A first-time author builds his team and starts writing the story

How do I find out who really knows what I need to know?

Last week I talked about the lessons learned from self-publishing boot camp. After the boot camp ended I knew I had a lot to learn. I liked the business challenges that I was seeing. For a guy coming in out of nowhere, it sure did seem great that I didn’t have to be held up to the mercy of a big impersonal New York publishing house. I knew at this point product was all that mattered. Everything else could be dealt with before the book came out, but didn’t require attention immediately.

I started building relationships with anyone that was in front of my face. The closest person was Carla King. Carla was flattered that I flew across country to take her class. She was intrigued by my real life story of government intrigue and extortion. I started to routinely call myself an author by necessity.

After explaining my story to Carla, which until then had been a four year secret, she referred me to Stephanie Chandler at Authority Publishing. “Stephanie is really good and she works in that non-fiction, business space. Call her and tell her I told you to do so.” So I did. Not exactly rocket science.

Stephanie also was taken in by the story. Lesson number one was being validated in my mind. It is all in the story. STORY STORY STORY. Tell a great story that pulls in the reader and many things will fall in place. Fail that and everything else is a steeper climb.

Each phone conversation also doubled as elevator pitch practice. Stephanie suggested I talk to one of her editors, Amberly Finarelli, to see if I felt there was a fit. What I was thinking, but not saying, was “How the hell am I going to know if there is a fit or not? I have no idea what I am doing.” Having worked in medicine, where likability is not that same as skill, I knew that my liking Amberly was not the same as knowing if she knew what she was a good editor. There was a crap shoot aspect to everything at this point, so I focused on my impression of people’s integrity rather than skill.

This made me ask myself if I should hire a ghost writer. I spoke to a few people that were also editing candidates, but it became clear to me that nobody knew the story better than me, and a good writer would know nothing about the story. It decided that, since explaining the story well enough for a ghost writer to do it justice looked harder than actually writing it myself, I would invest my money in an editor rather than a ghost writer.

So, in the early stages, like in so many other aspects of life, I just threw caution to the wind, flew on gut instinct, and knew I would have to make adjustments later as I gained knowledge. I hired Amberly. She seemed as good as anyone else and both she and Stephanie seemed fair and trustworthy, so I set up a time to story board with Amberly and flew back out to California from Atlanta to start the process.

We spent two days in a hotel conference room laying out the skeleton of the story. It was half development, half bringing up repressed traumatic memories. Getting it out of my mind and on paper was sloppy and painful. I shot all over the place and Amberly, with infinite patience and kindness, helped take the puzzle pieces and put some linearity to them.

The more I wrote down the more I realized parts that I had forgotten. Always better to write in pencil at this stage of the game. It was fun though. At the end of two days, seeing 24” x 36” post-its all over the walls of the room, I saw the last four years of my life up in writing…..and I knew big pieces were still missing.

It was a big story filled with government abuse, threats, overreach and extortion. One that was too broad and deep to explain through conversation. It was intense for me and it was intense for Amberly. But is was a fascinating story. I could tell that. My job, which was becoming crystal clear with each passing day, was to communicate it well. The story stands on its own. I just need to stay of the way.  I am not sure if Amberly thought that was possible, but she was willing to help be give it a shot.

I took the outline back to Atlanta and realized that, while this was a good guide, there still were events that I forgot. But it was time to get busy and start writing, agreeing to turn in each chapter to my editor every week. I didn’t know anything about my “style” or what “worked” for me to write well. Did I have to do a little each day or did I have to disappear and shut out the world? I would just have to work things out as I went along.

Amberly gave me two rules to keep in mind. Keep writing and don’t stop to look back. Things will be fixed later. So I began to write, not looking down for fear of getting dizzy. I just keep pouring out words and suspending judgment. Pretty cool……writing a book. I must have some nerve!

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