Co-authoring a Book
Claire: Michelle, you co-authored From Pen to Published with Brandon Williams. What was your experience like writing a book with someone else? What are the pros and cons of being a co-author versus writing by yourself?
Michelle: I loved collaborating with Brandon! He was the brainchild behind the idea, and I brought it to life. The pros include getting an opportunity to work with someone else’s thoughts and ideas, combining them with my own to create a product that’s beneficial to the masses. Plus, I loved working with a former NFL player! Their attitude and demeanor exudes positivity and overcoming obstacles.
Claire: You’ve co-authored a children’s book as well, Gizelle’s Silly, Soggy Day. Were there any notable differences in the writing or publishing process between the two genres?
Michelle: I co-authored Gizelle’s Silly, Soggy Day with my cousin, Joy VanDertuin. She has the story idea, we get on a call and talk about the general ideas of the story while we laugh like wild hyenas, and then I write it. It’s a wonderful, fun collaboration! We collaborated with a company called Christian Editing and Design and found the process to be exceptionally smooth and easy.
A notable difference between books for adults and children’s books is that it takes a few months to go back and forth on the illustrations and revisions with the illustrator, so children’s book authors need to factor that in. I also urge children’s book authors to invest in a professional illustrator and not try to create their own illustrations and cover design on an online creative art website if they want their book to look professional.
Condensing Information to Shorten a Book
Claire: Your book offers a thorough survey of how to write and publish a book. Since that is your field of expertise, was it challenging condensing so much information into a relatively short book?
Michelle: Yes! One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received through the years is “don’t try to fit 10 pounds of flour into a 5-pound sack.” I’ve used that thought for both writing and speaking. I had to select the main points I thought were the most relevant to the process while still making it engaging to the reader. Also, I didn’t want the book to be too long…I wanted readers to be able to digest it in a sitting or two, although implementing the steps will, of course, take time.
Choosing a publisher
Michelle: I used the same method I recommend to 95% of my clients: self-publishing. Traditional publishing has changed over the years and the Big 5 publishers take so much from an author, including creative rights and most of the royalties. Just like I want my authors to keep 100% of their book sales, I wanted to go in that direction as well. Brandon and I self-published because we wanted to retain ongoing control of the rights and royalties.
Advice for New Authors
Claire: In addition to your career as an author and co-author, you are also a book and publishing consultant. In your experience, which part of the writing/publishing process do most people struggle with, and how do you as a consultant help them overcome those challenges?
Michelle: I find that new authors struggle with two areas:
- How to bring their idea to life on the page, and
- How to market their book.
As a Book and Publishing Consultant, I brainstorm with an emerging author to give them a sense of structure for their book. First, I suggest building a “working” Table of Contents, communicating that it may change drastically as the book takes on a life of its own. I also suggest section breaks to delineate major themes of their book. I ask them at the onset what their two top target reader markets are, and that “everyone” is not the right answer. And I ask them for their big WHY, because that will carry them through the muddy parts of their manuscript creation.
A Realistic Marketing View
As far as marketing, most new authors think that their book will fly off the digital shelves like magic. NOT! I give them a realistic view from the beginning that most authors never get rich from book sales; it’s how they leverage their book that will create multiple streams of income. I also connect my clients to my teammates who specialize in marketing and PR. Book sales success depends on how much effort and financial investment the author wants to invest.
Creating the Theme
Claire: Writing a book and getting it published can be a huge undertaking and can be extremely overwhelming. Your book From Pen to Published approaches the book building process with an informative but lighthearted tone that makes the journey seem manageable. How did you and Brandon decide on the tone of the book?
Michelle: Brandon handed me the reins to use creative license in the formulation of the manuscript. I wanted to string a central idea throughout the book, and building a house seemed to fit the bill because it had a central theme that applied to a wide audience.
Utilizing Metaphor in a Book Title
Claire: The subtitle of your book is, “A Blueprint for Success—Building your Book Brick by Brick” and you incorporate the metaphor of building a house as a representation of writing and publishing a book throughout the book. How did you decide on this metaphor as the basis of your book? Did it help you structure the different chapters of the book?
Michelle: I wanted a mass appeal theme that everyone could relate to. I sometimes liken writing and publishing a book to being pregnant and birthing a baby, and while that applies, it doesn’t apply to everyone. And, even though everyone hasn’t built a house, most of us know what materials are needed to build a strong structure. Yes, having a Brick-by-Brick theme helped me to structure the chapters. Not being a housebuilder myself, I had to do a tad of research to make it realistic; I didn’t know a thing about pipes and plumbing when I started writing, but I learned along the way as I meshed the housebuilding parallels with the book writing process.
Choosing a Professional Editor
Claire: You mention three different levels of professional editing to consider: proofreading, copyediting, and developmental editing. At what stage of the book writing process would you start working with each kind of editor? Which kinds of editors have you worked with on this book?
Michelle: If an author has written their own book, especially a memoir or autobiography, I would highly recommend starting with a developmental editor because they can pick out holes and gaps in the storyline. If a ghostwriter has written the manuscript, once they’re finished with the first draft would be a good time for a copyeditor—you don’t want a ghostwriter as editor of the book because there’s an element of what I call “copy blindness” that happens. Once a manuscript is finalized, no matter who wrote it, and a galley copy is ordered, I recommend a physical copy be sent to a proofreader to clean it up. Since I’m a writer, for this book I enlisted the services of a proofreader when I was finished, and after I ran it through an online editing program.
Tips on Gathering Feedback
Claire: Chapter 8 focuses on gathering feedback from reviewers. When sharing your book for feedback, who do you go to and why? What are some qualities you look for in a reviewer?
Michelle: I tell my clients NOT to show their manuscript to anyone when it’s in process because everyone has an opinion about what it should contain. I suggest that the author tell them in a nice way, “Go write your own book.” Authors should find trusted industry colleagues and professionals who are supportive and encouraging yet who will provide honest feedback. It’s also important to put a deadline on returning feedback because people are busy and it’s easy to get into the chasing game to get responses. The qualities you want in a reviewer are honesty, authenticity, and an unbiased viewpoint.
Michelle Hill is a Book & Publishing Consultant helping sports and business professionals connect all the pieces to get their book written, published, and promoted. Michelle’s clients include pro athletes, sports agents, coaches, high-level performance trainers, sport psychologists, and executive/leadership coaches. She is the author of three books, including From Pen to Published—A Blueprint for Success
For more on Michelle’s consulting services visit her website Winningproof.com.