What I Learned through My Three-Year Journey from Beginner to Published Author
I never expected to be a published author at this age.
My goal list had me slated to achieve ‘Write a Book’ in five to ten years. I didn’t think I’d be ready to write a book at this time. That had a lot to do with all the projects I had on my plate — plus, I hadn’t yet officially started my official ‘career’ yet, as I was still working on finishing my doctorate.
So basically, I had planned to write a book only after I had some years of life and career experience under my belt.
But eight months ago, a publisher reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in writing a book related to my field of study, food science.
I jumped on the opportunity.
Today, my book is set to be published in July and I’m excited to finally see all of my hard work in print.
It’s a different (amazing!) place from where I thought I’d be now.
Now, I want to share with you what it took to get to this point and some of the lessons, insights, and strategies I’ve learned along the way.
Keep a Goal List
Like I mentioned before, I have a goal list (with ‘Write a Book’ originally planned for years into the future).
I started putting together goal lists during my freshman year of college. At the time, I used my goal list as an organization tool to keep track of all the things I wanted to accomplish during college.
The list has since evolved into something more personal and sacred, a sort of creative expression of how I’d like to project myself into the future, with each goal serving as a link in an endless thread of future possibility.
And I’ve had the goal of writing a book on my list for years. So it’s been an incredible experience to finally take that one off the list.
But why do I still bother to keep a goal list?
The goals give me a sense of ongoing progress regardless of what’s going on my life.
My goal list keeps me focused and reminds me of what I plan to accomplish in the future. While there’s no fixed timeline or deadline for any one goal on the list, I try to add smaller goals to help break up larger ones to give a sense of completion even if some goals may be vague or abstract.
It’s also a living document, so if there’s a goal that I’ve already achieved or a goal has lost it’s juice, I just erase it. This gives me the flexibility and creativity to constantly adjust to the current priorities of my life.
But no matter what, I read it every day.
I’ve read it so many times now that it’s become a sacred ritual for me, to sit down and start my day with reviewing and updating this list.
I suspect that keeping a goal list and programming it into my brain as a daily ritual helps my mind become more receptive to opportunities that may support those goals. Just like working out or having a morning routine, reading the goals reinforces the commitments I’ve made to myself to achieve excellence.
Prepare to Skill Up
I’ve mostly written for free.
If there was any writing opportunity available, I’d take that on as a training experience to build up my writing skills.
In the first year of my journey to published author, I chose my niche (food science, which was what I was studying at the time), found startups, organizations and established companies in that niche that could use help with writing, and volunteered my services to them.
That helped me build my portfolio, which let me pitch my services to other organizations who needed writers to write their content.
But this time, I charged.
Most of these opportunities were through word of mouth — I never had much success pitching articles to magazines or newsletters.
But it was great to have a portfolio on hand to show people what I had to offer.
By my second year, I was getting paid to write $200 to $300 per article. Growth was slow, but I was gaining experience with each article I wrote, as I had to quickly learn how to match my tone and style with the publication.
Around the same time, I published my first featured article on Medium, which really boosted my confidence.
I knew I was on the right track.
When the time came for the book publisher to reach out, I had already written a good number of short and long-form articles, so I knew I had the skill and stamina to deliver a full book manuscript in the time frame they gave me.
Back in October, I was recently put in charge of managing a blog connected to the professional organization in my field, Science Meets Food.
The blog has a relatively small audience that includes the 6,000 some-odd food science students and young professionals who (occasionally) read it.
I’d already been writing and editing for the blog for two years to build up my skills as a writer, so I had some experience on what our audience members liked to read.
And while writing for the blog was fun, I wanted to give more direction to the blog and challenge myself to develop more leadership skills.
So I applied for the position.
It was a great volunteer position where I could get experience leading a team of volunteers who wrote for the blog on their spare time (and I loved working with our other writers).
I figured it’d also be a good way to add some strong volunteer credentials to my resume for future job opportunities.
When the publisher emailed me about the opportunity to write the book, one of the reasons they picked me was because I was already managing this food science blog.
This is where I got lucky.
In hindsight, I honestly don’t think I would have been chosen to write this book if I wasn’t in this position. From what I’ve read, most publishers these days want prospective authors that have audiences and platforms built in place to make sure there’s a real market for their books.
Clearly, our readers were already digesting articles about food science. And I was pre-selected as an expert since I’d been putting in the time to understand our audience.
Be Patient (And Don’t Quit Your Day Job)
Like I said before, I was spending a lot of time writing for free before I started charging clients.
And even when I was charging, I didn’t have enough opportunities in the pipeline to pay for my living expenses.
Which is to say, writing wasn’t a reliable source of income.
Having the time to write is a luxury, so I needed to set aside enough time outside my day job to get good at it.
I spent a lot of time honing my craft and learning to see it as a free hobby that occasionally paid for a nice dinner out when I was lucky.
I also learned to discipline myself and write even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it.
One important lesson I learned was that good or bad writing wasn’t necessarily tied with my mood. There were quite a few times I was feeling great and excited about writing, but the output was mediocre. On the other hand, there were days when I felt miserable and what came out was quite decent.
Writing has now become a passion of mine, and I’m enjoying learning the nuances and details that go along with it.
If I had to spend three years getting good at something I disliked, with no earning potential in sight, I’d probably have quit a few months into it.
My journey does include money along the way, but for the most part I’m just enjoying the challenge of learning a new marketable skill for the sporadic buck.
My goal is to eventually make writing my full-time income.
But for now, having a book under my belt is as good as it gets.
Books and the Power of Branding
During this pandemic, I was able to land a client to help them with their website marketing and branding.
The amazing part was that I was recommended to them through word of mouth and was introduced as an author of a book on food science.
(I imagine that’s what sealed the deal.)
Books are powerful marketing tools. Something about having written a book adds a level of authority that puts you on top.
And the project was wonderful. It paid well and I was able to add value to the company. Plus, I learned what it was like to provide a long-term service to a corporate company as a freelancer for the first time.
Through this experience, I’ve learned that a company will take you more seriously if you’ve written a book and are more likely to pay you the rate you quote.
I was able to add a few thousand dollars back into the coffers. Together with this book, I’ve pulled in over $10,000 in side-hustle money. That’s 10x more than I was earning on writing projects in my second year of writing.
The money is great (and unexpected) but having this book under my belt is changing the way I deliver value to the world.
It means I have a new potential income source as a writer that I never counted on before, which I plan to parlay into future opportunities using my book as a source of legitimacy and authority.
Writing a book is, indeed, a powerful ticket into lucrative corporate writing gigs if used right.
This three-year journey to the world of book authorship has been full of surprises and lessons. All in all, I’ve learned quite a bit from the opportunities given to me and have been grateful for the chance to capitalize on them.
I recently took some time to take stock of where I’m at and where I want to go on my next journey. So I’ve put together a new goal list with my new achievements informing my next steps.
Some of my writing goals for next year will be to:
· Write a second book
· Start my own platform
· Build up my corporate network
· 10x my income from writing projects (one more time!)
What are your goals for next year?