It's been a while since I last posted, and I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself. The reason for the radio silence was, of course, life. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that everyday stuff has an irritating habit of derailing our momentum and diverting us from our goals. But there's no point in kicking ourselves. The best thing we can do when we realize our mistake is to figure out how it happened so that we can avoid falling into the same trap next time.
So, I'm going to leap right in with the "secret" as promised in the title. The simple secret is ... IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. I had temporarily forgotten this, which is why there were no blog posts in June.
MISSION-DRIVEN, NOT EGO-DRIVEN
This blog is not about me, and any book that you write should not be about you: it's about your mission, remember? It's about the passion, message, and ideas you have to bring about meaningful change. But your mission is nothing without people who support it, and those people, of course, are your potential readers. So think of the reader, whoever he or she may be, as someone who is waiting for YOUR book (blog post or article), whether they know it or not. They need you to step up, and your mission needs them to read your work and take action.
Writing a mission-driven book inevitably involves self-sacrifice. It involves sitting down to write when you'd rather be binge-watching your favorite Netflix series; it might also mean not spending as much time with a loved one as you would like. But these sacrifices should be worth making for a few months if you believe enough in your mission. If you cannot motivate yourself to get it done, well, perhaps you don't care about your mission as much as you thought you did.
TICK, TOCK ...
Time and tide wait for no man, so if you don't write that book now, will you miss the boat? This is another aspect to the secret: it's not about you; it's about timing. If your mission is a hot topic, you'll want to get your book out as soon as possible so that you can capitalize on the general public awareness and PR opportunities.
But even if your topic isn't especially zeitgeisty, the publishing industry is pumping out books at a rate of knots, meaning that another (more motivated) author may steal your thunder. By telling yourself that at any given moment there are at least 100 other people writing a book on your topic, you'll light a fire under yourself that will help you get your book done ASAP.
IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU
Wait ... what? Didn't I say it wasn't about you? Well, yes, but there is one important way that your book is all about you, and that's with regard to accountability. When you're struggling to meet your writing targets and there is nobody breathing down your neck, it's easy to put the book project aside and watch all seven seasons of Game of Thrones. You can find someone to fulfill that monitoring role (a colleague or spouse, perhaps), but ultimately, only YOU can get it done.
Hopefully, the tips above will motivate you to keep writing and hold yourself accountable ... they have certainly reminded me to keep blogging.
I owe my interest in mission-driven literature to the fact that I spent the first 15 years of my career working for nonprofit organizations in the UK and the US. At 35, I took a career break to return to my first love—literature—and write a novel, but when I had finished it and decided to launch my own writing and editing business, my first thought was, How can I use my skills to help nonprofits? Old habits die hard, for sure. This led to my creating the Embark Editorial Agency, which for two years (until major life stuff took over) helped new copyeditors build their professional experience by doing pro-bono work for nonprofits.
My enduring affinity with the nonprofit sector is why this post is a tip of the hat to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s current chief operating officer (although, in light of the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, perhaps not for much longer ... ) and author of not one but TWO books that spawned nonprofit organizations that further her books' respective missions.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead
Lean In is essentially the story of how Sandberg came to understand workplace gender politics. It is less of a memoir, more of a treatise, and her central thesis is this: The world would be better with more women in power. But women can only attain this power by first changing their attitudes towards themselves. She states: “We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”
This message alone and the justification for it that Sandberg provides would have been sufficient to admit Lean In to the canon of books with spine. But what makes the book even more exceptional is the author’s commitment to her mission post publication.
While many authors might write their book and move on to the next one, Sandberg set up a 501c(3), www.leanin.org, to support a global movement helping women achieve their ambitions. One of the main activities of the nonprofit is to support the 35,000 so-called Lean In Circles that have sprouted up worldwide. These are actual meetings of women, not online communities (ironic for the COO of the biggest social networking site on the planet). Many circles now exist within male-dominated corporations with the aim of enabling more women to be heard and move up the hierarchy. The nonprofit also engages in further research to discover the barriers for women and ways of overcoming them.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Published in 2017, this second book is not about business. Sandberg was compelled to write Option B when her husband died suddenly and she had to deal with her loss while also helping her children through theirs. Sandberg offers her personal insights, while her cowriter on this project, Adam Grant, provides the research about resilience that makes this book more than a memoir of grief.
The success of the Lean In movement has clearly inspired Sandberg to go further. Her second book, Option B, adopts the same nonprofit strategy as the first (www.optionb.org) that offers readers three ways to take what they learned in the book and get involved:
1. Share their story of resilience with others
2. Connect with people who understand
3. Learn how to build resilience
If a reader has been affected by a book, they may wonder what to do next. Obviously, not every author will have Sandberg’s considerable resources and influence to be able to set up a global nonprofit to further the mission of their books and donate all the sales revenue to the mission. Nevertheless, authors of books with spine could—and arguably should—consider how they can enable readers to take meaningful action if they have been inspired or moved by what they’ve read. This can be something simple, such as directing readers to a donation page of a relevant established charity, or creating a social media space where readers can form a community around the issue and develop ways of addressing it in their local area.
I admire Sandberg for the commitment to her missions. She did not treat either book as the ultimate expression of her dedication to the causes she cares about: they were launchpads.
So, if you’re considering writing a mission-driven book, ask yourself whether the book is an end in itself or the means to an end. Does the power of your book lie solely within its pages? Or might there be a way its power can ripple outwards into the real world to create meaningful and lasting change?
The business of all nonprofits, whatever their social or cultural mission, is publishing. From newsletters and blogs to reports and grant applications, nonprofits are having to continuously put out a range of publications in order to tell their stories and reach new audiences. Science Connected is the one nonprofit I've worked with that understood this perfectly, but that's because publishing is its core objective.
Science Connected – based in San Francisco – is the passion project of founder Kate Stone, who set out on a mission nearly a decade ago to make academic research more accessible to the general public. Becoming a nonprofit in 2016, Science Connected publishes Gotscience.org, an online science magazine (which I have had the honor of copyediting in the past), but the organization recently broadened its publishing remit to include downloadable teaching resources and now, for the first time, books.
I asked Kate to tell us about the first title to be released by Science Connected, Think Globally, Garden Locally, a book about pollinators and responsible horticulture.
(By the way, all profits from the sale of the book go to support Science Connected education programs, so CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE to get yourself a copy today!)
Lorna Walsh: Describe the book for us. Why is the topic so important?
Kate Stone: The book is about how to welcome pollinators into your garden, grow food without pesticides, explore the relationship between chemicals and bee deaths, and meet a scientist who became a beekeeper. Available in full-color paperback and Kindle e-book, this book includes an annotated bibliography of additional resources for readers who want to learn even more about sustainable food production and protecting our pollinators.
Thanks to the support of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, Science Connected is ensuring that all citizens can access science information and education, learn about the world we all share, and participate in meaningful discourse about science, nature, and environmental sustainability. Agriculture is adapting to changing environmental conditions and consumers want healthy, sustainable food options, so access to scientifically accurate and easy-to-read material can positively impact in the products we create, the food we grow and buy, and the way we treat our planet.
LW: What tools and resources did you use to create the book?
KS: Crucially, we received a grant from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, which enabled us to assemble a team of science communicators to research and write the first GotScience Magazine special series and book about urban gardening, sustainable agriculture, and healthy pollinators.
Our designers used Adobe InDesign to assemble the print version of the book and the latest Kindle Direct Publishing tools to build the Kindle version.
LW: As a first-time book publisher, what were the challenges involved in this project?
KS: In addition to our usual team of writers, editors, and web developers, we had to assemble a new team with experience in print and e-book development. There are many different e-book formats and tools currently in use, so we had many lengthy discussions about which ones to target in our first project. Also, since GotScience Magazine is published solely in digital form, image resolution is optimized for electronic delivery. To publish a print book, we had to replace images with print-quality versions.
This book took just over a year from concept to upload, so the project was a big time commitment. A book is also a financial commitment, and we invested about $5,000 its production.
A lot goes on behind the scenes of producing a book. Any nonprofit should consider if you want to do the publication work in-house or work with an established publisher. Educate yourselves about the details involved in each option!
LW: Science Connected has been publishing GotScience.org online for some time, so where does book publishing now fit within Science Connected’s strategy?
KS: We believe that cultivating an informed citizenry is vital to democracy, and the mission of Science Connected is to create equal access to scientific research and STEM education for all learners. Expanding our publishing efforts to include e-books and print books further supports our goal of providing widespread public access to the latest scientific research.
Book publishing will help us in our mission to build bridges between citizens and scientists thus expanding scientific knowledge for the benefit of people and the planet. Science Connected values lifelong learning, equal access, conservancy, and empowering others to make informed choices to support a healthy planet. Nearly 1,000 teachers and parents have downloaded our science education materials. (You can access those through our STEM Education Resource Center.)
Our team of science education experts also collaborates with other organizations to produce science education resources for parents and teachers worldwide. For example, we wrote the teaching guide that accompanies this new book from the Marie Curie Alumni Association: https://www.mariecuriealumni.eu/news/mcaas-my-super-science-heroes-book-series-coming-soon.
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith