10 Things That Surprised Me About Publishing My First Book

Jenna Kutcher 

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February 10, 2022


Imagine you’re sitting down with a cup of coffee, laptop open to a blank Google Doc, and you’ve titled it something like “My First Book.” You’ve got your idea, and you’re excited to see how it slowly comes to life. Then you let your daydream take you somewhere—you’re holding your book! In your hands! It’s real. And then you look back down at your hands hovering over the keyboard. You want to do the work, but… What exactly IS the work?

So much of the book publishing world is a mystery. And as I sat there staring deeply into the blinking cursor at my own word doc, I was wondering the very same thing. I’d read stories here and there of how it’s happened for other authors, but I still felt like I was working with only a few pieces of the puzzle.

And yet, here I am, on the other side of things! I’m publishing a book, and sometimes even still, I have to catch myself in the mirror and say that out loud. Taking a book from concept to reality is a journey with some expected AND unexpected experiences. So I’m here to pull back the curtain and share what surprised me throughout the entire process!

If you’re curious about the publishing world, or maybe even have your own book idea hangin’ out in your soul, here’s an author’s insight into the world of getting your book published.

01. In the Beginning— Was a LOT of Words.

Yes, I really did start with a blank Google Doc. And it spooked me at first. But once I started writing, it just kind of spilled out of me. I had heard people say that happened for them, but I’d categorize it as something that could happen to them, not me. And I might’ve even thought it was just an exaggeration. But once I started writing out a story, another would come to me. And then another one. And then another.

Crafting the manuscript truly was a journey of just letting all the words OUT. And they wanted to come out! Yes, the editing process is a different story, but once the words were out, I always had something to work with. Turns out, when you talk about what you care about, the words will show up.

02. You Can’t Rush The Process.

The process is SLOW, and that was super hard for me at first. I am so used to the digital world, to launching timelines, to social media, to working with my small (and so speedy!) team–but not only is writing a book a longer and slower process all on its own, I needed to add in the fact that I was doing something totally new to me. I was LEARNING. And learning means slowing down and asking questions.

This taught me a ton of patience, and now I am so thankful it’s slow moving because with time, it’s gotten better and better and better. I never realized how long each step takes, but now I savor that gestation period. I need it, and I see why we have to take our time and let the words simmer and take shape over time. Lots of it.

03. You Will Not Go Alone.

I am so used to seeing the author’s name on the cover of a book, subconsciously thinking, “Okay, THAT is the person that made this book happen.” But once I started writing, I vowed to read books cover to cover, including the acknowledgements. When you start to see how many hands, brains, and eyes go into a book, it totally changes the way you look at the finished product. Even self-published books will reveal acknowledgement letters chock-full of people who became that author’s support team.

I think the main idea is, even if you could do every single part of it all by yourself, I wouldn’t recommend that. (For book publishing or for any other part of life.) I was utterly amazed at how many creative, encouraging humans had either a big or small role to play to see this book set sail.

04. You Can’t Force It.

There would be days that I was eager to jump into the book process, fully caffeinated, well rested, vitamin filled, and jumping in with a million ideas. And then there were days where I was doing everything (ahem, Youtube videos or scrolling Instagram) to avoid it. Eventually, I realized this very simple fact: I couldn’t force it. If it was there or my brain was ready, then I went for it! Great! But I am not someone who can force words, and most people aren’t.

The key was to find my creative moments, the hours in a day I had the most energy, or the days of the week I knew I’d be freed up to go slow and warm up to the writing. Not everyone can pop open their laptop and just start writing. That feels superhuman. And you don’t need to be superhuman to do this. Just human, wonderfully so, and one who listens to when they’re able and when they’re not.

05. The Fighting and the Letting Go.

You have to fight for the stories you believe in. There will be some placed on the cutting room floor that you know need to be picked back up again, and reworked if need be. You know who you’re writing for. There will be moments where you have to say, “Here’s why this has to stay in the book.” The final manuscript is SO different from the initial one I wrote when no one (not even my mom) knew I was working on a book, and I think that’s amazing.

There are stories I love that I had to let go of and there were a few I had to fight to keep in the book! The editing process can be emotional but it is also so beneficial. I anticipated the editing to be far more emotional than it was for me (perhaps it was the fact that I had a deadline of a new baby growing swiftly in my belly) but with each round of edits, I saw the book come to life with clarity and it was SO worth it.

06. You Will Feel Naked.

Having other people read your book before it’s “finished,” even small parts of it, feels like standing on a stage naked and letting people observe you. Yikes. So much of the creative process is done in private (like Drew hasn’t even read it yet!). There were a few times where I’d send chapters to friends or let my mom read a bit, and it felt so incredibly vulnerable to share it.

Even though you know you’re writing for others to read, letting anyone, including your loved ones, into the process will require bravery. But let them in. Capture their responses. Sit with them, and take whatever you need from it and let the rest go as you head back into that intimate editing process.

07. The Desire to Give Up Comes for Us All.

Writing a book takes some serious creative stamina! Since this process is about 2 years for me from starting in a Google Doc to sharing it with the world, it’s easy to see why so many manuscripts stay hidden in hard drives. You’ve got to have stamina to keep pushing through the process and you definitely have to believe that it’ll all be worth it!

Put up a post-it note as an encouraging reminder. Heck, put up a dozen of them all over your house! Remind yourself of your “why,” and of how good it will feel to cross that finish line. (Spoiler: it feels really, reallyyyy good.)

I thoughtfully paced myself as best as I could, realizing that this wasn’t an overnight project. Reminding myself that the hard days are normal. And, when I needed a rest, I took one. A long weekend, or a whole week away from the book to do other things that delight me. Because then I could show up eager and ready to go, rather than burned out.

08. You’ll Find Your Own “Long Story Short.”

It’s hard to talk about your book when you’re so close to it. Once I started sharing that I was writing a book with others, I would almost become speechless when they asked, “What’s it about?” Because for me, it’s about a million things. ALL of my stories come flooding to my mind. And when you don’t have the physical book to show them or the back cover preview to point to, it’s a challenge to summarize.

I really had to re-learn the elevator pitch when it came to describing my book to others because it’s such a passion project, but once I finally sat down and sorted it out, I was relieved to know that I could give a true description without reciting all of chapter one.

09. You’re Releasing a Part of You Into the World.

Writing a book is like leaving a piece of your legacy behind… in ink. Bound up and sealed. And, for the most part, unchangeable. This can feel like a lot of pressure, once the reality of it sinks in. It’s more permanent than a post on the internet, and that fact alone stopped me in my tracks so many times. Asking myself, “Is this really what I want to say? Is this what I believe? Will I be okay if I learn that I’m wrong on these things in the future?” And sometimes I would edit myself because of these questions.

Not because I, or anyone else, can be guaranteed to create something timeless. When I’m writing my 7th book, there will of course be things I will have learned then that I do not know now. But I did learn this: being conscious of this book as a piece of your ‘legacy’ is a great filter and writing tool as you go.

10. Naming Your Book Might Not Be Easy.

Okay, actually I’ll just say it: Naming a book is HARD. Also, naming children is hard! At least it was for me! I had to do both of which in the same month. We have had so many different working titles in this process and when it came to naming it, nothing was sticking in the way I really wanted it to. I wanted to see a title and hear the heavens open and the angels sing! But that didn’t happen.

The creative process for this was long and we wrestled with a lot of options. But when we finally landed on “How Are You, Really?” I felt a deep peace somewhere in the center of me. That question was how I had been describing the book to people for months. I’m so thankful it stuck and that I like it!

Here’s a Bonus Surprise:

I didn’t know I’d ever write a book. If I could time travel back to myself a few years ago, she’d get a real kick out of this! But then again, I love surprises, so this probably panned out exactly how it always should have!

Your own book writing journey may not look exactly like this, but now you’ll be working with a few extra puzzle pieces to slide into place, making the creation process less of a daunting mystery. And as you see the process more clearly, my hope is that it will give you that extra jolt of motivation to see your words flow out onto a page with a hope and a confidence that will become something real, too!

Want more behind-the-scenes of book writing, planning, and publishing?

Join my How Are You, Really? Insider’s Club right here!

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A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

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