A veteran author knows the 12 stages. Rookies often don’t. But if you’re an author, you’ll inevitably experience them, regardless of whether you’re ready. So get ready.
1 Idle flirtation
“That’s a cool idea.” “That could be a book.” “I think I could write about that.” Like all flirtations, this one is titillating and intriguing with very little risk at first. If you never move beyond this stage, you’re not an author, you’re a dreamer.
2 Idea musings
This is the part where you start talking to people about your idea — or ideas. It’s still sorta squishy but you make yourself a promise to get something down on paper. Often accompanied by blogging, tweeting, and other manifestations of undisciplined ideation.
3 The nail down
The idea starts to seem more like a book. Characterized by bits of writing, ever-morphing tables of contents, and late-night bouts of inspiration. If you’re pursuing a traditional publisher, this is where you write the proposal.
4 The threshold
Depending on your publishing model, this is when you get (a) an offer from a traditional publisher, (b) a signed contract with a hybrid publisher, or (c) an editor or writing coach for your self-published book. Skipping this stage and just starting to write is like blowing through a stop sign — it might work, or it might end up in a fiery crash.
5 Mad research frenzy
This is when you figure out that you don’t actually know as much as you think you know. Typically accompanied by mad googling, content-rich talks with friends and colleagues, lining up interviews, and imposter syndrome. (Fear is good at this stage — it gets you moving in a productive direction.) Unless you have a good tool and method for gathering the fruits of your research — some writers swear by Scrivener, for example — you’ll end up feeling like a hoarder, surrounded by a welter of found facts.
6 Drafting, drafting . . .
Finally, halfway through this merry chase, you start writing stuff. If you’re lucky, it will feel inspired. If you’re not, it will feel like crap. Keep writing anyway, it’s the only way to get those ideas out. If you feel like you’ve got writer’s block, you probably didn’t spend enough time in stage 5.
7 Rethink, revise, reconsider
The more you write, the more you doubt. You want to change your terms. You want to change your theme. You want to rearrange the chapters. You want to re-interview that guy because you forgot to ask him something. You want to rethink who you are and everything about your life. So sure, go back and make it sing. But try not to bounce between stages 6 and 7 forever.
8 The abandonment of the manuscript
As the poet said, a work of art is never finished, only abandoned. Whether it’s because of a deadline or actual completion, you abandon the text to your publisher or copy editor and call it done. Accompanied by equal parts triumph, regret, and wistful drinking. Try not to do this until you’ve completed stages 6 and 7.
9 The endless details
Fighting with the copy editor. Getting the facts checked. Writing the freaking footnotes. Reviewing the page proofs. Hating every word you wrote. Trudging endlessly to the finish line.
10 Planning to shout
This includes all your promotional planning for the launch, from social media campaigns to bylined articles to outreach to friends who might give you an Amazon review. Plus, lining up the caterer for stage 11. Somewhere in here a finished book lands in your mailbox and gives you a tiny burst of ecstasy.
11 The launch
A party, maybe. Certainly a lot of tweeting. Always, always, an anticlimax when you realize this is just a momentary pause between the first ten stages and the last.
12 The tour and the payoff
Give the speeches. Visit the bookstores. Write some bylined articles and do some interviews. And if your book generates any success, start to get paid to be the expert you now are — consulting, workshops, keynotes, clients.
. . . and 1 Idle flirtation again
Somewhere around stage 8 you were thinking of the next book. That was a mistake then. But your tour and your clients have you thinking: “Do I really want to get back on this roller coaster?” When the allure overcomes the dread, start again.
A few words of advice
Print these stages out and put them in front of wherever you work. Know what’s coming. Plan for it.
Diligent preparation in the early stages — and hitting deadlines early — will save you so much pain in the later stages.
If you’ve been through this, you tend to block out what it felt like. Remember instead. A rookie has an excuse about why she was fooled, and excitement to make up for the ignorance. Veteran authors should know better.