Want to write a book? We talk about:
+ the process of making time and space to write your book
+ setting expectations with family and friends
+ the publishing process
+ what comes first – the book or the platform?
+ how to know when your memoir has veered into TMI territory

I first saw Linda Sivertsen on a stage in Sedona at a conference for authors and speakers. I was blown away at her humor, wisdom, and warmth. More recently, she coached me through writing my own memoir, and I’m fortunate now to call her friend. In this interview, award-winning author Linda Sivertsen tell us about her support system and how they became the inspiration for her latest book, Beautiful Writers.

Jennifer Maggiore
I am here today with my friend and writing mentor, Linda Sivertsen and she is the author of Beautiful Writers. This is the most recent, and you are also an award-winning author, ghost writer, mentor to many.

Linda Sivertsen:
Cheerleader!

Jennifer Maggiore:
Tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the book and what that process was like.

write a bookLinda Sivertsen:
I’m just obsessed with writing and writers and figuring out, how do they do it? How do people come out with book after book, year after year, without blowing up their lives, staying sane? Books talk to me, they always have. And so it was a natural sort of evolution from my podcast. I have this podcast where I interview my favorite authors, and I was getting thousands of pages of transcripts of these incredible wisdoms from how Elizabeth Gilbert did it, how Tom Hanks or Van Jones, Dean Koontz, Cheryl Strayed, on and on. One day I just had the idea to thread their wisdom through my kind of clawing my way to the middle, struggling-ass, writing stories, which to me are so fun, right? It just felt like a different kind of writing book, and it got me really excited because none of us want to reinvent the wheel. We don’t want to do what’s already been done.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Or we don’t know how to get started, so it’s very inspiring.

Linda Sivertsen:
Thank you.

Jennifer Maggiore:
What was the process like? I always think of publishing as being just kind of this very long, arduous process and you’re querying. You kind of hear those stories. What was your experience like with getting this published?

Linda Sivertsen:
I have had all the experiences. So as a ghost writer, you’re contracted to deliver a book in eight weeks, 12 weeks.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Oh my gosh!

Linda Sivertsen:
I’ve done that a bunch of times in my life. My son and I did a book called Generation Green for Simon & Schuster. It was due in eight weeks because they were trying to fill a gap in their lineup. So I’ve had plenty of experience doing it with my hair on fire, and I just no way wanted to do that.

Whenever you’re doing kind of a memoir, which this is a writing memoir with advice from these luminaries, you can’t rush a memoir. They’re no joke. So really, it was 10, 15 years on some of the stories, massaging them one million times and playing with them. And then the publishing part was sort of easy, because I’ve been in the industry a long time, and I interviewed agents, agents I work with that I love. It was so, so hard to choose.

Jennifer Maggiore:
What was that like?

Linda Sivertsen:
Oh my God!

Jennifer Maggiore:
I always think when I eventually go through that process, it’s like groveling to people, but you got to be in the position of, you’re interviewing people. So tell me a little bit more about that.

Linda Sivertsen:
First of all, if you are a newbie in the industry, you are still not groveling. Never, never, never look at it like that.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Okay, good advice!

Linda Sivertsen:
Well, because, think about it, they’re honestly praying for you to show up as much as you’re praying for them, and you have to have that mindset. It’s just like when you’re dating, right? You don’t want to think somebody’s doing you a favor to take you out. You’re the prize. You have to believe that.

So for me, it was a challenge, because I have these relationships with these agents, and so I started interviewing them. I went with my heart. I went with the one that I felt really had my environmental sort of nerdy leanings. She started an environmental club when she was in elementary school, and we were very similar that way.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Just really resonated.

Linda Sivertsen:
Yeah, so I just went with my heart. And then it’s scary for all of us, because then you start putting your work out and you’re sending it … she is sending it to editors, and then you take meetings. But you’ve got to have the attitude that what you have is valuable. And also, rejection happens for all of us. Steven Pressfield told me in this book that he often only gets one offer per book.

Jennifer Maggiore:
That’s crazy!

Linda Sivertsen:
This is a legendary author gets one offer per book. So just to know that rejection comes for all of us, and as the rejections come in, you can pivot, you can change your project, but you always have to stay with your belief in what you’re doing and your love of your message.

Jennifer Maggiore:
I think a lot of the clients that I work with think of a book as being sort of their platform. So how does one get strategic if they want to use a book to further their work? Where do you start with that process of creating the message? And can it come off as too sales-y? Do you think people get too pushy?

Linda Sivertsen:
Oh, for sure, but the too sales-y thing can happen in any industry, not just with books. It’s tricky because you want to see in the industry, you want to see authors, writers coming to you who already have a platform, who are going to be a partner in helping you-

Jennifer Maggiore:
That’s so hard.

Linda Sivertsen:
Right? And so a lot of writers are like, “Wait a minute, I hate social media. I’ll just start … I’ll write the book and then I’ll get famous.”

Jennifer Maggiore:
But you really need the platform first.

Linda Sivertsen:
I have this book out right now, and if I hadn’t already built relationships, like with you here, coming here, how would you know about me? How would I get here? And so it’s kind of backasswards to think you’re going to get famous from the book. It’s better to build your community, and then you offer the book as an offering to that community, and then hopefully they love it and they help spread the word.

And publishers really want to have partners in this. They don’t want to just be printers. They want to know that, “Jennifer’s going to come, I’m going to publish Jennifer, and she’s going to have a group of people who already love her work so that then we can be partners in getting the message out.” Rather than a lot of authors, they come out with a book and they’re like, “So, what are you going to do for me?” And that’s not really fun for a publisher.

Jennifer Maggiore:
So that has changed, right? Because I think it used to be in publishing that you could expect to have support in terms of marketing or going on a book tour, and that’s not really the case anymore, right?

Linda Sivertsen:
Oh, yeah. Richard Bach tells the story about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that the book came out, he traveled for a year, and his agent finally got a hold of him and was like, “Dude, you sold a million copies.” He’s like, “What?” And it’s just not like that anymore.

On one of my episodes of the podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo were talking about … they still, at this level in their careers, feel like they’re tap dancing. We’re just tap dancing for our supper. So you kind of have to get comfortable with this promotional thing and this networking thing, and here’s the way to do it, in my opinion. You don’t make it about you, because none of us are super comfortable, really, at the end of the day thinking, “I deserve to be seen, I deserve to have attention.” That’s fricking uncomfortable. But if you make it about your mission, if you make it about what you have that will help others, then it’s not so-

Jennifer Maggiore:
And being of service.

Linda Sivertsen:
Exactly. I knew as a little kid, I wanted to help forests. And when you write books for a living that kill trees, and yet your mission is to help forests, total mind screw. I have just found a way with Forest Stewardship Council paper and recycled paper on a different book, just all the different ways that I can find to do my art in a way that helps my mission. Then you’re not so concerned about you, you, you. It’s about the service.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Would you say it’s the same then when you’re writing a memoir? I mean, it is about the author, but bringing it back to that message that is for the reader?

Linda Sivertsen:
Well, any good memoir is really … Sure, it’s specifics about the author and their path, but it’s about the emotional journey from the beginning of the story and the arc of where that story takes you and the way in which the way which the writer changes. And so, the reader takes that emotional journey with the author and can feel the changes happening within you triggering things within them, so that that book becomes a journey for them as well, and a healing journey.

So for instance, Eat, Pray, Love. Okay. I have never been able to get on a journey like that for a year where I could go to Italy and Indonesia and India. Not going to happen. I will never take that journey, but I got to take it-

Jennifer Maggiore:
But through her.

Linda Sivertsen:
I got to grow and change along with her, even to the point where it felt like I was eating the pizza with her. If the writing’s good enough, you can really take somebody on that journey.

Jennifer Maggiore:
You have that experience… What would your advice be to someone who is … Maybe it’s not necessarily a memoir, but there is some of them that’s showing up in whatever they’re writing. Is there ever a place where you would say, “Okay, maybe that is TMI. Maybe that is too much, or maybe that is too personal to share”?

Linda Sivertsen:
Yeah, yeah. One of the things that’s helpful is to workshop it. So when you’re writing something and you are unsure, invite people over to your house, get some girlfriends together. Put together a little writing group once a week, once a month in your world where you can read things to people and you listen for their laughter, you listen for when you’re done and nobody says anything and nobody looks up and you know, “Whoops, that’s-

Jennifer Maggiore:
That’s too much.

Linda Sivertsen:
That was too much! Also, take notice as to what you love to read. Glennon Doyle reveals a lot in her books. Love Warrior was incredibly intimate, but people loved it. I loved that book. But for somebody else, that might be too much.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Too much.

Right. I mean, there’s going to be an audience for probably anything that you have. As long as it’s executed well, you’re going to find your audience. It’s really a matter of what resonates for you and what’s comfortable for you and what are you going to be comfortable talking about for 10 years.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Right, right, because that’s what everybody will be asking you.

Linda Sivertsen:
You want to love it.

Jennifer Maggiore:
One thing I do think about that, even personally, the things I’ve written, and I think, “Wow, people will know some of the most intimate details of your life when you’re writing something and publishing.”

Linda Sivertsen:
Oh yeah. Super scary.

Jennifer Maggiore:
If it’s not scary, it’s probably not going far enough.

Linda Sivertsen:
Probably a little bland if you’re not scared at all. The most whimsical experience I’ve ever had writing a book, I feel like … I always say that writing is like having an affair. Who said that? Elizabeth Gilbert talks about writing being like having an affair. And I felt like with this book, I really had to be careful, because I felt like even my husband was a little jealous of this book because it was just so much damn fun. It was so much fun, and it made me realize, I don’t ever want to write again unless it’s that much fun.

Jennifer Maggiore:
That’s amazing. That’s so great.

Linda Sivertsen:
Yeah, and it doesn’t mean there weren’t hard bits in it, but gosh darn, it was so much fun adding the humor. And some of the stories are so self-deprecating and ridiculous. I did so many outrageously crazy things growing into my career to kind of get noticed or to network or to be worthy, and I jumped through so many ridiculous hoops, so telling that stuff was so fun. It was so delightful, a little embarrassing, but who cares?

Jennifer Maggiore:
And that’s the journey you take us on in the book, and I love it. It was so great.

Linda Sivertsen:
Thanks. What I felt about her was I couldn’t believe she, me, did that shit. It was like, “What was I thinking?” And how do I not have that chutzpah now? I think as we get older, I don’t know, we get maybe more careful. Danielle LaPorte calls it the folly of youth. She said that on the podcast the other day, because I was saying, “I can’t believe the shit I did.” And she goes, “Ah, that’s the folly of youth,” but that folly got me into a lot of rooms, and it really, really helped. And it’s like I have to remember that now when I get careful or I get scared or a little too controlling about my environment. I’m like, “Linda, get the folly back. Get your folly.”

Jennifer Maggiore:
Why does that get so hard? Is it that we start to feel like we have something to lose or we get more self-conscious?

Linda Sivertsen:
I think it is about the older you get, the more you’ve built, the more you feel that you have to lose. Yeah, I definitely think-

Jennifer Maggiore:
The more you have, the more you have to protect.

Linda Sivertsen:
I think there’s definitely that. And when you’re young and you’re living … Parts of this story that I’m going back to, I was living in practically a shack. And so when you have nothing and you have nothing to lose, fling your shit out there. Who cares?

I would send out letters that were filled with grammar problems, and who cares? It’s like, I do think there was a grandiosity in my youth where you’re just on fire, because you think, “I’m young. I have forever.”

Jennifer Maggiore:
And you’re passionate.

Linda Sivertsen:
And now you’re like, “I’m not young anymore. How much time do I have left? And how much do my people need me?” You want to be there for the people that you love.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Yeah, I get that.

Linda Sivertsen:
… and that love you, and you’re not so willing to just go flinging your stuff out.

Jennifer Maggiore:
What is your advice for a lot of the women that will watch this and that I talk to on a regular basis? They’re very busy. They have full careers, they have families, they have partners, and it is so challenging to want to write and to sit.

And I have never been that person that I can sit for an hour and get it done in an hour of time. I need a day to be in that place, which is really hard to come by. What’s your advice for that?

Linda Sivertsen:
It is the struggle that we all have. I have a chapter six is on stealing time to write, and I say right at the start, “Time is a bitch for everybody.” Every writer has that agonizing daily sort of, “How do I get back to it, and yet be present with my people?” Right? Writing is so solitary that any of us who do it regularly have issues. You really have to negotiate it with your families and your day job or whatever it is, your self-care. And that’s a great part of what my journey has been about and that I love writing about because it is so complicated and intimate.

Dani Shapiro has one of the best lines in the book that I love so much, where she says, “Just touch your project every day.” That might mean that you are listening to a podcast in that genre and getting more research. It might mean that you are opening up a Word doc and just putting down 15 minutes worth of stuff. So with you, where you have to be careful is that, yes, it’s so much nicer if we have a whole Saturday to sequester away and have our snacks and have our hot coffee.

Jennifer Maggiore:
But it’s hard to find those days.

Linda Sivertsen:
Good luck with that. If you’re just waiting for the Saturdays, probably going to take you a long time.

Jennifer Maggiore:
A long time.

Linda Sivertsen:
Whereas I have example after example of people who wrote an hour a day before work. And again, Dani tells a story about client of hers that was an AIDS researcher, and she just wrote 5:00 to 6:00 AM every morning before she’d head off for her full-time-big job, and she got a novel done in a year.

Jennifer Maggiore:
That’s amazing.

Linda Sivertsen:
Meg Wolitzer talks about that too. A lot of people do that. They write a book in a year or in two years, 15 minutes a day. Try to do both. Try to touch your project every day a little bit, and try to schedule those Saturdays or a week, a week a month if you can. It took me a long time to figure out how to do that. I call it going dark to write, and I have a blog post you guys can Google.

Jennifer Maggiore:
I was just going to bring that up. It’s so good! It’s like water the plants, feed the dog-

Linda Sivertsen:
Yeah. I talk about all the different ways to sequester your time, but it is the challenge for all of us.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Any final advice, any parting tip for somebody that feels like they’ve got that book in them and they just don’t know where to start?

Linda Sivertsen:
Oh my God, I say it all the time, trust your ache. If you have the ache, you have what it takes.

Jennifer Maggiore:
Love it. That’s so good. Thank you. Thank you for your time. I appreciate your wisdom. Thank you.

Linda Sivertsen:
So fun. Love it. Thank you, babe.

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