*If your name is Madeleine Somerville, and you have spent
five seven a million years in relative obscurity writing inane blog posts about things like hyena bets and the perfect fuchsia lipstick, that is.
1. Write. Everyone says this but it’s totally true. If you want to be a writer, write. For me this meant sharing intimate details about my life and the lives of my loved ones for the amusement of strangers on the internet. So, I mean, it’s not Hemingway but I think it’s a pretty sweet gig.The bonus of writing, and the extra bonus of writing in a forum where you open yourself up to feedback – constructive and otherwise, anonymous and not – is that you get a chance to hone your voice and see which parts of your writing resonate with people.
I can not give enough thanks to the dozens of people over the years who have taken the time to comment, “like”, email me, or convey in any way shape or form that my writing has affected them (whether it’s made them laugh or fill with rage, both are exciting!). I don’t care what any writer says about the craft or the artistry or the process: writers write to be read. The fact that you were reading is what kept me writing – even when there were like five of you
2. Be passionate. In the beginning I wrote just for the sake of it. I wrote because it felt good, and I because I often couldn’t (and still can’t) make sense of my thoughts until they were written down. But when I realized people were reading, I began to write about things I felt passionately about and wanted to share with others. My husband, my dog, my reactions to pop culture events – all of the little parts of my life I loved and hated.
As I became more and more interested in eco-friendly living my blog reflected that – lately it has mirrored my fascination with the experience of motherhood.
Writing gave me a platform to share my passions, and for a while there I was that person who was like, “Hey! Hey! Did you know? That you can shampoo your hair with baking soda? And condition it with apple cider vinegar? And there’s no toxic chemicals? And not only is it good for the environment but it’s good for your hair, too?” and this was so exciting to me, and I was so passionate about it that I wanted to share it with everyone, all the time. So I did.
3. Share. Initially I shared my ideas for a simple eco-friendly life in a little pamphlet I sold alongside my crocheted creations at farmer’s markets. Then I began searching for a bigger audience to
bore share my awesome exciting discoveries with (Guys? Did you know? That you can make your own laundry detergent? And there’s no sulfates? Or plastic containers? Or skin irritants? And it’s super inexpensive and easy to make?).
I posted a few recipes and ideas to my blog and a staff member from the then-fledgling website SkinnyScoop.com somehow saw one and invited me to create a list on their website as a better way to organize this content.
This is where the magic happened. Which brings me to step 4
4. Get lucky. There are thousands of writers out there. Millions maybe. Most want to be published. As long as I’ve written, I have wanted to see my name on the spine of a book, but the fact that it is actually happening is honestly pure, unadulterated luck. I felt guilty about it for a long time, because I felt as though I hadn’t really done anything to get published. It felt like cheating a little (I needn’t have worried. The real work was still to come! Ooooh, foreshadowing!).
What happened was that my editor saw the list I posted, and emailed SkinnyScoop to get my contact information.
On April 27, 2012 I got an email asking me if I wanted to turn that list into a book.
At this point, you understand, it is customary to burst into the bathroom where your perennially-disheveled husband is having a shath (shower-bath. What, you don’t do that? Weird.) and screech at him excitedly in a pitch only Gus can hear, until he successfully calms you down enough to explain yourself. Then you should pee your pants with excitement, panic, pass out, regain consciousnes, compose a reply and wait.
And change your pants, obviously.
5. Write a proposal. Because I was contacted by my publisher, and not the other way around, I think my book proposal was less extensive than it may have been were I just pitching it blind. Basically I assembled a table of contents, a few sample chapters, and an outline of what the book would be about and who it would appeal to.
This felt like a very funny, strange thing to do. I kept procrastinating and putting it off and eventually Adam asked me what the hell was going on and I said, probably tearfully, “How the hell am I supposed to write a book? I don’t know how to write a book! And what if they say yes?”
It felt pretend.
Whenever I sat down to work on it, a small voice in my head would scream excitedly, “Oh my godddd, we’re writing a booook! It’s happening! It’s really happening!” and then it would immediately get squashed by dozens of other voices who said terrible things like “Who the hell do you think you are?” , “What are you going to say that hasn’t been said a million times before?” and “Why are you still in your pajamas? It’s three pm!”
But I shut those damn voices up through a brilliant combination of denial, blind faith and too much coffee. Thus, step 6.
6. Silence self-doubt. Self-doubt is a bitch, guys. Impostor syndrome is even worse, because even when you DO succeed you are still convinced that the only thing you’re actually succeeding at is faking it, and everyone is going to find you out soon enough.
You just have to ignore that noise. Silence the self-doubt. Ignore the negativity – especially the most insidious form, which for some sad reason always seems to come from inside your own head.
For this step it really helps to have a lovely man who truly believes in you to say something surprisingly astute like, “You will find new things to say because you have really interesting ideas. But even if you didn’t, it’s not the content that’s important as much as it’s your voice. That’s what attracted your editor to you in the first place, and there’s no point having a book filled with great information if it’s so boring that no one wants to read it.”
Adam, sometimes you really are sublime. (Other times you are enraging, like when I am re-packing our stuff and I discover that you have packed, moved 1000 kilometres, stored for a year and now expect me to re-pack an entire box full of old washing machine hoses. But other OTHER times, like that first time I was talking about a moment ago, you are sublime. So let’s focus on that [instead of, say, the fact that I may have thrown out your box of washing machine hoses])
7. Have your proposal accepted. OH. MY. GOD! Seriously?Wet your pants again. Screech again. Hug Adam. Hug Gus. Wipe off Gus slobber. Call your mom. Wish you could get loser-drunk to celebrate, but unfortunately you are 4 months pregnant so be a lady and pop open a bottle of sparkling apple juice instead.
8. Write the book. The fact that this is only one step is ridiculous. This is the hardest part! For most writers this part probably comes at the beginning, they will write the book and then shop it around, but for me it happened in reverse so I signed my contract, and then stared at a blinking cursor for eight months while sporadically mashing my face into the keyboard and hoping something eloquent and funny came out. (It did!)This part involved lots of coffee, and lots of people watching Olive and lots more self doubt. But mostly just writing. Lots of writing.
9. Edit the book. This was the part I feared the most. I feared them shipping me a manuscript covered in red pen, and I feared being told I wasn’t good enough and having to go back and start from square one. Instead I received several suggestions for reorganizing the content, a request for additional chapters, and in the later stages, corrections to my grammar/consistency/Canadian spellings (See you later, vestigial u’s!)
10. Promote the book. This brings us up to date, and this is where I am now. I have to confess that I find this part particularly awkward because as you may have noticed above, I am squarely in the “Doubt my own abilities while quietly slinking further and further into my seat” camp, rather than the “Look at me! Look at me! Look at how awesome I am tooting my own horn!” camp.
But promoting a book is kind of like writing a resume, you need to suck it up and sell yourself a little bit because you know that the end result will be worth it.
For me the motivation isn’t financial -I don’t think many people make money off writing books these days- it’s simply being read.
That’s the payoff of this whole thing, and it goes all the way back to #2. I am so passionate about this book, and the content contained inside. I am excited to empower people to give a giant eff-you to huge greenwashing corporations and make their own cleaning products instead of buying them. I am excited to hear about other people discovering things that have become commonplace to me, like bringing my own containers to pick up takeout food, or trying to cut plastic out of my life entirely.
Most of all, I am really happy that I was able to successfully present this information in a way that is enjoyable to read.
This book isn’t a reference manual, it’s a story. A humorous tale of a slightly neurotic Canadian lady with a husband and a baby, a dog and a job.
Being green isn’t a full time job, nor should it be, and I don’t want to devote all of my time to this cause, I just want to take simple steps to turn our consumer-culture on its head, while simultaneously making stock in baking soda shares skyrocket (seriously, invest now).
That’s what I discovered in this whole process, through the passion and the luck, the writing and the self-doubt: my voice is worth something.
I really felt like we needed someone to say that being green means more than buying a bunch of stuff labelled “natural”. We needed someone to ask why we’ve forgotten that the first rule of environmentalism is to reduce. And most of all, we needed someone to call bullshit on the whole one-upping, guilt-fest, shame-show that green living has become.
And guys, I think I have actually managed to do all of this while simultaneously amusing you with stories about my beautiful, deranged husband Adam, sharing recipes I’ve been using for years for everything from body scrubs to a magic cold-busting tea, and also ensuring you won’t become an obnoxious, preachy enviro-nag in the process.
I think that’s worth promoting.
I am so, so proud of this book and I am trying to force myself to get over the awkwardness of saying that. I am trying to speak up about how pleased I am to have authored it, and how truly good I think it is.
So there’s a quick and dirty quide to getting published if your name is Madeleine Somerville!
I am so aware of how incredibly fortunate I am to have had this opportunity, and I’m truly grateful. All You Need Is Less is the result of two years, seventy-thousand some odd words, dozens of phone calls and emails, and many tears shed from joy and frustration both.
Sweet Madeleine started with a tagline that read “…givin’ it away for free” and although I’m not giving this book away for free (except for the next four weeks when I will be!) I still wrote it for the exquisite pleasure of being read.
I hope you will!