Why and How to Take a Writing Sabbatical

Happy Monday! I know that’s not a thing, but I so rarely pop in to say hi to you all on Mondays that I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone had a great weekend (we went camping!) and is feeling great about what’s on deck for the week ahead.

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

Personally, I’m feeling fantastic about this week. And that’s because I’m changing up the routine.

I will be taking a blogging sabbatical for several weeks to do some much-needed refocusing and rebalancing.

This September I came back from our wedding and mini-moon blurry-eyed, blinking, wondering what’s next, yet still digging out from the to-dos that were pushed off for a year until after the wedding. We started a lot of sentences this year with “after the wedding,” and now that “after the wedding” has arrived, I feel like I need to shake off the head-down, just-get-it-done fog that’s been over me for much of this year. It’s time to resurface, look around, and get clear-eyed again.

It’s only September, but I’m already wondering where this year went. Maybe you are, too? Maybe you see the colors outside starting to change, but your eyes are pulled back to the computer screen before you can fully register them? Maybe you’re certain you don’t have time to stop and take a walk outside to enjoy the fall air? There’s so much to do, and walking isn’t very productive, right?

I hear you. I’ve spent most of the past year trying to maximize my output, and now that I’m finally over the hump and coasting down the hill, I want to hold on to that feeling a bit longer. I want a little more wind in my hair and a little less hunching over a screen.

a sabbatical break for writers

If you’re feeling that way, too, you might want to consider taking a sabbatical from writing, blogging, or other creative work. A sabbatical can teach you just as much as a work-packed month, and it will allow you to:

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4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video

instagram stories video for writers

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out (Ian Parker for The New Yorker): This is a fun and fascinating profile of Pete Wells, “the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup.” It’s a great inside look at the massive influence traditional media still holds, and it’ll also make you hungry.

Instagram Stories: Your New Favorite Way to Engage With Readers? (Martine Ellis for The Write Life): “If Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, what’s the point? Authenticity, engagement, and exposure. Unpolished snapshots of someone’s day are far more interesting than a carefully crafted flat lay featuring scattered rose petals and a strategically placed — albeit irrelevant — pair of vintage scissors.”

How to Be Active on Social Media without Losing Your Mind (Kirsten Oliphant on Jane Friedman.com): “The biggest issue I hear from people struggling with online marketing is TIME. Many writers struggle to balance social media and writing or creative work. Since we don’t have the option to go back before the age of Twitter, we are left with a few options…”

Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers (Brain Pickings): “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video (And Happy Pub Day to Damn Delicious!)

Hey everyone!

I’m baaaccckkk. After two magical weeks of being away for our wedding and mini-honeymoon, Jarrett and I are both back at it.

First things first: yes, I will be sharing wedding photos with you all here! I’ve had a few requests for them already, and I can’t wait to see them myself the very second they hit my inbox. With any luck, we’ll all see them by next week.

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The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing a Book

Questions to Ask Before Self Publishing

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

The Hilarious Art of Book Design (TED Talk by Chip Kidd, famed Knopf cover designer): Since we’re on the topic of book design and production this week, I thought it was worth resurrecting this classic (and truly hilarious) talk by Chip Kidd. Even if design isn’t your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Chip.

How Do I Write My Book and Build My Platform at the Same Time? (Chad R. Allen): “Many of us want to get our books into the world, but we also understand the power and importance of a significant platform. We understand that if we write a book without a platform, we will have difficulty reaching an audience. We not only want to write a book, we want some people to read it!”

Local Flavors: Cookbooks Spotlight Fall 2016 (Clare Swanson for Publisher’s Weekly): “From Iron Chef to MasterChef to Top Chef, there’s no shortage of national media attention for kitchen rock stars and those clamoring for the title. Food Network personalities, big-time bloggers, and now YouTubers continue to dominate the cookbook bestseller list. But cookbooks by regional chefs from across the country are also climbing the charts and winning awards along the way. We spoke with publishers about how they put hometown culinary heroes on the map.”

The Ultimate Literary Ten-Course Meal (Evan Hanczor for Lit Hub): “…we’re consistently amazed by the power—creative, nostalgic, emotional—of translating text into food. If you’ve never cooked and eaten a dish from a favorite book, do it. Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?”

The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Jarrett and I are notorious for taking on more than we should…but I haven’t even told you the half of it.

We decided—in the midst of planning every detail of a DIY wedding sans professional planner PLUS crazy busy work schedules—that we should write, photograph, edit, design, and print our own cookbook as a wedding favor.

Actually, it was Jarrett’s awful idea. (This is how marriage works, right? Blame your partner for all the bad ideas?)

But really, I’m the one who should have known better. I’ve walked dozens of cookbook authors through the publishing process, and I know it’s no stroll in the park. It’s more like a two-year slog up a mountain, with a full team to help you reach the peak of quality you have in mind.

But I (very stupidly) thought: Hey, it’s only 10 recipes. Only 32 pages. Only a bit of design work. We can do this. And it’s better than cheesy “Maria & Jarrett Forever” koozies.

Oh, boy, am I a sucker.

Creating a book is a tremendous amount of work, especially if you’re trying to hack it out on your own. No matter how many books you’ve read yourself (and in my case, edited or agented myself), you’ll still be surprised at the level of detail that goes into creating an exceptional book.

Although we survived the process, got it done, and—dare I say—honed our teamwork superpowers, it could have been a much smoother process if I had wrapped my head around a few important considerations before jumping into self-publishing a book.

So now I want to be sure you don’t make the same silly mistakes I did! Whether you’re contemplating a self-published novel, an ebook bonus giveaway, or a four-color print book, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before you even think about Step #1 of the process.

And don’t worry–I’ll give you all a look at the cookbook, so you can judge for yourself! Scroll down to the bottom of this post to take a peek at our Eat, Drink, and Be Married cookbook.

I do want to say: I’m proud of the final book. I am glad we did it. It did serve its purpose of being a special and personal wedding favor for all the wonderful people who traveled from near and far for our wedding. And I do know it will be a keepsake in our home for many, many years. It’s a book that fully serves its purpose as a personal item, if not a commercial one.

So here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself before jumping headfirst into producing your own book:

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A Zen Method to Cope With Rejection

Literary agent rejections

The publishing stories worth reading this week: 

Publishing a Cookbook: Editors and Closing Day (Rachel and Polly of Thriving Home): This is a fun one for you! My authors, Polly and Rachel, give a great behind-the-scenes look at what really happens when we’re selling a book at auction. If you’ve ever wondered how a cookbook deal gets made and what happens when many publishers are interested, this is the perfect read for you.

The Effortless Effort of Creativity: Jane Hirshfield on Storytelling, the Art of Concentration, and Difficulty as a Consecrating Force of Creative Attention (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers? (Lynn Neary for NPR): I love this idea of tapping into the popularity of binge watching and bringing it to books, but I’m not sold on the idea that a book = an episode. Actually, I think a chapter = an episode. People are already binge-reading when they can’t put down a book and race through it quickly. If anything, serializing a book (chunking it into sections and releasing them one-by-one) is the opposite of binge-reading, which requires you to have back-to-back access to the whole book/series.

A Key to Writing Books that Sell and Sell and Sell (Chad R. Allen): I’m often asked what the correct balance should be between storytelling and practical information in a nonfiction book–here’s a great explainer on this from Chad Allen!

Collards And Canoodling: How Helen Gurley Brown Promoted Premarital Cooking (Nina Martyris for NPR): “The Single Girl’s Cookbook sold close to 150,000 copies. But how did an editor who couldn’t cook and who described herself as a ‘grown-up anorexic’ end up writing a cookbook? She didn’t. The recipes were ghost written by cookbook author Margot Reiman. Gurley Brown simply added the garnish.”

 

A Zen Method to Handle Rejection

Literary agent rejections

Do you know the one thing I hate about my job? I hate writing rejections. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Please have me do anything else, including contract review, as long as I don’t have to say “no” to someone’s hard work.

The very thought of writing rejections makes me miserable. Because I know how hard some people take them—I see it with my own authors. I see the self-doubt and blame that springs up around a “no, thank you,” and I hate the very thought of afflicting that on someone else.

But I do it. And I do it because I believe in one thing: the best yes. Every time I say no to something that’s near-perfect for me, I’m saving room on my list for that project that’s 100% perfect for me. And I’m protecting my time for my authors, who deserve to have me there for everything they need.

That’s also how editors see it. That’s how sales, publicity, marketing, and everyone else who weighs in on an acquisitions decision sees it. We can only make magic when the very thought of a book makes us come alive. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to the author and the reading public by putting something out into the world that we’re only somewhat excited about.

And here’s a secret: Everyone in this industry gets rejected. It’s not just writers, I promise! An editor can have a book she loves rejected by her team. A marketing manager can have her new ad campaign denied from on high. A publicist can get hundreds of rejections (usually in the form of silence) from a press mailing. Agents and authors can get rejected by editors, and editors can get rejected by agents and authors.

There are thousands of things that can go wrong or get blocked by anyone along the entire acquisitions chain. Rejection is in the undercurrent of any media industry, and it’s the cardinal rule for anyone who creates and shares their work: you will get rejected. You’ll get stomped on; you’ll get battered; you’ll get tough.

Yet too many people let these disappointments destroy them. So let me say it now: I’m not going to let that happen to you. I’ve coached dozens of authors through rejections, and I know that how they handle it is what separates the career writers from the hobbyists.

If you’re serious about your work, you know there’s no Plan B to fall back on, no other career that will be good enough. The only way onward is through the wilderness of rejection. Here’s how I would coach you through each step along the way:

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