In exactly one week, the DIY MFA book will arrive at the publisher’s warehouse and I will officially be a book author. Cue tween girl squeals in 3… 2… 1…
While my publishing experience has been very easy-going and straight-forward, it hasn’t always been unicorns and pixie dust. I’ve certainly had “teachable moments” when I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and–most important–myself. Here are the top five lessons I learned from writing and publishing the DIY MFA book.
1) However long you think the writing will take, double it
I had a very generous deadline for writing the manuscript for this book. The contract was signed, sealed, and delivered in December 2014, and I had until August 2015 to send in the first half of the manuscript. I tend to be a very fast writer and can usually bang out around 1,000 words in an hour.
What I didn’t account for, though, was all of the “marinating” that had to happen during the process of writing the manuscript. As I wrote later chapters, I discovered new ideas that impacted the early chapters and required rejigging that material. So while my pace was still in the 1k/hr ballpark, the additional refinement that had to happen afterwards took about as long as drafting the manuscript in the first place.
I’m one of those paranoid writers who pads her schedule and assumes the worst-case-scenarios, so I had the wiggle room to take that extra time that I ended up needing. This is good because it turns out I had a LOT of refining to do with the manuscript. (See point 2.)
2) Editing with a scalpel is harder than cutting with a machete
When I signed the contract for this book, the agreed-upon word count was 60,000 words. When I finished the rough manuscript, however, it clocked in at more than 130,000 words. (I subsequently nick-named this book “The Beast.”) After talking things over with my editor, we agreed that I could extend the word count to 100,000 words, but that was as high as I could go. This meant cutting over 30,000 words out of the manuscript.
Worse yet, it wasn’t as though I could cut an entire chapter or section out of the book. I had to keep all the pieces in there, only tighten the language to fit within that word count. This meant that instead of hacking a huge chunk out of my book with a machete, I had to go into it at the sentence level, paring it down word for word.
The bad news, of course, is that cutting with a scalpel is much harder than chopping with a machete. The good news is I managed to do it (and make the deadlines) and I think I’ve become a stronger writer because of it.
3) Freaking out is part of my creative process
While I managed to keep my stress levels in check during most of the writing and editing process, there were a few less-than-glamorous moments and creative melt-downs. As lawyer-hubby oh-so-lovingly put it: “Aw, honey. It’s okay. Freaking out is just part of your creative process.”
If it weren’t so true, I might actually find this fact hilarious.
Honestly, though, I wish my writing process was more normal. I wish I didn’t have to freak out on occasion in order to make the necessary breakthroughs I need to finish a project. I’ve had to accept that I’m not like Stephen King, who cranks out 2,000 come hell or high water. Rather, my process is feast or famine: some days I hammer out 8,000 words, other days I barely squeak by with a few hundred or none at all.
But in the end, my process is what it is. And fighting against it only expends creative energy, energy that I could put to much better use by writing.
4) Working with a publisher is a partnership that only elevates your book
I’ll be honest, I’ve heard countless authors gushing about how amazing their publisher is and I’ve heard just as many horror stories. In my experience, though, I found that the more I brought to the table as the author, the more my publisher would do on my behalf.
Take, for example, the design of the printed book. Writer’s Digest definitely brought their A-game in the cover design and representing the DIY MFA branding. The two-color printing for the book’s interior made the graphic designer in me swoon with joy. And when you page through it, you’ll notice details like how the pen icon points at the page numbers and how the sidebars in the book emulate the sidebar on the website. Writer’s Digest took the DIY MFA brand and translated it impeccably from web to book.
But even before the book reached the design stage, editor Rachel Randall helped me take the monstrosity that was my manuscript and shape it into a finished book where not a single word is wasted. I don’t think I have ever produced anything this tight, this clean, or this polished, and it was thanks to an editor who has an even better eye for detail than I do.
5) Every author needs a Street Team
Perhaps the smartest decision I made in this whole process was assembling a team of readers and reviewers to help me get the word out about this book. Members of this Street Team are in the process of reading and reviewing the book, but many have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Some Street Team members have diligently blogging about the book every single week (or close to it) since the team assembled at the beginning of April. That’s almost ten weeks of continuous blog buzz around this book and it’s only picking up.
At the center of all this has been a mindset shift for me. I no longer think of the book as my book, but as “our book.” Yes, my name might be on the cover, but I have team of close to one hundred people helping me get the word out about this book. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to these fearless teammates and how much of an honor it is to lead this group of intrepid writers.
Once the book comes out and the Writer’s Digest Conference book-event has come and gone, I will share more insider details about what the Street Team experience really looked like from the inside. Until then, all I can say is that every author needs to assemble a team of allies, to lend support and keep you focused as you near the finish line. It’s easy to lose focus and let impostor syndrome creep in, but whenever I check in at my Street Team Facebook group, I am reminded of why I created DIY MFA in the first place.