Becky is writing a book: What it’s like behind the scenes.

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Writing a book: Easier Said than Done
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.

It is true that I have been writing a book for the last 16 months, and the process has been long, lonely, and arduous, but I’m determined to see it through because I believe strongly that the information in it has the potential to change society in a positive way … from preventing marriages that should not take place to saving marriages that might otherwise not have been saved. It contains information I wish I had known when I was married, and am thankful to know now.

The title of the book is: Heal Your Marriage: Diagnosing and Recovering From Your Marital Illness. It’s about a phenomenon similar to the five stages of grief we all know about … and it’s this: every unhappy marriage becomes ill, and then deteriorates in four predictable stages. If nothing is done to stop the progress of the illness, the marriage will die.

Marital illness is that like many cancers, if a couple can detect and deal with it early, it can be relatively easily returned to health. If found late, it may be dealt with as a chronic problem that may or not be easily managed, or it may continue its deterioration and die.

My book describes this process in detail, and also prescribes a plan for stopping the illness. The beauty of understanding how ill a marriage is, is that once a person understands that his or her marriage will die if nothing is done, it often serves as motivation to jump out apathy and do the work necessary to save the relationship. I can tell you as a marriage therapist that one of the most frequent problems I see is couples who wait too late to work on saving their relationship. My book underlines the importance of early detection and treatment of marital discord!

I learned about this process while researching my dissertation at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. I was studying what happens between the time a couple decides to marry, and then years later, decides to divorce. Past research described the phenomenon of the stages in which a marriage dies, and my own research backed it up. In addition, I learned some new insight and aspects to the process that I describe in my book.

So the question is, when will the book be published? Unfortunately the answer is: I don’t know. What I do know is that when I started writing the book, I had no idea how complicated and difficult it is to write and sell a book idea to a publisher. I had thought that all a budding author needed was a great idea, credentials, and the ability to write. I knew I had all three, but  now I know that it’s not that simple.

Most nonfiction writers such as myself must spend many months, and sometimes years, writing and preparing a detailed and professionally researched book proposal. There are books written about how to do this, and it is absolutely necessary to understand the process and to do it right, otherwise when you send your project around to potential agents, you’ll be ignored, and being ignored means that most likely you will never sell your book.

I have spent 16 months writing a proposal, and this includes the first three chapters of the book. Even though I have experience as a professional writer, I found that to make it the best it could be I needed to hire a professional writing coach who has experience with proposals and book writing. I have found her editing and suggestions expensive, but a necessary Godsend that may make the difference of ultimately getting the book sold.

If you’re writing a nonfiction self-help book like I am, all an author needs to sell it is the proposal and the first two or three chapters. I say “all you need,” like it’s no big deal, but the point is, the book doesn’t have to be completed. Fiction writers, for example, must have a finished manuscript in order to sell a project. My proposal and the chapters is 60-typed pages long and contains an overview, a detailed outline of the book, an analysis of competing books, a biography about me and why I am the one to write the book, a marketing plan, and more. Now that the proposal is complete, I spend any time I can find to  email and writing query letters to literary agents, who I hope will agree to represent me and my project. The agent’s job is to  pitch it to publishers.

If an agent is interested after reading my query letter containing a description of my book and my qualifications, he or she will often request to see the proposal. Some want this emailed, and others want me to send a hard copy. Each time a hard copy proposal is requested it costs me at least $30 for postage, copies of the proposal, and all the other promotional items I include in the packet. This weekend I sent out four, and in the past I have sent out dozens more, so you can see that the cost of finding an agent can add up fast.

If I do get an agent who believes in my book, and he or she sells it to a publisher, then we’ll get a monetary advance, and I will be given a certain amount of time to write the rest of it – usually about a year. Once published, it will be up to me to market and promote the book. If I want it to be a best seller, it will mean traveling the nation doing speeches, workshops, print, radio and television promotion, all at my own expense. (This is how the Chicken Soup books caught on – the two authors stopped what they were doing and went around the nation promoting it everywhere they could).

Now that I’ve learned all I have about writing and selling a book, I have true admiration for every title I see on a bookstore shelf for I know what an author went through to get it there. It is truly an admirable feat that could only be done by someone who feels passionate about what he or she is doing.

Now, when I hear a person say, “Oh, I’m going to write a book about that,” I think, “Good luck!” Having a book published by a bona fide publisher (not self-published) is easier said than done. So, wish me luck and good wishes – I promise to work hard to make it happen … it’ll be fascinating to see how it all unfolds.

Copyright 2007, Becky Whetstone, Ph.D. 

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