Recently, I was given the privilege of writing a book about homesteading and how to do it by Skyhorse Publishing.
Skyhorse contacted us about a year ago and broached the subject of publishing what came to titled Homesteading From Scratch: Building your self-sufficient homestead, start to finish.
And now that I’m a full-fledged, bona fide author (I may even wind up a hundredaire as a result of book sales) I figured I’d take my “expertise” and tell our readers, who might be interested in writing and publishing a book themselves how to do it.
So, here are my XX steps to writing a book. If you follow these steps, you’re sure to wind up in the same position that I’m in today.
Step 1: Get very, very lucky
I’ve been a professional writer since I was 19. I’ve worked at television stations, magazines, newspapers, etc. etc. I will literally write anything for a paycheck, or on occasion, a six-pack. Once upon a time, when I had a lot of time on my hands (up to 3 or 4 hours a week) I considered writing a book. So I did what the websites say to do: I sent out countless query letters, short stories, manuscripts, etc. etc.
Eventually, my spare time ran out and I just gave it up. I was already a writer. And it was exhausting trying to get a publisher for something as ambitious as a book. Fast forward about 15 years. Skyhorse contacts me and wants to discuss me writing a book.
I said sure, because why not? I know why they contacted me about writing a book: It’s because the readers of Elliott Homestead are so passionate and dedicated. In fact, I’d argue that I’ve done nearly the impossible and actually become a worse writer as I’ve aged. And I’m fine with that.
I love our readers and I love the fact that all the support of our readers and our advertisers have given us new and exciting opportunities to spread the gospel of sustainable living and homesteading.
So, the first step is: Get lucky. Get lucky enough to stumble into a culture of generous, open-hearted people who are devoted to intentionally living their lives with individuality, compassion, intelligence and uniqueness. Once that happens, you may get a chance to publish a book, or you may not, but something good will come of it regardless.
Step 2: Agonize over the contract like a crazy person
I once spent about 3 months annoying professional publishers and editors during an ill-fated college internship at a small publishing house. I learned a lot during that experience. Mainly that I’m afraid of contracts and I suck at interning.
To this very day, I have no idea what a “good” contract looks like — and that includes cell phone plans, that thing I sign when I use my credit card (that’s a contract, right?) and that thing that happened with me and an unnamed cable provider (I think they have the rights to my organs).
So, when Skyhorse sent me a contract to peruse and whatnot, I spend about two weeks asking dumb, dumb questions. Here’s a few (note: Most of these questions are fictional. The answers are mostly fictional and the rest paraphrased and bear little to no resemblance of the actual conversations I had. These questions are merely to demonstrate how not bright I am):
Question: What if you don’t publish it?
Answer: Why would we not publish a book? We’re publishers. It’s our job.
Question: What happens if it becomes a best seller?
Answer: Then we’ll all be very happy.
(Editor’s Note: Odds are it won’t. There’s a bazillion books in the world published every year. Why’d you even ask that question?)
Question: Can I be on TV?
Finally, the editor who contacted me, a wonderfully patient woman, just said to sign the thing, as she had stuff to do (Actually, she didn’t. She was incredibly patient and understanding and I’m going to dance a jig at her house someday to celebrate her and her contributions to American letters, but she should have). And I did. Whew. Step Two complete.
Step Three: Write the book
In my early college years, I spent much of it working in construction. One day, we had to haul countless wheelbarrow loads of wet concrete down a muddy, rutted hillside to a series of load bearing cinder block walls.
Once we got there, we had to scoop concrete into five gallon buckets and lift it 8 feet into the air so we could hand it to another set of workers who poured the buckets of concrete into the walls.
After we’d scooped all our concrete out of the wheelbarrow, we’d have to go back to the concrete truck and start over. And we had to go as fast as possible: The concrete truck was on the edge of the company’s range and as such, there was a concern the concrete would set inside the truck.
So, we hauled concrete as fast as we could go until it was done. And it was really, really hard. Physically, it may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Until I wrote a book.
Sitting in a chair, clenching every muscle in my body (I don’t even know why) and typing for hours, days and weeks on end, hurt.
Toward the deadline, I was surviving on just a few hours of sleep a night. It was emotionally draining. I literally ached in my joints.
I became a monster to my family (“Daddy, what do you want to eat tonight?! LEAVE ME ALONE *sob*).
But, hey, really, anyone can do it. Just decide that you hate yourself a good bit and spend a few weeks flogging your body and mind in a self-deprecating haze. It’s like slapping yourself when you’re sleepy. People do that, right?
Step Four: Edits!
There comes a point, after you’ve written your first draft, when your editor will contact you. They’ll ask, reasonably and gently, for information, clarifications, maybe even a handful of re-writes. And, if you’re like me, you’ll assume that this means obviously you’re a terrible writer and everyone hates you.
It will take weeks. Just weeks and weeks of self-loathing! Oh, it’s such a decadent thing. Just wallowing in self-pity. Begging friends and family members for validation. Reaching out to people you haven’t spoken to in years to ask: “I’m a good person? Right?”
Again, this is a really easy step. Anyone can do it. All you need is an unhealthy sense of self-worth.
Step Five: ???
This is the final step. And I’m not sure how it goes. The book comes out and then… Who knows? I know you have to tell everyone, I mean everyone, about your book as soon as it comes out and even before.
And that’s a strange thing, so far. Part of me feels a little weird. It feels slightly like bragging about this thing that hasn’t happened yet. I’m not good at bragging about myself. But how else are people going to learn about it. Hopefully, as nightmarish an experience as it is bringing a book to life is, I’ll get to do it again. And maybe even better next time.
So, I guess, sell your book? Tell everyone. As weird as it feels, writing a book is something to be proud of. Especially, if, like me, you have an incredible group of homesteaders, readers, friends, family and supporters who helped inspire the entire project as well as make it possible.
So, ultimately, I guess, Step Five is Gratitude. Thank you to everyone who made this project possible: Editors, readers, homesteaders, farmers, teachers, extension agents, Facebook followers, family members, my wife (Shaye Elliott), my delightfully willful, ultimately helpful children and anyone and everyone.