How I wrote a book (and had it published)


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This is a slightly different post for Dementia By Day, but it’s an answer to a question that I get asked a lot! My answer is mostly for authors of non-fiction books, although I am sure some of it could apply to writers of any type.

“Why and how did you decide to write a book?”

I had started this blog when I got my first “real” job in dementia care. By “real,” I mean my first full-time job, in my exact field, after graduate school. My blog was—and is—for stories, tips, and advice about dementia caregiving. I found that I had a lot of interesting stories to share about my residents, and I wanted to do more than just tell them to my friends and family.

Friends kept saying to me, “You should write a book!” I’ve always fancied myself a writer (of sorts) and I had always wanted to write a book…I just didn’t expect that it would be a book about dementia care! I found that there were no books available for people looking to move a loved one into a long-term care community, which I thought was odd. I wanted to write something for those caregivers.

The process began with the purchase of another book, “Getting Your Book Published, For Dummies.”

Yes, I bought that book. I read it, cover to cover, even though it had been published in the late 90s and didn’t mention much about the Internet, which was a little comical. Even so, it was still incredibly helpful and incredibly applicable.

I also got some wonderful advice from a PhD friend and professor of mine. He had had a book published and he’d also taught me a large majority of what I know about psychology. (He was one of my professors in my undergraduate alma mater.) He said, “Try and find publishers who have published books on dementia care, and reach out to them. Write a proposal and send it around to those publishers who are accepting new proposals from new, unpublished authors. Then, if that doesn’t work, just publish it yourself, but I think you have a niche here that you should pursue through a real publisher first.”

He was absolutely right. I created a proposal and started looking for publishers (on Amazon, no less) that had published books on dementia care. I went to their websites and looked to see if they were accepting new potential authors and their proposals. This was very much like applying to college, actually. I made a list, went through the list, and tailored my proposal to fit the needs and requests of each potential publisher.

After I sent out my proposal, I began to work on my chapters and my outline, even though I was not sure what the outcome would be. A couple publishers expressed interest, but when I heard back from Johns Hopkins, I knew who I wanted to work with. JHU Press asked for a few of my chapters, so I punched up the work I had done and sent it over.

A good publisher will review your material frequently and have their editors work on it, but you really want it to be as strong as possible before sending it over. It may be worth it for you to hire a freelance editor to help you with the process. At some point, the publisher will send a contract for you to review and sign. The contract will also give you details about how long the book should be, often in word count.

For the next year and a half, I was hard at work on my book. I created strict deadlines for myself, because I knew I had to have certain chapters done by certain points in the year. My entire manuscript was due to Hopkins by that fall, and I planned out my outline accordingly. I did the math: it appeared that I needed to be completing about 3 chapters a month, along with editing the ones that JHU Press sent back to me with changes. I stayed on track and met my goal ahead of schedule, which gave me plenty of time to go back and review the rest of my material.

In summary, here’s what you need to write a book and have it published:

  • A niche and expertise in that niche 
  • Strong time management skills
  • A great work ethic
  • Strong writing skills
  • Confidence

People will often jokingly say to me, “When is your next book coming out?” I know that people don’t always know what to say, but that question is actually kind of irritating. Writing a book is really hard work. It takes time, planning, skill, and a lot of energy. You’re going to need confidence, as well, because, if you’re writing a book, you’re in it for the long haul.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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