How does it feel to write a book?
What is the process from beginning to end (at least for me)?
How do you actually write a book and get it published?
I just received the first copy of my book “You’re Not Broke, You’Re Pre-Rich”, and it feels very strange. Good, but strange. This thing I have been working on for months (maybe years without knowing it) will soon be out in the open and EVERYONE will be able to read it.
Writing a book is a journey and it takes a lot of energy and involves a lot of people. I am a first-time author and the publishing process was a mystery for me. Yes, of course I googled “How to write a book” but there weren’t many effective answers in “How to Write a Book: A Proven 20-Step Guide from a 21-Time Bestseller” or “How to Write a Book: 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps”.
What have I been doing for the past few months on my own at home in front of my computer?
I wanted to shed some light on the process, the emotions and the objectives behind my first book. I hope you enjoy this, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!
⚡ You can pre-order on Amazon.
1. How did I find my publisher?
It all started with an email from freelance journalist Tabi Jackson Gee to my now-editor Romilly Morgan in May 2018. I had initially been in touch with Tabi a few times, cold emailing her and pitching her Vestpod since November 2017!
Romilly is a Senior Commissioning Editor — essentially a buyer for authors who will advise the publishing house on which books to publish — at Octopus Publishing Group, part of Hachette UK. She specializes in non-fiction / narrative non-fiction and had at the time already published amazing books: Today by Radio 4, Edward Stourton & Sarah Sands, the Forgotten Women series by Zing Tsjeng and Primate Change: How the World We Made is Remaking Us by Vybarr Cregan-Reid.
In her email Romilly said she has been on the hunt for a serious money book aimed at women for quite some time and would absolutely love to talk further about Vestpod and my idea. Haaaa how exciting!
2. What happens when you meet a publisher?
I met Romilly at Hachette UK offices in London, near Blackfriars. This is what the entrance of the building looks like: boooooooooks. Rooms are also filled with books and corridors with bookshelves. If you’re a book lover, you need to visit publishing houses.
Romilly explained what she did at Octopus and I talked about my mission with Vestpod. The aim of this meeting was to get to know each other and make sure we had similar goals in mind. We both saw a great need for financial education and with Vestpod already having a community I wanted to get the message out to more people and have an even broader impact. Romilly was amazing, extremely passionate and enthusiastic. And she gets it: we need to empower ourselves financially!! Whether you earn a lot of money or have no money, it does not matter — it’s a massive challenge, especially for women at the moment.
A book is a very powerful tool. I met people in London saying that books are the “new business cards”… I don’t know if people actually do read books (I definitely buy more than I read) but having a book has helped me structure the education programs at Vestpod, and it’s a great “product” to sell to improve my profile and help grow my audience.
Next, she asked me to send her a NTP (new title proposal) — basically a pitch for the book that she would then present internally to get sales figures from which she could cost and commission the book.
Why did I decide to go with a traditional publisher vs. self-publish this book? It’s a conversation that I had and was also tempted to self-publish my book. But traditional publishers offer you a few things: a strong brand (would you rather buy a book from Hachette or Emilie Publishing?!), publishing knowledge (you could also get this by crowd-funding with Unbound for example), marketing and distribution (editing, layout: design the pages and cover, print the book, sell the books to trade (book shops), PR, etc.). With self-publishing, you own the content and can do whatever you want in terms of pricing, marketing, design, content, etc., but for me it was also great to work with a team, and I really value the support of all the girls working at Octopus on the book with me.
Meeting Romilly, working with an agent… or not?, starting writing.
3. How do you write a book proposal?
May 2018, 3 weeks after our first email exchange, I managed to send Romilly my proposal.
How do you actually do this? I used the template provided by my publisher. I focused on the content more than the writing: what do I want to see in this book, what do people want to read about? What is my mission?
Write a book proposal? Yes ok.
The proposal includes a lot of information: Title of the book, who the audience was, who I am / press and profile, why they should publish the book, why people should read this book, my initial structure, other books published on this subject and some sample writing.
I had most of these in mind already so it was quite easy to put together. Plus, I had plenty of sample writing: I had been writing weekly newsletters for Vestpod for the past year with the help of Melissa and I also wrote a chapter for another book, The WealthTech book, so I sent those along. So if you are thinking about writing a book one day, start writing, something, anything, it doesn’t matter — it’s a great exercise and you will have something to show once you actually decide to write the book.
For the record these are the titles we did not use for the book but on which I spent a considerable amount of time!
Freedom and fun, ladies: A journey to financial independence
Your money tribe
The hustling ladies: A journey to financial independence
The rise of the female investors
I sent the email and Romilly came back with some comments and we adjusted it accordingly. She then pitched the book at her publishing meeting. And I waited.
4: How do you negotiate a publishing contract?
Proposal accepted. I got an offer! Which was super exciting, albeit super scary. I think I now realise I will have to write a book. I have this pervasive feeling of self-doubt striking again (I am building a startup so it comes and goes all the time!). The best way to beat it for me is to take action.
We decide the book should be called ‘You’re Not Broke, You’re Pre Rich’ — this was the title of one of the newsletters I sent a few months before — and it was one of the best open rates I have seen (more than 50%)!
I now had a deal memo in my hands — which is like a contract but includes royalties, material to be delivered by the author, terms & conditions, etc. The main things to note here are: what I need to deliver (pages, based on my proposal, timeline, deadline, format), how much I received from my royalties, advance payments and what rights do I give away (yes, rights for the book but was anything else larger than that?). I had negotiated contracts before when I worked in private equity but I had never done a publishing deal.
Never sign something that you don’t 100% understand: legal agreements, financial products, always get clued in to the terms and what you’re getting yourself into. And, importantly, negotiate what you want. For a few reasons I decided not to work with a literary agent (more on this later) and so I decided to do the negotiations myself. Instead I worked with a contract consultant specialised in publishing, Anji Clarke, who I met through the lovely Hermione and Justine from Byte The Book. She was extremely helpful and I could avoid working with bigger publishing lawyers who are excellent but tend to be too expensive in relation to the advance payment.
I learned all I could about publishing contracts and I joined Byte The Book and The Society Of Authors during this process.
Anji was amazing and we managed to negotiate with Romilly and the team over a few months to get to a position we are ALL happy with, signing the contract in August 2018.
Make sure you understand your contract!
5. Do you need a literary agent to get published?
The answer is usually yes if you want to work with a traditional publisher but it depends on what you are writing about and the audience you already have. Agents would usually negotiate a better deal and help you appear more credible for bigger publishing houses. Publishing is also a complicated and difficult business to navigate, so you do benefit from their expertise.
This process begins by getting “selected” by agents. This is either by pitching to them or by them directly approaching you. Once they take you onto their roster of clients they will work on your proposal with you and then send it out the editors who they believe would be interested at various publishing houses. The interested editors will then meet you and the agent. The agents negotiate everything for you and will often accompany you during the writing and promotion process.
When you sign a book deal you could either get offered an advance payment — the “advance” — and then you are paid royalties on the copies sold above the number your advance is based on. Literary agents charge a commission of the advance (this can be anywhere from 10–15%+) on your advance and royalties — if your book sells well, they make more money so your shared interests tend to be aligned.
So should you work with an agent or not?
I did not, but it wasn’t an easy decision — I think there are pros and cons! Here are my thoughts:
I had a good relationship with my editor, Romilly. She approached me directly and over time we have built a more personal working relationship, and so perhaps bringing an agent into this dynamic could have altered this relationship?
I already had an offer to write a book, so I could negotiate myself or get an agent and go talk to other publishing houses to see if I could get a better deal somewhere else. I did not, because I wanted to work with Romilly and keep up the momentum, as it can take ages to find an agent and months to land a deal somewhere, and I wanted to make sure we did not lose any time. So I decided to accept her offer.
Finally, financially, let’s be honest: There is not usually a lot of money in writing a book (unless it becomes an amazing success, of course), so you have to know why you are doing it. If I had worked with an agent I would have had to split my advances and royalties and I already had an offer on the table.
You can always work with an agent post-publication if you see the book is selling well, as they could be helpful in getting you more PR, promotion, etc.
6. The process: It’s all about writing… and time management
What about the actual writing process?
I refused to listen to the people telling me writing was a difficult, solitary and long process. But maybe I should have. I had been writing articles and newsletters for my website (vestpod.com) for almost two years, and I thought writing a book would be the same process. But no, “longform” writing is definitely different and it’s a totally new experience: style, length of paragraph, narrative flow… it’s freaking difficult at first!
I loved writing my book. Even though the process is laborious, frustrating and extreme at times, the book writing journey is also incredibly empowering and extremely rewarding.
Here are the mistakes I made along the way though!
Do your research
This seems like an obvious one, but you will need access to all your notes and research to be able to find main ideas, topics you would like to write about and to generally be efficient in the writing process.
You need a “writing schedule”
I immediately started writing, putting together my notes, looking at the page count and feeling pretty happy with how it was growing. This may have been useful in terms of getting into the habit of writing but it was not at all useful in terms of developing the book’s structure.
After a few weeks of writing this way, I met Nicolas Colin, who is a writer and founder of The Family, and he showed me a document he used to plan his book: a full Excel spreadsheet mapping the whole book. And although I had the full structure of the book in my book proposal and knew what should go into it, I did not have a super detailed schedule.
My draft writing schedule…
I followed more or less the following structure: 3 parts, each including 3 chapters, each including 3 arguments, each broken down into 3 different ideas. Give a name to each of these, use colors, add links to the current files… make it your own main working document.
This much more detailed writing schedule allowed me to write each small section of the book in any order I wanted to, but also to make sure I was not repeating the same thing. It also helped tick things off my list and feel as though I was completing “tasks”. It allowed me to structure my thoughts and adapt them along the way whilst keeping a record of the whole picture.
Here it is in the photos:
Once I had this detailed spreadsheet I started writing. First, I did the parts I liked the most such as investing, budgeting rules, calculating your net worth, i.e., the more technical ones. I then began to work on some more qualitative parts such as re-defining your relationship with money, establishing your financial goals, etc.
Writing a book takes a lot of time, and to be honest A LOT more than what you would ever plan for. In December, after weeks of procrastination, I had to start delivering my first chapters to my editors. This is when I had to just go for it, day and night, legitimately from 8am usually until 2–3am was all spent writing. It was exhausting but it was the only way to get this done.
Maintaining focus is really important when you write because the more you write the more ideas you have. You must be able to write for a few hours or at least try to. Some days will not be productive, others will.
I couldn’t work from my co-working space or a local cafe, I needed my own space, with music or silence depending on the days and the subject. I decided to work from home, mostly on a desktop computer with a bigger screen and a Word Doc that didn’t crash every 10 minutes. I needed to have my research, notes and books around to be able to find information quickly.
In hindsight, I definitely could have benefited from going to a monastery or a writer’s retreat for a few weeks and working 100% of my time on the manuscript. But I have two young kids and a startup, so that wasn’t so easy.
This sounds easy when you are a writer but it’s definitely not. Sometimes I would sit in front of my screen and wait for the words to come, and sometimes they never did. Sometimes what I wrote down just was not good enough, so I had to scrap it. But it’s a learning process, even the hard times help your overall writing. Take notes on your phone, read them again, re-write them.
It’s never too early to start writing a book, but it can however get too late very quickly. Remember how I signed the book deal in September? Well, I was running a business at the same time (Vestpod) and had a lot of events, classes, content producing and social media to do, so I was already busy. I procrastinated for a few weeks which turned into a few months. As the time passed it became extremely difficult to begin working. In the end, I started properly writing in October… (eeeek). So that goes back to point number 1, you need a plan with allocated time per chapter, etc.
I know I have already mentioned imposter syndrome. But as a writer, I worked mostly in solitary (self confinement) — which meant I spent a lot of time actually talking to myself! I began to develop quite a bit of anxiety when writing. In order to counter this, I made sure I went out for walks, got out to eat some cake, stretched and meditated. I have two young kids so that was a great distraction from the writing process and it forced me to stop thinking.
Social media is also definitely a no-go because it is completely distracting and also makes you feel as though you are constantly missing out. Writing takes a lot of energy and focus, and it’s also really stressful since even when you are tired, when school holidays have started, or when you just don’t want to do it — you have to. I had to limit any other social activities for a few months (I survived!) to just focus on the book, I do think it helped me get in the zone.
It takes a lot of determination and focus but you can do it too. No one is born a writer.
7. How do you edit a book?
Different editors work in different ways, but for me the process was simple: I gave in my manuscript chapter by chapter and received comments so I could re-work them.
These comments ranged from spotting inconsistencies and repetitions, to ways to make the structure clearer and pointing out places where we need more or less of my brilliant examples and anecdotes!
Next it was time for the legal read, where a solicitor with expertise in libel (eek!) checked through what I’d written to make sure that none of my opinions could get me in trouble. This is important when writing a book about real people or companies. After all, I didn’t want the legal department of one of the banks or tech firms I mention coming after me. Of course, it’s fine to have opinions, but only lawyers know how best to phrase them so it doesn’t look like you’re actually making a groundless and damaging attack on someone else’s reputation.
The proofreaders come in next, and these are the spelling and grammar tzars who take their fine-toothed comb to your writing and correct all the mistakes. As well as correcting typos and words that no normal person can actually spell, these literary forensics experts will pick up on little stylistic quirks that could make the book a smoother read, such as if you’ve used the word “probably” twenty times in one page. Proofreaders are the bomb, basically.
Finally, the final read! This is the last time you and your editor will read through the whole book before it goes off to press, so it’s a bit of a high pressure moment. There’s still time to make a few little changes if you see something you really hate in there, but it would cause the proof-readers, type-setters and legal-eagles a headache to make any major changes at this point. So this is the bit where you have to say “Ok, I’ve done all I can. This is enough. I am enough”. This also generates a massive panic attack, haha (See the mental health paragraph above!).
8. What happens when you deliver the manuscript?
This is when you receive the full manuscript printed up in a “proof” form. It’s exciting because it’s starting to look like a book now! At this point you will double check you have all the necessary permissions to use quotes, tables, images, etc. This is something I wasn’t aware of (or I “forgot”) at the beginning of the process so I had to review the whole book to look out for these and delete when appropriate! It is a lot of work so make sure you get clued in to copyrights and rights before you actually start to include Beyoncé quotes in every single chapter of your book.
Much needed when you finish editing the 5th version of your book.
My book is a non-fiction work about finance so I wanted to make sure I did not forget anything and checked all the financial bits, so I asked a handful of experts to review some chapters. Make sure you allow enough time for them to review — people are busy — and send their comments. At the end of each chapter of my book I also interview women on their financial habits and the way they manage money; again, allow enough time for people to come back to you with their answers. To give you an idea, I emailed maybe twice as many experts than I had people interviewed in the book. You can never speak to too many people, and many will not have time / want to / forget to send you their interviews.
You might want to send copies of a few pages to the people you interviewed or quoted so they can see exactly what’s in there and confirm that they’re happy with it.
The all-important cover design happens now too. Because people really do judge a book by its cover. My bright yellow book jacket image was designed by the brilliant Juliette at Octopus, who knows my style and the mission behind the book, and we had a great graphic designer, Alix, working on all the little emojis you will see in the book.
If you want you could also ask experts, journalists, leaders to send you a quote for the cover of your book. I decided to work with Claer Barrett from the Financial Times and Dame Helena Morrissey, financier and founder of the 30% Club. I sent them both the manuscript in pdf format, and asked them if they would be keen to send me a short quote for the cover. It’s so nice to see what they have written and I am forever thankful.
9. Now the waiting game begins, which is also the promotion phase
After the flurry of activity finishing the book, it can seem a bit of a let-down now, just waiting for it to be printed. As with the end of any big project (including things like moving or having a baby), you anticipate there will be a big champagne-popping moment when you finally complete everything. But often, you’re just tired and stressed from all the hard labour that has gone into it, and for some of us, getting to the finish line just means looking ahead at all the challenges to come further down the road. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, and for me that meant getting started on promoting my book. Because unless you are already famous, your book will not sell by itself!
So I began to prepare the PR work with my publisher that would lead to people actually buy my book. I contacted journalists, influencers and bloggers to make sure they knew what was coming. Once the book was bound and printed, I sent out copies to anyone who might review, serialise or give it (or me) a mention alongside a nice handwritten card and some stickers.
And the launch party? Turns out book publishers don’t usually pay for these anymore, so banish all thoughts of a slap up event at posh clubs like Annabel’s or Loulou’s, with waiters dressed as bling money icons serving bespoke cocktails whose ingredients evoke the spirit of your work. Unless you want to pay for it yourself.
Instead, many people opt for a really great evening in the local bookshop, where friends, family and colleagues alike can all pop in for a bit of a sip n see. You will buy the drinks and people can buy the book. I myself decided to do something a bit different, a breakfast event with the Vestpod community (May 31st, you can still book your ticket) for them to have the book before anyone else, and I’ve invited a few friendly journalists to come along too. I am also doing a more private party for my friends and family and took the considered decision to blow a bit of my advance on this because you know what… we need to celebrate!!
10. Holding that first copy of your book
Picture the scene: I am in a meeting with my publisher (a rare one: in total you only need to go to their offices a few times as most things can be done remotely). We’re discussing PR, promotional events and next steps when we suddenly spot a familiar looking yellow book-jacket on a nearby shelf… it had just arrived! My “baby” was here — that’s what people say — so I guess after my 2 sons this may be the third! I get to hold my book for the first time and it looks fab. I am really happy, even if its a bit strange and overwhelming to finally see it.
11. The book is out!
Et voila! The book will be out next week, in the bookshops, on Amazon, maybe in your hands already. It’s been an amazing journey and I really enjoyed it. But I also feel it’s also just the beginning. Having read all those articles by Tim Ferriss on how to sell books I am now going on tour to speak to corporate players, universities, and women’s groups, and generally spread the word — if you would like me to come, ping me on Twitter @emilieldn. Producing a book is an amazing way to communicate your vision in a physical format. Handing a copy over to someone feels like you’re really gifting them something special, and they will accept and absorb it in a far more deliberate and considered way than if you transmitted your ideas to them in an email.
So now I’m kind of an advocate for book writing and feel everyone should have a go!
If you have a strong mission and want to be able to spread the word, it’s an amazing tool.
It’s a great discipline. Sitting down every day and plugging away at something, even when the results are bad or you don’t feel like it, really helps you grow in ability and confidence.
It’s amazing for your personal development — and the way you see others — to realise that “writers” are not other people.
Writing down your ideas helps you refine them. At Vestpod I often suggest we make lists of our goals and desires when it comes to personal finance, and that’s not only to have reminders or boxes to tick. It’s because when you write something down, you see it more objectively and can really judge how much truth it holds for you.
It is the best business card you will ever have and should help you establish your authority in your field.
And you never know, it might just make you some money;)
If you think this article was helpful and would like to order a copy of the book, it’s here on Amazon.
Come to our book launch breakfast on May 31st in London, tickets are available here.
Register for the Vestpod mailing list.
For any questions, feel free to reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Special thanks to Romilly, Melissa and Kyle😍