. We were aiming to write a business leadership book. That was a nice AHA moment and gave us the psychological kick in the pants we needed to keep writing.
3. Same Time, Same Place
According to Columbia researcher Dr. Peter Gollwitzer, you are nearly twice as likely to accomplish your work if you decide in advance when and where you will do it. I am a big believer and practitioner of creating writing habits. Start by setting aside just 15 minutes, once a week, but try to choose the same day of the week, the same time, and the same place. Over time you will get so into your writing that minutes will turn into hours. Find out more about Gollwitzer's study and my writing habits in Chapter 1: The Productive Leader in Profit from the Positive.
4. Create a Writing Ritual
As excited as you might be about writing your book, sometimes you just don't feel like writing. There is always something you could do instead such as throw in a load of laundry, call a friend, or read a GLA blog post. Instead of succumbing to other temptations or distractions, create a writing ritual. For me it is putting on my writing clothes—comfy cotton pants and a comfy t-shirt. No shoes. In her bestselling book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits to Our Everyday Lives, habits guru Gretchen Rubin writes about how we sabotage ourselves with tomorrow logic—"I'll start _____ tomorrow." You can insert just about anything you want to start, including writing a book. Quit sabotaging yourself and start working on your book today.
5. Write With Your Specific Audience In Mind
After many months of writing we sent a couple of chapters out to a handful of readers—not positive psychology academics, but our target audience: business leaders at companies large and small. Feedback started trickling in—some good, some not so good. Then it occurred to us that we had had it all backwards. We had started with the positive psychology research and looked at where it applies to the business world. Wrong! We needed to start with the challenges business leaders face and then offer positive psychology as one of the solutions.
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6. Know When Almost Good Enough is Good Enough
For four years we kept writing and getting more reader feedback. In the meantime, life happened. My eldest daughter graduated from college, my youngest from high school, and my consulting and coaching practice was at full tilt. My co-author had her life changes, too, including having her first baby and completing her Ph.D at Stanford. Finding time to work on our book became more and more of a challenge. As we wrote there was always more research or another angle we uncovered. We came to a point when we realized we could continue adding more content or we could try to get the book published as is. After much discussion we decided to do just that and save the additional content for our next book.
7. Embrace Rejections; They are Part of the Process
We finally submitted our book proposal, chapter summaries, and sample chapter to our agent, Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, just after Labor Day—no irony there. We heard back from a handful of publishers within a week. The bad news? They were all rejections.
I’ll never forget where I was when we started getting email pings from our agent. I was in the car with my husband and sister-in-law touring Virginia wine country. “We have an interested publisher!” read the first email. Then four more well known publishers expressed interest. What we didn’t know about the publishing business is that once one publisher expresses interest, many of the others who had originally expressed a “thanks but no thanks”, suddenly want to take another look. Finally, one publisher put an offer on the table. That was our agent's cue to inform the others. Did they want to make an offer, too? The next six days were like a ping pong match, back and forth between the publishers and our agent. We decided to go with McGraw-Hill and we are so happy we did. Despite all the deadlines, proof pages, and the myriad of administrivia it takes to publish a book, our brilliant agent and dedicated team of professionals at McGraw-Hill continue to be a joy to work with.
Bonus! 8. Embrace Ignorance and Confidence
After submitting the full manuscript to our publisher (there is nothing quite so invigorating as hitting the “Send” button), we spent the next six months combing over page proofs, learning about the publishing business and marketing, and securing endorsements. As Mark Twain once wrote: “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” We didn’t know what we didn’t know about the publishing world, but what we did know is that we had thirty-one evidenced-based tools that we felt compelled to share with the business world; and that my friend has made all the difference in the world.
(*Portions of this article were first published on LinkedIn.)
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.