How to write, design (and self-publish!) a book while working full time

- Life of Johanna, Sewing activewear

Now that my book Sewing Activewear: How to make your own professional-looking athletic wear is finally out, I thought it would be interesting to do a post about how I made it all happen while maintaining a day job and sticking with my plan, despite the fact that it took me one and a half year to finish the book. Hopefully, my post can inspire others who might have an urge to write a book or perhaps completing some other daunting and time-consuming project.

 

How it all began

I got the idea for the book in May of 2016 during a day-trip ferry ride to Denmark. Traveling to Denmark by boat is kinda boring but in a good way! Which also shows the importance of having “white spaces” in your life, those spaces are the best for getting new ideas. So I started to write an outline of the book on my iPad and while in Denmark I visited a department store with a great activewear selection, so that gave me some great ideas about what techniques I wanted to include in the book. During the summer, not much happened with the book, but in September of 2016, I decided to announce my project on the blog so that I could get some feedback and ideas from you and also give me some accountability!

TAKE HOME TIP: Create white spaces in your life where you are bored, that can really boost the creativity and be open about your process!

 

Self-publishing vs working with a publisher

Sewing Activewear is actually my fifth published book. This is not something I talk about a lot since my last book came out in 2003! But I used to write internet guides for a large publishing company back when the world wide web was a hip new thing that people liked to read books about.

 

Blast from my author past

Writing for a publishing company takes away many of the stresses such as proofreading, book design, printing and distribution. And they can help you with some marketing too, but to be honest this is something that the writers need to do the bulk of, regardless if you are self-publishing or working for a publisher. Also, as you probably heard before, most writers make hardly any money off their books, even if you get signed by big a book company.

That said, pitching my idea to a publisher never even crossed my mind with my book Sewing Activewear. First of all, my initial idea was much smaller than the 184-page book I ended up doing, hence why I initially thought I would only do an ebook and not going into print. And secondly, I didn’t feel confident that a book company would be interested in doing a book about this niche topic written by a person whose first language is not English and doesn’t have a strong brand in this area.

And thirdly, since (theoretically at least) I had the skills required to do a book by myself, I was just intrigued to see if I could make it work.

TAKE HOME TIP: Getting published by a big company will probably not get you rich and famous, but it can take out some of the stress that comes with self-publishing.

 

 

My skill set

This is probably my biggest advantage—I have worked in media and communication for almost 20 years and a big chunk of that time has been as a journalist working in print media. So I knew how to write (it really is a skill that takes years to develop), how to present information in an easy to digest manner, take photos, and also how to digitally design the pages since at least here in Sweden, that is often a task that journalists do as well.

Also, as I said above, I have written several books before, so I knew about the importance of workflows and outlines, which helped me with this book. That said, surprise, surprise, my previous work experience was nowhere near enough to pull this project off! So I had to spend a lot of time learning all the ins and outs of bookmaking, and I still feel there are gaping holes in my skill sets, even though I have learned a ton this fall.

Having a beer and watching a tutorial on how to create an index during my hotel work weekend. Very relaxing!

 

TAKE HOME TIP: Don’t be afraid to challenge your skill set, we humans have an enormous potential for learning new things!

 

The value of preparation and assigning writing time

I think where most aspiring writers struggle is not doing the proper prep work and also thinking that they will write the book here and there when life allows for it. But we all know how that works!

Do a proper outline

For me, that means listing all the topics and chapters in a document. For clarity, you can also add bullet points or a short summary to each topic. If you are writing fiction I think the process would be similar, breaking down the story into bite-size chunks will be incredibly useful, especially when the writing mojo is gone. So if you are not feeling your current chapter, you can usually find another part of the book that feels more fun to work on.

Assigning time

This is so important, as it really is what will make or break your book project. One of the reasons this book took so long is that, for the longest time, I didn’t set aside enough time. My first proper assigned time was in November of 2016 when I went to Copenhagen for a work weekend. During those days I was super productive and it reminded me of why it is so important to assign time for book writing.

However, I could not keep that continuity, since I also decided to look for a new job during this period. And applying for jobs, doing interview rounds, finishing your old job and making sure there are no loose ends (in Sweden it is common to have 2-3 months notice) and then learning the new job, well it is exhausting. So the book was on the back burner during the first half of 2017.

Then I decided to go full throttle and actually spent a large chunk of my 4-week summer leave writing, researching and designing a template for the book. I also earmarked eight Saturdays during the fall of 2017 for photo sessions and began rising at 6 AM to get an hour of book work done before my day job each morning. This routine was crucial for me being able to finish the book before the new year.

 

Sometimes my photo studio looked like this!

Early morning work session. I listened to playlists such as Deep Focus and Morning Productivity on Spotify to get in the right mindset.

 

As a final measure, I booked a second hotel work weekend this November, so that I would have uninterrupted time to do the final edits. I just picked a cheap and boring hotel in the middle of nowhere, my only criteria was a gym and an access to a jacuzzi, to prevent me from developing RSI!

TAKE HOME TIP: Don’t kid yourself thinking that you will write the book only when you are in the right mood and you have some “spare” time. You need to block out time, have a plan and probably give yourself a deadline too!

 

Maintaining energy levels and motivation

Sticking to it for the long haul is usually a big concern when one is embarking on a project like this. When it came to motivation, the biggest factor was the support I got from you guys, hence why I was happy that I shared my plans very early on. That gave me both inspiration and accountability. I know that some might feel hesitant about doing this, due to fears that the project might not happen. But for me, this method works.

As for my energy levels, I did some things that helped me a lot:

  • Ate well and regularly
  • Exercised daily
  • Tried to meditate five minutes each day
  • Kept a fairly strict sleep schedule

TAKE HOME TIP: Having a structure and nurturing yourself and your geist is super important.

 

Struggles with confidence

Writing a book and positioning yourself as a skilled practitioner and teacher is a pretty daunting experience, that can bring up all kinds of self-doubts. In addition, since I wrote the book in a language that is not my own, I also felt very self-conscious about my writing and the fact that the proofreading was a beast that drained me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

Also, during my writing process, Melissa Fehr of FehrTrade announced that she too was making a book about sewing activewear. That made me feel a bit insecure about whether or not people would want to buy my book too. But then I thought about it for a bit and felt that there is room for two current books about this topic (there hasn’t been one published since the late 1990’s). In fact, having two books out, could, in fact, leverage the interest for sewing activewear.

Plus every sewing book brings something different to the table, for instance, I own five books on pattern making and four about sewing with knits. Also, I know Melissa and had planned to feature her in the book, so I decided to just give her the heads-up about my book project and she is also interviewed in my book.

My biggest current struggle is that I want people to like the book. In my day job, I’m used to getting a lot of feedback and have a pretty thick skin. So professionally, I think I’m good at dealing with criticism, being confident in my work and also taking in and learning from valuable feedback. But with my book, I feel more insecure and vulnerable for some reason.

TAKE HOME TIP: Writing and finishing a book won’t just be fun and celebration. In fact, for all the five books I’ve written, I’ve initially felt a bit unsettled and anticlimactic after the book is published. But it is all part of the process and in the end, you will be proud of your accomplishments.

My daughters and a friend getting ready for a book photo session.

 

Sacrifices

Doing a project like this while maintaining a day job or whatever else that occupies your days comes with some sacrifices, there is no way around that. For me, the biggest sacrifice was my social and family life. For instance, I was so much in the book writing zone that I was pretty bad at keeping in regular touch with my friends during this fall. Also, I struggled to find time interacting and answering comments in a timely manner on social media platforms.

The situation was similar to my family, I spent even more time than usual in front of the computer and was also a bit distant from time to time. That said I wouldn’t say it was a huge toll on my family since my children are almost grown up and I and my husband are both very much people who like to immerse ourselves into things, so there was big understanding about the situation.

Another thing that took its toll was my memory, during the last few months I got kinda confused and forgetful, and for the first time in my life, I struggled with remembering paying bills on time and stuff like that.

Also, in an attempt to keep my energy levels up, I ate more than I usually do which has caused some weight gain (just a couple of pounds). Eating more (mostly food and healthy snacks) did help me to combat fatigue, so no regrets in that department. But yeah, I ate more than I burned this fall!

TAKE HOME TIP:  Doing a project like this comes with some sacrifices and you need to accept that. Try not to stress out about it too much or overcompensate for it, it will just burn you out.

Getting help

Even as a self-published author you still need help. My biggest rock during this project has been the Australian journalist and editor Kylie Walker, who offered to help me with the English and making sure the content was comprehensible. If you are looking for a kick-ass editor and writer for any future project, I can highly recommend Kylie!

I also showed the book to some other folks and as a last safety measure, enlisted a proofreading service, since I have a tendency to create new typos when I try correct my initial mistakes.

My family was a big help as well, my youngest took a lot of the outfit photos, both my daughters were models in the book, and my husband helped me with improving the book design and being a sounding board in general.

TAKE HOME TIP:  Don’t try to do it all by yourself and get the ones closest to you onboard too if possible.

The final book cover, which involved excellent feedback from you guys, my work colleagues and my husband. Designing a book cover was way more difficult than I had imagined. 

 

And then one day, my book finally arrived in the mail and it all started to feel very real!

 

I hope that this post gave a good picture of the ins and outs of working on a mammoth project such as a book, while maintaining a day job and keeping the stress levels in check. The last few weeks before my publish date were the only ones where I felt I was beginning to hit the wall, which was mostly an effect of a few marathon, way past midnight, work sessions and massive mental stress about all the little details that go into bookmaking.  But apart from that, I found the extra workload pretty doable!

More about my book: Sewing Activewear: How to make your own professional-looking athletic wear

 

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Kathy
    December 21, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    This is such a great accomplishment. Congratulations!

  • Reply
    Adrianne
    December 21, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    I appreciate your hard work and sacrifice! Congrats on producing a wonderful book!!

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 22, 2017 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you so much Adrianne!

  • Reply
    Esther
    December 21, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Congratulations on your book! I always admire your incredible self-discipline!

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Aww, thank you, Esther! I do think I was blessed with some self-discipline genes and that helps too for sure 🙂 Hope to meet you again in Spain in the future, now with the Swedish winter I long for some warmth and sun!

  • Reply
    PsychicSewerKathleen
    December 22, 2017 at 2:54 am

    My copy arrived this week and I love it Johanna! You did a brilliant job with those coloured photos. Your explanations are succinct and easy to follow. It’s also not so overwhelming in size and content. I feel as though I can absorb this book in a reasonable time frame but for sure it will have a central place on sewing book shelf. Congratulations on this accomplishment! Reading your story and what you were doing while writing this book made me want to go and lie down 🙂 I can’t imagine juggling all the things you do. I didn’t think there were so many hours in a day 🙂 ON top of keeping up with your blogging and vlogging! You’re an inspiration to us all 🙂

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathleen! Happy to hear you found the size and content balanced. For a while, I had a topic list that would have created almost another book on top, but I figured 184 pages would be enough for people to digest and me to able to finish 🙂 But maybe I’ll do a sequel someday! And yes continuing to create content for my other channels was a though added workload at times, but it was also a good distraction

  • Reply
    Summerflies
    December 22, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    My son has ordered mine (but it won’t come for Christmas now, but I don’t care) and I can’t wait to read it. This has been a wonderful review of how to make a book and I think it shows the level of dedication, planning and commitment you have plus your sacrifices. I am really so proud of you… juggling a family as well as a full time job… a real inspiration… and not your native language either. I’m amazed.

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      That makes me so happy to hear, I hope you’ll find the book both really useful and inspirational! Thank you for getting my book and your kind words:-) And yes, it was quite an undertaking, in fact when I wrote this post I was kinda stunned myself that I actually managed to do it. But as you say, dedication and planning go a long way and hopefully, I can inspire others who have a “dream project” that seems unattainable to make that project actually happen!

  • Reply
    Elaine
    December 22, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I only recently discovered you via Youtube but I really enjoy your presentations and the way you talk about sewing, I find you very generous in the way you share your insights even in this endeavour where you find yourself in competition. I wish you every success.

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 22, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Thank you! That makes me very glad to hear, I do want to be open and generous about stuff, it just feels better 🙂 And hopefully, it can be more relatable too, as we all have our struggles, regardless if it is sewing or something else!

  • Reply
    Emily
    December 23, 2017 at 4:06 am

    OH my!!! A book!!! I must have had my head in the sand to have missed this!!! I am going to check it out! And thanks so much for the behind the scenes look. I think that’s all really great advice for anyone contemplating writing their own book!

    • Reply
      Johanna
      December 26, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      Yes, there is indeed now a book! Happy to hear you like my behind the scenes post, I love reading those myself since it always good to see someone lifting the veil and showing the stuff that really went on to make all this happen. Including both the good and the bad 😀

  • Reply
    Jill Ben-Dor
    January 1, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Received the book yesterday (arrived on my birthday!) – a wonderful resource! Thanks and Happy New Year!

    • Reply
      Johanna
      January 2, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Thank you so much Jill, that makes me beyond happy to hear! And Happy New Year to you too!

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