Your Voice, Your Story: Writing & Publishing your first book as a Queer Leader.
Are you a Queer Leader with a story to tell? Have you ever considered writing a book to share your voice with the world? Our team of experienced authors is here to empower you to make that dream a reality.
We know that telling your story can be a daunting prospect, but we also understand that the world needs to hear it. That's why we're sharing our tips and tricks to help you approach writing and publishing your first book confidently and proudly. Your voice matters, your story deserves to be told, and we're here to help you make it happen.
On writing the book itself…
1. There’s so much power in your lived experience - start there.
Starting the writing process can be the most intimidating part for many people, including established writers. The fear of not knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, leading to self-doubt and even preventing us from starting altogether. While this can be true for any project, it is particularly daunting when it comes to writing a book.
If you know you want to write a book, it’s important to remember the age-old saying “write what you know.” Especially when it comes to Queer Leadership, we need to remind ourselves that we have got to where we are today because we are strong advocates and allies for people like ourselves, and also others who are different from us.
As Queer Leaders, our motivations are rooted in our lived experiences. We've faced discrimination and prejudice due to our sexuality and other parts of our identities that intersect with our queerness. But these experiences also provide valuable lessons and a unique perspective that can guide us in making the world a more empathetic, accepting, and inclusive place. Remember this as you begin your writing journey - your perspective is valuable!
2. Hone in on your audience.
When starting on a writing project, it is imperative that you have a clear picture of the audience (or audiences) that you are aiming to reach and resonate with, and why. So, who is your audience? When thinking about this in the first instance, a good place to start would be to think about your work as a Queer Leader in a wider sense.
“The most important tip I can share is to know why you are writing. Anyone can sit and theoretically write a book, but for it to have an impact, you need your book to have a purpose.” - Ben Pechey (they/them)
Why did I become an Advocate/Activist/'X' in the first place?
What problem am I providing solutions to? Get specific.
What kind of impact do I want to make with my work, and to inspire/benefit who?
Are there any secondary audiences that I need to consider? (e.g. Do I have an ambition to educate allies?)
When I picture the legacy that my work will have - what does that look like to me? How will the publishing of my book help me leave that legacy?
When you have a clear impression of these preliminary questions, take note, and always make sure to refer back to this. At We Create Space, we regularly speak to our community and clients alike about how vital it is to ‘find your why’ and accurately pinpoint it.
The best, most versatile Queer Leaders always have a common thread in every project they take on, which links to their wider work. When we look at someone's body of work as a whole, we can see common themes that add to the power and significance of their work on a larger scale, even if their individual projects seem unrelated. This applies whether they focus on one specific industry or occupy space in multiple sectors. As you think about your idea for a book as a Queer Leader, consider how it complements your existing work and allows you to develop your message further. This could be done in an obvious way or more subtly.
Often, the most effective way to make lasting change requires us to be very strategic about the way in which we position our work, being conscious of the context in which it exists, and how we can use this context to increase the chances of positive outcomes. Writing a book should be no different.
3. Conduct further research.
As with all the work we do as Queer Leaders, conducting research of our own, beyond our lived experience is key to understanding how we can use our positions of influence to instil tangible positive impact for marginalised communities like the LGBTQIA+ Community in the real world.
“Talk to others in your community. You're not alone in the writing process and talking about your thoughts and ideas can start conversations that help you learn something or discover a new point of view.” - Vaneet Mehta (he/him)
When approaching your writing, it is important to consider the perspectives of others on your chosen topic - maybe people who have experienced similar things to you, but also others who haven’t. As with everything, diversity of thought, and consideration of a variety of opinions and views is imperative to ensure that we are not operating in silos - this is how echo chambers are formed.
Can other people's identities and experiences provide a broader perspective to your work? This can increase your self-awareness of your context, privilege, and others' struggles.
There is always more than one side to a story. And even if you don’t include it, due diligence as a Queer Leader in the very least is acknowledging potential differences in perspective and experience. In the same way, considering these differences will inspire you to reflect inwardly, it will afford your audience the opportunity to do the same. This is how writing on specific issues/difficulties communities face truly has the potential to transcend cultures, borders and identities, reminding us all of how we have more in common than we think.
“Read around the topic. There's likely a huge amount of material available in the area you're writing in. It isn't always easy to find but once you find a few sources, that can help you find more and more.” - Vaneet Mehta (he/him)
4. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism (both from yourself and others)
As a writer, it is easy to become very attached to certain aspects of your work that you are passionate about - especially when you are exploring a topic which is close to your heart. However, if these ideas don’t fit well with the flow of the rest of your work, often, you will need to be hard on yourself and remove them. To be a good writer is to always think about the strength of the overall message, even if it means removing elements that you yourself are enthusiastic about.
“Be prepared to sacrifice your favourite ideas if they’re not going anywhere. The first draft of my book proposal was a mess and it was only when I drove a stake through its heart and harvested the useful organs that I discovered exactly what I wanted to write.” - Dr Paul Taylor-Pitt (he/him)
Of course, in a similar way to how putting those first few words down is intimidating, so is handing your work to someone else for their comments. Writing a book, or even a book proposal takes considerable time and thought. However, what is a great book if it is left as a draft on your laptop, or to gather dust in a drawer? Getting outside perspectives on your work can only make it stronger. If you’re struggling with comments for others, ask them to provide feedback in written form in the first instance, which you can respond to in your own time - hence why our next tip is so important.
“Take on feedback early. Don't be afraid to show what you've written to people you know and ask for their brutal opinion. These are your readers, after all, so you want to make sure that what you've written is clear, coherent and concise.” - Vaneet Mehta (he/him)
5. Let it Rest!
Writing, or planning to write a book is an intensive process, and takes up a lot of psychological and emotional energy - significantly more so when it is linked to other parts of your work or your wider mission. Therefore, it is important for you to take time away from it when you need to. This could be for a multitude of reasons:
To distance yourself a little from feedback and self-critique
To give yourself a break
To provide yourself with mental stimulation away from your writing
To allow you to reflect
To afford you a change in perspective
“Writing can be hard, I know all too well the pressures of writing book(s) and how this can affect you. It is important that you can find balance with your mental health - and ensure that the writing process doesn’t take more from you than you get in return.” - Ben Pechey (they/them)
Fresh eyes will do wonders for your creative process, and will allow you to recharge your batteries. While all nighters in front of a computer screen might be necessary sometimes to capitalise on inspiration and excitement, it is important to know the value in switching off sometimes, too. This will serve you well in the long-term.
On the Publishing Process…
“Writing isn’t linear, and neither is the process of becoming a published author. Expect to find challenges and roadblocks - how you work around these is the most important thing. You will grow as a writer through each process you work through.” - Ben Pechey (they/them)
1. Use your network!
Our networks are one of our most important assets as Queer Leaders, both in terms of people we know in the community, and in terms of people of wider influence. One of the reasons why our networks are so important to us, is because the people within them come from so many different walks of life.
If you know others who are writers or have works published, speak to them! They will have so much advice to offer you - it’s even better if it’s a friend. They may even be able to make some introductions for you. As with a lot of creative industries, a lot of people can get that first foot in the door by being introduced to a contact by someone they know.
2. Refine your elevator pitch
You might have a really strong book proposal, or even a rough first draft of a manuscript. While it takes a lot of time to put this together, arguably, the hardest part is describing your idea in a way that can grab someone’s attention in a short amount of time.
Some tips on how to work your elevator pitch:
It should be no longer that ONE sentence
This needs to contain enough information to leave someone wanting more, but not too much information as to overwhelm them or allow them to lose focus.
Make it as original as you can to pique someone’s interest
Why is an elevator pitch important?
It brings listeners straight to your work’s Unique Selling Point (USP). Your USP (or someone’s ideas around your work’s USP) can then determine how literary agents could pitch your book to a publisher, how acquiring editors might pitch books internally, how you could describe the book on social media, and even how the blurb on the back a printed, final book can grab readers in a bookshop.
3. You’ll need an agent
It is an industry standard that publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts - every prospective author needs an agent for their manuscript to be seen.
How does someone find a literary agent?
First, as with everything else we’ve mentioned so far, do some research. Are there any authors whose work has resonated with you? Would you like to have the same effect on audiences as them? Check to see who their agent is. Are there any authors who have written about similar topics to you, and you could see your work complimenting theirs? Are there any particular publishing houses that you think your work could fit in with - are the authors who they publish regularly represented by the same people? In the same way that you will use your network, there is no harm sending an email and potentially arranging a phone call.
When meeting with potential agents, first impressions are important. Both in terms of how you present and conduct yourself towards them, and how they feel to you. Think about what kind of person you want to work with - someone who’s hardline and professional, or someone who’s more relaxed and easily approachable? Someone in-between? Never forget that who you chose as an agent is a very personal choice. You have to feel like they have your best interests at heart, and that they’re truly passionate about the project.
4. Managing your relationships
Managing relationships does end with finding the right agent when you are trying to get your book published. Your agent will connect you with publishing houses through their contacts, and you may have some meetings alongside your agent at publishers’ if you are lucky. Although you may be in a fortunate minority to get to this stage, again, your relationship with a publisher is a two-way street. When speaking to your agent about publishers, or speaking to publishers themselves, it is important to make your ambitions clear to them, to make sure everyone’s visions are compatible - whether that be talking about finances, who will act as an editor, or what Public Relations team will be will working with the publishers to promote your book.
While you may not see these people regularly, it is important that you feel comfortable enough to challenge aspects of how the publishing process of your work is managed. Considering it is your writing is essentially an extension of yourself, you should always feel communication between these different parties is psychologically safe.
“Embrace edits! Getting edits isn’t a bad thing - I love the ability that a good editor can have on my work - so embrace this process and watch your words improve with every edit!” - Ben Pechey (they/them)
5. Handling public responses to your work
It may have been an arduous and emotional process to get your book published, and you will feel a sense of immense accomplishment when you see your work out there in the real world. You may even feel a sense of relief, when you think about how much time and effort it's taken to get from the beginnings of a concept, all the way to a finished product that people can read and consider at length.
Of course, if someone can read and consider your work, this also means they can form an opinion about it. It would be unreasonable to think that every single person who reads your work is going to have amazing things to say about it - this is something that’s really important to remember.
As with everything, if you make a mistake, it’s good to acknowledge it, and show how you’ll make changes going forward. There are some authors out there who’ve published several editions of one book over the course of several years. Admittedly, this is more common for a work of non-fiction than it is for fiction.
When thinking about the feedback your work receives, it is so crucial that you surround yourself with people who you can trust to help keep you grounded, and also who can help reassure you in more difficult situations. Also remember that your team who worked with you to get this book published should also be there to support you. Having a supportive team and trusted people around you can make all the difference in navigating the ups and downs of the publishing process and beyond.
Do you have any more tips for aspiring authors? Let us know by getting in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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