Before publishing a book, I supposed an author followed a few easy steps. After all, the internet is full of guarantees that there are “4 Easy Steps” to just about everything.
- Have a fantastic idea at your organized desk.
- Find an inspiring, quiet place to hole up for a weekend and type 40,000 words about the idea.
- Get a publisher to put a cover and a spine on your 40,000 words.
Follow those 4 linear steps and voila!!
In just a few weeks my second book, Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People, will be released.
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Some bumpy terrain and potholes appeared as I skipped along that “simple” path toward publication.
In reality, my “steps to publishing a book” went more like this:
1. In the spring of 2017—before my first book, Remarkable Faith, released—my publisher asked me to determine a due date for “Book 2,” as we were calling it at that time. With one book under my belt, I figured 12 months ought to be ample time. I chose March 12, 2018 as my manuscript due date, and I signed a legal contract promising to deliver it by that date.
2. Summer 2017 came and went. Remarkable Faith released. My boys played baseball. We swam and fished. I wrote a few articles, toyed with “Book 2” ideas, and discovered an interesting pattern worth investigating—even people who saw Jesus felt disappointed at one point or another.
3. September 2017 I start counting on my fingers and realize I have seven months to write an entire book. I feel ashamed for not working on it over the summer and stupid for counting on my fingers.
4. We settle on Remarkable Hope as a working title but don’t have a subtitle yet. I propose eight stories from the gospels to retell. In order to keep myself on track, I lead my Monday afternoon Bible study through those eight stories.
5. November 2017 arrives, and we have studied all eight stories, but I have not written one full chapter. Parts and pieces are disorganized on my computer and in my mind. Five months remain until my deadline. Also, Thanksgiving and Christmas require additional mental bandwidth. I start to panic. Panic can be paralyzing. But in this instance, it set me in motion. Praise the Lord!
6. I email my book prayer team with specific requests. Then I hire the most voracious reader I know to be my boss and first editor. With two chapters in rough draft, I commit to sending her three chapters at a time. Then I spend a few days berating myself for being the most undisciplined and disorganized writer in the history of writers.
7. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 come back from my voracious reader friend. My writing is rusty and this is not fun. I spend long hours at my computer researching, typing, reading Scripture, and praying. Severe pain in my shoulders and elbows force me to rest (which sounds absolutely ridiculous to me since I am sitting so much!). I Google “physical therapy exercises for tennis elbow” and begin a nightly regimen to relieve the pain. I also start taking Aleve like it’s a vitamin.
8. We settle on a subtitle and choose a cover—the light blue one you’ve seen. I love it.
9. With three months until my deadline, two of the stories I studied don’t seem to fit the theme of the book like I thought. There is no way I’m going to finish. I start to lose hope. Ironic, isn’t it? I email my publisher to request a three-month extension which she graciously grants. I cry and thank the Lord. The new deadline is May 11, 2018.
10. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 come back. Some of the rust has fallen away and the gears have been lubed.
11. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 are in the queue. But chapter 7 isn’t coming together. After many tears and prayers, I email my reader/editor/boss. Somehow, she makes sense of my struggle. With her kind encouragement and insightful direction, I begin a NEW chapter 7.
12. In the middle of NEW chapter 7, my computer dies. No warning. No “blue screen of death” as it’s infamously called. All chapters are backed up on an external drive, except for NEW Chapter 7. Nausea and headaches, shoulder and elbow pain plague me as I wait for the computer doctor to see what they can retrieve from my computer. At this point, I don’t even care if all my family pictures are lost. I’m praying for NEW chapter 7 to be there. Five agonizing days later, I find out my computer cannot be fixed, but NEW chapter 7 IS STILL THERE!! Oh, Thank you Lord!! I cry again—happy tears this time. I order a new computer, borrow a laptop while I wait for it to arrive, and finish chapter 8 and the conclusion.
13. April 2018—one month to manuscript deadline. I send off those final chapters and feel as if I’m merely “phoning it in.” Feeling like a total fraud, I am sprinting toward the finish. Just finish, Shauna. Finish!! My reader/editor/hired boss tells me, “These are the best chapters yet.” I can’t believe it, but I trust her. Then I rewrite the conclusion.
14. May 11, 2018. 2:30pm. My blood pressure is about 280/190 (a rough estimate). I email the completed manuscript to my editor. A few minutes later she replies. With trembling hands I open the email. “I am out of my office but will return later this week.” It’s an automated response. Anticlimactic, to say the least. I chuckle and wonder if God is trying to loosen me up and help me remember that this manuscript is not the most important thing in the world.
15. A few weeks later revisions come. My editor is thrilled with the manuscript and asks if I’ve ever considered writing a novel. I blink, stammer, and thank her.
16. I order printed bookmarks with a photo of the lovely light blue book cover to give to readers. Several days later, I receive an email requesting final approval on the book cover. I open the attached image file, and IT IS THE WRONG COVER. It’s still beautiful, relatively similar, but it is NOT the cover I just printed on my bookmarks. What’s more, every online retailer has the light blue cover displayed. I wring my hands, stew, cry, and pray for 24 hours before I respond to the email. The publisher calls to apologize. Turns out it was just a mistake. All that consternation for nothing. I give final approval on the correct cover. I suspect the Lord is trying to shake me loose and remind me that “He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion” (see Philippians 1:6).
17. The second round of editing is underway, and I realize chapter 1 needs help! It seems late in the game to be rewriting a large chunk, but boring the reader on page one is a major problem. I call on my prayer team again and rewrite the first part of chapter 1.
18. My husband’s aunt reads 100 books a year and knows a thing or two about books. I ask her to read my manuscript. She makes several great suggestions and catches multiple errors.
19. I receive my “page proofs.” Each page is laid out exactly as it will appear in the book. Only tiny changes can be made at this point—a word, a comma. If you rewrite a sentence, it must fit in the same amount of space without bumping any lines to the next page. It is hard for me to read it for the eleven-millionth time. But I do. I make notes about possible discussion questions for groups and underline a few sentences to use as quotes on social media promotional images. Then I stuff it in an envelope and FedEx it back to New York. Bon voyage, dear manuscript!
See? There are just 19 simple steps to publishing a book.
Truly there are many more, plus a whole lot of prayer and heart-stopping speed bumps.
No matter which path to publication you’re headed down, make this your first step: gather a team of praying friends.
God provided fellow believers, praying friends, and family to function as my spiritual roadside assistance every time it seemed I was headed for the ditch.
Prayerfully, there will be no more road bumps, but I’m buckled up—and have my prayer team on speed dial—just in case.
Shauna Letellier is the author of Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People. Drawing upon her degree in Biblical Studies, she weaves strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories in her books and on her blog. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising three boys along the banks of the Missouri River where they fish, swim, and rush off to ball games.
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