biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: writing a book, part one

by Grace Bonney

today’s second biz ladies post comes from one of our biz ladies regulars, meg mateo ilasco. by 2010, meg will have authored six fantastic books, all without any formal training in writing. today she’s here to talk about writing a book, and how anyone with passion, and the right amount of motivation and education can write a book, too. i’m a huge fan of meg’s books (and her writing style) so it’s a real treat to have her here today to share her expert tips for writing the book you’ve always wanted to write. meg’s post today is part one of a two-part series so stay tuned next week for part two. and be sure to click here to check out all of the biz ladies archives on their new archive page.

CLICK HERE for meg’s full post after the jump!

Since 2005, I’ve authored three books: You Can Wear It Again, Space Planner, and Craft Inc. (all published by Chronicle Books). By next year, that total will reach six with the addition of the Craft Inc. Business Planner, Creative Inc., co-written by Joy Deangdeelert Cho (Chronicle Books, Spring 2010), and a DIY interior book (STC Craft, Fall 2010). All this and I don’t have any formal training in writing. So my point is: you can do this, too.

For many years, I wrote for leisure, mostly short stories and poems in my spare time when I was in college and actually had lots of time to spare. Likewise, if you have any interest in writing, you should practice a little bit everyday–blogging is a great way to get your feet wet. The more you practice writing and get feedback, the more comfortable you will be in this medium. And read books, too–which sounds obvious, but I often meet people who claim to want to write a book, but in the same conversation also admit they hardly read books. Yeah, that makes sense. So carve out some time to read and write. Trust me, I have two kids, you can find the time, too, even if it is in small chunks.

Of course, writing isn’t for everyone. Even if you have new and wonderful information to share, you may not always be the best person to deliver it in writing. Strange, but true: you can be an author, without doing any writing yourself. You can hire a ghostwriter, a writer you pay to pen your book, which is how many celebrities have books. (Come on, you didn’t really think that Tori Spelling wrote books herself, right?) And you don’t have to be a celebrity either to hire one. Though it may take a bite out of your advance, plenty of regular authors hire them all the time.

So how did I start writing books? Well, it came to me in a vision–the television, really–watching that Martha Stewart made-for-TV biopic in 2003 (you know, the one with Cybill Shepherd). Aside from memorable lines like “Did I not ask for merlot?!,” I also came away with the idea that writing a book would be a great way to raise my profile and establish myself as an expert in the wedding industry. (At the time, I owned a pretty successful wedding invitation business.) Indeed, writing a book can be a useful marketing tool for business owners. I quickly started brainstorming and researching book ideas.

(If you have ideas for a book, check out your local library, bookstore, or Amazon.com to see if there are any titles that might compete. If there are, you may want to rethink your idea or approach it from another angle. Remember, your book doesn’t have to be completely different, just different enough.)

I shared my book-writing fantasy with my Post Street retail neighbor, the uber talented, Lotta Anderson (of Lotta Jansdotter). She suggested that I approach Chronicle Books since she had just inked a stationery deal with them. I found their range of titles and aesthetic to be a good match with my book ideas. (Funny, I also realized that many of the books in my personal library were from Chronicle, too.) With a little research on their website, I also learned that they took submissions.

(Look for publishers that would be a good fit for your idea and aesthetic–a place where you and your ideas would thrive. You can start by looking up published designers and crafters for the names of their publishers. Go to a library or bookstore and acquaint yourself with the names of various publishing houses. Visit their Web sites to see their recent titles and request a catalog if you can. Also, purchase a copy of the Writer’s Market or subscribe to their Web site. The Writer’s Market produces an annual that gives you submission guidelines for book publishers as well as the names of the editors and the areas they cover. That way, you can craft a proposal directly to a specific editor. You’ll also find that not all publishers take unsolicited proposals or manuscripts.)

Within two months, I had finished the book proposal, following Chronicle’s submission guidelines carefully. And just like it said on their Web site, they got back to me in three months with a written response which was (drumroll, please): “thanks, but no thanks.” In hindsight, I took Chronicle’s “we see things differently” motto a little too close to heart. I came up with a wedding book idea that was um…a little too unique. Think DIY themed weddings gone wild. I think even showed how to make a fake gold toof for a ghetto fab wedding. That’s right, I said toof (a.k.a. tooth). So the idea was shot down–and rightly so. In the letter, the editor kindly explained why there isn’t enough of a market for this book (read: no bride in their right mind would buy this)–but they also offered me an opportunity to come to the Chronicle Books office to meet with them in person! Apparently, this cloud had a very nice silver lining.

(You don’t always have to turn in a full proposal to publishers. You could also submit a query letter instead that will gauge their interest in your idea. If they express interest, at that point, you can produce a full proposal. You can also purchase books on how to write query letters, if you need help. In my case, although the idea wasn’t right for Chronicle, I think turning in a full proposal worked to my advantage. It allowed me to show them my writing capabilities…and probably my sense of humor.)

[To be continued. Part 2, right here!]

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