Lessons I learned from my first book.

Bumps on the Road of Life

Lessons I learned from my first book.

By David Joel Miller, writer, blogger, and mental health professional.

My first attempt at writing a book came after almost seven years of writing A blog. By that point, I thought I had pretty well worked out the process of coming up with an idea, creating an outline, and writing a section. Putting that all together created a book, but it was far from the end of my writing journey.

My day job was working as a mental health counselor. Before that, I had worked as a substance use disorder counselor. I thought I had the topic of how to recover from life problems pretty well down. Transforming all those blog posts, along with some additional content, into a book proved to be a much larger challenge than I had anticipated. Here are some of the lessons I had to learn because of this endeavor.

You need to be clear who your audience is.

I tried to write my first book for as broad an audience as possible. The result was a book that didn’t quite meet the needs of anyone. My topic was bouncing back from adversity; a diagnosis professionals label as an adjustment disorder; hence the name, Bumps on The Road Of Life.

I had been told that self-help books were primarily purchased by women. That’s consistent with the way things have been in the past. Traditionally men avoided going to therapy, thinking they could tough it out and that effort and toughness would get them through life’s problems. It’s also true that 2/3 of the people who get many diagnoses are women. The majority of therapists have historically also been women.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of men who have come for counseling and therapy. I’ve also seen a somewhat smaller increase in the number of male counselors and therapists.

Some of these life problems, such as career counseling issues, are drawing people to life coaches. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I went ahead and got certified as a life coach in addition to being licensed as both a marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional clinical counselor.) Since I also do clinical supervision and train new interns and associates, I also included some of the more technical material, hoping it would help them work with clients with adjustment disorders.

Somewhere in a business text, I read that if you make a product designed for everyone, no one will buy it. This is certainly true of writing a book intended for everyone. So, maybe one of these days, when I have some spare time, I’ll do a revised second edition of that first book or perhaps write a new book with a different title. But, for now, I’ve put the kindle edition on sale and moved on with my other writing endeavors.

Two drafts of a book are not enough.

I put that first book together by taking all my blog posts, rearranging them, and filling in the gaps. Then I gave it to a few friends and colleagues and asked their opinions. I got a lot of useful suggestions and completed the second draft.

Unfortunately, that’s where I stopped. After two drafts and some proofreading, I pressed the button on publish and completed that first book just days before my 70th birthday and my retirement. While that met my life goal of writing a book and publishing it, I now know it could have been significantly better if I’d spent more time polishing and revising.

You need to use beta readers.

Sometimes you get so close to the thing you’re working on you can’t see the big picture. That’s especially true in writing a book. The few readers I had on my first two books made suggestions that significantly improved the final result. But as I began to get more feedback from the copies sold, I learned that there were confusing parts and plenty of room for improvement.

Beta readers are probably even more critical when it comes to writing novels. People read fiction for fun, and many people have very specific tastes. For a book to find its audience, it must fit into people’s expectations for their favorite genre.

I’m not saying that the best books are written strictly to a formula. I’ve been reading fiction for fun ever since the 3rd grade. It’s nice to have some twists and turns. But people who read romance novels want a happily ever after, and people who read a mystery Want the protagonist to solve that mystery.

Beta readers catch things that aren’t necessarily wrong. They just don’t fit in with the rest of the story. It upsets readers when I describe a mystery in the early chapters, and then suddenly, it’s all solved at the end of the book. I know why it happened that way, but maybe I haven’t gotten it down on paper in a way that makes sense to my reader.

It takes more than one proofreading pass to catch errors.

It’s hard to catch your errors. Reading and rereading something doesn’t mean you’ll spot all your mistakes. After a while, your brain starts seeing what you want on the page, not what’s there. Even having one person proofread doesn’t mean you’ll catch all the errors. I’ve also learned that first drafts are often riddled with errors. My goal is to get what’s in my head down on paper.

When there are many errors, even the automated programs don’t catch them all. I’ve run a chapter through a spelling and grammar check and made the corrections only to find that correcting one thing in a sentence created a second error.

Sometimes ears work better than eyes.

Reading out loud can help catch spelling and grammar errors, but it can also help spot inconsistencies. For example, the character I had in chapter one with the gorgeous long blonde hair somehow was sporting an Afro later in the book.

The biggest lesson of all?

Writing a readable novel involves more than simply imagining a story in your head and getting it all down on paper. My take on this is that writing is both an art and a craft. No matter how unique and exciting the story is, it won’t hold the reader’s attention if it’s not told well.

Over the last three years, we’ve all had to adjust to the pandemic and changes in technology. I spent as much time as possible trying to keep up. The result was that I took a lot of classes on how to create things but didn’t spend the time I wanted to writing the books I had started.

I’m making 2023 a year to rekindle my creative endeavors.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller.

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more information about David Joel Miller’s work in mental health, please visit the counselorssoapbox.com website.

For my videos on mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

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