31 Days Blog to Biz / day 26 – Want to write a book? Advice from an author!

Imagine if you will, sitting down in a cozy chair with your feet up, holding your very own published book. What an amazing sense of accomplishment that must be!

And don’t think it can’t happen for you! Thus far I’ve had two book offers with one still in the works. Social media is allowing us to show what we have to offer in a very public way, so don’t be fooled thinking no one is reading your blog. Editors and publishers are actively scanning anything and everything we put out there. THAT is why it’s important to show our very best if we wish to be published one day.

Today, we have an author in our midst. Diane, from In My Own Style wrote “Instant Decorating” in 1994. While the book is no longer available in stores, it’s still circulating in the used/resellers listings. 

Diane says decorating books have a short lifespan of approximately 5-7 years as trends date quickly. So while Diane’s projects in the book may wear some outdated fabrics, most of the actual projects are timeless. 

(Below you’ll see some of Diane’s recent amazing creations: click on the pics to visit the tutorials.)

If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book of your very own, you will LOVE this interview.

Thank-you Diane!

(sorry about the tiny text… Blogger does not like cutting and pasting from other sources)

How did you end up writing a book?  Did they find you or did you find them?

I worked in retail display and had to create room vignettes in the home department of a department store.  There was no budget, but I had to come up with desirable looks with what I had on hand – sheets from the linen dept and odds and ends from the display departments prop room every few weeks.   It was all done no sew –with a glue gun and fake-outs. Shoppers constantly wanted to know how I created everything in the rooms and I would write directions down on their shopping bags. At that point I knew I was onto something and started looking into how to get a book published.

I read a book on how to write a book proposal, wrote a proposal and sent it out to literary agents that I found through research were interested in representing decorating books. I got nothing but rejections, except for one agent who called me one Sunday afternoon and told me she could not represent me, but she loved my idea and wanted to help me out. I can never thank her enough.   She told me what to change in my proposal over the phone.  I did everything she told me to do and sent my revised proposal out the next day to a handful of craft/decorating book publishers.    I heard back from Meredith Press – one of the book divisions of BH& Gardens about 3 weeks later.   The editor wanted to meet me first and came to my house. The minute she walked in – she told me she was sold and that I would be offered a contract.  She told me she had to first check me out to make sure I was the real deal.

How long did it take you from start to completion?

They gave me a year from start to finish since I was a newbie. 

What program did you use to write?

Microsoft Word

Did you have a big hand in the design/layout/editing?

No – and this upset me a bit as I would have done things differently with the layout.  

Did you do your own photography?

No, a photographer from NY came to my house and came every day for a week with an Art Director and an assistant.  This was before digital cameras.   I lived in central New Jersey at the time and getting back and forth into New York City was an easy commute for them.

Were you given tough deadlines like we see in the movies? 🙂

No, because I knew from the beginning what I was going to write about. I also planned everything out and stuck to a schedule of completing projects.  I would make a project and then store is safely away until the photo shoot came in October.

How did you manage to pull off this amazing feat and still have life run efficiently around you? 

Over the summer months I hired a babysitter to play with my daughters every weekday afternoon while I worked on the book.   When it was time for the week long photo shoot for the book – my oldest was in 1st grade and at school all day.  My parents happily took my pre-schooler to stay with them at their house for the week.  When my oldest came home from school at 4 every afternoon the art director actually helped her with her homework and kept her occupied when I was busy, which was nice. 

I did thank my husband in the preface of the book as he never complained about having to eat a bowl of cereal many nights for dinner.

Was writing an entire book a difficult process for you, or did you enjoy it?

It was not difficult at all as I am so passionate about the subject matter; it is what makes me tick.  The photo shoot was a bit drawn out and stressful in that digital cameras were not around yet.  The photographer had to take the film back into New York City every night and then call me late in the evening to tell me the days photos all turned out. Then I could take apart the rooms and get them ready for the next day’s shoot. 

My neighbors came in handy when the art director would say we need another pumpkin or a pot of flowers. I would run down the street and pull pumpkins and flower pots off my neighbor’s front steps.  At one point I needed another table and chair and I didn’t have one. One of my neighbors had a table and a chair that made it into the book.  

Did you do any touring/book signing after the book was completed? Did you enjoy that part or?

I did do a few book signings in the PA/NJ/NYC areas mostly at Barnes and Noble. I also became a returning guest on a TV show “Our Home”. It was on Lifetime TV – Monday-Friday.  This was right before HGTV launched.   The producers of the show would call me a week or two ahead of time and tell me which project they wanted me to demonstrate. They paid for all the supplies I would need to make it on the set.  I went up a day ahead of the tapings and decorated the space or set up the steps on a rolling table of the project.  The next day I would get whisked back to the studio in a limo to do the taping.    Each time they paid for my ride into the city, my hotel, and food.   Once I was on set – I got my hair and make-up done and then would just wait until it was my turn for taping. It was fun, but the days were long and lots of waiting around.  I read a lot of books and magazines to pass the time. My mom and dad loved being able to watch my daughters so that made these trips doable.   I did not get paid for any of this – it was all publicity to sell more books.

Did your deal offer you a draw to live on while writing, or did you tough it out until they started selling?

I got money upfront to help pay for all the supplies I would need to create the projects, but the bulk of what I earned came after in royalties once the book was published.  Getting those checks was thrilling as I was a stay at home mom. It was nice to be able to add to our income.

The best part about writing a book:

Is that I did it. I accomplished something that most people can only dream about.  I wasn’t a very stellar student in school with math and the sciences. I was deemed a failure and barely made it into college, but it was in college that I thrived because you get to study your passion.  What most high school teachers don’t realize is that we are not all going to need Algebra to get by in life or know how to balance a chemical equation to be successful.  Having a book published re-enforced to me that I didn’t have to fit into this academic mold to be successful. My editor made sure to put a quote from me on the back cover of the book which stated – “Decorating is not like mathematics, where there is only one correct answer…”   I also remember how proud my parents were   – that was the best! 

The most difficult:

Not having full control of how it was going to look and be positioned in the market.    I took it upon myself to write my own press releases after the book came out.  Later my editor told me that my book was their bestselling book because I took that initiative.  Most magazine and newspaper editors are always looking for something to write about.  My editor asked me to outline how I promoted myself so she could give it to her other authors hoping they would do the same. 

Knowing what you do now, would you say real book or eBook?

As long as there are bookstores and people who will buy an actual book – I would say real book. It just has more substance with a spine that you can place on a bookshelf and go to whenever you need inspiration – plus, it is an object that can be handed down through the generations.  

But with that said – things are changing rapidly and I think more often than not, an eBook is the way to do it on your own terms, your way.  If marketed right it can be success.  Most big publishing houses nowadays will only do a book if you have big platform to stand on or are  a popular celebrity. That is why you see so many celebrity type books. When you do an eBook you know your platform and who your target is – you don’t have to convince a publisher of that.  If you have the energy and funds to promote it then I think you are in for a WIN WIN situation.

After all is said and done, was it worth the work vs. the payment received?

Yes. It was a truly amazing experience and one that I am very proud of.  I didn’t become a millionaire, but it was a nice paycheck and lasted for a few years. It also brought me other assignments – contributing to books and magazines. 

What would you say to a newbie (hand raised!) who desires to have her own book published?

To research as much as you can what it is each publisher is interested in.  Some are more quirky – like Chronicle Books.  Others like matter of fact steps and no frills.  Once you determine where your idea/book concept would best fit, write your proposal to fit into their terms, but with a twist to make you stand out.   I didn’t just propose a decorating book – I proposed an  ‘It’s Ok to use a glue gun to decorate your house in an instant’ angle. It was a new concept back then and is what made me stand out.  Publisher’s are all about the bottom line and have to feel they will make money from your book to want to publish it. Show them why you think it is going to be popular.     In today’s economy most publishers are afraid or can’t take the risk on a newbie so there are less and less opportunities.  Having a blog helps as they can see what you are all about, your popularity and unique angle. 

Anything else?

When you want to get a book deal – the best thing you can do is: 

  1. Be yourself. The more unique you are or the first one to propose a new idea to a publisher the better your chance of getting a contract.  A publisher wants to see new and inspiring ideas not things that everyone is doing.  
  2. I know you have heard it before but – good content is the way to success. 

Well… I’m inspired. 🙂
What would your own book be about?

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25 thoughts on “31 Days Blog to Biz / day 26 – Want to write a book? Advice from an author!

  1. This was such a great interview with Diane! I absolutely love this series you are doing and so appreciate how encouraging and supportive you are of all of us who have dreams we long to fulfill!

  2. I love Diane’s style! I bought her first book when it came out in 1994 and she inspired me!! I learned a lot of great diy tutorials in her book as well. I used to look through every page over and over and study all the details. Still have her book and so happy she is blogging now! Thank you for sharing such a great interview and talent!!


  3. I adore Diane! This is a great interview. I totally agree with her about the most difficult part and to anyone who is writing a book and wants to have control over layout, etc. talk about it in advance and then get it in writing. he publishrs have their own ideas and often it is tied to money or what they think (know) the market it.

    For every book I have written, I have been the primary source of PR (becasue I am to cheap to hire a PR person, but social media make it a lot easier than it used to be). The last publishers help a lot (hey got me in Glamour) but hustle the bookis really up to the author…but it pays off in the end…like in another book deal.

    I can’t say what my next book is about (it is in the works)…Good luck to you on this go around. There are some amazing publishers, editors, and agents out there who are kind and resourceful and so willing to work with you.

    Thanks for this!

  4. I had no idea agents were at all interested in book proposals; seems like quite a gamble for them. Always assumed they wanted manuscripts in hand before even considering you at all.

    Thanks Donna!


  5. I think anyone writing a book today has to be aware that things are different now. So much is here in blog land for free and many people are telling us how to do things. When Diane wrote her book, people weren’t able to “google” how to make something and have it explained and documented in photos by so many crafters. I think it’s great that people share their creations, but I believe it also makes it harder for book authours to publish and sell books.

  6. Diane is amazing. She makes it sound do-able, but she has oodles of talent.

    Still, it’s inspiring in all kinds of ways.

    I now plan to give thought to marketing what my blog and ebook is about — staging your own home to sell it. I have not seen any halfway helpful “real” books about this topic.

    Thanks for a fantastic interview. Made my day!

  7. I was just passing by and thought id stop to say hello. I’m checking new blogs today, and i hope you folks are enjoying the fall weather like we are having here in Pennsylvania. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon county.

  8. Hi Donna-

    Thanks so much for doing the interview with me. It was a fun stroll down memory lane. You are so talented and as I have told you before – it is only a matter of time. Just keep at it and stay true to your style – that is what sets you apart. You already inspire so many of us with your talent and warm inviting manner here at FJI. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you that one of these publishers sees the same and that contract lands in your hands soon.

    My best- Diane

  9. Well I never knew this about Diane! I met her last September when we went to the Nate Berkus show for bloggers. She and I connected initially through twitter, but I had no idea she had this success story tucked under her belt~bravo Diane!!

  10. What a great interview. Thank you for sharing this with us because I had no idea what went into this type of thing. Things seem to have changed a lot since then. I think you can go onto Amazon now and self publish, but I can’t begin to imagine how much money that would take.

  11. Donna just do itp.s. just came off pinterest and found your yard stick stars!..off I go to find them here!
    Hey r u free Dec 3rd!….Fieldstone again…wish you where selling!

  12. Doing a book isn’t on my radar yet! I think this advice was awesome though!! Thank you so much!
    PS Good luck to all who dream this dream!!!

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