5 things I learned about the publishing process while writing my first book

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I wrote a book.

After a year of hard work, the finish line is finally in sight thanks to tremendous guidance and encouragement from my mentors, loved ones and colleagues.

Publishing a body of work of such magnitude has been a goal of mine since I was a 7-year-old kid sneaking out of our three-story apartment to interview passers-by on Park Avenue for my “diary.” Some days it feels like little has changed; However, with 65,000 words under my belt, I believe I have finally taken an important step towards realizing my childhood dream.

“Small Teaching K-8” is a response to the exodus of American teachers. If all goes as planned, it will be available for purchase by fall 2022. “Small Teaching K-8” describes the practical application of scientific principles to increase learning outcomes while reducing the time spent to plan and note. It is based on an earlier title, “Small Teaching”, written for college professors by James Lang (www.jamesmlang.com) – more on its true brilliance later.

I’m excited to share lessons from “Small Teaching K-8” in the coming months, but first I want to reflect on the process of writing and preparing a manuscript for publication. I struggled to find resources that explained what to expect. One of my most read columns of all time was titled, “5 Tips for Starting Your Own Podcast.” I hope this piece can work the same way, providing transparency of process and peace of mind for budding creators.

1. Connect with writers you admire and offer to do their work for them.

Chances are, your favorite writer probably has an inbox full of requests they couldn’t dream of fulfilling on their own. Offer a helping hand. Send an email detailing your appreciation for their work, then let them know they can pass you one of the opportunities in their “pass” stack. Attach some links to your own writing examples, then wait and see. That’s more or less how I met James Lang. We connected at a Worcester Public Library event, I followed the steps above, and when his publisher asked him to write a book for elementary and middle school teachers, he said think of me. The editor, Wiley-Jossey Bass, trusted me on Lang’s recommendation.

2. Write a proposal.

A proposal begins with your “author biography”. During my first visit, I detailed all my experience in local journalism, which it turned out the editor cared very little about. Lang encouraged me to showcase my content expertise — 13 years as a public school teacher and two master’s degrees in education. Turns out it was far more impressive than my poetic experiment on Worcester’s Best Chicken Wing. An editor sees writing experience as a bonus while content expertise with a willingness to write is a necessity. Next, you will be asked to provide a portrait of your target audience, a description of the book, and a promotion plan. Finally, you will need to perform a competitive research analysis. Ask yourself, “What similar titles have done well over the past year, and what makes my take on the subject different?” Once you understand the competition, you’re ready to write.

3. Build a plan.

My favorite writing guru, Bianca Marais, divides writers into two groups: the pants and the plotters. As a new author, your editor will expect you to be a plotter. In other words, now is not the time to steal by the seat of your pants. I worked closely with Lang to come up with a precise plan for Wiley-Jossey Bass to approve. I used Lang’s original book and the titles identified in my competitive research analysis to design my own plan. I also familiarized myself with Wiley’s best-known brand, the “Dummies” series, which was launched with DOS for Dummies in 1991. Alongside each chapter of the plan, I provided an estimate of how long I thought that it would take me to write.

4. Impose your own deadlines.

Although Lang assured me that the publisher’s deadlines were flexible, I didn’t want to self-sabotage or derail my first chance at publishing a real book. I was told that my distilled “input” energy was becoming an issue, but I don’t know how I would have completed this project on time without putting “Small Teaching K-8” first. Now, as a mother-to-be, I’m relieved that the heavy lifting is done. I am also grateful to my husband who supported me everywhere we went. He drove and I wrote. He did the laundry and I wrote. He made a sand shield for my laptop at the beach and I wrote. I wrote, and I wrote, and he never complained. I have the feeling that I will not be able to prioritize my next book with the same singularity.

5. Show your appreciation for your peer reviewers and development editors.

I am in the final edition of my manuscript. My peer reviewers and development editors provided thoughtful comments and questions to make the book sing. This afternoon I will write them handwritten thank you notes and send my literary baby to be printed and pressed for the fall. This is where I leave you.

Do you have any other questions about navigating the publishing process? Find me on Instagram at @SARAH_CONNELL.


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