How to Write a Book While Raising Kids

Jennifer Folsom, Author of The Ringmaster shares tips for every mother who’s also a budding author on getting that book done.
Jennifer Folsom
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Last year, just two blissfully ignorant months before the world locked down, I did the previously unthinkable. I published a book. It was previously unthinkable because, despite that I had all of the content swimming around in my head, I was also working full-time plus and raising three boys. Even when I did carve out time for writing, I was too exhausted to have any of the much-needed creative energy to get those great ideas out of my noggin and onto my laptop screen.

The book, RINGMASTER: Work, Life, and Keeping it All Together, is a practical guide to working motherhood. Rather than chasing the elusive “work-life balance” that has left so many of us defeated, I propose a framework for embracing the circus. You are the Ringmaster, you decide what goes into each ring (work, life, you) and when and where the spotlight shines.

I saw so many women struggling, and even though I was on that same struggle bus, I knew plenty of experts in the fields where I had the biggest challenges, so I set about doing research so I could share tried-and-true strategies for the working mom sisterhood. Like what did my nutritionist friend (and mom of 3) keep in her freezer busy weeknight meals? And how did that mom of triplets get to the c-suite?

But it wasn’t easy. It was five years of voice-to-text memos to myself on the metro with strangers easing away from the crazy lady. Five years of getting everyone out of the house so that I could write, only to stare at a blank screen and decide that folding Mount Laundry was a better use of my time. Five years of stops and starts until I held that book in my hand.

Aside from “be patient, it takes time,” when people ask me about the process I point them to these 5 tips:

  1. Know Your Why. Save a handful of big names with big publishers, nobody makes money writing books. But there are still lots of reasons to do it. It’s a tremendous brand boost and a way to share your knowledge or story with the world. Plus, the speaking fees and royalties make good fun money.
  2. Understand the Business. Publishing is a fast-changing industry and there are a whole spectrum of options from hitting upload onto Amazon to having an agent negotiate a deal with a major publishing house and an advance. I used a hybrid publishing house, where I did a lot of the legwork in exchange for controlling the process, from cover design to release date. Because my objective wasn’t maximizing revenue, I was able to make sure the book I wanted to get out there to the world was what ended up on the shelf.
  3. Hire a Pro. I was lucky enough to use my employer’s professional development funds to work with a book coach out of New York. She walked me through the business model (and all of its many variations), helped me get my agent query letters and full proposal in order, and while I ended up going the hybrid publishing route I had a fully-fleshed out skeleton with chapter summaries to get me started and keep me focused.
  4. Take the Time. Try as I might, I just wasn’t able to write in the cracks of my overloaded calendar. After 6 ½ years going full tilt at my management consulting firm, I took a 4 month unpaid leave- a sabbatical- to get the book written and to market. If that isn’t in the cards for you, commit to a time and schedule that is sacrosanct. Every morning 5-6 AM or Saturdays till noon. You will miss soccer games and early morning coffee and newspaper time, but it will be worth it. Books don’t write themselves.
  5. Build the Marketing Machine. Even if you are lucky enough to score a big book contract, nearly all of the marketing will be on you. You will need a website and social media channels and content. There are lots of examples of authors doing it right. Pick one, emulate.

 

Is there another book in me? I’m sure. I’ve got a zillion ideas. But as of now I have no plans. As part of my marketing plan I began writing for NBC’s Know Your Value platform and I found that this type of short-form writing was reaching the audiences I wanted in a really rewarding way. I like being able to be timely, to show up with just the right advice at the right time for someone in a bind. But if a major publisher comes knocking, I will answer the door! I have pretty impressive sales figures for a first-time author. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take five years again.

Jennifer Folsom is Vice President, Growth at ICF, author of the RINGMASTER: Work, Life, and Keeping it All Together, and frequent contributor to NBC’s Know Your Value platform. Jenn is mother to three boys and talks candidly about the struggles of women and mothers in the workplace. 

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