10 Easy Steps to Getting Your Book Published*

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*If your name is Madeleine Somerville, and you have spent five seven a million years in relative obscurity writing inane blog posts about things like hyena bets and the perfect fuchsia lipstick, that is.

1. Write. Everyone says this but it’s totally true. If you want to be a writer, write. For me this meant sharing intimate details about my life and the lives of my loved ones for the amusement of strangers on the internet. So, I mean, it’s not Hemingway but I think it’s a pretty sweet gig.The bonus of writing, and the extra bonus of writing in a forum where you open yourself up to feedback – constructive and otherwise, anonymous and not – is that you get a chance to hone your voice and see which parts of your writing resonate with people.

I can not give enough thanks to the dozens of people over the years who have taken the time to comment, “like”, email me, or convey in any way shape or form that my writing has affected them (whether it’s made them laugh or fill with rage, both are exciting!). I don’t care what any writer says about the craft or the artistry or the process: writers write to be read. The fact that you were reading is what kept me writing – even when there were like five of you

 

2. Be passionate. In the beginning I wrote just for the sake of it. I wrote because it felt good, and I because I often couldn’t (and still can’t) make sense of my thoughts until they were written down. But when I realized people were reading, I began to write about things I felt passionately about and wanted to share with others. My husband, my dog, my reactions to pop culture events – all of the little parts of my life I loved and hated.

As I became more and more interested in eco-friendly living my blog reflected that  – lately it has mirrored my fascination with the experience of motherhood.

Writing gave me a platform to share my passions, and for a while there I was that person who was like, “Hey! Hey! Did you know? That you can shampoo your hair with baking soda? And condition it with apple cider vinegar? And there’s no toxic chemicals? And not only is it good for the environment but it’s good for your hair, too?” and this was so exciting to me, and I was so passionate about it that I wanted to share it with everyone, all the time. So I did.

 

3. Share. Initially I shared my ideas for a simple eco-friendly life in a little pamphlet I sold alongside my crocheted creations at farmer’s markets. Then I began searching for a bigger audience to bore share my awesome exciting discoveries with (Guys? Did you know? That you can make your own laundry detergent? And there’s no sulfates? Or plastic containers? Or skin irritants? And it’s super inexpensive and easy to make?).

I posted a few recipes and ideas to my blog and a staff member from the then-fledgling website SkinnyScoop.com somehow saw one and invited me to create a list on their website as a better way to organize this content.

I did, and unbeknownst to me the list was featured on Yahoo! Shine.

This is where the magic happened. Which brings me to step 4

 

4. Get lucky. There are thousands of writers out there. Millions maybe. Most want to be published. As long as I’ve written, I have wanted to see my name on the spine of a book, but the fact that it is actually happening is honestly pure, unadulterated luck. I felt guilty about it for a long time, because I felt as though I hadn’t really done anything to get published. It felt like cheating a little (I needn’t have worried. The real work was still to come! Ooooh, foreshadowing!).

What happened was that my editor saw the list I posted, and emailed SkinnyScoop to get my contact information.

On April 27, 2012 I got an email asking me if I wanted to turn that list into a book.

At this point, you understand, it is customary to burst into the bathroom where your perennially-disheveled husband is having a shath (shower-bath. What, you don’t do that? Weird.) and screech at him excitedly in a pitch only Gus can hear, until he successfully calms you down enough to explain yourself. Then you should pee your pants with excitement, panic, pass out, regain consciousnes, compose a reply and wait.

And change your pants, obviously.

 

5. Write a proposal. Because I was contacted by my publisher, and not the other way around, I think my book proposal was less extensive than it may have been were I just pitching it blind. Basically I assembled a table of contents, a few sample chapters, and an outline of what the book would be about and who it would appeal to.

This felt like a very funny, strange thing to do. I kept procrastinating and putting it off and eventually Adam asked me what the hell was going on and I said, probably tearfully, “How the hell am I supposed to write a book? I don’t know how to write a book! And what if they say yes?” 

It felt pretend.

Whenever I sat down to work on it, a small voice in my head would scream excitedly, “Oh my godddd, we’re writing a booook! It’s happening! It’s really happening!” and then it would immediately get squashed by dozens of other voices who said terrible things like “Who the hell do you think you are?” , “What are you going to say that hasn’t been said a million times before?” and “Why are you still in your pajamas? It’s three pm!”

But I shut those damn voices up through a brilliant combination of denial, blind faith and too much coffee. Thus, step 6.

 

6. Silence self-doubt. Self-doubt is a bitch, guys. Impostor syndrome is even worse, because even when you DO succeed you are still convinced that the only thing you’re actually succeeding at is faking it, and everyone is going to find you out soon enough.

You just have to ignore that noise. Silence the self-doubt. Ignore the negativity – especially the most insidious form, which for some sad reason always seems to come from inside your own head.

For this step it really helps to have a lovely man who truly believes in you to say something surprisingly astute like, “You will find new things to say because you have really interesting ideas. But even if you didn’t, it’s not the content that’s important as much as it’s your voice. That’s what attracted your editor to you in the first place, and there’s no point having a book filled with great information if it’s so boring that no one wants to read it.”

Adam, sometimes you really are sublime. (Other times you are enraging, like when I am re-packing our stuff and I discover that you have packed, moved 1000 kilometres, stored for a year and now expect me to re-pack an entire box full of old washing machine hoses. But other OTHER times, like that first time I was talking about a moment ago, you are sublime. So let’s focus on that [instead of, say, the fact that I may have thrown out your box of washing machine hoses])

 

7. Have your proposal accepted. OH. MY. GOD! Seriously?Wet your pants again. Screech again. Hug Adam. Hug Gus. Wipe off Gus slobber. Call your mom. Wish you could get loser-drunk to celebrate, but unfortunately you are 4 months pregnant so be a lady and pop open a bottle of sparkling apple juice instead.

 

8. Write the book. The fact that this is only one step is ridiculous. This is the hardest part! For most writers this part probably comes at the beginning, they will write the book and then shop it around, but for me it happened in reverse so I signed my contract, and then stared at a blinking cursor for eight months while sporadically mashing my face into the keyboard and hoping something eloquent and funny came out. (It did!)This part involved lots of coffee, and lots of people watching Olive and lots more self doubt. But mostly just writing. Lots of writing.

 

9. Edit the book. This was the part I feared the most. I feared them shipping me a manuscript covered in red pen, and I feared being told I wasn’t good enough and having to go back and start from square one. Instead I received several suggestions for reorganizing the content, a request for additional chapters, and in the later stages, corrections to my grammar/consistency/Canadian spellings (See you later, vestigial u’s!)

 

10. Promote the book. This brings us up to date, and this is where I am now. I have to confess that I find this part particularly awkward because as you may have noticed above, I am squarely in the “Doubt my own abilities while quietly slinking further and further into my seat” camp, rather than the “Look at me! Look at me! Look at how awesome I am tooting my own horn!” camp.

But promoting a book is kind of like writing a resume, you need to suck it up and sell yourself a little bit because you know that the end result will be worth it.

For me the motivation isn’t financial -I don’t think many people make money off writing books these days- it’s simply being read.

That’s the payoff of this whole thing, and it goes all the way back to #2. I am so passionate about this book, and the content contained inside. I am excited to empower people to give a giant eff-you to huge greenwashing corporations and make their own cleaning products instead of buying them. I am excited to hear about other people discovering things that have become commonplace to me, like bringing my own containers to pick up takeout food, or trying to cut plastic out of my life entirely.

Most of all, I am really happy that I was able to successfully present this information in a way that is enjoyable to read.

This book isn’t a reference manual, it’s a story. A humorous tale of a slightly neurotic Canadian lady with a husband and a baby, a dog and a job.

Being green isn’t a full time job, nor should it be, and I don’t want to devote all of my time to this cause, I just want to take simple steps to turn our consumer-culture on its head, while simultaneously making stock in baking soda shares skyrocket (seriously, invest now).

That’s what I discovered in this whole process, through the passion and the luck, the writing and the self-doubt: my voice is worth something.

I really felt like we needed someone to say that being green means more than buying a bunch of stuff labelled “natural”. We needed someone to ask why we’ve forgotten that the first rule of environmentalism is to reduce. And most of all, we needed someone to call bullshit on the whole one-upping, guilt-fest, shame-show that green living has become.

And guys, I think I have actually managed to do all of this while simultaneously amusing you with stories about my beautiful, deranged husband Adam, sharing recipes I’ve been using for years for everything from body scrubs to a magic cold-busting tea, and also ensuring you won’t become an obnoxious, preachy enviro-nag in the process.

I think that’s worth promoting.

I am so, so proud of this book and  I am trying to force myself to get over the awkwardness of saying that. I am trying to speak up about how pleased I am to have authored it, and how truly good I think it is.

*****

So there’s a quick and dirty quide to getting published if your name is Madeleine Somerville!
I am so aware of how incredibly fortunate I am to have had this opportunity, and I’m truly grateful.  All You Need Is Less is the result of two years, seventy-thousand some odd words, dozens of phone calls and emails, and many tears shed from joy and frustration both. 

Sweet Madeleine started with a tagline that read “…givin’ it away for free” and although I’m not giving this book away for free (except for the next four weeks when I will be!) I still wrote it for the exquisite pleasure of being read.

I hope you will!

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Procrastination

A while ago (I’m sorry I am too lazy to find the link) I posted an article about “How to write with a small child” and it was all about using slings and locking the door and hoping like hell that your rare bursts of creative genius sync with your child’s nap schedule. At the time I read it, and nodded and laughed. But now I realize that this is not what writing with a child looks like for me.

Today, writing with a baby looks like this: My deadline looms ever closer and I am feeling that familiar pit of anxiety in my gut. I now have fewer words ahead of me than I do behind me, which is promising, but the amount I have left to do is still daunting. I have confided to Adam, in that dim space between waking and sleeping, how nervous I am. How big this seems, and how insurmountable.

Today he takes Olive out of the house for a few hours so I can write. But I do not write. Instead I read Facebook. I look for Easter dresses for her. I pay our phone bills. I get up and sit down a million times. I wander and pace. I make myself a snack of cheese and crackers. I open my word document a dozen times, pecking out of a few sentences before stopping. Standing. Sitting.

I know that it needs to get done. I know that neither my deadline nor my final word count will change, and that since it will get done eventually I might as well do it now, while I have time, rather than leaving it to a panicked marathon effort in the final weeks. I know this. But I still sit here, staring at this screen and trying to breathe through this anxiety.

I tend to get mired in the details. Head down, I can’t see the forest for the trees, the book for the words. And I am conscious of this and so I try and remind myself daily how cool this is. How lucky I am to be here, with a deadline, with someone who believed in my writing enough to pay me for it, and to publish it. I try and remind myself that this is just a first draft and there will be room for editing and polishing and changing things around. I remind myself of all the times people have told me that I am a good writer, and I take those compliments and dredge them up and hoard them close to my chest to stop the panic.

And then I stand again, make myself a cup of tea. I eat cookies. I pace. I sit down and write this blog post. And just as I finish, Adam and Olive come through the door and their cheeks are red from the cold and she is smiling and he is too and he asks, “How did your writing go?”

I smile too. ”Good”, I lie.

Things I Am Thinking of Writing About

….as I sit here with a coffee and tap my fingers against the keyboard and strum my fingers against this desk, trying to summon inspiration:

1. How I ate half a wheel of Goat Cheese Brie last night and then finished the rest of it this morning and don’t even have the decency to feel guilty because hey! my naturopath said I should be eating more cheese and more fat so, you know, just doin’ what I’m told.

2. That time when we came home and as we rounded the curve in our street we saw Gus’ head pop up in our bedroom window. The window that is directly above our bed. Meaning he had snuck onto our bed, a place he is expressly forbidden from sleeping and really if you want to get into it he’s not even allowed to enter our bedroom at all.

And we stopped the car and for a few moments we all stared at each other, Gus looking at us, us looking at Gus, until he must have realized that he was well and truly busted and his head disappeared from the window. When we finally stopped laughing and went inside he was lying on his bed in the living room, all nonchalant, like, “Oh hey guys, you’re home? Yeah cool, I was just napping here on my comfy dog bed. OH! By the way I think I saw someone in your bedroom you might want to check that out.”

3. How if I changed really quickly I could still make it to the noon Core Yoga class but I really shouldn’t because I know that I only want to go so I can put another gold star beside my name and then I mean, I have two in a row so LET’S WIN THIS THING!

4. Kindness in marriage. Or more specifically, the role of marriage, or the role of a wife in marriage, or MY role as a wife in MY marriage. Are people sick of hearing about my marriage?

5. Funny stories from work. I have so many stories guys, SO many. But I am bound by confidentiality and even though I am technically allowed to share stories if I change the identifying details, we live in such a small town, that changing gender pronouns and/or ages will mean nothing when everyone will just know who I mean anyway.

6. How my living simply thing might have gotten out of hand because yesterday Adam had to convince me not to try and sell our toaster. OUR TOASTER. (It’s a pretty awesome piece of machinery though I must say, because it can be a toaster OR a toaster oven! Okay fifty bucks takes it.)

7. How we watched The Rum Diaries last night and the whole time I just kept thinking that I would literally give up the use of one of my limbs if only I could use words like Hunter S. Thompson.

8. How my mind is so blank I can’t even make it to ten on this list.

Whatever It Takes

       

                                                        Unblocked by Citrus Tree Designs

“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

I have discovered that I need coffee to write.

This is common among writers, we all have crutches, muses found at the bottom of amber bottles, pills swallowed or powders snorted (rarely is the crutch as innocuous as a cup of coffee, but I’ve always erred on the side of the grandma. Remember my last police encounter?).

Fun Fact: coffee acts like a diuretic ( it makes you pee, alcohol has the same effect) and it wastes electrolytes – particularly magnesium. This is why you get hangovers with the headaches and the pain and the lethargy.

Guys, THAT IS MY LIFE . ERRRYDAY. My life is one big hangover without the funny stories from the night before. (Don’t cry for me Argentina)

But I don’t need coffee to waste electrolytes, I already waste magnesium all by myself without any assistance of caffeine or alcohol.  I’m chronically deficient, my memory is non existent, my hands cramp, my body betrays me (cue violin).

But when I sit down to write with a cup of hot water, or even tea, my words stutter. My brain stalls, I sit here tapping my fingers, lazily trolling through the news, trying to find something to write about. I start to write ten, fifteen times, erase the words over and over. I can’t follow a thought to see where it ends up, I can’t find the right cadence.

After a coffee, however, my mind races, I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the the thoughts hurtling past (which is why my posts so often miss entire words, they just get skipped over as I struggle to keep up) . I blast out a post in half an hour, it’s thick and involved and sometimes funny. It just comes.

But as innocuous as coffee seems, it’s not harmless for me. This is what I’ve had to get used to with the kidney disease; that normal things like one drink with friends, or a bag of black licorice, or even sweating in summer heat, don’t do normal things to me. (The upside? Unlimited salt. Also unlimited complaining. SCORE!)

During the summer when I was on my iced coffee kick, my writing got better and better but physically I began to feel worse and worse. My heart would race for hours after I finished a cup. When my blood tests kept showing decreasing electrolyte levels and I needed to start taking more medication to keep up, it seemed ridiculous.

I gave up coffee, my writing slowed. I began to post more pictures. My words became more forced, my days slower. It was sad to be able to stand back and observe it, notice that loss.

Through this process I have learned something very interesting about myself, I’ve learned just how much I will sacrifice to see the right combination of words on a page, to feel the hit of churning out a single perfect sentence, that rush of accomplishment.

It’s very surprising to me what I will give up in order to feel this kick. It’s surprising to me that I would knowingly compromise my health to get this result.

I’m drinking coffee again SWEET LAWD! It’s so good. But I feel so shitty.

I just finished Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. As I said yesterday, holy fuck what a writer. He’s savage and unrepentant and tears into his characters with his teeth. It’s inconceivable that we are writing in the same language, I feel incompetent trying to describe him; like an inept juggler, constantly dropping the ball while gazing skyward at a master who tosses language around so effortlessly, twists and molds it to his own devices while I sit here stilted and stunted, issuing feeble orders.

In Diary his main character ends up imprisoned in an attic, force fed mercury to inspire madness, insanity and the dearth of artistic talent that results.

Poor Misty Marie, blindfolded and hobbled, slave to the insatiable need to create, chemical muse poisoning her from within.

In seemed like insanity while I was reading it. I’ve always had trouble understanding addiction, why people would give up so much in pursuit of a sensation, the ghost of feeling.

But hey, here I am, a watered down version of sweet dumb Misty Marie, sitting in my own little room, drinking my sweet mercury and waiting for that kick, that rush of inspiration. Sacrificing for my own crutch, my chemical muse, suffering the consequences.

It’s surprising to me. I would have never predicted how much I would give up, how willing I was to feel listless and debilitated the rest of the day just to feel this, here, now. Fingers racing and tapping out these thoughts, and without any promise of reward, recognition. Just sending these words into the wilderness, givin’ it away for free, day after day.

And how many others like me? Ignoring sunny days, life outside, choosing instead to bow down daily before this unforgiving altar, striving for greatness, pouring their selves into these small tight words, trying to stretch them to fit around the grandness of the vision, to somehow ask them to hold in their meaning the expansiveness of this life.

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
Chuck Palahniuk, Diary