Back in Fall 2020, I found myself with a flurry of interested clients and a little extra time on my hands the coming January.
My typical way of working with clients is very high-touch over a period of about four-six months. But I had this extra time in January and the client interest was there, so I hatched a plan to experiment with a one-month “fast-track” version of my signature program.
And yes, if you read the headline to this article, you can pretty much guess what happened next…
Now, we’re not talking utter business collapse or even client failure. Business is fine. Client is happy, developed a gorgeous book proposal, and has started pitching agents.
But one-month “fast-track”? Can we just say #facepalmemoji.
It just didn’t work.
We got started at a fast clip and I worked hard to keep us on the plan. But I am an empathetic human and I saw pretty quickly that pushing to make it work wasn’t going to be the best idea for either of us.
But I am an empathetic human and I saw pretty quickly that pushing to make it work wasn’t going to be the best idea for either of us.
So we pivoted.
I held the structure for where we needed to go, always keeping us moving, but allowing for flexibility.
Since neither of us had expected to be working together beyond a month or so — we needed flexibility to be able to keep the book proposal rolling, but balanced against all other existing commitments, clients, and other life priorities.
It became something of a dance week-by-week. Set the deadlines, see where we were by the end of the week (and what had life thrown our way), and re-set the deadlines as necessary for the next week. We ended up finishing in about 4.5 months, which included her sending out her first queries to agents.
From this experiment, these are the top 3 things that I now whole-heartedly believe authors need to know when heading into a book proposal project:
#1 Book Ideas Need Room for Nurturing
One of the things I love about my work as a book coach helping first-time authors develop their book proposals is helping them refine, hone, and evolve their book concepts into richer, deeper, more authentic representations of what they are in fact wanting to say.
What I found with my original “fast-track” one-month experiment is that it lacked the time and space for ideas to hang out in our brains in between calls and deadlines — these in-between times are often where so much creative growth happens.
My original “fast-track” one-month experiment…lacked the time and space for ideas to hang out in our brains in between calls and deadlines — these in-between times are often where so much creative growth happens.
Instead, we were meeting daily and the author was writing and revising to meet daily deadlines and it just felt like push-push-push. This was early on what led me to make the call to pivot.
By spreading out deadlines and writing time over more days, weeks, and months — ideas can grow, shapeshift, and develop in the ways they need to.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook ads for 4 or 5-week long book proposal programs. While I don’t personally have direct experience with these programs, the fact that they promise a complete proposal in such a short period of time does give me pause.
Not because I don’t think a book proposal can’t be developed in about a month, I do think it’s possible, which is why I launched my “fast-track” experiment in the first place — but what I think you can complete in a month in a nice, solid working draft. Something to build on. It probably doesn’t include any sample chapters, it definitely doesn’t include a pitch strategy, list of 25+ agents, and query letter — and the proposal isn’t polished yet. It’s a starting point.
So when you see those Facebook ads promise a “finished book proposal”, contrast that with the real work that needs to be done to get ready to pitch — and that’s what I’m outlining needs more like 4-6 months, and that’s with one-on-one help with a coach like myself!
Now, onto number 2.
#2 Book Projects Need Space for Life to Happen
I don’t know if it’s this pandemic era of extra hideous news cycles or just life in general, but one of the reasons why I’ve come to really embrace this more humane pace of work (e.g. four to six months vs frantic one month “fast track”), is that I’ve found that we just need time and space for the unknown to come up.
Because more than ever, we seem to have a lot of unknowns coming up in life these days.
Just a few of the unexpected experiences that my client I moved through during what became our non-fast track time together were:
- Post-U.S. Capitol insurgency
- U.S. and Canadian Covid winter surges
- Multiple weeks of migraines for both of us
- Some big wins including national television appearances for my client
- Multiple police murders
- Covid crisis in India
So we need space for the unknown… and we also need space for recovery and rest. So maybe you lose a few days because you give yourself time to process or get some extra sleep. So much better to rest and then come back stronger than ever the next week.
If you’re giving yourself just a month to complete a challenging and crucially important project like your book proposal, and there’s no room for unknowns to crop up, let alone to recover for them — you’re not setting yourself up for success.
And number 3…
#3 Expect Self-Doubt to Come Up When a Book Becomes Real. It’s Normal!
When putting a book idea into the world, even the most confident, self-assured, “done their personal development work” author will face self-doubt, or one of its sisters — imposter complex, anxiety, fear — you name it they’re all related.
And, because it’s so normal, I feel more strongly than ever that it’s critical to build room into the process for this “stuff” to come up.
If we’re trying to push and rush, there’s no time to work with the feelings and instead, the instinct is to push the feelings away and ignore them. When there’s some extra time — then we can acknowledge the feeling, spend a minute with it, see where it’s coming from. This is not about giving it weight and letting it take over, but rather simply recognizing it.
The most common time I see a self-doubt-type feeling come up is when the book proposal is completely finished, and we start to move into the phase where we’re putting together a strategy for pitching the book to literary agents.
That’s because this is the moment when the book moves from an internal “idea” to something to be sent out into the broader world.
This is a vulnerable, scary moment and I proceed with caution and care when I talk about agents and pitch strategy. I work to help authors understand the lay of the land so they can be resilient no matter what happens.
It’s only normal that self-doubt comes up at a time like this. It’s certainly not a time to rush through conversations or push away feelings. Looking back on my original “fast-track” plan I am pretty much shaking my head at myself for thinking we could have done it any other way.
Looking back on my fast-track experiment I have to say I’m so glad I tried it and saw it fail because I learned so much. Before this experiment, I thought that if the client and I both had the same goal — to complete the project within the timeline — then we could make it happen. But now I see how much that was just wishful thinking and how incredibly beneficial the gift of time is in so many ways.
I now also have some wonderful learnings and proof points to share with clients who ask me if they can work with me faster because this is definitely something that has come up in the past. Now I can explain the value that spending four to six months together offers over attempting to “fast-track” through in a month or so, because I know that was a #fail.