Three Surprising Things About Writing a Book

Since last January, I’ve written a book! That’s one reason why I’ve not updated this site much–it turns out, I have a limited amount of writing energy and the book took all of it. Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change comes out in February from Rosenfeld Media, and I’m super excited to have people read it.

Unless they hate it, in which case je regrette.

Anyway, this is officially the longest writing project I’ve ever completed, even longer than my dissertation, and I’m proud of how it turned out. The process was overall positive for me, and I learned a lot both about my topic and about how books get made. Three things that particularly surprised me:

Authors ask people directly for cover testimonials. This may not be true for big name authors, but I learned that most writers reach out to request testimonials directly. This was so awkward! Basically I made a list of people I know or admire (ideally both) whose professional experience is relevant to the book and approached them asking for words of praise. Then I sent my finished but not yet professionally polished manuscript. Very nerve-wracking!

People are proactively kind and supportive. I made a few social media posts when I first signed the book contract to let people know I was writing a book. A number of people reached out right away not just with congratulations but with offers to help. Thanks to their kindness, I had a number of productive conversations early on that helped me shape the book. I also had a network at the ready when I wanted to interview experts or ask specific questions. It was really lovely to feel support from so many corners. After this experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to any of my friends taking on a book project.

Old drafts are your friends. I’ve been writing long enough to know to save my entire paper trail in case I need something later, but the book writing experience really brought the lesson home. I had tons of old outlines and drafts going back to my initial proposal, not to mention related writing I’ve done. I found myself going back to old documents all the time to find references or examples or to rescue deleted text for which I’d found a new home. “Save as” is your friend. Dropbox or another versioning system is your friend. Write things down, and don’t trash them even if you think they’re trash.