Publishing Your Book: Step-by-Step to Getting “Lucky”, Part I

Right after I celebrated having an acquisitions editor express interest in my book, friends started congratulating me in sort of an odd way.

“You are SO lucky to be able to write a book and get interest right away.”


From school.discoveryeducation:

“Aren’t you lucky to get interest in your first book so fast!”

“I could write a book too, but I don’t have time.”

“I’ve written a book, but it’s not ready to go out yet.”

“Ive been working on my book for years. I’m just not as lucky as you.”

You, too, can do exactly what I did, and I’m going to tell you how I did it, step by step. No secrets. No holding back. First, truth in disclosure: I do not yet have a contract. I had an acquisitions editor express interest. There is still the giant leap to acceptance. More about that part later. First, the step by step.

1. Write every day for 50 years. I wrote my first book when I was seven years old, in a spiral notebook. (It didn’t get published.) I’ve been writing almost every day since.

2. Take on different writing assignments. I wrote my first published book when I was 30. It was a “book for hire” deal. I hated it. It wasn’t my idea, it was me writing about someone else’s idea for pay. Since that time, I’ve written for ad agencies, PR firms, financial institutions, insurance companies, huge manufacturing companies, small struggling businesses. I’ve worked at a newspaper, at a magazine, at an editorial think tank. I’ve written for people I agreed with and people I despised. On topics I loved and topics so boring, watching the barometer drop was more interesting. But I wrote. Now, fast-forward to this book.

3.  Find a topic that fascinates, mesmerizes and fires you up. Mine was One Sentence Journaling. (Here’s an article I wrote about it last March.) I have notes that go back six years, but I organized and taught the course four years ago. Each time I taught it, I took notes, listened to comments and changed the course to see if it improved.

4. Do the same thing with two more topics: find topic you really like, develop a course, teach it, listen to feedback, change parts of it until you feel it is a good course that people will pay to attend. (This helps you gauge interest in the material.)

5. Once you’ve taught it in person, teach it online, to make sure you have written exercises that are clear and make sense. Teaching a class online takes about 8 x the length of time it takes to teach the class in prep, set-up, running and comments.

6. Examine the classes and discover a new path to the same information. This is called discovering another perspective. Not everyone learns the same way. You are broadening your audience. As you teach other classes, see what people wish they could develop their creativity to do, what they are missing in their lives, how they can make meaning. Take lots of notes. Be willing to be confused and not know what to do next.

7. Stay open to new ideas. Mine  hit me during morning walking meditation. It was a good idea but it doesn’t hang together with the rest of the material. Be willing to spend months trying out ideas, messing up, failing, starting over, trying, polishing, until one day you are too exhausted to care anymore. You put the idea aside. The next day, in the shower, you have an idea. It fits! You work another three months fitting it into the writing portion.

8. Blend the new ideas and put them in front of your audience. In my case, that was the beginning of raw-art journaling.   Blend the new approach with the old, turning it into the same step, so people who learned visually, auditorially (by hearing), and kinesthetically (by moving),  could learn.  Create a ton of examples. Create a website. Listen to comments from people who like and don’t like your website. Think them through. Be willing to be wrong, to fail again.

9. Develop a class that combines the final version of your idea. Teach this class and all the variations 10 times, each time making changes that improve the class. Listen to feedback, criticism, questions, and people who tell you it’s weird. Ignore the last one. Note on teaching: It will not make you rich. Do not teach to make money. Teach to try out your ideas, to spread your discoveries, to get better teaching. Teaching is not about you, it’s about the participants.

10. Gather up all your notes and create an outline for a book. Do this while running your own business, because no one pays you for this stage. Work on the outline until it looks like information people would pay to play with.

You now have reached the stage where you can write a book proposal. At this point, I’ve spend 50 years writing almost every day, and six years in some stage of book development. I haven’t started writing the book yet, although every shred of it has been taught and evaluated.

Tomorrow: How to write  a book proposal and find a publisher.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has a website for writers who want to keep an art journal, and a website for her business training. Both have coaching sections.


To-Do Lists that Help You Work

To-do lists can work for you or make you crazy. There are many ways to create them, and the only one that works is the one that works for you.

First, I have to admit that I use a paper to-do list. Even with all the electronics, the fastest, most efficient list-making for me is done with a pencil and index. card.  I don’t have to boot it up, recharge it, or open it. It’s available to me at all times, and a pencil doesn’t need to be connected, opened, or tested. It’s always ready to go. I’ll admit I have a pencil thing.

Here are two ways to use a to-do list. Both involve 3 x 5 index cards, or 4 x 6 cards if you write big.  (I turn the cards and work on them portrait-orientation.) I work on several projects at a time, so I use one card per project. Each project’s name is written on the top of the card, and the to-do list underneath. That way, I can put all the project to-do lists next to each other and see how much work I have and which project needs to take priority. When I have a lot of projects going at the same time, it’s wonderful.

color coded index cardsWhen I get really into projects, I assign one color to each project, and color code the cards to match the project. (You can also use different color cards.) Color coding gives me overviews and helps me draw conclusions faster. (“A lot of blue cards, do I need to farm some of this out?” “The yellow project is due in a week. Why so few yellow cards? Am I done early, or is there something missing?”)

Then there is the worry list to-do list. When I wake up at night, unable to sleep and busy worrying, I make a list of things I’m worrying about. Having written down the worries, I go back to sleep. The next morning, I tackle the things that need to be done.

The last to-do list is called the tag-cloud to-do list. Because I use the same method as tag clouds–the more important a task, the bigger I write it. Because I have small handwriting, I draw a box around each item on the list. The bigger the box, the more important (or worrisome, or pressing) the item. That gives me two facts at once: the item and the importance, all in one glance.

You can use a mix of these methods. Color-coding works with tag-clouding very well.  Tag-clouding works with worry-list well, too. And no matter what method I choose, writing down all the things that need to get done helps me free up more memory cells.


–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer specializing in communicating. That includes Writing for the Web and Giving Powerful Presentations. See all the topics at © 2007 -9 All rights reserved.

Theme Thursday #23: 10.29.09

Theme Thursday is about finding your way–through maps. I know I’ve done maps before, but I find them so fascinating–a way to help people see life in a way that helps them make sense in a personal way.

Hand-Drawn Maps is a website that celebrates maps of every kind.  They are curated in sets of 10, from expansive maps of imaginative places, to different takes on Philadelphia. Maps help bring the third dimension down to two in a ways that makes sense of both time, space and life.

Christine Mannix is an artist and cartographer. I found her name on a blog on maps– Cartophilia, –although I’ve been told she’s not the author. In any case, Cartophilia is unusual and interesting and varied and worth a look!

Many people have contributed their own hand-drawn maps to this UK site. It’s fun to click around on thumbnails and see completely different hand-drawn maps of vineyards and Venice and an odd look at the U.S.

John-a-Lookin’ Around journals about different places he sees on his walkabout. There are detailed sketches in his journal entries, creating a day-to-day map.

Urban Sketchers has a world-full of people who draw what they see. Sort of an Atlas of very focused pieces. This one is John Wooley, who is 10,  is on his way to seeing life very closely and very well.

Google has given mind-maps a try, well, in their own way. You can see your searches mapped out by category if you try the Google Wonder Wheel

You can join in on Theme Thursday: post three links to sites you love or blogs you follow. You can do it on your site or in comments here.

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays: * * * Creative Play 10.29.09 * * *  Creative Play 10.15.09 * * * Creative Play 10.8.09 * * * Creative Play 10.1.09* * *  Creative Play 9.24.09 * * * Creative Play 9.17.09* * * Creative Play 9.10.09 * * *

What to do With Flashcards

A generous soul gave me a box of flashcards. There are about 200 of them. They are ivory card stock, about 8.5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide. Sturdy with rounded corners. Each one has a word on one side, and a small number in the upper left-hand corner.


Sample flash card

The other side is blank.

What do I do with them?
I’m looking for creative, interesting ideas–not ones that anyone might think of–bookmarks, journal covers, journal pages.
If you give a suggestion, please make sure you include some sort of directions, so I can understand what the idea is.

And if I find an idea and love it, I’ll share some with you–let’s say a dozen.

Leave your suggestions in the comments box.

Making Meaning With Your Decision

The earth heaves forward and you see the place where dawn will polish a hole in the sky.
You are the creator, this is your doing. You can call up the dawn, or you can step into the shadow.
Or you can step into the light and cast a shadow, falling in front of you.
You can wait until the sun is in your face, your shadow falling behind you.

You wonder if this creation is good, will sell, will become viral and make you a success, famous, a celebrity, rich beyond belief. You aren’t sure you care.

Genesis. Pitt Pen, watercolor pencils © Quinn McDonald 2009 All rights reserved

Genesis. Pitt Pen, watercolor pencils © Quinn McDonald 2009 All rights reserved

So you ask your committee to speak up.
The “Devil’s Advocate” who warns about the thing you haven’t thought of yet.
The Critic who says the public wants it smooth and cool, and you feel hot and sweaty.
The Marketer who says your portraits aren’t of pretty people, they are raw and ugly.
The Expert who says that people don’t like  hard edgy words now, they want it soft and easy.

You love this work, this scooping out of meaning from the blood-sponge of your heart.
You love it, but this Committee seems to know. Who is right? Who knows enough to advise you?

Sun pushes up the dawn. It’s time to know. Either you or your shadow will step into the shoes that leave deep marks and walk across the face of the earth.
This is no one else’s decision.
This is yours to know.
This is your creation.
For this one heartbeat, you are the Creator.

© Quinn McDonald 2009 All rights reserved

Prescott, AZ–Found Art

Prescott was the original capitol of Arizona. It’s an old town that’s tucked into mountains high enough to support snow in the winter. This weekend there were broadleaf trees that had turned to bright, brittle yellow. The smell of autumn leaves was unmistakable; I haven’t smelled it since I left the East Coast.

Autum leaves, Prescott © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Autum leaves, Prescott © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Prescott is a lovely town, a town that shows art to anyone who wanders into The Raven (either the cafe or the pen-and-paper shop) or Van Gogh’s Ear, one of the art shops that line Whiskey Row.

Prescott also puts out its own art, the town as it is, for anyone to enjoy.  Cortez Street is packed with antique shops that are stuffed with vintage, old, worn, odd, and delightful objects.

The Armadilla (yes, it ends with an ‘a’) Wax Works is a candle factory with a retail shop. It’s at the top of the hill that makes Cortez Street, before the antique shops take over.

This candle factory is in the building of a former bank. Arizona produced a lot of copper in the old days, still does,  so the entire front of the store is still home to the old vault and safe.

The detailed copper molding that is both bold and delicate,  and a sun-mirror that is rich and polished to match the older copper safe wall with the dentil and decorative molding. In some light, you can see the copper has taken a lot of polishing, but it’s thick and hefty and won’t wear out any time soon.

Antique copper moulding and mirror © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Antique copper moulding and mirror © Quinn McDonald, 2009

On the opposite wall was a grouping of candles and grasses with blossoms. The sun was at the right angle to make it a perfect photo all its own.

Candles from the Armadilla Candle Works, Prescott © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Candles from the Armadilla Candle Works, Prescott © Quinn McDonald, 2009

The Raven Cafe is a wonderful old building. I’m a fan of the collages that sprout in bathrooms, and this was no exception. This one seemed to be planned–it had originally been created, quilt-like, a block at a time, then mounted on the wall and continued with paint and pen.

The Raven's Cafe's artful bathroom. © Quinn McDonald 2009

The Raven's Cafe's artful bathroom © Quinn McDonald 2009

This garage was graffiti’d and then painted over unevenly. The resulting unfinished raw art is perfect the way it is.

Garage Mural © Quinn McDonald 2009

Garage Mural © Quinn McDonald 2009

The next building was painted when it was too cold. Half the paint popped off in the dry air, leaving a great pattern that looks like an angel food cake.

Peeling Paint, © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Peeling Paint, © Quinn McDonald, 2009

Prescott has art around every corner, great weather to enjoy it, and astonishing rock formations around the town. A great place for a quick getaway. If you have time to drive up from Phoenix, don’t take the Freeway. Nothing against I-17, but the scenery is not spectacular. Take a bit longer, go through Wickenburg and Yarnell and see mountains and thumb buttes that will astonish you.

Out of Yarnell, don’t take the switchback road that 89 turns into. Turn left onto Kirkland Road and go through Skull Valley and into Prescott. It’s 10 miles longer and worth every inch.

–Quinn McDonald rides a motorcycle and takes pictures with her iPhone.

SPARK Collaboration for Writers, Photographers

Amy Souza runs the blog SPARK. It’s a creative jump start for collaborations between writers and artists. Souza says, ” Writers send artists a story or poem, and artists send writers an image of their painting, photograph, or sculpture. During the 10-day project period, each person uses their partner’s piece as a jumping off point for new work of their own.”

The goal is simply to give writers and artists a challenge, a new way of looking at the world and their work, and a chance to inspire another creative soul.” The project runs four times a year, and you can sign up any time.

The project continues each month and new examples go up. (See the most recent contest.)  My friend Lin Jorgensen participated in this imaginative exchange with Louisa Di Pietro.  Lin’s poem is below.

Lullabies for a Rainy House

I wouldn’t leave my house
Though the roof, unmended
For decades, sent rain seeping
Down through the walls
To meet water seeping
Up through broken pipes.

I stayed when the walls lifted
Away from floorboards
That sank, gaping.
With hell close underfoot
I stumbled tilting from
Room to room, amazed by
This decaying ark
Covered by a tattered tarp
Always damp and mostly dark
That I called home

Until, fifty years standing,
Thirty of them mine
Through ice and rainstorm
The elm tree let go

A quarter-ton bouquet
A rude awakening
A roaring boom across
The bow of the roof
Twelve feet from my bed
Shook the house
And ran my ark aground.
I knew it was bad before
I saw it: We’re sunk
I whispered to the cats.
It’ll never stop raining now.

The dog and I blinked
Through 3 a.m. murk
At a huge limb leaning
The length of the roof
Balanced on a single eave,
The crushing weight scarcely
Piercing a little room
I thought might be spared.
But already rain swept in. Soon
Every surface would I knew
Brimming, buckling, fall asunder

No more praying the elm
Tossing above in ice or rain
Stands fast until the morning.
Free from all hope, but things
Could always be worse!
That’s what we always said.
That’s boats for you. That’s
Staying afloat. That’s being
An elm tree, that’s living
Under one!  The dog and I
Crept back inside, weary from
Staring at the damage.

The worst had come and
It staggered, it beggared, it
Knocked all the wind out
And made me long for shelter

So I took what I could of the garden
And a slice of the elm and moved house.
New people bought my ark, razed it.
Built clean over my streaming sadness.
Cut down the elm.  I could never go back.
It’s safe here. The worst is over.
But comes a strong rain, I swear
A blue tarp frays and flaps like sails
I hear the steady hiss of hidden water
Leaking soaking sinking and
The elm tosses fifty feet above
Us, quaking, praying for morning.

Our old lullabies wake us:
The little cats keep close, the dog eyes
My face, then the window, and sighs.
We grow still, comforted, waiting for
The crack of doom together. Trusting
The ark of sleep to carry us home

—Lin Jorgensen