How First-Time Author Erin Leigh Leveraged Her Book To Build Her Platform And Find Joy & Fulfillment As A Writer
Have you written a book but don’t know how to get your manuscript ready for publishing? Does the thought of showing your work to someone else intimidate you?
Many first-time authors know how hard it was to write their book. The editing process seems daunting too, and you might be tempted to rush through it so you can just publish the dang thing already!
I sat down for a heartfelt chat with Erin Leigh, one of my amazing authors who started with a manuscript and built her author platform from scratch. We talk about how the editing process shaped the final version of her manuscript and how she knew it was time to share her book with the world. Most importantly, we discuss the joy and fulfillment she felt while crafting her first book.
Watch the video or read the transcript below with Erin’s tips for first-time authors who want to use their book as a platform for their brand:
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Jessica: I’m here with my awesome client, Erin, a first-time author and mother of four who has written a book for parents of newborns. We’re going to go through Erin’s journey in three parts: Part 1 is going to be about the writing process, Part 2 about the editing process, and Part 3 will be everything that happens after editing, including all of Erin’s wins. Erin, tell us a little bit about yourself and the title of your book.
Erin: Thanks, I’m so happy to be here! The title is Navigating the Newborn Months and Beyond: A Mother’s Guide to Routine, Sleep, Fussiness, and Self-Care, which is a reference to the biggest issues facing a lot of mothers today. A little bit more about myself: I grew up just outside of Chicago. I went to college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and I attended law school in Chicago at Loyola University. After law school we lived in Nashville, and then we moved out to California. I have three boys and one girl. They are 5, 7, 9, and 11, so they keep me very busy. In my free time (the little that I have), I love to spend time outdoors. Really my favorite place to be is outside. I love to run, swim, hike, and our family vacations always involve something outside. That’s really what keeps me going.
J: Something that was really special for me when we worked together, Erin, was that your book is geared towards parents of newborns. I myself was having a baby as we were working together. We connected right as I was going on maternity leave, and then when I came back from maternity leave, I started editing your book. And I found even though this was my second time becoming a mom, your book was just as valuable to me as it would have been had I been reading it as a first-time mom. I think it’s really important for people to know that your book isn’t just for first-time parents; it’s good for second-time, third-time caregivers and so on.
Okay, let’s get to the questions. Why did you want to write a book? Because you formerly had no online presence or personal brand, or online business that you were selling products or services from.
E: Writing a book was something I’ve wanted to do most of my life. It was kind of this private personal dream of mine, and I didn’t know if I would ever actually do it. It was a distant dream, but I’ve always loved to write. I’ve always loved to research, and for the past three or four years, I just had this nagging feeling inside that there was something else I really wanted to do and something I wanted to create.
J: A personal passion project. I think a lot of us can identify with that. And how did you go about developing your book? I remember that you repurposed some of your journals. Can you speak more about that?
E: I do love to journal. That was one of the main ways I was able to get my ideas for this book. Before I even knew I was going to write the book, I looked back at my journals over the last few years. I have a personal journal I keep for myself, and I have a journal I keep for each of my children. I looked back over my personal journal, and I kept noticing the same thing coming up every few months: “I just want to write. I wanna write more.” This common theme kept coming back about wanting to help moms during that newborn phase and during those first few months. After I really honed in on my idea, I looked through my journals for each of my children, and I started pulling out the main points that I really thought other moms could identify with. That was the beginning of it. My book is a combination of personal experiences, my journals, conversations I’ve had with other parents, and a lot of research to back up the points I make in the book.
J: I love how you made it so personal in your book because you have been there, you have been in the trenches. You are mom of four, so you have all that experience to speak to in your book. Then you also researched so heavily, and it’s almost like you went back on what you did for each of your children, and then you researched it and were like, “I can prove why it was the right thing to do: because science,” and it was really cool to read how you did that. I love how you merged the two.
What was the writing process like for you, Erin? Did the words flow easily, or did you have writer’s block like many of us? Did you struggle with finding the time to write?
E: Also a great question. First I’ll speak to the time. This may sound very odd to most people, but I began my book at the height of Covid. Now that sounds crazy, but for me, it was the right time. I had to write the book. I had been thinking about it for so long. I think I needed so badly to have something for myself during that time when I was constantly with my other children. I had three kids doing school-at-home all day and one child in preschool. But I discovered one pocket of time each day when I could write. With all the different schedules of my children, there was one hour a day when they were all on their Zoom calls for school at the same time. After that, it was chaos: different breaks, someone needed help with their homework, I had to pick up from preschool. But between 9:00 and 10:00 was the perfect window of time. I was at my computer, ready to go, and that hour went by in like a minute it seemed. But having a specific time and knowing that was all I had made me very motivated and very productive. I also wrote at night after my children were in bed.
The writing process for me was not the difficult part. I love to write, and I always have ideas floating around in my head. I just can never find enough time to get them out on paper. The writing itself isn’t a problem. The words usually flow, and then when they don’t, I stop and take a break. I work on something else, like maybe a smaller piece, or I just allow myself to walk away and come back refreshed.
J: I like hearing that you had one hour set aside per day because that seems totally doable for many people, whether you have four kids or one kid or no kids. I would have even said if you had 10 minutes a day, it might have taken you longer, but if you chipped away on it, you could have written the book.
Let’s move on to the editing phase. How were you feeling prior to editing? Specifically, were you nervous to show your work to someone else? I think you were. We were saying that sometimes we’re more nervous to show our work to someone in our existing network, someone we’re already really close to, versus complete strangers.
E: Yes, absolutely. I was terrified to show it to anyone. No one knew I was writing this book. Even my family didn’t know for the first five months until one day my husband said, “By the way, what are you working on over there all the time?” I really didn’t tell anyone. Once I told him, it was easier. My kids figured it out. I was really nervous when I sent the first draft to you, but after I did, it was so much easier each time. I just had to get over that initial hurdle. I’m still nervous a little bit putting it out there.
J: Interesting. I know some people may hire an editor, and they know the editor is going to help them, but when they get back that annotated first draft, and they see the red lines in Microsoft Word going everywhere, I could understand how that might be gut-wrenching. So how did you feel when you got back the first edit we did, a developmental edit?
E: This might be different for other people, but for me, red lines do not scare me. I was a lawyer for 12 years, so red lines are my life. For me, it was actually encouraging because I knew that you had read every single sentence and put a lot of time in it. If there were no red lines, you didn’t read it very well!
J: That’s a good way to look at it.
E: There should be comments, and it actually made me feel really good because I was looking for constructive feedback, and I wanted to improve so I was really happy to see all that because it gave me work to do. So it was encouraging.
J: That’s awesome. Thank you. What were you looking for when you went to hire an editor? Were you looking for just a grammar check or something else?
E: Definitely, I wanted someone with an excellent knowledge of grammar. I also wanted a personal recommendation. I have a wonderful friend who is an author and recommended you. But I really wanted someone who could give me guidance on structure and wasn’t afraid to give really constructive guidance on changing things. That can be hard to find sometimes. I wanted someone I could truly trust whose recommendations would really help me going forward. Even though I was a lawyer for years and did a lot of legal research and writing, legal writing is different from the type of writing I am doing now. I was glad to have your knowledge of how it should look, how it should sound, how to craft my voice… just all the things that were new to me writing my first book.
J: That’s so interesting, and I don’t think I realized when we first started working together that you were looking for someone to help you with the overall structure. You sent me the excerpt, and I saw that it needed a developmental edit, and I said, “Let’s do that first.” And I mention that because I find a lot of people are looking for “just a grammar check.” It’s as though the editing process is something they just gloss over, like something they have to do, like, “I did the writing, and now I have to do the editing, and then I can move on to the fun stuff of launching and marketing.” People think editing is like, “Oh, she’s just gonna check my grammar,” but in all honesty, you can download the Grammarly app or something like that, and it will get you a long way. It will not get you as far as you can go with a human editor, for sure, but I don’t want people to feel like editing is solely a grammar check because the scope of editing goes way beyond that.
Specifically, I remember helping you by reorganizing your ideas. And we even changed the tagline in your title because we reorganized the parts in your book. Do you remember that? You had the words ordered in a different way, and I said, “Why don’t we change it? It needs to match the order that we’re going in the book.” And we changed much more than that.
Was there anything that surprised you about the editing process that you weren’t expecting?
E: It was more than I expected—in a great way. I cannot say enough about how helpful you were. Honestly I think I was the most confident after you finished the final draft because I knew you had put so much time into it. It just meant so much to me that you’re a mother also and you looked at it in the same way I did. And I remember there were several ideas you had along the way, saying, “I didn’t have quite the same experience, maybe you should look at it this way,” and I just knew that you truly read that, not just as an editor, but as a mother, and just seeing the issues in my book and really truly understanding. It was a wonderful surprise to have an editor who made such a personal investment in it and spent so much time on my work. It wasn’t just a cursory review for grammar. I did not think I would feel that confident once we had the final draft. I remember you saying, “I encourage you to not keep going back to it.” And I didn’t. I was like, “I’m done. I know that it’s fine. This is the final one.”
J: As creatives, we can tweak until the cows come home, and it will never be perfect. It’ll never feel finished to you. But you gotta just put it out there. To your point, I think that’s important to know for people who are about to hire an editor: make sure it’s the RIGHT editor. I am not the right editor for every person out there, and I’m not saying I have to have lived the experience the author has just written about, like in our case, but there should be some sort of personal connection with your editor.
What did your manuscript look like after editing, and how did you feel about your writing as you looked forward to the next step in publishing?
E: I felt really good about it. At that point, I just thought, you know what, it’s done, I’m ready for the next step. I really didn’t have any doubts about the book itself after we finished that final manuscript.
J: Awesome! Okay, moving on to the juicy part that I’m super excited to ask you about…. Lead us through your self-publishing process between the editing portion and the release of your book. One thing that came up for me as I was refreshing my mind about our project was that I told you to move on to getting the official copyright from the US Copyright Office, so was that your immediate next step?
E: Yes, and it didn’t take as long as I thought. It took maybe 3 or 4 weeks. So after I finished up the final draft, I started the next step. There’s the writing… and then there’s the publishing, which was the hardest part for me. The writing I could do all day. I love to write. That was the easy part. The self-publishing part was so hard for me because it was ALL new. Every single thing I had to learn. I felt like a child learning to ride a bike. The good thing was now I’ve learned it, it will be so much easier next time, but it was challenging just understanding very simple things like applying for a copyright, how to use BookFunnel, how to set up a book launch group, publishing through Amazon. I felt like with each step, once I would figure it out, there were like 10 other branches off of that. It was a never-ending learning curve. But I’m getting there! It’s still a work in progress.
J: I don’t think it’s the same experience for everybody because there are some people in your camp who are really there to write. They’re interested in their writing, and then they have to go through that grueling process of launching and marketing, and that’s all new to them. And then there are others who are already in the business and marketing side. That’s their wheelhouse, and they’ve been told to write a book to market their business, and for them the writing is the hard part.
E: That’s a really great point. I was fortunate that my friend Sally wrote a couple of books on the self-publishing process. So she was an awesome resource for me because she at least could give me some of those basic steps. But still, it’s a personal journey. Someone can tell you, “This is what I did,” but it’s different for everyone. And you figure out what works for you and what works for someone else, and that’s something I discovered very quickly too. There’s a lot of things that don’t work in certain genres or for certain audiences. It’s definitely a learning curve. I was really fortunate to have personal recommendations for cover design and formatting so those pieces were pretty simple because I trusted those people. They did excellent work, so that was not a stressful part of it for me. I highly recommend getting a personal recommendation whenever you can. It takes a big chunk of anxiety out of the process.
J: I totally agree because then you minimize the risk of not being happy with the service and then having to go find someone else. The whole process can be intimidating when it’s your first time.
Tell us all about how you are harnessing social media and email marketing because you are killing it! This is the number one question I wanted to ask you because when we were working together, you had zero online presence. No website, no Facebook, no LinkedIn, no Instagram. I don’t know what else you’re on, but you had nothing, and I see you everywhere now. I’m like, how did she go from zero to 100 so quick?!
E: The social media part has been one of the most challenging aspects, mostly because I’m an introvert, so putting myself out there on social media just goes against everything I’m comfortable with. However, the more I do it, the more comfortable I am, and it gets easier. It’s not in my nature, so it definitely involves stepping out of my comfort zone. But for anything in life, I encourage people to do that because that is where you find true personal growth. I’ve learned so much about myself and about what I truly want to do through doing some of these things like social media.
I’m on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I have my Amazon author page, and I’m on Goodreads. All of it took time, and I didn’t know how to do most of it. I did a lot of reading to learn how to do social media, even just simple Instagram posts, like how to make it look right. I try to post things that are very relevant to my work. I started an author newsletter, and that’s been a really fun way to connect with my audience and not just to talk about my book, but about other authors, other books, family adventures, interesting things.
What really helps in addition to social media is making local connections, and I’ve done a lot of that through social media as well. You make a local connection, then they might post something, then they tag you… it’s an interesting journey. I still have so much to learn about it. Like it or not, social media does work when you’re trying to promote a book and increase your presence as an author.
J: I completely agree. I also had zero social media presence when I first started my editing business. I did my website first, then I signed up for Facebook and LinkedIn, and that in itself was so intimidating. For the longest time, I didn’t post anything. I didn’t know what to post, I didn’t know what I was doing on there, I didn’t know how to use it. I’ve just started Instagram very recently, so I’m also learning all of this, but I couldn’t believe how fast you did it, Erin, and on all the platforms at once! It goes against so many people’s advice. They say to just pick one platform and do that one really well, but you’re on all of them and doing all of them really well! So let that be a lesson for anyone who is intimidated by social media and the launch and marketing aspect. It’s totally possible. If Erin and I can do it, you can do it, okay?
E: Yeah! If I can figure out how to do an Instagram post, anyone can do it! Do what works for you. I use different social media sites because there are different groups of people and different audiences on each one.
J: That’s why I’m a fan of repurposing content because some people say you should be posting different content on each platform, and I’m like, that’s too much work! Also, if you’re an author just starting their social media accounts, another piece of advice you hear a lot is to go where your readers are. I think that’s valid as well if you’re targeting a certain readership… if they’re all on Twitter, don’t just open a LinkedIn and leave it at that. Do your research a little bit and see where your readers are. Did you notice, Erin, if first-time parents and caregivers of newborns were on any particular platform?
E: I would say probably more on Instagram, some on Facebook too, but I would say Instagram is growing faster, and I see more feedback for that.
J: One more thing I want to touch on. You mentioned you’re an introvert and how that made this whole process even scarier. I can totally relate to that. I’m an introvert myself, and I think that goes for a lot of authors. I don’t know an author who’s an extrovert! I I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, I’m sure they exist… but it’s a very common hurdle, I think, for authors in particular to first of all publish their book and get it out there and then put it in front of their target readers. It can feel super scary.
Tell us how your book was received. Take us through the highlights. Did you reach number one in any categories? I think you did.
E: I did, yes! I was really happy. My book was the #1 new release in three categories: parenting infants, health and nutrition for parents, and pregnancy and childbirth. It’s been in the top 10 in parenting infants since the beginning. I’m happy about that because it’s my key category. It was unexpected, and it validated my work and my goal of reaching new parents and helping them. For me to see that new moms and new parents are reading it is the best reward.
J: That speaks to an earlier question I asked you about your intent on writing this book. Was your goal to get to number one in any certain category, or was that an added bonus?
E: Just an added bonus. I didn’t even know what it would take to make bestseller. For me, I just had the very personal goal for it to be my best writing and best ideas. I just wanted to walk away feeling like I put 100% into it and that is my best work.
J: Did you have a strategy to get to number one in those categories?
E: I did a lot of research and read a couple of books on self-publishing, how to find the right categories for your book, and how to find the right keywords. It’s a little tricky, and I’m glad I did some reading about it because there are so many categories on Amazon. A lot depends on the keywords you use. It’s helpful to find specific categories your book fits well into, and then it’s more likely to show up in the right ranking. It takes a little work and research. I mean, I spent hours going through all the lists of categories on Amazon, thinking, Where does my book fit in? I didn’t want to just put it out there and let Amazon decide where it goes. I want it to be in the right place so it would be ranked correctly but also so the right people could find it. But it’s not intuitive. You have to do a little work to figure out where it belongs.
J: It’ll be easier next time. Do you recommend authors look at the categories as they’re writing the book, or is that okay to do at the end?
E: At the end is fine. As long as you do it before you publish it, and you know where it’s going.
J: Once it was published, how were you able to leverage your book? What opportunities opened to you? I think I saw on social media you were hired for a speaking engagement.
E: Yes, I was! It’s been really fun. I have spoken to a local moms group called Las Madres. It was fantastic. I loved being a part of that, speaking to other moms about my book. We had a great Q&A about it. It was amazing to give back and reconnect with that group. I also spoke at a local preschool recently. I’m doing more speaking engagements in the next months: one in our church and one at our local hospital. It’s all part of making local connections. It was hard at first for me to do that and get out of my comfort zone. But it was surprising how many people were receptive to it and wanted to talk with me more. It’s just been very encouraging.
I just just recently found out my book will be in a local baby store. It’s really exciting to see it in one of my favorite stores. It’s also for sale in the hospital gift shop. I just did an interview with a local reporter about my book as well, so we’ll see what comes of that.
J: That is so cool. A lot of people these days focus so much on the online platform and the capabilities we have of reaching readers the world over with things like Kindle. But you’re really honing in on the local aspect, which is maybe more overlooked these days and also maybe more intimidating in a certain way because you have to physically put yourself out there and go and seek out those opportunities. It might be easy for some and more difficult for others depending on what your personality is.
E: It is not easy, and I get nervous doing it, but it’s rewarding. The reason I wrote this book is because I want to help other moms. I want to help them feel more confident and less stressed out during the newborn phase and in that whole first year. By connecting with local businesses and groups, I’m able to meet more moms and know that I’m helping someone else. That’s where the local piece comes in. You see firsthand who’s reading your book. It’s very rewarding.
J: And you get to measure the impact you are having firsthand. Being able to speak face to face with your readers must be really cool. So how does it feel now, Erin, to officially be a published author?
E: It still feels surreal, honestly! There are times when I think, Wow, I did this, I’m really proud of it. It’s brought me so much joy, so much fulfillment. I feel so happy. It’s something I wanted to do so much, and seeing my children proud of me has been a wonderful surprise as well. Hearing them talk about it to other people or asking me about it… it’s neat to see them proud of their mother. It’s been really special for me.
The best reward is when someone tells me that my book helped them. I think, Wow, I did that? I’m so happy about that.
J: It helped me, and I knew it was going to help other moms because as I was reading it, I was like, That is such a good idea, I’m gonna go try it.
What do you want people to know about the whole process of writing and editing and publishing? What would you tell someone who might be on the fence about starting the process, or maybe they have started it, and they got stuck somewhere? What encouragement would you give them?
E: Write what YOU want to write. People say, “Write what sells,” or “Know your audience before you even write your book.” You can do that, but I think you should write what you want to write. Otherwise I don’t think it’s going to bring you joy and fulfillment and really accomplish your goals.
I truly believe you can find time to do something if you really want to do it. If I could find time to write a book during Covid with four kids at home, you can do it. It may involve reprioritizing your life. It may involve cutting things out of your life. But there is a way to do it if you want it badly enough, even if it’s 10 minutes a day or 1 hour a week. I think it’s great to write often, but write what works for you. Sometimes we forget that writing is a form of self-expression, you know, so you should trust yourself on the schedule that works for you. Try not to let everyone else’s thoughts about the writing process affect yours. It can affect your creativity and your desire if you’re listening to all the outside noise.
J: Absolutely. That’s really powerful. Thank you for sharing that. Tell us what’s next, Erin, for you and your brand.
E: Well, I’m always writing! I’ve been working on a lot of shorter pieces. I feel so strongly about certain topics that they need to be shared. It’s terrifying to share personal stories, but the feedback I get makes it all worthwhile. I’m also still actively promoting my book. It’s been keeping me really busy with speaking and making local connections.
J: How did writing shorter pieces compare to writing a book? Did you find it easier, and why did you decide to publish shorter pieces?
E: It’s completely different. With a book, I feel strongly about having a solid outline and doing your research. I’m more structured. With the shorter pieces, I don’t necessarily follow the same process. I might do a brief outline and some bullet points, and then I write it… almost like a stream of consciousness, I just get all my thoughts out. Then I’ll go back and edit it several times, removing a lot of pieces, but it’s a little bit different because it’s more freestyle than writing a nonfiction book. But it’s been fun, too. It’s almost like an expanded form of journal writing.
J: I know you have extensive experience writing in your journal!
Tell the people what you got going on and how they can find you.
E: You can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you go to my website, I have more information as well as an author newsletter you can sign up for. I talk about books, other writers, things I’ve done with my family, all sorts of interesting tidbits as a way to stay connected with my audience.
J: Erin, thank you so much for sitting down and taking the time today to talk with me about your book as well as the writing and editing process. Thank you to everyone who is watching this video! If you want to know how you can work with me, send me a DM on Instagram or LinkedIn, or send me an email. Make sure you check out Erin’s links so that you can connect with her and check out her book.
[This transcript has been edited for easier reading.]