Since my second book was released last year, I have been overwhelmed with the number of people who want to know how to write a book, so I decided to share my story (and some tips) here.
I am so honored to have co-authored two books, The White Dress In Color and The White Dress Destinations. My journey as an author happened almost inadvertently. I am not one of those people who has always wanted to write a book. In fact, I don’t find writing to be one of my strong suits. So when the opportunity arose to co-author a book, the idea was a bit intimidating.
I have a love for styling photoshoots and two of my dear friends and talented colleagues and I, photographer, Carla Ten Eyck and event designer and planner, Candice Coppola had collaborated on a number of gorgeous styled shoots together. The shoots were receiving recognition and being published in some of the top magazines and bridal blogs in the country. But, the whole concept felt fleeting. We worked so hard to create this gorgeous work. It got published, but then once the next issue came out, or the next gorgeous blog post was promoted, poof…they just seemed to disappear. I had the desire to create a permanency to our work. One day on the way to a photoshoot at The Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut (one of my favorite images is below). I had the idea to preserve our work, by creating an inspirational coffee table book for couples with images from our shoots and tangible tips on planning their wedding. I arrived at the shoot and shared this idea (which honestly felt a bit like a pipe dream at the time) with Candice and Carla. They loved the idea and we all were excited by the prospect. But then…reality set in! None of us had the first clue how to write a book!
We did some research and realized that we had to start with a proposal. And the natural course of action seemed to be to hire an agent. So, the three of us went off on a snowy retreat for the weekend to Mohonk Mountain House, armed with lots of wine and a desire to bring this book to fruition. Over the weekend we researched agents that represented the art and wedding genre, we formulated the concept for the book and created an outline for our proposal.
Around this same time, a friend of mine, Josh Chalmers (who happened to be an event planner) was in the process of authoring a children’s book. He so generously offered to review our proposal and edit our chapter introductions and also offered to make an introduction to his publisher. Josh had opted to by-pass an agent and went to work directly with Schiffer Publishing, a family owned publishing house in Amish Country, Pennsylvania.
I will never forget the phone call that I received from Josh. I was in Martha’s Vineyard on vacation. I was trying to load my sandy kids into the car and precariously get the cooler, chairs and various paraphernalia that comes with 2 kids at the beach into our car, when Josh called me and told me that Pete Schiffer, the President of Schiffer Publishing was very interested in talking to us about our book. That news made my vacation even sweeter!
A few weeks later, Candice and I went on a road trip to Atglen, Pennsylvania- a tiny town in the middle of Amish Country. We met with Pete Schiffer and his head of marketing and reviewed the book proposal that we had sent earlier. Now, when I say book proposal, it is an understatement. We initially had sent them a one page proposal. But, once we knew of their interest, Candice, with her incredible design aesthetic, literally mocked up the book as we envisioned it being produced and we had it printed and sent to Schiffer. In the conference room on that day, they told us that they loved the concept and they wanted to produce the book exactly as we proposed it! They loved the title, they loved the cover (which is unheard of) and they loved all of the photo shoots that we had proposed, including a photoshoot with a same sex female couple. Now, this was 2011, and we were in Amish Country, Pennsylvania… so, we were not at all sure how that shoot was going to fly! But of course, hearing those words, we were overjoyed.
Now, I know that I make it seem like it was all rainbows and unicorns…that part was. The next part was HARD WORK!!! Over the next several months we had to do a TON of work to get ready for it to go to print! Our first book, The White Dress in color, has very little written content. (This was intentional…again, remember that fear that I have of writing). And thank goodness it did, as I did not realize the amount of work that goes into preparing written words for publication. We not only had to write the introductions, but we had to code the text. Symbols and key words had to be added to the text so that the publisher knew when something was indented or bolded and whether it was a header, title, or part of the copy. This required months of work.
We also had to send the publisher a design dossier with our vision for the design of the book. Ultimately, the book would be designed by their team, but they allowed us the opportunity to provide our vision for the material and color of the cover, the fonts, the typeface, and any design details within the book.
In addition, we had to put together a marketing plan for the marketing department. We had to gather together names and addresses of bookstores that we felt were the best fit for our book. We also had to gather names and emails of industry influencers and editors who we thought could endorse and promote our book. All of this information had to be submitted along with our final transcript. In addition, we had to write a short and long description of the book that we would be sent to all of these contacts prior to the book’s release in a document called a BLAD to get them interested in the book. We also had to formulate a list of those contacts that we felt should receive an advance copy of the book. Now, this was 2009, so we were pre-instagram and still in the pretty early stages of social media. So, a lot of the marketing we had to do was boots on the ground, pounding pavement, old school marketing. And honestly, 5 years later, when the second book, The White Dress Destinations came out, even with social media, we had to do the same thing.
Our final transcript and marketing information was due at the end of December. We then had to wait…and wait…until the mock up was ready. We received that in February and had 5 days to review it and send any changes. Talk about stressful. As that was our first go round with the design team, and there was a bit of a learning curve. We had submitted the design dossier and Candice had done a beautiful job of mocking the entire book up, but still there were quite a few changes to be made. And of course, they were dealing with 3 very visual people whose life work is to make things beautiful…so we were a tough audience! But, we ended in a place we were happy with. So, we blessed and released and gave them the thumbs up to publish!
Then again, we had to wait. It would take another 6-8 weeks until we could see the advanced copy.
Holding that book in our hands was a surreal moment. I can honestly equate it to giving birth. For months and months you develop and grow this project, then at the end you put in a ton of hard work…and finally it is delivered. But then, the REAL work began. You can’t just create a book and say, here it is world, what do you think?! You then have to bust your ass to get it in front of everyone that you can! Yes, we had the marketing department at Schiffer assisting us. But, like with anything that you are selling, the person who knows the product best, is the best sales person.
The hardest part about book promotion is the fear of talking too much about it. And honestly, we struggled with that. This was a difficult thing for Carla, in particular. But, when you are promoting a book, the biggest mistake you can make is to push it when it first comes out and then stop promoting it. You have to constantly be thinking of new ways to promote it and bring it to people’s attention. And it is not easy…especially when it is no longer shiny and new.
I learned a lot from my journey as an author.
Here are things that you need to do in order to write a book:
Create a book proposal (Click here for a link to the book proposal for our first book, The White Dress in color)
Decide if an agent is the best route for you
Research agents and book publishers based on the genre of your book
Reach out to authors that you admire and find out who their agent/publisher is
Pitch your book
Keep an ongoing list of bookstores (brick and mortar and online) that would be a good fit for your book
Keep an ongoing list of editors and influencers to help to promote your book
Here are things that you need to do after you write a book:
Create a diverse marketing plan for book promotion (this should include: Press, social media, podcasts, appearances, book signings)
Break the marketing plan into short term and long term promotion
Evaluate the PR reach of your publisher/agent vs your own PR abilities and determine if you should hire a PR person for the book
Hire a photographer to take images of your book and you with your book for use in press and on social media
Create a list of influencers to receive an advanced copy of your book
Constantly be thinking of new and different ways to talk about and promote your book (this CAN be done in a way that does not feel self-serving)
Never stop promoting! This is an accomplishment and you should be so proud!
Becoming an author is one of my greatest accomplishments. The journey was like anything else in life…it takes hard work and dedication to bring your dream to reality!