In blogger groups the question comes up fairly regularly — How did you get your book published?
Invariably someone who has at least one book published answers. Someone who’s been there, done that. Often someone with a website and “branded” accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. They’ve done all the things they recommend, and it’s worked for them.
The author who answers will sometimes have a service she sells helping others get published, or maybe a book on the subject of publishing. Some of these tools are well done and helpful; some are a waste of time and money.
The published author will explain the need to create a “brand” and have everything you do help build your brand — your tweets, memes, blog articles, pins should all use and promote your brand. They say you need a brand to get lots of traffic and to get noticed by publishers.
“SEO is very important,” she will say. You must optimize your pins and posts so Google can find them. Getting followers and likes is vital. You must create and grow a large email list – 5000 or more names/followers to get noticed.
She will also tell the budding author that she should go to a writing conference and have book proposals ready to give to agents and publishers you might meet there. (I’ve seen a few writers conferences recommended. Some day I hope to attend one; I’m sure there’s a lot I could learn at one of these conferences.)
According to the expert, it will take 2-3 years of pitching your book to publishers to get one to bite. If you don’t get a contract, then self-publish. If you do get a contract, it will be 12-18 months from contract to publication.
When I read the answers by a published author, I think, “All this information may be accurate and helpful, but it sounds like a lot of work!”
My publication story is very different.
The Start of My Blog
I never wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to blog. I didn’t even read blogs.
I started my blog in the weeks after our son’s death – after The Accident, in fall of 2013 – just to let friends and family know how we were doing. I didn’t pick a brand or fancy name. I used my name: Kathleen B Duncan. Clear and simple.
I began to write (mostly short) updates on my grief and daily life after child loss. My posts were honest and raw. They still are.
Over time my posts got a bit longer and more frequent. I sometimes wrote how others could help us who grieve. And I wrote about how life goes on even after tragedy, about travel, marriage, cycling, and such.
I didn’t promote my blog. I didn’t have a Twitter account, public Facebook page, or Instagram account. I had no idea what Pinterest was.
I did join a couple of the free online classes offered by WordPress to learn more about blogging and formatting. I took one of their photography courses. Through these online courses I gained a few followers. I think I reached 100 followers after a year of blogging.
I wasn’t looking to be famous or make money. I just wrote what was on my heart and what the Lord was doing in my life as I walked through grief. I shared in a very raw way my grief and my faith.
I had very little traffic and didn’t care. Writing had become a way of healing for me; I wrote about my grief, and writing helped me heal. It seemed my writing was beginning to help others heal as well.
For the first year and a half I averaged less than 750 hits per month or less than 25 per day. Most days I had 10-15 hits. I was thrilled on days I had 30!
Twenty months after the start of my blog, one of my posts went viral. Readers were posting the article on Facebook with comments like, “This! This is exactly how I feel after my child died.” It was being shared all over the place! All over the world – 140+ countries. My blog had 200K hits in six weeks. It was crazy! Huffington Post picked it up and asked me to become a guest blogger.
I added a public Facebook page on which I posted my blog articles. I was getting too many friend requests and strange (spam) comments from strangers. Having separate Facebook pages for my blog and personal life made sense. Plus my friends and family could follow the public page if they wanted to read my blog. I also added a Twitter account.
That summer, 2015, I had friends and strangers from all over the world asking me to put my blog into a book. They wanted to share my grief journey (and the hope I write about) with friends and family. My writing resonated with them. It encouraged them. They said it helped them heal. They asked me to please write a book. So I did.
My Journey through Grief into Grace
I had no desire to pursue a big name publisher. I just didn’t have the energy. I decided to self-publish.
First, I had to learn about self-publishing. How is it done? What’s the best company to use? How do I get a cover designed? I had a lot to learn.
(I looked at vanity publishers. But I had no desire to pay someone thousands of dollars to publish my book.)
I learned how to self-publish through Create Space, A division of Amazon. Create Space is free and easy to use. They have free tools to help with writing (free formatted Word templates) and cover design. They have a free tool to convert to eBook. They have articles to teach you about pricing, marketing, etc. Yes, they take a cut from each book sold, but it is small and it was worth it to me.
Once I downloaded the free template, I began compiling the book. It took me three months to put my blog posts, Facebook posts and personal notes into book that reads like a diary of the first two years of my grief journey.
I decided to put four of my articles, including the one that went viral, into a separate book.
Writing/compiling the books was grueling work. I relived every moment of that time. The grief, the pain, the tears, the love poured out by others. I locked myself away for weeks as I finished writing because I knew I was getting into dark places and shouldn’t share my thoughts with others. My husband loved me well through it.
I knew where to start my story: The Day My Life Changed Forever. But I didn’t know where to stop; grief like this is not nice and neat. There is no “beginning, middle, end” to wrap up in a nice bow. I had no idea how to end the book.
As I was nearing the two year anniversary, another tragedy hit. Another young women who was part of Texas! The Outdoor Musical was killed in an accident on set. Ron and I went to help, to share the love and healing of Christ with the cast and crew. It’s another long story. You can read about it. I knew where to end the book.
I had offers from a professional editor who’d helped her husband get dozens of books on The NY Times Best Sellers list, but mine is a faith filled book. Her editing style just didn’t fit. Instead, I had a friend help me with editing. My friend was honest; she suggested lots of cuts, things that didn’t need to said. I’d used MS Word for writing and it caught most of the grammar errors. My friend caught many more. One of the nice things about Create Space is I can upload new content anytime, so when I found more typos after publication, I was able to correct them.
I don’t know how many copies I’ve sold. Perhaps 200. I have given away hundreds of hard copies. I’ve not made much money because I gave away the ebook every quarter that first year. I’ve given away thousands of ebooks.
My goal was not income but to share the truth that healing, hope, peace, and joy are available in Christ even in tragedy. I wanted to point hurting people to Jesus. And I wanted to let people know how to help grieving friends.
Getting Noticed by a Publisher
Six months after my self-published books came out, in May 2016, the head of publication for Precept Ministries International read them. (PMI is in 180 countries, 70 languages) Its a long story, but I did not pursue a publisher or pitch anything to anyone. The Vice President of Publication (Pete DeLacy) got a copy of My Journey through Grief into Grace and read it.
I didn’t know they were looking for a new writer, but they were. They’d been praying for eighteen months for someone to write an inductive Bible study on grief. After reading my book and sharing it with other staff members, Pete was sure I fit what they’d prayed for: Someone who 1) loved inductive Bible study, 2) had a heart for grieving people, and 3) knew how to write.
They asked me to write an inductive Bible study on grief. I said, “I don’t know how to do that.” Pete kindly said, “We’ll help you.” After much prayer and talking with my husband, I agreed to try.
With no time spent going to writers conferences or pitching my book proposals, I had a publishing contract. Six months later the study was published. Six months for writing and editing. Not the usual years of writing plus twelve to eighteen months of editing. My story is very different than most
My Writing Process
I spent the first month praying, thinking, talking with my husband about what to include. I sat down one day to type a list of topics. I got up nine hours laters. I did that for four days straight. No food, no breaks. Just writing. For nine hours each day. After four days I had the format, a list of topics/chapters, and 70 pages written.
I submitted my very rough draft to the editors at Precept. Weeks later I got the go ahead to write exactly the content and topics I proposed in the format I suggested. I also received permission to write a companion journal to go along with the study. We agreed on a name: God’s Healing in Grief.
One night in late August, I was in tears; I could not figure out how to transition from one chapter to the next section of the book. My husband Ron read what I had, went into his home office , and came out two hours later with what would be Lesson Nine. A few days later he emailed me a rough draft for Lesson Two. Ron became my co-author.
Most of the almost 300 page study was written July through September. My deadline was October 1. Editing took two months. The books were published December 6, 2016.
1 month praying & planning, 3 months writing, 2 months editing.
I could write this in-depth Bible study and companion journal in such a short time because I’d lived it! I’d been studying God’s Word inductively as I walked my journey of grief and healing. I’d been talking with other families in grief and sharing truth from the scriptures with them as they walked through child loss. I’d experienced not only child loss, but the death of my parents and in-laws. I’d lost friends to addiction, cancer, suicide, heart disease and more. I knew grief. And I’d seen God work to bring healing in my life. And I had the help of my brilliant, and good looking, husband.
The editing process is grueling! I had to fight for some things and let others go.
Even after publication I fought for changes. There were things the editors added I wanted out, things I didn’t catch due to the condensed schedule. The folks are Precept were wonderful to work with. Lots of prayer went into every change. But I had to stand strong for some edits.
The books were revised this summer. The revised editions are coming out next month. Most of the revisions are simply corrections, errors we found.
Ron and I took two online groups through the study last spring, and based on their feedback we added a few pages to clarify salvation is by grace alone and a section on the Holy Spirit. I believe these changes make the study better.
With a publisher, you have very little control over the finished product. They own it. They decide on format, cover, marketing, pricing, etc. They bring expertise and a broad distribution chain. But they take a chunk of the money and control everything. For me it was worth it. I wasn’t in it for the money but to help others find healing in Christ.
The editor can be a huge help! He fixes much more than grammar and spelling; he helps you write better. But he can cut things you want and add things you don’t. You have to learn to stand up for what’s really important to you and be humble enough to let them be right on other things, knowing that they are the experts on publishing.
My Future in Blogging and Publishing
I don’t know if I will ever write another book or another Bible study. I have ideas for a couple of studies but not the Go Ahead from God. My heart is to lead people to Jesus and to teach them to study His Word, to establish them in Truth. I enjoy leading inductive studies and doing life with the ladies in our groups.
I do enjoy writing, but monetizing my blog hasn’t been my goal. As soon as I learned how, I switched to a WordPress account without ads. I don’t have affiliate links, I don’t sell stuff other than my books. Though, I’m looking into affiliate links, I haven’t done them yet.
As for all the things published authors recommend you should do to get published…I haven’t done any of them. I didn’t look at SEO or other stats to get enough followers or a long enough email list to attract publishers. I’ve done little to nothing promote my blog. I don’t have a fancy website or brand. I don’t have a schedule of blog postings. I didn’t build a platform because I didn’t know what that means. I don’t use Tailwind.
I’m still learning about these things. I am just now learning Pinterest. (I found a free course on the basics.) I’m learning about SEO and platforms and branding. I joined a few blogger groups to learn more.
I will keep writing. I love it! I’ll keep up with my blog, but grief will only be a minor topic. I’ll reblog old posts about grief because I hope to continue to encourage others who are hurting.
Most of my time is spent in studying God’s Word (I lead two Bible studies in my home), riding my bike, lifting weights, reading, eating ice cream, playing with grandkids, and being with my husband.
Bottom line: I wrote what I felt God leading me to write. I tried to follow the Holy Spirit rather than chase followers. And I ended up with a publishing contract and a book with an accompanying journal to some day be published into other languages. Plus I’m speaking at an international women’s conference in October.
God does beautiful things with our suffering and pain when we lay them at the cross.