My journey through the intimidating world of publishing has been just as unconventional as my life.
Here’s the short version of the story: I announced I was writing a book on Never Ending Footsteps; an editor from a big publishing company reached out to see if I was interested in working together; I had a panic attack; I began work on a book proposal; I was contacted by an editor from a separate publishing company; I sent my proposal off to both of them; they both loved it; I found an agent; we successfully negotiated a publishing deal for How Not to Travel the World. Six months later, I had finished my book and it had been sent to the printers.
For most authors, it’s a different process. You’ll finish the book first and then go about finding an agent. Together, you’ll work on a book proposal, tighten up the manuscript, and then your agent will start contacting publishing houses. This typically takes several years.
My experience was a rollercoaster ride of euphoria and terror, and I can’t believe I’m now less than three weeks away from being a published author.
To celebrate, I’m going to be writing a series of posts to share more about how the publishing process works. I’ll be sharing the biggest mistakes I made, the things I did right, and what you can expect from How Not to Travel the World when it’s released on August 13th!
First up: everything I did wrong!
Timing, Timing, Timing
When I signed the contract for my deal, my editor asked if I thought I could send the final draft of my manuscript to her within three months. I agreed, despite having not yet written the first word. 90 days; 90,000 words. I figured I could easily write 1,000 words a day and have it finished in time. Of course, this didn’t take into account editing, or sending out drafts for feedback, or the two months of travel I’d just booked.
It also didn’t take into account me throwing out my first draft two weeks before my deadline.
If I could do it again, I’d make it clear to the publisher that, aside from the two sample chapters I’d attached to my proposal, I had yet to start writing my book. I’d have asked if it was possible to push the release date back a year. I’d have started working on my book when I first announced I was going to write one.
I’m convinced that having more time would have prevented my breakdown earlier this year.
I Didn’t Create an Outline
From the start, I told myself I didn’t have time to devise a detailed plan for my book. My proposal included a chapter outline that, in a paragraph or two, explained what would happen in each chapter, and that was what I worked from.
For the first few weeks, I was making everything up as I went along, waking up having no idea how a chapter was going to turn out. It soon became clear I was writing a haphazard manuscript that had very few consistent themes and was jumping around without a clear focus. I had to drop everything and create an outline to try to figure out how I was going to link it all together.
This should have been the first thing I did and I ended up wasting a couple of weeks because of it.
I Expected My Editors to Fix Everything For Me
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing, but knowing my book would go through several rounds of edits helped ease my terror. Instead, whenever something didn’t read quite right, I’d leave it for an editor to deal with.
Except, often, the editor thought there was nothing wrong with those parts and didn’t touch them.
I expected the round of copy editing to result in a manuscript covered in corrections. Instead, my copy editor told me she loved the book and didn’t want to interfere with my voice, so didn’t make the thousands of changes I had been hoping for.
I was determined to fix what professional editors were telling me wasn’t broken, so I spent a full week perfecting everything I hadn’t been happy with. I’m pleased I did, because it resulted in a manuscript I’m proud of. But if I was being honest, my word changes probably didn’t affect the overall quality in the slightest.
I Made Travel Plans When I Shouldn’t Have
I can never keep still for long, so I booked plane tickets around my deadlines, apparently unaware that deadlines were made to be broken.
After three long months spent writing in Granada, I planned a celebratory trip to Ronda, only to discover my editor would be returning the manuscript to me for changes while I was there.
When there was a delay with my structural edit, I ended up having to work for the majority of my time in Madrid — yet another trip I’d booked to celebrate a writing milestone.
And when I received my final copy edit and it wasn’t as thorough as I’d hoped, I was due to fly to Copenhagen in 12 hours to start a fast-paced trip through Scandinavia.
I think I probably lost around $1000 in cancelled travel plans. It was something I had to do in order to make my book the best it could be, but the losses stung.
I Tried to Include Too Many Incidents
My original plan for How Not to Travel the World was to include every incident I’d had on the road — I had a list of 27 of them! Once I started writing, I discovered my chapters were averaging out at 5,000 words. Most travel memoirs total around 80,000 words and mine was looking like it was going to add up to 150,000.
In order to create a concise read, I had to cut out most of the minor misadventures, but to my surprise, it made for a far better read. I was able to dig deeper into my biggest disasters and discover more about who I am and why I’ve been so unlucky.
I Was Too Scared to Ask For Help
One of my favourite aspects of being a travel blogger is getting to help you guys with everything from planning your trips to conquering your anxiety. I make sure to reply to every email I receive and spend several hours of each day attempting to provide the most helpful responses I can. Why, then, am I too afraid to ask for help myself?
I have a few friends who have been through the traditional publishing process, but I was too afraid to ask any of them for help. I didn’t want it to seem as if I was only messaging them because I wanted something. I was too nervous to ask my editor questions in case I should have already known the answers. I was too anxious to ask friends if they could read a draft of my book in case they had no interest in it.
I did everything myself, which led to a huge amount of stress. When I didn’t know the difference between a structural edit and a copy edit, I spent hours researching online rather than dropping my editor an email. When I wasn’t sure how to structure a particular passage, I lost a day to googling, rather than asking my author friends for advice.
Lesson learned: I should have had the confidence to ask people for help when I needed it.
I Didn’t Prioritise Finding an Agent
One of the first things I should have done was find an agent.
When my friend Torre told me I needed to find one immediately, I sent out 50 emails and came up with nothing. I turned my attention towards to my book proposal instead, reasoning that I was losing time and risking the publisher losing interest by searching for an agent. If my proposal was well received, it would help me find an agent.
I’ve since discovered an agent will help you write and edit your book proposal. So, while I was struggling to figure out what a proposal should contain and how it should be formatted, I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to be doing so alone.
When I was contacted by a second publisher, I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell the first publisher someone else was interested? Should I tell the second publisher? Was that unprofessional? If I’d had an agent, they would have been able to help me navigate these crucial and confusing moments.
I Became Too Attached to It
I made a promise to myself that I would not form an attachment to my words. I didn’t want to be one of those authors who battled with their editors over every suggested change. I was an inexperienced writer; the editors knew more than me; I would not fight to keep my words.
But when my editor thought the line: “There, nestled against my vagina, was the wide, unblinking eye of a fish” was too graphic, I was desperate to keep it. And when my editor suggested cutting one of my favourite chapters, I was devastated. Rather than accepting her years of expertise, I spent days wrestling over whether I should put my foot down or not.
In the end, I accepted 95% of the suggested changes and my book is far stronger for it. I shouldn’t have let myself get upset over the cuts.
I Didn’t Keep a Diary
Really weird confession time: I’ve travelled with more than a dozen diaries over the past four years and I’ve never been able to keep writing in them for more than a week. I’m probably the only person on the planet who feels so compelled to write in it every day that if ever I get behind and can’t catch up, I buy a new diary. I wish I was joking.
I also wish I’d kept a diary, because it would have made my life so much easier. Sure, I had Never Ending Footsteps to fall back on, but when it came to remembering the small details of my trip, I struggled. Which airport did I fly into? What did it look like? Did I take the metro or a bus or a taxi into the city? What was the name of that girl I met? What did she look like? What did we chat about? When did I lose my flip-flops? What did that dorm room look like?
I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time on Google Images to check that everywhere looked the same as it did in my memory.
I Let it Affect My Relationships
One of my biggest regrets is how I let my book form a rift between my loved ones and me.
The only way I was going to be able to meet my deadline was to take myself offline. I downloaded Self Control and activated it for 18 hours a day to remove the temptation for distraction. When I wasn’t writing, I was sleeping. I couldn’t find the energy to focus on anything but my book, so I ignored Facebook messages, I didn’t respond to emails, and I rarely acknowledged any of the invitations I received to hang out.
I should have done things differently. I should have let everyone know what was going on in my life, I should have put an out of office message on my inbox, and I shouldn’t have distanced myself from the people I love most.
Nobody suffered more during this process than Dave, and if I could do it all again, I’d have spent much of the past 18 months in another country. We’d been together for two years when this craziness began, which means that half of our relationship has sucked.
Dave had to deal with a girlfriend who cried every day, who had lost sight of her self-worth, who could talk about nothing but her book, and who didn’t step outside for three months. It was miserable, and I’m still working on trying to get things back to the way they were.
If you’re thinking about writing a book, I highly recommend doing it alone.
I Didn’t Have Faith in My Abilities
I think I’m a terrible writer and I have no idea how I managed to end up with a book deal. I’ve spent a huge chunk of the past 18 months comparing myself to other travel writers and wringing my hands in despair.
I’ve yet to receive anything but overwhelmingly positive feedback from the people I’ve shown my book to, yet I can’t stop myself from believing everyone is lying. Even when every editor I’ve dealt with has told me they love it, my first reaction is to assume they were telling me that to cover up how disappointed they were.
This self-flagellation did nothing but make the writing process even more depressing than it should have been.
What helped was reminding myself over and over that I got a book deal for a reason. Instead of comparing myself to other writers and beating myself up, I started focusing every ounce of my energy into making my book the best goddamn book possible.
And I succeeded. Despite the rough ride, How Not to Travel the World is my biggest achievement to date and I’m so freaking proud of it. I can’t tell you how it felt to hit send on that final email to my editor, knowing I was 100% happy with the manuscript. I’m so excited to share it with you!
How Not to Travel the World is going to be published on August 13th. If you’re in the UK, you can buy the paperback version from Amazon and a dozen other UK bookstores. If you’re in the US, you can buy the Kindle version from Amazon here. For everyone else, it’s available on pretty much every Amazon store, so check out your local site to do so. Thank you! :-)