How to Write Your Best Book: Part Four (Beyond the Launch)

There’s a difference between an author and a writer. An author is someone who published a book at least once. A writer is someone who continues to write and publish, cultivating a writing life. But how do you know what to write about, and when to start your next project?

How to Write Your Best Book: Part Four (Beyond the Launch)

If you’re a writer for longer than five hours, you know that writing isn’t for the faint of heart. As William Zinsser said in On Writing Well:

If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.

Which isn’t to say writing isn’t fun or rewarding, which it is, but it’s no stroll on the beach either. When the research is finished, and the argument is finessed, writing the fifth, sixth, and seventh draft becomes a slog.

It’s in this phase, where the work of writing is done, that new inspiration often strikes. If you don’t have a place to put them, these ideas can distract you from your prize. If you lack a system of capturing moments when the Muse visits, you won’t have any material to work with in the future.

In this final installment of the How to Write Your Best Book series, Marion Roach Smith joins us on on The Portfolio Life to talk about when to start writing your next book, the importance of cultivating a writing life, and how to ensure you have a writing future.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Marion and I discuss:

  • What it means to build a writing life
  • Pre-requisites for having a writing future
  • The folder every writer needs
  • How to handle new ideas in the middle of writing your book
  • Dealing with boredom while writing
  • The parallels between writing and dating
  • When to start writing your next book
  • How writing books is like growing up
  • Moving onto the next project as a means of preserving personal sanity
  • A rubric for deciding what to write about next
  • The value of calling yourself a writer and an author
  • Leaving it all on the battlefield once you’re done writing a book
  • How to identify future market trends
  • A soul-searching question every writer simply must ask themselves
  • Who to send your “vomit draft” to
  • Three questions every agent and publisher asks
  • Lifting your sights to the next ideas and getting someone else’s eyes behind them
  • How to hop genres while preserving your personal brand
  • Enjoying a full-funded curiosity
  • Learning new skills in order to switch genres
  • What to read so that you know what good writing sounds like

Quotes and takeaways

  • “You want to have a writing life, not just one book.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Be hospitable to your writing life.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “You’re not in complete control of your book launch.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Listen to what your agent says.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “There are no end of people online who don’t know what they’re talking about.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Read over your head.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Be respectful of your craft and learn it.” –Marion Roach Smith

We learn every day from our work.

Marion Roach Smith

Tweet This


Where do you capture new ideas? How soon do you start writing a new book? Share in the comments

7 thoughts on “How to Write Your Best Book: Part Four (Beyond the Launch)

  1. I did learned a lot from the conversion you had with Marion. It was great one – sharing your process and Marion sharing her process of writing with us.

  2. My biggest takeaway from this episode was….

    – The irreplaceable role an agent (or was it an editor) plays in helping the author NOT write a book the market DOESN’T WANT.

    For those of us who don’t have professionals advising us as to which books HAVE A CHANCE to succeed, how should we approach choosing which idea of ours to write about?

    What did you do, Jeff, about this when you were first starting out?

    1. I hope Jeff chimes in on this one…. I mean, we can write for ourselves, as my husband does, but he is finding he spent the last four years writing a book that is too ‘Christian’ for the secular market yet too ‘Secular’ for the ‘Religion/Spirituality’ market, apparently why Windblown Press was created *flash cover of the book The Shack*… (gotta love their About page). My husband was published–so is an ‘author’–however, this book was too much for them, I guess.

  3. If you’re a writer for longer than five hours, you know that writing isn’t for the faint of heart.

  4. This was a very inspirational and informative podcast series–thank you both! The third podcast was validating for me because I had “gone out with intent” for my blog topic (which I hoped would morph into a book), only to discover my initial idea was flawed, at least from the point of view of my experience. While at first this seemed a crisis–like, crap, now I have nothing to write about–it actually gave me a much richer and more unique subject to write about. So, great takeaway #1, even if it meant scuttling my existing work and starting over from scratch.

    Takeaway #2 for me was really a craft process of doing a final edit for adjectives and another for verbs, rather than looking at the entire piece each time. So simple and so effective. Jeff, I liked what you said about wanting to make nonfiction writing “pretty.” I need to go back and read more Diane Ackerman and Stephen Jay Gould, who infuse science topics with precise syntax and imagery as much as any novelist or poet. And OMG, David Foster Wallace writing about the Illinois State Fair. He makes livestock competition sound like Longfellow.

    Finally, takeaway #3 was about establishing your brand and authority, so you can genre hop and even go between nonfiction and fiction with ease. Which brings me to a couple of questions related to your discussion about how the Internet has changed everything in writing today: for those of us who lack representation and may be self-publishing, do we look at what is hot now, or do we still write for what we think the public will want a few years from now, hoping to pick up a conventional publisher?

    I mean, my topic isn’t going to change, but my slant on it might. And perhaps even more importantly, how I promote and finance myself could depend on this. If I’m committed to self-publishing, I can release bits of a book or early drafts on a site like Patreon, but if I’m offering a publisher exclusive rights, I can’t do that. Any thoughts on this? Self-publish the first book, see how it does, and then seek an agent or traditional publisher? Stay away from actual book content on patronage sites and give other rewards? Is this moot because it’s impossible to find a publisher these days without 10,000 email followers anyway?

    While obviously the advent of the Internet has brought wonderful benefits to the field of writing, it has also created this conundrum of building an audience. I feel like I spend more time on social media and audience strategy, as well as on the technical aspects of my website, than I do actually writing. I’m hoping that figuring this stuff out is a kind of one-off task that I can soon put behind me and get into a maintenance mode of write-post-write-post, until I have enough material and readers for a book. My ultimate goal is to make a living writing books, financing the writing either with a traditional publisher’s advance and royalties or with profits from self-publishing previous works.

  5. Best tips for write a good book and i know every writers are like this so much. To get more success in our life it will be great suggestion for us. New writers are can take more tips from you.

  6. This a very fresh perspective, Jeff, thank you for sharing. I am, however, still convinced that the key to writing the best book is in the editing and in looking for people to assist you with writing. Same applies for academic writing, I think. I used to use and it helped me a great deal.

Comments are closed.