How to Finish a Book

In 1992, I was living in Atlanta, GA. I had a BS in Electrical Engineering and a MA in English, and I didn’t have a job. I taught adjunct at GA state and West GA College, but it was very unpredictable – my course load went from 6 classes to 1 in a week, and so I went to a temp agency to try to find a job.

The first thing the job consultant asked me was “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”. I oscillated around giving him a true answer or the one I thought would make me more attractive to potential employers.

I decided on the truth–you have way less to lose when you tell the truth:

            “Living by the ocean and writing novels.”

He looked at me and smiled. Maybe he had a similar dream once.

It took me almost 30 years from that day, but I made it. I live by the ocean and I write novels (currently on my third).

Here is how I did it:

  1. Find your people – support is key. Not just other writers, but people who give you love, energy, and support
  2. Keep learning. My favorite two writing books are https://amzn.to/2EagJP4 and https://amzn.to/2FuJM09 (Yes, these are affiliate links–if you buy, I get a little bit of cash. I literally look at these books all the time.)
  3. Invest both time and money. Writing is hard work. Building a business takes time.
  4. Lose the attitude of scarcity. There are plenty of readers for your work. You just need to find them.
  5. Enjoy writing as a passion. Embrace selling books as a business

I also put myself through an MFA in Creative Writing program. I didn’t really think I needed to learn how to write (I already had a Masters in English), even though I learned a lot about writing a publishable book. I took the MFA because I wanted the structure. I knew that it was too easy for me to find excuses. (Invest time and money and keep learning)

I committed to finishing my degree as quickly as I could. I took 2 classes a year for almost 2 years, and it was hard work (Find supportive people). This gave me deadlines for producing outlines, synopses, marketing material and publishable prose. I literally had to keep producing words to stay in the program.

I graduated the program with a “good” rough draft. I had to then find the motivation to finish it off. Finding the motivation finish a book is a whole lot easier when you have a completed manuscript in your hand than when you only have a blank page and a blinking cursor. So, using the MFA to write my manuscript was a great decision. I also met great, supportive people along the way.

When I was young, I dreamed of being a best-selling author–agent, big-time publisher, movie deals, book tours. So, the next logical step in my journey was to find an agent. I knew people who had agents. This seemed do-able. I knew how to write to query letter and how to adhere to each agent’s submission guidelines.

I followed all the advice. I got my expected rejections. I was actually impressed that I got so many. Mostly, when you send out a pile of queries, you get nothing. I was prepared to put in the time because I was on my journey.

Then one morning I woke up and realized that I should use my book to build a publishing business. I thought about it like that–here is an opportunity to build a business. I had a product–my book, and I have the knowledge–I have worked with start-ups for years. I knew way more about building a business than I did looking for an agent needle in a publishing haystack.

So, I got serious.

I did all the things you need to do to build a publishing business: I came up with name, wrote a business plan, made a marketing strategy, built a web site, got beta readers, did many rounds of editing, formatted the book, research my distribution channels, built the book, built the company, then published the book.

It’s a journey, not a destination. The book is sitting on Amazon and in Ingram’s catalog for anyone to buy. It is mostly just sitting there. About 100 people have it in their hands. Hopefully, they are enjoying it and are going to leave me a positive review on Amazon.

Or, at least, maybe one of them will enjoy it.

I just returned from a walk by the ocean, and I’m sitting down to work on my next book.

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