Fast forward a year, I made significant progress towards that goal. Quite unexpectedly, I did it by writing a book. My first ever non-fiction book Leading Ladies: inspiring stories of women who found their purpose with passion was released on 30th November 2016. It features stories of 32 ordinary women who took courageous decisions when faced with change in their lives, and came out the other side stronger and happier. These women who come from different backgrounds and have varied aspirations, are very relatable and inspire action, if not awe.
Listening to their stories, narrating them in a style that is easy to read and putting all the learnings together helped me come to terms with a number of things in my own life. I also shared my own story, so my own conclusions and motivations for writing the book would become clear to the reader. And in doing all of that, I made peace with myself.
Along the way I also learned a number of lessons and discovered there was so much more to being an author than the love of writing.
Six Lessons I learned along the way
Lesson #1: Ask yourself why you want to write a book
It’s always a good starting point to ask yourself whether writing a book is really what you should be doing. There are so many tools available to us, writers today, and many are completely free. Social media permits us to share so much of what we know and who we are with those in our lives. Blogging also enables us to reach a wider audience. Publishing a book doesn’t have to be the first port of call for someone wanting to get something off their chest.
I’ll admit that the idea of writing a book came to me out of the blue, and was triggered by something I had seen on Facebook (this happens to me a lot). I had a germ of an idea and I knew it would change into something else by the time I had finished. I had the time to go with the flow and see it through to its conclusion. More importantly, for me the time was right to embark on such a project.
Lesson #2: Think long and hard about the content of your book
Thanks to the internet and social media, there is a plethora of really excellent (mostly free) content available at our fingertips. If you are treading old familiar ground but have your own unique angle on it, then it may be something readers are willing to pay for. But it is always a good idea to research your subject matter thoroughly and see what is already available in the market – free or not.
If you have content bubbling inside you that you really want to share with the world and are not too keen on the long process of turning it into a book, then blogging could be the answer. It’s a great way to access an audience that is global and you can do it for free. It can also be a stepping stone into some day becoming a published author. I took to blogging just over a year ago, simply as a way to write about things that were close to my heart. It never crossed my mind that I would be publishing a book just over a year later.
Lesson #3: Research your subject matter and target reader
At first I wanted to write a book about entrepreneurship. My plan was to find successful, but not necessarily
well-known entrepreneurs to share their stories with me. I figured that anyone looking to start a new business would be interested in reading my book. But before going ahead with that plan I decided to check out my competition and looked for books on the subject. I even bought a few books and borrowed about seven or eight others from my local library so I could read them and learn how to (or how not to) write my book.
What surprised me the most was how much useful information was available on the subject for free and written by people who had direct experience of running their own business. My target reader would have no reason to buy a book from me to learn about successful entrepreneurship.
I needed to step back and think about what I had to offer that was not already available to them. I also had to find a target audience with whom I could relate, so that when I sat down to write, they would sense that I understood who they were and reach them in a way no other book had done before.
I then thought about the book that I really needed at that point in life where I was facing change, when I wanted to follow my heart but was deeply unsure of where it was going to lead me. I put myself in the shoes of the many women out there who want to be financially independent and have an identity beyond the role society has given them (of being a wife, mother or carer). I wanted to know if it was possible to have it all. Since I could not find a book that gave me those answers, I decided I would find out for myself, with the help of other women, and then write a book about it. Thus began the journey of writing my book.
Lesson #4: Non-fiction content needs external, unbiased input
First of all I had to seek out people who would be willing to share their stories with me. By this time I was sure that my book needed to be about exploring women’s contribution to society, whatever role they might have chosen to play. With that clarity I found that more women were willing to come forward and share their story with me. Before I knew it, I was getting more and more leads on women who wanted to talk to me.
My journey through their stories (I prefer not to call them interviews) began in early April and I had finished all of them by the end of May. With that process complete I had the raw ingredients to develop a structure for the book. The first stage was to simply create a narrative based on what I had heard from each woman and send this to them for their approval and revision. Once I had all the stories in place I sat down and created my first manuscript.
Lesson #5: Get independent and professional advice along the way
Since I am neither an established author nor a celebrity, mainstream publishers were unlikely to be interested in my work. So I knew that I would have to go down the self-publishing route. But even then, there is an abundance of options, none of them particularly easy to understand if it’s your first time. So I researched the subject online and spoke to a few friends who have self-published books. In the end I went with I_AM Self Publishing partly because their co-founder Leila Dewji is one of the women whose story is in my book. More importantly, I really liked her business ethos and the layout of her website. I also figured that a publisher whose story appears in my book would have every reason to help me make a success of it. My experience with the I_AM team in the following weeks and months confirmed my feeling that I had made the right decision. They were professional, punctual and provided a personal touch to the whole process of self-publishing that can be very daunting for a first time author.
Before I had decided to go with I_AM, I sent Leila the first draft of my manuscript. She gave me very clear, honest and constructive feedback. She raised interesting questions that made me revisit what I had written, and how I had written it. This constant process of reading, editing and re-reading my work, assessing it from the reader’s point of view meant I had to make countless changes along the way with the hope of making it easier to read and more impactful.
A number of self-publishing authors might want to do it for as little upfront cost as possible. Instead of using professional proof-readers, editing services and cover designers, they may get close friends or family to do it for them, or go with the lowest cost option. I would really advise you to do otherwise.
Your book is your baby. Why wouldn’t you give it the best possible start in life by ensuring it gets the maximum possible chance of success? As a reader, I am irritated with books that have spelling, grammatical or formatting mistakes. I may forgive such errors in a blog, which is free, but in a book that has been paid for, even small mistakes can ruin a book that might be very good. A bit of professional input may be what lies between a sloppy production with potential and a best-selling book.
Lesson #6: There is so much more to becoming an author than just writing the book
Becoming a self-published author is not that different from setting up your own business. Writing a book is clearly central to the process, but even excellent books don’t sell themselves. The book marketing process needs to begin well before the book has been published. As the author, you’re not just selling your book, but also yourself to your potential readers.
If you think about it, it’s no different to how other content is sold – be it music, film or a line of clothing. First you have to identify your target market. Then you need to understand what is already out there serving that market and get familiar with the competitor’s product and their marketing tactics. Next, you have to device your own plan to create a buzz around your product and get people interested in it, even before it’s launched. Luckily for authors, books are not particularly high value items and having read your competitor’s book is more likely to make the reader want to read yours.
Once the book is launched, it’s critical to ensure the book reaches those who will read, rate and review it. If you are a brand new author no one has heard of, chances are people will rely on reviews to decide whether or not they want to read it. You also want unbiased influencers reading your book and posting their reviews. For example, I sent copies to everyone who is in my book as a thank you, and I made a list of other men and women who I admire, and whose views I value. It is my hope that some of them will take the time to read my book and give me feedback. If they love it, they may even shout about it to the world.
I learnt about book giveaways – inviting strangers to take part in a sort of raffle where the winners are chosen at random.
Book launch events, although more expensive and require more effort to organise, are a powerful way to target readers, giving them an opportunity to get to know you so when they read your book they hear your voice in their heads.
Social media is also a great way to have an ongoing conversation and create lasting engagement with your readers beyond just the first book.
Writing my book has helped me deal with changes in my own life and helped me take that next step with a confidence I did not have at the beginning of the year. If it serves the same purpose for others out there, then I will know it has been a success.