On Writing a Book and Book Proposal

Lisa: What inspired you to write Freedom From Anxious Thoughts and Feelings?

Scott: I was frustrated with the translation problem in psychology, where helpful principles and evidenced-based-strategies, such as mindful acceptance, are hard to convert into concrete mental and emotional steps inside your person—especially in the midst of anxiety or a challenging mood.

I would say to my clients, “You want to accept and allow the anxious feeling to be there without dwelling on it.” I knew that if they took my words and applied this approach on the inside, the anxious feeling would dissipate.

But how were they to know exactly what acceptance looked like on the inside—how to embody this idea in terms of internal action steps? It’s confusing. People are often at a loss in how to apply the very thing that will set them free.

Aware of this translation problem, I became determined to find a better way of communicating and applying the wisdom of psychology (and spirituality). What came out of this journey was the Two-Screen Method.

Lisa: Can you briefly describe the two-screen method you developed and what the book teaches?

Scott: The book features a user-friendly application of mindfulness called the Two-Screen Method. You imagine your internal world as a media room with two screens. On the forward-facing wall is the front screen, which represents the present moment and life-giving internal activity—all the thoughts, feelings, and images that translate into a sense of well-being and a life well lived.

Off to the right, still inside your mind, is a side screen—the place where the fears, worries, insecurities, unhealthy urges, and destructive moods show up. With this image in mind, you are then shown how to de-energize the problematic thoughts and feelings showing up on the side screen, while cultivating your ability to be in the present moment and express the best parts of who you are on the front screen.

Lisa: When we first met, you had a first draft of many of your chapters. How did it work to write the book before the proposal? Are you glad you did it that way or would you have done it differently knowing what you know now?

Scott: Good question. I think everyone has his or her own unique journey in bringing a book to life. Personally, I had to write that first manuscript. I didn’t want to sit around and wait for permission. I had content and chapters running through my mind that I needed to get out. I’m not sure it was the most economical use of my time, but it was a process I needed to go through. Many of the chapters I wrote in the original manuscript are not included in the book. As well, most of the original chapters went through major rewrites. But the original manuscript did offer a general structure for the book and much of the content was included in the final product.

Lisa: I wholeheartedly agree that there is conventional wisdom—and reasons for it—but then there is what you know in your heart about the order in which you need to do it. What were the most challenging parts of writing a book proposal?

Scott: The hardest part was knowing how to structure and write a book proposal. It’s almost like writing up a business plan for the first time. Within the domain of interest—whatever that might be—there’s a general structure and approach that is expected and most successful. When it comes to a book proposal it’s not easy to come by—either online or books—that offer clear, helpful models. That’s why I called you Lisa!

Scott Symington signing book

Advice on Writing a Book Proposal and Developing Platform Tweet This

Lisa: Do you have any advice for our readers on writing a book proposal?

Scott: The book proposal is everything. You want to team up with an expert—or a group led by an expert—to create the absolute best proposal you can. If the proposal doesn’t sing, it’s doubtful publishers will be interested.

Lisa: When we met, some areas of your platform were particularly strong, such as all the outreach and teaching you did for churches. Can you share a bit about the areas of platform that you needed to strengthen and how you strengthened them?

Scott: The area that needed the most attention was email subscribers. Most publishers want to see thousands of email subscribers. To help with this, you referred me to Rusty Shelton. Rusty and his team helped me develop the Worry Quiz. The Worry Quiz assesses your current level of worry and provides helpful tips in reducing worry and anxiety based on your score. This has been a great, highly effective way of offering value to people while also expanding my email subscriber list. As of today, approximately 8,000 people have taken the Worry Quiz. These email subscribers are a natural audience for my book and have facilitated book sales.

Lisa: That’s terrific! What advice might you give aspiring authors who are working on writing a book proposal and growing platform? How does one decide where to focus and get the most effective outcome for the amount of time invested?

Scott: I’m a big believer in being authentically you and making sure your branding and goals line up with your head and heart. It’s helpful to spend time reflecting and refining the core message you want to share with the world and how you envision sharing it across platforms. All of your efforts and priorities should be run through this filter. Dream big—while being boldly you!

Lisa: Well put. I find that platform building efforts are sustainable and enjoyable when you’re “being you.” Otherwise, no so much. Several publishers expressed interest in your book, Freedom From Anxious Thoughts and Feelings. From the very start of our working together, you mentioned that New Harbinger was your dream publisher. Can you say more about why?

Scott: My bookshelf is filled with books from New Harbinger Publications. They publish a lot of books in the mindfulness space and have a reputation for publishing evidenced-based self-help books. I knew publishing with New Harbinger would give instant credibility to the Two-Screen Method I developed, which is featured in the book.

Working with an Acquisitions Editor Tweet This

Lisa: When I sent your book proposal to New Harbinger, the acquisitions editor, Jess O’Brien,  was very excited, and he also had some specific changes he suggested to the book that would make it a particularly good fit for their audience. Can you share a bit about the process of working with an acquisition’s editor to fine tune the book concept and the value added in that process?

Scott: The main issue raised by Jess O’Brien, the acquisitions editor, was narrowing the focus of the book. The Two-Screen Method is a user-friendly application of mindfulness that can be used to address a range of symptoms and destructive behaviors. Originally, I imagined a book that wasn’t limited to worry and anxiety. In New Harbinger’s experience books that are too broad don’t sell as well. They wanted to clearly define the target audience, which is reflected in the title of the book, Freedom from Anxious Thoughts & Feelings.

Lisa: What made you decide to add a Q&A section at the end?

Scott: By the end of the book, my hope is that readers can fully apply the Two-Screen Method. The Q&A section is designed to reinforce the key themes of the book and fill in any gaps that might interfere with them fully applying and benefiting from the model.

On Book Promotion and Sales Tweet This

Lisa: You mentioned that 200 people showed up at your first author event and 50 people bought books. That’s a 25% purchase rate, which is definitely high. What do you think contributed to such a successful sales rate? Any tips for holding a successful author presentation?

Scott: Yes, it was a great event: Work/Life Forum in La Cañada, CA. The title of the talk was How Not to Stress & Worry. This was a public event sponsored by La Cañada Presbyterian Church (LCPC). Not only did the leadership of the Work/Life forum do a lot of marketing to the general public but the week before the event was held, I was invited to all three church services at LCPC to pitch the upcoming talk.

The leadership of the Work/Life Forum, from the very beginning, had the goal of promoting and selling my book. They did a good job of appropriately encouraging attendees to purchase the book and had a streamlined system at the event to accomplish this goal.

Lisa: In person events can be among the most successful ways to sell books, especially when the organization does a great job of promoting the event. Can you tell us more about how you’re reaching readers? What’s working and what has not been as good use of your time so far?

Scott: So far, the most effective approach has been speaking events followed by book sales and signings. For example, I just got back from a professional conference in Dallas, TX where my wife and I gave the keynote address. The talk wasn’t specifically about the content of the book but we naturally wove in the Two-Screen Method, which is featured in my book. After the event, there was a table to purchase the book.

Radio interviews and direct emailing to subscribers are also working well. What I still haven’t figured out yet is a solid social media strategy that focuses, directly or indirectly, on book promotion. This is the next challenge I’m addressing.

Lisa: Any links to radio, podcasts, interviews, articles etc?

Scott: I’ve been averaging two radio interviews per week since the book was released in February. The easiest way to access recent radio interviews/videos is going to the media page of my website. And here is a recent blog published by New Harbinger: How Not to Worry.

Scott Symington, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and well-known expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders. His book, Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry, was released by New Harbinger Publications in February 2019. In addition to full-time private practice, where he has over 15,000 hours of helping people overcome worry and anxiety, negative moods, addictive behaviors, and other conditions stealing people’s joy and freedom, Dr. Symington is a popular speaker. He regularly speaks at professional conferences; large church groups; graduate schools and universities; and business groups, including the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).

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