Warning! This is a very long, wordy blog post with not many pretty pictures 😉
Since publishing my book in March I’ve had a lot of people reach out and ask about the publishing process, how I got published and just general book questions so I’ve collated them all together in one place. Hopefully my answers will help you understand the publishing process as well as shed some light on how much effort is put into creating a book (hint: a lot!).
If you have any questions that haven’t been addressed here please feel free to comment below or email me and I can update the blog post. I’m more than happy to share because I went into the publishing process with next to no experience in that world and definitely made a tonne of mistakes so if I can help in any way just shout out!
Q: How does a book deal work? Are you paid an advance and the publisher royalties or is it the other way around?
Every book deal is different so there’s not one single answer for this question. Some publishers pay their authors an advance, others don’t. Your publisher will outline all of this in your contract at the time of offer and they assess the commercial aspect of your book and the topic you’re writing about so this will dictate a lot of what you’re offered in advance anyway.
Q: Things you wish you knew rather than had to learn the hard way?
There are plenty of things I wish I knew! For starters, I wish I had known to engage a lawyer earlier than I did. Getting the contents of the book together wasn’t the most difficult part but most people assume it was. If you know what you’re talking about (which presumably you do because you’ve been commissioned to write a book on that topic!!) then actually writing it isn’t a difficult task, it’s just lengthy and time consuming…
One of the hardest parts is usually negotiating contracts and knowing your rights as you lose a lot of control in the publishing process when working with a publishing house. If you self-publish you have the majority of the control so you can choose every tiny detail down to the fonts you use inside the book. Once you hand over your manuscript to a publisher this becomes their domain and that’s partly why we all opt to go with a publisher in the first place. Publishers have YEARS of experience, sales data and knowledge to back up their decisions. Sometimes though, they just don’t mesh with your vision for the book and you need to know your legal rights so that if you aren’t happy with the direction the book is going your copyright is protected and your personal brand reputation won’t be damaged should a book you aren’t 100% happy with get published.
Q: At what stage of your business development should you consider a book and why?
I never imagined I would be able to say I was a published author by the time I turned 30 so this is tricky one for me to answer. I still remember clearly signing the contract when I was 27 years old and thinking “am I even allowed to be doing this?! Surely I shouldn’t be doing this for another decade?!” That’s totally my own issue though because I’m pretty hard on myself and had this perception that if you were a published author you needed to be a certain age (not in your twenties!), have reached a certain stage in business or earn a certain figure each year… That’s all total cr*p. If you are getting recognition in the industry you work in, have built a network of fabulous clients/customers/patients and have enough experience under your belt to know you could write 50,000 words on a certain topic then your age/income bracket/resume/sex/race etc. shouldn’t come into any of it. Hardie Grant Books didn’t question my age or my abilities when handing me my contract so I should probably remind myself of that more often when I question opportunities given to me before I think I’m truly ready!
You should only really consider writing a book when you are confident that you can write to a certain word count and back it up with examples you’ve experienced in your career. You’ll easily be found out if you aren’t able to do this and book sales will show this very fast!
It’s also important to know that writing a book isn’t going to make you a millionaire over night, it’s a long road, a lot of work and probably won’t make anywhere near as much money from a book as you would from a number of really well paying clients. Writing a book is an excellent opportunity for self promotion, business marketing, profile building and brand awareness but it’s not necessarily going to translate into overnight millionaire status so if you don’t think your business is at a stage where you can take the financial risk of taking time out to firstly write the book (it took me 3 months while working full-time) and then promote the book then hold off until your business is more established or you have employees that can take over when you need to go on tour.
Q: Details on are negotiating contracts.
Hire a lawyer. Plain and simple. Don’t try and do it all yourself, a lawyer will be able to break down the contract jargon in a way that you can understand it and know what you’re signing up for. Don’t send your lawyer in to negotiate the contract though, this needs to be you but it doesn’t hurt to get some professional advice so you know what you are negotiating for and why.
Q: Did you write a little each day, or slog it out for a blocked set of time? How many drafts did it take?
I haven’t ever checked how many drafts I wrote but I just looked and I had 11 different drafts saved before submitting it to the publishers.
My book is based on the decorating workshops I was already running in regional and rural Australian towns so I had a basic framework to work from already. I just expanded it and turned it into my table of contents when I sat down to start on the book. I then separated it out into chapters I thought would be best for ease of reading (note: the publishers only made one change to the layout I created when it came to editing and made entryways it’s own chapter where as I had had it lumped in with lounge rooms).
Once I’d nailed down the table of contents I wrote the first chapter first which was detailing the 5 elements of decorating. From there I knew I wanted to go room by room explaining how to use all 5 elements in each room so it was an easy formula for me to follow. I didn’t write each chapter in order, I wrote bits and pieces and came back sporadically until I was happy with the overall flow.
I asked my mum and a handful of friends to read the first draft once I was relatively happy with it and then made any necessary changes based on their feedback until I was happy with it all.
I was given 3 months to write the manuscript and it was over the Christmas period so I definitely procrastinated A LOT for the first month. Partly because December is typically a very busy month for me with styling and decorating work and I wanted some time out to relax over Christmas. Once Christmas and New Year was over I used the first few weeks of January to make a good start on the writing process because January is a lot quieter for me with client work I had enough time to work on projects but also schedule in some good chunks of time to write. I took advantage of my parent’s property in the Hunter Valley in those weeks to go up and write in silence without any of the distractions I would have had in Sydney. Getting away from your usual routine where you can be distracted by emails, office co-workers, employees or social activities is really useful if you can wrangle it!
Q: Would love to know what you thought was the biggest challenge during the process, and how you overcame it. Either in writing the content or getting it published?
The biggest challenge for me was the time it took to get the book on shelves. I’m a very impatient person and as a business owner if I make up my mind about something I want to get started on it immediately and get it done so sitting back and giving the control over to someone else and their timeline was definitely a challenge for me. Luckily Hardie Grant’s team are fabulous and they were very good at keeping me updated with their progress so I knew where they were at with the book most of the time and I had been given a publish date at the time of signing the contract 12 months earlier so I knew I had a goal to work towards and also a timeframe to get things in order behind the scenes with my business to allow me to go on tour with the book and still have money coming in.
Writing the content wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I thought it might be. I think that was mostly in part because I knew what I was talking about and taught decorating workshops for years so had plenty of detail in my head that I just needed to sit down and focus to get it out onto paper. (I say paper because initially I hand wrote a lot of the ideas for the book before switching to a Word document, don’t worry I didn’t write 30,000 words by hand before typing them!!! YIKES!)
The only other challenge was logistically matching up illustrations with the content of the book and making sure the illustrations really did correspond to the paragraphs I had written. If I was talented enough to draw and illustrate myself it would have been easier because I would’t have had to explain my thoughts to another person. I was so lucky to work with my friend Maddison Rogers on it though so we could collaborate freely together. Maddison is in Brisbane but I’m in Sydney so I flew up twice for a couple of days at a time and stayed with Maddison and we just lived and breathed the illustrations the entire time I was there. It was intense but also good to block out our time together to make sure we were both on the same page (pardon the book pun!)
Q: Why did you choose to use drawings/illustrations rather than photos?
I had always envisaged that the book would be illustrated and wouldn’t be full of photography and never swayed from visualising it that way. My ideas behind this was to make the book a more classic, timeless piece that would be relevant in two decades time because decorating itself is a timeless art. I knew adding in photography of my client’s homes or styled photoshoots would probably date a lot faster just due to the nature of homewares and furniture trends. I also wanted the reader to be inspired by the illustrations and have a go at being creative in their own homes rather than being caught up in trying to replicate the exact same look as a certain room in their own homes. My approach to decorating is to allow as much of the client’s personality and style to shine through as possible and not to limit their creativity with my own design opinions too much so illustrations worked in perfectly with my business philosophy. I also made sure I included diagrams and how-tos for people to see rather than have to read and interpret, I didn’t want them to be confused by any jargon and the easiest way to demonstrate that is with visuals. Thankfully Hardie Grant saw my vision in the same way and never encouraged me to add photography to it.
Feel free to leave any comments below if I haven’t answered anything you’re dying to know 🙂