Spill It: Are You a Terrible Self-Starter?

Last week, I headed over to my local library to sit in on a meeting of the Toastmasters Club. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, I admitted that I was on a panel at a major conference that coming weekend, that public speaking terrified me, and that I was hoping to pick up some pointers.

So when it came time for impromptu, two-minute presentations, the master of ceremonies (the Toast Master?) asked me to take the first shot and talk about the presentation I was preparing for.


I got up there and babbled incoherently for just under two minutes about ASJA, sex writing, the book I was working on, and promotional plans. It wasn’t terrible. But it was definitely unfocused, and I was obviously nervous.

(A few presentations later, a guy with fantastic biceps opened up his presentation by saying that my presentation was his favorite. But I’m pretty sure it’s because no one expects to come to the public library, attend a Toastmasters Club meeting, and hear somebody talk about sex.)

ANYway. At the end of the meeting, I received some more constructive feedback from the person tasked with analyzing each mini-speech, and one thing he said stuck out to me. “People tend to use filler words (stuff like uh and um) in the same way they clear their throat,” he said. “You feel unprepared, so you fill in those words while you gather your thoughts.”

It struck me then that my tendency toward extreme procrastination is much the same thing.

When I receive a new assignment or get the go-ahead on a new project, I don’t immediately start drawing up outlines and tracking down resources (as I probably should). Instead, I put the deadline into my Google Calendar and set up an email alert, so that I’ll be sure to start soon enough to meet my deadline.

Then, when that email shows up in my inbox, I hem and haw even further.

I do some spring cleaning of my Chrome bookmarks.

I decide the coffee table needs dusting.

The prospect of cleaning out the kitchen sink is suddenly attractive.

I draw up to-do lists, which make my already-existing to-do lists even more impossible to manage.

And I do all of this not because I’m a terrible freelancer who can’t be trusted to complete her work. (I always meet my deadlines.) I do this because… well…  just don’t know how to start! I still need to gather my thoughts!

Some people recommend writing what Anne Lamott refers to as a “shitty first draft.” This is excruciating for me.

Other people (including me) advocate breaking a larger project down into smaller, more manageable tasks, so as to make it less overwhelming. I do this a lot of the time.

One of the things that helps me most is drawing up an outline. Once I have an outline down on paper, the rest of the assignment seems easy as pie.

What about you? Do you procrastinate? Do you suck at the self-starting?

How do you trick yourself into getting down to business?

Related: How to Break Through Your Work Block, Getting It Done

How It Feels to Write a Book Your Family Will Never Read

With my maiden name! Damn, that's retro.

Since I announced my authorial intent at the age of 5, my mom has joked that my first book will be dedicated to her.

“To my mother, who has always supported me,” she says dramatically, her hand making a little flourish in the air. I roll my eyes, but she’s right. She has always supported me, even when she wasn’t completely on board with the work I was doing.

My first, bylined magazine piece, for example. It was for Playgirl magazine, and was a travel piece on sex parties around the world. It was accompanied by a tiny caricature of my headshot, plus a full-color drawing of a wild orgy. My mother made copies and passed them out to friends, family, and co-workers. Who does that!? A mom, I guess.

Still, as I write my first book, I try to imagine what that dedication page will look like (without yet even having a book contract, mind you), and can only come up with something like this: Dedicated to my mother, who still holds out hope that this sex writing thing is just a phase.

The working title of my book? Sex Play for Prudes.

The subject? It’s a prescriptive memoir about being a sex writer with “sexual dysfunction” (a term I don’t place much stock in, as issues with libido, arousal, and painful sex are more common than many people realize).

The opening scene? My very first blowjob.

Nope. No one in my family will ever read this book.

As someone who’s always dreamed of being a published author, the thought that my family members will feel uncomfortable reading my first (and only?) book is heartbreaking enough.

The thought that they’re embarrassed by it, though, is even worse. It makes me feel weird when people ask me what my book is about. I don’t know how to respond. In being aware of my mother’s embarrassment, I start to feel ashamed of myself. Even though I feel that what I’m writing is important. Even though I’ve received comments and emails from women thanking me for making them feel less alone. Even though the writing I do has been a form of self-therapy.

The other night, I joined my mother and aunt in the kitchen, where they were washing and drying pots and platters from the dinner we’d just had. “Your mother tells me you’re writing a book,” said my aunt, who was visiting from out of town. “What’s it about?”

My mother, who was soaping up another platter at the sink, looked over her shoulder with a smirk. This was not helpful. I stuttered and stumbled as I searched for how best to explain things.

“It’s a prescriptive memoir for women with sexual dysfunction,” I said. I should have stopped there, but my aunt’s face was blank, so I went on. “It’s about being a sex writer with sexual dysfunction,” I added. The skin between her brows creased in confusion.

“Yeah, I don’t understand it either,” said my mom, who’d had me explain it to her about five thousand times before.

I tried to think of what else I could say. “Well, you know I’ve been a sex writer for 10 years, right?” My aunt looked even more confused. Or perhaps that was horror. “I write about sexual health,” I said, though I didn’t know that a review of the Sexerciseball counted as a matter of sexual health.

“Oh, sexual health,” she said, as if that suddenly legitimized everything. I got annoyed, though it was my own damn fault for throwing in the term.

“Well, sexual health and sex in general,” I said, backpedaling. I then stammered my way through an explanation that encompassed the sexually abusive relationship that had caused my sexual issues, the chapters that focused on my experiences as a sex writer, and the lessons I planned to impart… all without traumatizing her. I finally gave up, flustered. My mom was still at the sink, shaking her head. In the pause that followed, she joked that at least my maiden name wouldn’t be on the book.

“My mother is ashamed of the writing I do,” I informed my aunt, knowing full well that she didn’t approve either.

“No,” she assured me. “You’re mother’s proud of you.”

She may as well have patted me on the head.

Sometimes, with some people, I find myself talking around the subject of what I write about, as if predicting their inevitable disapproval.

Am I projecting? Or are comments like the ones above shaking my faith in myself?

How about you? Are your family members on board with your writing? How do you cope when they’re not?

Related: Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?, They Hate Me! They Really Hate Me!

How an Author Can Be Her Own Own Best Publicist

Blogging buddy and author Brette Sember has about about 40 titles to her name at this point, a number that often serves to make me feel like a lazy-ass bum. Like, what have I been doing all these years!? Her output has been so extensive that her published books fill one and a half shelves on her office bookcase.

She published her first book when she was home on maternity leave from her law practice in 1998. A publisher called and asked if she was interested in writing a book about how to file for divorce in New York. She never looked back. Now, she’s spending time promoting her latest book — The Muffin Tin Cookbook, due out in April — and she’s finding the publicity process wildly different from what it was just 14 years ago. Lucky for us, she’s willing to share what it’s like to be your own best publicist.

1. You’ve written a slew of books, in a variety of subject areas. Considering how labor-intensive book development can be, what has drawn you to these longer-form projects, and how the hell do you maintain such an impressive output?

I love books. I love reading them and I love writing them. I’ve done my share of magazine work and it’s not my favorite process. A book is my vision (with input from my editor). I’m just suited to writing long-form and I enjoy being able to have the time and space to explore things. My mom is also an author, so I guess it is in my blood.

I have some books I wrote which were renamed in later editions, so that makes my numbers look higher. I also have some books where publishers took my old books and repackaged parts of them as new titles to be more targeted or specific. I co-author a lot of books, which means I’m not writing the entire thing on my own. Writing books is my full-time job, so I do have time to devote a lot of energy and thought to what I do. Most of all though, I just love what I do.

2. Over the years, we’ve seen book publishers’ marketing and publicity budgets shrink, forcing authors to shoulder more of the promotional responsibility. What was your experience like in this area with the first few books you published, and how has it shifted over the years?

This has changed a lot in the 14 years I’ve been doing this. In the beginning, my publicists set things up for me and I did the interviews. Period. I started to do some online moving and shaking very early on, though, and was successful at getting my books reviewed or mentioned on early blogs. Now, of course, the burden is almost entirely on the author. I rely on publicists to mail out the review copies I get requests for and that’s about it. It’s hard because as an author you have to wear so many hats and they might not all come naturally. Just because you’re good at writing doesn’t mean you’re good at publicity, so I think this places a heavy burden on many authors. And it’s not like you can just hire your own publicist — you’re looking at a commitment of about $10,000 to do that. So most authors are left trying to get this done themselves, in and around their other writing work.

3. Considering the necessity of self-promotion, what do you see as the main benefits of going through a traditional publisher?

I do self-publish several titles myself as Kindles and Nooks and I love the freedom it gives me to write what I want and get it out there immediately. I still love print books, though, and for long projects that require a lot of my time and a lot of investment in research or recipe development, I like to get an advance to defray those costs. I’m not interested in storing 2,000 books in my garage to sell or distribute myself and I’m just not interested in formatting a book or doing anything of the print functions myself. For now, I’m playing both sides of the field and will as long as I see a benefit.

4. What have been some of the most effective ways you’ve found of self-promoting your books? Have you tried anything off-beat that perhaps a publishing house wouldn’t have come up with on its own?

I’ve had a lot of success with bloggers for many years, and publishers are now hot on this but weren’t for a long time. I make my own flyers for my books with color photos on them. Publishers send out these dry text emails or press releases. I put together a PDF with photos, color text and formatting that makes it fun to look at. I’ve also had a lot of success getting coverage in regional parenting magazines, which I’ve worked with for years and years as a writer and maintain a database of. They’re really receptive because they need content and if you can provide a free article that also promotes your book, they are happy to run it. I also have to tell you that my mom took my last cookbook, The Parchment Paper Cookbook, to the hair salon for the stylist. He has it on a side table and has told tons of people about it. Sometimes word of mouth is more valuable than you would think.

5. Finally, I can imagine that by the time your book comes out, you’re sick to death of it. Can you speak to this a bit, and also explain how you maintain your enthusiasm for the book so you can promote it in the most effective way possible?

People don’t realize you’ve lived with a book for a year or even two by the time it hits the shelves. You start with the proposal — trying to get a publisher interested. Then you write the book. Then you go through edits and copyediting and proofing. I also do the indexes for my own books, so that is another journey through the book. Then you start publicity before the book is out, trying to line up reviews, guest posts, etc. By the time there is actually a book for sale, it’s old news to the author! But it’s new to everyone else, so you have to kind of shake yourself up and try to look at it through the readers’ eyes and get excited about it all over again. And it is exciting to actually hold it in your hands after the long process. And it’s exciting when people tell you they like it, so that energizes you anew.

Related: 12 Ways to Market an Ebook, Wearing Different Hats

(photo via)

How To Find The Literary Agent of Your Dreams

(image via the talented Justin Lowery)

Back in November, I shared with you the checklist I used to put together my own book proposal. It contained all the building blocks I’d become familiar with when working as an editorial assistant for an academic book publisher, plus a few other tips I’d picked up over the years from former writing professors and how-to books.

I can only assume that, by this point, you have an amazing, solid book proposal ready to go, and are already daydreaming about the book advance and lit parties in your future. Not so fast. While academic publishers — and some small presses — accept unsolicited book proposals and manuscripts, most traditional book publishers won’t look at your work unless it comes to them via a literary agent.

I can hear you grumbling already. What the what!? Another barrier to publication? But believe me. You’ll only benefit from the help an agent can provide. Not only are they the gatekeepers to big-name publishers, but they have their fingers on the pulse of the literary marketplace, can help you strengthen your proposal, have relationships with editors (and intimate knowledge of their preferences) that allow them to target the best possible publishers for your book, and can also negotiate a helluva book contract (a process during which many of us would be completely out of our element).

Yes please to all of that.

So how do you go about finding one?

Read the acknowledgments pages of your favorite books. I’ve been working on a prescriptive memoir about being a sex writer with sexual dysfunction. In order to pinpoint agents who might be interested in such a book, I thought back to all the sex-related books, prescriptive nonfiction books, and irreverent memoirs I’d read and loved. I figured anyone who’d represent those authors might possibly be into me, too. Luckily, most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgments section of their book. So when drawing up a list of possible agents to query, I flipped to the backs of My Year with Eleanor, Yoga Bitch, Project: Happily Ever After, Mating in Captivity, Introvert Power, and other such books. I also took note of which agents had landed their authors deals with Seal Press, a small publishing house I especially admired.

Flip through agent directories. In a bit of fortuitous timing, I received a review copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2012 back in November. I loved it because, in gathering information from agencies, Herman had asked for info like: hobbies and personal interests; subjects and categories they liked to agent; the most effective way for writers to grab their attention; favorite books, movies, and TV shows; the most common mistakes writers make when pitching; etc. Not only did this help me better craft my queries, but this info allowed me to see these agents not just as agents… but as people.

Several months later, I received Chuck Sambuchino’s 2012 Guide to Literary Agents as a Christmas present. This particular directory made it clear which agencies were more open to new writers and which weren’t.

I also paid attention to info on geographic location, and only targeted the agents who were based in NY or NJ. I wanted the option of meeting up with my future agent in person.

And both books also contained additional content on crafting query letters, putting together a nonfiction book proposal, how to make the most of a writer’s conference, copyright basics, and more.

Visit agency websites. After I’d flipped through acknowledgments pages and agency directories, I visited the websites of the agents on my list. This gave me even more information on whether they were accepting proposals at the time, how they preferred to receive queries, and how long it typically took them to respond (so I knew when to follow up).

Send a query letter first. Then I started sending out my first wave of query letters. You may be eager to mail out your full proposal right off the bat (especially after you spent so much time putting it together) but, for the most part, agents prefer to receive a brief query letter first. This is because they’re just inundated with queries and proposals, and don’t have the time to read through them all. If they’re intrigued by your query letter and interested in reading more, they’ll request your full proposal.

Other options. Of course, there are other ways to familiarize yourself with the agents out there. I read this mediabistro list of the Best Literary Agents on Twitter, and followed the ones who seemed the most interesting. (I even referenced a specific tweet in one of my query letters.) Other authors register for Publishers Lunch – through which they can read book industry news, receive alerts about new book transactions, and search a database to see which agents are representing which books — or subscribe to Publishers Weekly. Some authors make agent connections at conferences (and some conferences host sessions in which you can sign up to query agents in person).

In the end, it took me about three (excruciating) months to find my literary agent, using the steps above. Those three months included five rejections from agencies not interested in seeing my full proposal; three requests for a full proposal, followed by three very pleasant and constructive rejections; and two howling vortexes of silence.

Actually, I didn’t even directly query the woman who eventually offered me representation. I queried her colleague after becoming enamored of a memoir she’d represented. She loved my proposal but worried she was too much of a prude to give it the best possible chance in this tough publishing market. So she passed it along to her colleague and the stars aligned.

When my agent first emailed me, I paused to do a happy dance to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Then, in my response email to the aforementioned agent, I admitted to doing a happy dance to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” When she responded by asking if we were separated at birth, I knew it was all going to work out.

I know there’s still no guarantee I’ll get an offer from a book publisher. But at this moment, I’m far closer to the authorial dreams I’ve been nursing since the age of 5 than I’ve ever been before.

Having an agent? It can certainly help you beat the odds.

Related: Selling Your First Book: A Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials, How To Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal, Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?

Been Writing for Years? You Still Have A Lot to Learn

Many of you already know my writing history.

Awful poetry at the age of 5.

A part-time gig at a weekly newspaper at the age of 19.

Writing sex toy reviews by the age of 22.

And now, at the age of 31, I’ve created content for online magazines, alternative newspapers, both regional and national print magazines, and a slew of blogs.

Not too shabby.

What I’ve always wanted, however, is to write a book. A book that garners interest from traditional publishers, and that eventually ends up on the shelf at Barnes & Noble or McNally Jackson or the Trident Bookstore/Cafe.

Up until recently, however, I didn’t do a damn thing about it.

A year or so ago, however, I co-authored an ebook with sex counselor Ian Kerner. And after that sold surprisingly well, he asked me to ghostwrite an ebook for another client. Once I’d completed those two projects, it occurred to me: I just wrote two books. Maybe this whole long-form thing isn’t entirely out of the question.

So in the late summer / early fall, I began working on a book proposal and, at the end of November, I began querying agents. And then, almost immediately, I received a handful of responses from agents who were actually interested in seeing the full proposal.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the rejections I subsequently received were both kind and constructive, and I filed their comments away in the back of my mind for future use. But it was my most recent rejection that rang especially true. What this brilliant agent told me was that my proposal was pretty solid… but my sample chapters were where it all fell apart. I was long on narrative and short on scene, making my chapters seem pretty flimsy. It touched upon something I had already suspected.

In Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Adair Lara wrote that “overly fluent writers, those to whom words come fast, have trouble going deep in their writing.”

It was true. I’d been spending so much time writing service pieces and listicles that I just didn’t know what it took to build a scene in a long-form book.

So though I’d read it only a year before, I read Lara’s book again, in its entirety. (It’s all about writing personal essays and memoirs, and has an entire chapter on scene-writing.) I also simultaneously read a memoir (Claire Dederer’s Poser), so I could pay extra attention to how other writers built scene and arc and character. Now, I’m ready for a massive rewrite (followed by a bit more slash and burn from my writing partner).

I’m not a terrible writer. Even though I began questioning my ability to write this book, and bemoaning the fact that I’d squandered my chances with several agents, I know there are areas in which I absolutely shine.

But even when you’ve been writing for years, there’s something new to learn, or something old and valuable to revisit.

Which aspects of writing do you feel you still have a lot to learn about?

Related: Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?, How to Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal, Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Has the Editing Process Crushed Your Soul?, Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

One Simple Trick for Effective Self-Editing

On Monday, instead of getting a damn thing done, I took a bus into the city and headed downtown to (Le) Poisson Rouge, where Mike Geffner was hosting Titillating Tongues: NYC Erotica in Poetry & Prose. My favorite, sex-positive feminist was reading, and I was also excited to catch my very first glimpse of Rev Jen, a writer, performance artist, and elf I’d first become aware of when she was writing the old-school “I Did It For Science” column on Nerve.

Before we could bask in the awesome glow of the featured readers, however, there was an open mic.

I didn’t read, because I don’t write erotica (I just enjoy it recreationally, and ghostwrite essays that accompany erotica), but I enjoyed the mix of people who did have the balls to get up there (including my friend Claire, who had made a resolution to read, perform, and tell stories in a public setting).

And as I sat there and listened — impressed by how successful writing was about so much more than just the words — it occurred to me:

We should poetry slam all our writing before considering it Good.

Don’t freak out. I’m not suggesting you sign up for the next open mic night at your local coffee shop. (Lord knows I’m not going to.)

But what you should do before pronouncing a piece officially done is read it out loud. To workshop classmates. To a writing group. To your three incredibly intelligent cats. To yourself.


What I’m suggesting has nothing to do with critiques and constructive criticism (though those are helpful, too). Rather, reading your work out loud will help you hear things in it that you couldn’t perceive when you were just silently staring at your screen.

What should you listen for?

  • rhythm
  • flow
  • awkwardness
  • redundancies
  • cliches

In addition, you should ask yourself:

Would reading this to an audience be horrifically embarrassing?

Is this piece something I would be proud to share with others?

Does is feel good to read this out loud? Can I get into it? Can I groove with these words?

A good number of Monday night’s readers definitely grooved with their words. And their work was visibly the better for it. In the pauses and the chuckles and the facial expressions, their words became performance. Their words were alive.

Are your words alive?

Read them aloud to yourself. It will quickly become clear where the stutters and hesitations lie.

Self-editing? Suddenly easy.

Related: How Writing Forced Me Out of My Comfort Zone

Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?

I learned early on that — when it came to freelance writing — it was important to bounce back quickly from rejection, keep up the momentum, and flip that pitch.

Because of that early lesson, I’ve never felt too much anxiety when pressing “send” on my query letters and, upon receiving rejections, I’ve typically only felt the barest twinge of disappointment before turning to the next publication on my pitch list. After all, rejection is a reality of the freelance writing life, and not everyone is going to fall all over themselves to publish my work. In fact, despite my being a total genius (obvs), I’m pretty sure at least some of my ideas have been pretty weak.

So my mental reaction when I received my first-ever rejections from my first-ever literary agent queries sort of caught me by surprise.

I spent two hours sending out my first four query letters on the Monday before Thanksgiving. By that point, I had already imagined my book as a done deal. I’d envisioned the book party / speed networking event that would take place at my favorite local cafe. I’d mentally run through the readings that would take place at Babeland and Happy Ending and KGB Bar. I’d considered the other things I would do to promote my book. The local library I’d do a Q&A at. The excerpt I’d send along to Real Simple. The blog tour I’d singlehandedly mastermind (and which my publicist would love me for).

This is all very embarrassing to admit. But I figured that imagining my book as a done deal would help it become a reality… would in fact help it manifest, à la The Secret.

One of the agents I emailed (my first choice, actually) responded within 15 minutes. He wanted to see my full proposal. I nearly had a heart attack, but I forced myself to chill the eff out and then sent along what I had, feeling cautiously hopeful. Somehow, I managed to make it through the week (including Thanksgiving) without going completely crazy from anticipation.

The following Monday, I received his rejection and, later that day, another one.

They were lovely rejections. They included words like “talented” and “engaging.” I felt that familiar twinge of disappointment, but I still felt hopeful. Their letters had been rejections, but they had also been personal, complimentary, and constructive. I filed their critiques in the back of  my mind for use in future revisions, and set about waiting for responses from the other agents.

I spent the next three days being completely unproductive. I wasn’t sure why. It finally occurred to me that I was depressed. What the what!? But then I realized what was bothering me. Those two rejections had forced me to consider the difficult possibility that my book might not happen.


I gave up on work and retreated to the sweet, sweet comfort of my pillow-top mattress, plus five layers of blankets and cats. I tried not to think about the readings and book parties that would never happen. I slept for two hours. I allowed myself to mourn.

This morning, I found myself eating Cheetos at 8:30 a.m. and decided it was time to snap the hell out of it. I started putting together the December edition of Word Nerd News. I started writing this blog post. I looked at my agent spreadsheet and made plans for sending out my next wave of query letters. I brainstormed my next steps for drumming up new work.

Clients often ask about my success rate with query letters and LOIs. I tell them my success rate is much better than it was when I started. Which makes sense. After all, my portfolio is stronger these days, my network is larger, and my writing has only improved. But I also tell them that rejection is still a reality of the freelance writing life, and that it always will be. One can’t succeed without accepting that, and working through it.

After all, rejection is not the same as failure.

How do you react to rejection? Do you, too, have weird daydreams about your unpublished book? And have you ever sunk so low as to eat Cheetos at 8:30 a.m.? Spill it.

Related: Flip That Pitch, How To Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal

Don’t Forget To Thank Your Writing Partner

Earlier this week, I sent query letters out to four literary agents. This was a big step for me. I’d been dreaming of becoming a published author since the age of 5 and, since then, I’d done absolutely nothing to make it happen. Now I have a book proposal — polished and ready to go — and four query letters out the door.

In fact, within 15 minutes, one of the agents responded to me, asking to see my full proposal. I thought I was going to pass out from excitement, but I pulled it together long enough to send him what I had. He responded almost immediately, saying he would try to get back to me either way by the end of the week.

This very well might mean I’m about to get the quickest rejection ever (well, okay… not ever) but, nevertheless, I’m ecstatic. I’m closer than I’ve ever been to making this happen.

And I never would have done it if I wasn’t being held accountable by my writing partner.

What my writing partner did for me:

  • helped me choose one big project to focus on
  • helped me set regular writing, querying, and business goals
  • helped me set deadlines for the above goals
  • read my weekly status reports, cheering me on when I was extra productive
  • threatened my life when I slacked (or just generally emanated an aura of disapproval)
  • marked up everything I sent her with edit marks and insightful comments and questions
  • scheduled regular Skype chats with me to discuss those suggested edits (and to talk work gossip, sex, infertility, and Chicken McNuggets)
  • held me accountable
  • kept me on track
  • made my book a possibility, rather than an elusive dream

The day after I sent out those queries, we had another Skype chat. At the end, we discussed what our next writing goals would be. I was feeling distracted by the thought of those book queries. How could I concentrate on anything else!? But I attempted to pull my weight. ”I still need to make revisions to that Freelance Awesome Starter Kit,” I said, “but I should really concentrate on developing magazine queries and drumming up new work.”

“Well, can’t you do both?”

Yes. Yes I could.

Lyz Lenz is a so-funny-she’ll-make-you-snort writer who blogs over at LyzLenz.com. She also writes for Babble, TruTV, NewParent, and other publications. We met when I was permalancing at YourTango. She manages the community there (among her many other responsibilities). She lives far, far away (Iowa), but she is my platonic life partner. I’m lucky to have her as my writing partner as well.

And since it’s Thanksgiving and all, I want to thank her. I want to thank her for forcing me to accomplish this despite myself.

Writing partners are one of the best things in the world. They’re up there with Candy Cane Kisses and cats and yoga and So You Think You Can Dance. They’re up there with episodes of Castle and The Sing-Off, and with pillow-top mattresses and coffee. If you need a reminder of why you should get one yourself… well, here.

Have you thanked your writing partner this Thanksgiving?

Related: Finding a Writing Partner Who Will Make Your Dreams Come True, Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Wanted: A Writing Partner Who Can Kick My Writing Ass

How Choosing the More Difficult Path Leads to Awesomeness (and a Cuter Butt)

The other day, I was the only student to show up for lunchtime yoga. “You have three options,” my instructor told me. “A. We can do a restorative yoga class. B. I can kick your ass with a really intense class. C. We can blow this joint and go out for drinks.”

I stood there, waffling between all three. An hour of restorative yoga would pretty much be an easy-peasy, introspective afternoon nap. Going out for drinks would be fun. And I’d been wanting to pick my instructor’s brain about his experiences within the teacher training program.

In the end, though, I chose option B. I felt I needed it, especially after my rough day at the lab, trying unsuccessfully to get blood drawn so I could take the next step in trying to get pregnant. That and I’d been feeling a little fat. So we got down on our mats and we sweated it out.

I was so happy with my choice. My instructor read aloud a great passage from Life Is a Verb, and then we worked our way through a full vinyasa practice. Because I was the only student there, my instructor was able to give me adjustments on every pose, pushing me harder and deepening my practice. We also worked on inversions I had been struggling with. And I still got my chance to grill him about teacher training. When I left the studio, I was feeling simultaneously relaxed and revitalized. I was ready to make the tough choices on my to-do list next.

I feel as if freelancers crave the tougher path.

Yeah, yeah. I roll out of bed at 8:30, at which point I only have to commute from my bedroom to my dining room. I don’t have to wear a bra — or pants — if I don’t want to. I get to hang out with my cats all day. My schedule is flexible enough to allow for a shit-ton of yoga classes throughout the week. I’m my own boss.

But I’m also the toughest, most critical boss I know. I can’t count on regular income. I’ve had to force myself to diversify — with ghostwriting, editing, coaching, funeral singing, etc. — to more easily pay the bills. I’ve had to fight my introversion and social anxiety in order to build my network. I’ve also had to learn self-discipline and self-motivation, and take on the roles of marketer, accountant, administrator, and more.

And every day, I’ve had to consciously choose to sit down at the computer and fill the blank screen, instead of watching the latest What Not To Wear marathon or baking apple crumble and lemon pound cake.

That’s a hard decision to make, yo.

And I know you make the same choices, too. It’s scary to leave a seemingly stable job and a regular paycheck in order to make it on your own. It’s scary to put yourself out there. It’s scary to ask for what you’re worth and to stand firm with problem clients and to try new things. It’s definitely far from easy.

And it can be tough to make the tough choices from day to day.

But it’s worth it. Because of the pantslessness and the bralessness and the kitty cat slumber parties, yes, but also because it challenges us. It pushes us to be more… to be better. Making the tough choices ensures that we continue growing, both as people and in our career.

It’s tough to remember the benefits sometimes.

But right now, my booty and my thighs are still sore from Tuesday’s private class and — man oh man — if I keep it up, my mood will keep improving, and I’ll look hotter in skinny jeans.

And for the same reason, I’ll skip the Netflix this afternoon and work on those projects I have on my plate.

What tough decisions do you have to make today?

Related: Are You Being Challenged By Your Career?, News Flash: Both Marriage and Freelancing Are Hard, Reevaluating Your Life

Selling Your First Book: A Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials

I’ve been a woman on a mission lately. In between assigned blog posts and essays, coaching calls, and yoga classes, I’ve been slowly pulling together a book proposal with the aim of sending it out to a handful of agents by the end of November.

So why would I take time away from everything else in order to focus on another large project… one that may very well come to nothing?

1. I love adding new things to the mix.

2. After ghostwriting and collaborating on ebooks for other clients, I really want to have something of my own out there. Heck, I’ve dreamed of being an author since the age of 5.

Luckily, I’ve worked in book publishing before, where one of my responsibilities was weeding through book proposals and sending them around for review. So I know a thing or two about what goes into a proposal. I also picked up some additional tips from this nifty book I read, and from Susan Shapiro, who regularly runs book publishing panels.

But maybe you’ve never seen a book proposal before. Maybe your book is still just a germ of an idea in your head, and you’re completely clueless about where to start. For all the book publishing newbies out there, here’s the book proposal checklist I use with clients, and which I also used to put my own proposal together:

Compelling Title and Subtitle. Most publishers brainstorm new title options for every book they buy. But it’s still a good idea to name your book from the outset. If it’s compelling or clever enough, it will entice an agent or publisher into reading more. It can also help them envision your book as a finished product.

Book Description. This is exactly what it sounds like. Any book proposal should include a brief description of your book. And don’t half-ass this. Aside from your initial query letter and book title, this will be the first thing an agent/publisher sees. If you don’t grab an agent’s attention from the very beginning, they may never continue on past the first paragraph, let alone the first page.

About You. As in your typical magazine query letter, this is the part of the proposal where you drive home why you’re the best person to write this book. This paragraph may include info on your writing background, any unique experiences or connections you have, the lowdown on your very special area of expertise, links to previously published clips, details on your already-existing platform, etc.

Manuscript Details. Don’t make an agent or publisher work too hard to imagine your book as a finished product. Give a projected word count. Mention which publishing categories it might fall under in your local bookstore. Give an idea of how long it will take you to complete a first draft of the manuscript.

Target Audience. More than anything else, a publisher needs to know if they’ll be able to sell your book. Because of this, they’ll want to know if there’s a large enough audience out there for the book you’re proposing. Write about the people who will be dying to purchase your book, and perhaps include a secondary audience as well. Let the agent/publisher know what benefits the reader will derive from your book. This is the type of information they’ll later be able to use within their marketing copy. And while the publisher will want to see proof of an audience for your book, make sure you’re not attempting to sell to everyone. When you try to make everyone happy with your work, you end up writing for no one.

Competitive Analysis. You’ll really need to do your homework here. This is the section of your proposal where you mention the existence of other, similar books on the market… and then explain what sets your book apart from them. This does two things: It shows the publisher that there is an existing market for the type of book your proposing… and then it presents your book’s unique selling proposition (or why a reader would still want to buy your book even after they’ve already read competing books). While you should make an effort in pulling together this section, don’t go overboard. If you list too many books, an agent/publisher will then worry that the market is over-saturated. I aim for five.

Annotated TOC. This is where you lay out the contents of your book. It’s a chapter outline that includes a one-paragraph description of each chapter.

Marketing/Publicity Ideas. We live in an age where the book publisher can’t afford to do it all. Because of this, you have to show agents/publishers that you have a strong platform, and that you can leverage your platform to promote your book both before and after it’s published. In addition to mentioning your blog/vlog/podcast/social media presence, this section should include suggestions for media outlets (newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV, radio) that may want to review your book or conduct an interview with you, reading series you could conceivably participate in, other outlets where you could do readings or other types of events, details of the blog tour you will be more than willing to organize yourself, articles you’re willing to write, alternative sales channels, etc.

Optional Extras. If you’re up to going the extra mile in order to gran an agent/publisher’s attention, consider including a list of potential endorsers for your book, a mock cover design, a mock press release, or anything else that will help others see your book as something with sales potential.

Book Excerpt. Wait! You’re not out of the woods yet. In addition to all of this information you so painstakingly pulled together, an agent/publisher will want to see some proof that you can actually execute what you’ve promised. Fiction writers typically have to submit a full manuscript along with their book proposal, why nonfiction writers can get away with an intro and first chapter.

Brief Cover Letter. But before you even send any of this out, most agents prefer to receive a brief query letter first, inviting them to check out / request your proposal. Agent preferences vary, so be sure to do due diligence before sending things out.

Anyone here working on their own book project?

Related: How To Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal, How To Get Your Book Published Before the Age of 25