Three authors share their insights on the creative process, drafting a proposal, and finding an agent—all before the big ideas were ready to send out.

By Jillian Kramer
October 11, 2019

There are many, many steps to writing and publishing a book. So, to get the skinny on just how to do it, we turned to three published authors, who are here to share their wisdom on all-things authoring your first book—from how to get all that writing done, their best tips for putting together a killer proposal, and what it really takes to snag an agent.

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Find inspiration from your own life.

You may already have an idea for the next great American novel, or a non-fiction narrative that will inspire and educate audiences, but if you've got an itch write but no idea to pen, take a tip from other writers who've used their own lives as inspiration for their own best-selling books. Manon Pilon got the idea for her book, Anti-Aging: The Cure Based on Your Body Type, after she treated a sixth-grade client with severe acne. (Pilon is a medical esthetician.) "I followed a strict treatment protocol and home-care program that had worked on other clients in the past," she says. "However, the treatments were unsuccessful." To solve her client's skin problem, she had to do a lot of research—and she eventually "discovered different body type theories based on different origins and cultures," Pilon explains. And this discovery, she realized, could be a book.

Krause, Johansen

Use your network. (Or create one.)

You've got lots of questions about how to write and publish a book—and you shouldn't be afraid to ask them of published authors. That's what Leanne Jacobs, a financial expert, did when she realized that she wanted to write Beautiful Money: The 4-Week Total Wealth Makeover. "I have always been fearless when it asking for help and reaching out to experts," she explains. "I never worry about getting a 'no' or no response." So, in this case, Jacobs "reached out to two of my favorite best-selling authors and asked for help," she says. "They were instrumental in helping me to write a book proposal written and helping me understand how the industry works."

Be super organized.

You already know this, but writing a book takes a lot of work. Being organized and planning for all you have to do will help, says Dana B. Myers, author of The Mommy Mojo Makeover. "I spent a few months fleshing out my ideas, deciding on a format, and writing a super-strong outline—chapter by chapter," she describes. "From there, I broke down the content of each chapter into bullet points in order to make the actual writing process as easy as possible. I then sat with my calendar and created a writing schedule where I assigned dates to each and every chapter that needed to be written. And I made a commitment with myself to write for two hours each day. When I sat down to write, I wrote with total focus for 25 minutes at a time, then gave myself a 5-minute break—but only for those two hours. I turned off my phone and all social media during those two hours. This strict schedule was the most brilliant and efficient tool for me—it took most of the stress out of the projects for me. And even if I wasn't motivated or inspired, I knew what I had to write that day and had the bullet points to flesh out the content."

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Write a killer proposal.

To snag an agent (more on that below), you'll need to write a book proposal. A strong proposal, says Myers, is one that includes a detailed outline of your book, includes writing samples, and leaves an agent wanting more. "If possible, put testimonials about you and your work and ideas from other published writers in the proposal, too," Myers recommends. "Also, in today's social-media-fueled world, it's helpful to show your social numbers and engagement. As a new writer, publishers will look to see if you already have an audience who wants to read what you write."

Find an agent you trust.

It's unlikely you’ll go straight to a publisher to sell your book; instead, an agent will do that for you. To find an agent you'd like to work with, Jacobs suggests speaking with other authors who can recommend their agents (or warn you away from them). "I spoke with four New York Times Best-Selling Authors and asked them who their agents were," she says. "You can also often find this information out on Google. Then, make a list of agents that you hear about or find online."

With your list, you can reach out and share the proposal you've prepared. "They are often very receptive to reading through your book proposal and booking a 10- to 15-minute call with you," says Jacobs. "Just make sure your proposal is professional and ready to go before submitting. I recommend having an editor who's worked in publishing take a look at it prior to submitting."

Be ready to revise.

When it's finally complete, you may think your book is perfect—but an agent or editor may have other ideas. (Or perhaps you'll love it at first, only to realize you need to make changes.) "In all honesty, the experience of writing my first book was quite a disaster," admits Pilon. "Because it was my first book, I had no previous experience in the field. I was constantly editing the content and trying to perfect the writing. This led to approximately 29 edited versions of the book."

Don't lose hope.

The road to getting published may be long or tough. But, "keep going even though it's not easy to get a publishing deal," Myers encourages. "Even after I'd published my first book, my second one got rejected by 11 publishers before finally landing with a new house. That said, getting a deal isn't the end-all-be-all. There's so much personal growth that happens through the process of writing a book, so even if you end up self-publishing, it will feel like a big accomplishment."

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