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If writing a book were easy, a lot more people would be authors.

It turns out that putting your life, your profession, or your particular genius onto a page isn’t as easy as just writing things down in an organized way.

Writing a good book that people want to read means you need certain things, like a great idea. Of course you need nuts-and-bolts items that fit onto a checklist, to organize your thoughts, work with outlines, create deliverables and accountabilities, and more. 

But you will also have to face many parts of yourself in ways that might surprise you. It certainly has surprised me over the years. With four books in print and one of them now optioned for movie rights, I can tell you from experience that writing a book is only part of the process of becoming an author.


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The "external", or non-mental things you need to do are pretty straight-forward, and you can find any one of a dozen books on Amazon on how to write your book. I have my own list of an "author's to-do's" that have worked for me, which I’ve summarized in these 10 points:

1. Know What You’re Writing

Can you tell a friend in 30 seconds or less what your book is about and have them feel some sense of excitement about it? If not, your idea might not be well enough formed to take you from idea through to finished book.

2. Change Your Routine

 Doing a reading from  A Heart Blown Open.

Doing a reading from A Heart Blown Open.

Writing a book takes time. A lot of it. You will need to rearrange your life so that you’ll have devoted time, at least four days a week, to work at least a few hours a day. I’ve written books inside the luxury of having nothing else to do, and I've written them on nights and weekends while working full-time for someone else. No matter what your life circumstances, if writing this book is as much a priority as it will need to be to get finished, you’ll make the time whenever you can.  

3. Create a Weekly Word Count Goal

Start off modestly but then be willing to move the word count up, or down, depending on how the writing is going. It's counterproductive to fail at meeting a goal week after week, so be a good coach to yourself and make sure you have goals you can reach. Having a sense of accomplishment and movement is vital to success.

4. Don’t Edit

Editing comes later; my first novel (started back in the mid-90s) took me five years to write and, in the end, wasn’t any good. The reason: I kept editing instead of writing new, good content. I have a Writer and an Editor inside my head. The Writer needs to be the one working during the creative process because the Editor isn’t a very good writer! The Editor (plus a hired, professional one) comes later, once the arch of creativity is completed.

5. Write A Shorter Book

50,000 - 70,000 words is a good goal for a first-time book. Something modest and attainable is the best way to begin (and end) your first book. 

It’s foolish to write in a vacuum. And it’s also tricky getting feedback. Friends might be overly enthusiastic (not honest); one person might hate your book but another four love it. This means you need to be discerning in who you let read your early drafts. I suggest letting friends help in the beginning and then finding willing acquaintances or even strangers to provide feedback once the book is finished. But choose wisely, since qualified people providing actionable feedback is the only thing that will help.  

6. Careful with Feedback

7. Commit to the Journey, Not to the Goal

 Signing books outside of Vail, Colorado.

Signing books outside of Vail, Colorado.

Writing — and finishing — a book will change your life, because you will have to change who you are today in order to do it. For some, the change is relatively minor — a new kind of mental discipline and intuition and ability focus in a way they haven’t before. For others, the change can be profound and involve facing and integrating parts of themselves that stood in the way of finishing the book. As much as is possible, embrace the lifestyle, the challenge, the successes, and the overall feeling of creation. In other words, enjoy the ride on the way to your destination.  

8. Work in a Public Place (or a Private One)  

This will depend on your personality. Some write best fully secluded from others in something like a private study, basement office, or couch after the family has gone to bed. Others, like me, find that working by yourself means spending the whole day on Facebook, organizing your closets, or wandering around your house looking for a lost sock. I’ve written three of my four books at one coffee shop (and they went much faster than my first, written-at-home book!) The point is to go somewhere new if the place you’ve chosen isn’t working, until you find the right kind of external environment to stoke your internal inspiration and discipline.

9. Write Your Book in Order

An inability to write in a linear fashion is a red flag indicating that your ideas aren’t cohesive and more likely than not you'll end up with a bunch of disjointed essays that you can’t stitch together. This trap is much more common than you’d think — writing everyday isn’t enough. Writing a book-length amount of material isn’t enough. It must be cohesive and compelling, and must have a beginning, middle, and end.

10. Know You’ll Get Stuck (and How to Get Unstuck)

 

  The Heart of Zen  gets a big push.

The Heart of Zen gets a big push.

You will get stuck. This is where most would-be authors give up (usually after months or even years of fighting gallantly), and why many many people start books but very few finish them. Writing a book is some seriously vulnerable shit — your ideas, your life, your personality are about to go out into the world to be judged. There are ways around this feeling of exposure, but that might involve a professional book coach, therapist, or even ghostwriter. Or joining a mastermind group like I offer.


 
 
 

Go beyond the writer’s checklist

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If you’d like a guide to publishing, join my mailing list to get my comprehensive guide. There is a lot of talk these days about self-publication, traditional publishing, the fate of bookstores, and digital versus print books. We'll take a detailed look at the industry so you can make the best decision for you and your book.

Join the mailing list to get this publishing and marketing guide. 

 

 
 

 

Book Editing, Marketing, and Promotions

I have worked with numerous best-selling authors and world-renown teachers, helping them to streamline ideas, create books from existing talks and courses, translate esoteric concepts on spirituality for a more mainstream audience, create book proposals, promote their work through social media and affiliate relationships, and use tested marketing practices to promote upcoming books and programs. 

Notable clients include:

  • Ken Wilber/Integral Institute (Integral Theory)

  • David Deida (Men's Work and Spirituality/Non-Duality)

  • Amy Ippoliti (Yoga)

  • Reggie Ray/Dharma Ocean (Vajrayana and Somatic Buddhism)

  • Debra Sliverman (Astrology and Clinical Psychology)

  • Junpo Denis Kelly Roshi/Mondo Zen (Zen and Emotional Maturity)

  • Terri O'fallen and Kim Barta (applied Integral Theory)

  • Doshin Roshi/Integral Zen (Non-Duality and Integral Theory)


 
 
 Neil Gaiman's advice on writing.

Neil Gaiman's advice on writing.

I offer private, one-on-one sessions for those writers interested in getting more deeply into their work. Each writer will have unique places where they need support, accountability, challenge, a new perspective or practice, information (on, say, publishing), or how to monetize your book. It’s your time to use me as a resource; we can also co-discover the best ways for me to help you.

The work is always customized to the writer and to their particular needs and challenges. This can include specific feedback on an idea or project, novel, or non-fiction book. We might do writing exercises, inquiries into the places where stuckness is arising, or experiments designed to move you forward in your work.   

Your Book as an Investment

Writing a book takes a tremendous amount of work, and many hours of disciplined writing, editing, and researching. Yet too many authors go through all of this work only to find that, once the book is finished, they don’t have a plan to use the book strategically. Worse still, they might not understand how to create a big launch.

The hard truth is most books don’t directly remake the investment of time spent on them, if you were to count up all the hours spent writing one and then count the dollars you make on sales.

But books can do other things that make them a good investment, such as used to generate paid speaking gigs, greater business leads, more visibility in a field, establishing a well-founded position inside of an industry, and other non-linear paybacks. 

Place I Can Help

Writing:

  • Finding the best times and places to work

  • Converting your idea into a book — that can capture an audience

  • How to write to that audience

  • Creating steady, sustainable momentum (starting a book is easy, finishing one is hard)

  • Transforming self-doubt into inspiration

  • Focusing on the long view while staying inside of your daily work

  • How to work around the unique places you might get stuck (motivation, confidence, burnout, execution, time challenges, to name a few)

Publishing

  • Finding an agent, a publisher, or a self-publisher (and how to choose)

  • How to write a book proposal

  • Self-publishing versus Traditional publishing: pros and cons

Promotion:

  • What to do with your book once it's finished

  • How to create a successful book launch

  • List building, social media marketing plans and execution, marketing funnels

  • Monetizing your book beyond just book sales

  • Understanding how you'll remake your investment of time and money, through a detailed understanding of what your book will, and won't, provide

  • How to do a book reading and a book tour that's well-attended and profitable

  • Personal and vetted references for agents, publishers, editors, book and website designers, more

Rate

$150 for 75-minute session

Discounted, retainer rates are offered for larger projects, along with the ability to have extra hours carry over into the next month.

All work, emails, ideas, book titles, and creative specifics of clients are kept strictly confidential and protected through encrypted emails and servers.

 

 
 Keith and Ken Wilber, who endorsed  A Heart Blown Open.

Keith and Ken Wilber, who endorsed A Heart Blown Open.

Keith Martin-Smith is an award-winning author and writer who lives and works in Boulder, Colorado. He has had four books published over the last nine years. 

But the path wasn't a smooth one. It took him nearly a decade to get published and more than 300 rejections. For Keith's third book (The Heart of Zen), he raised private capital to fund the writing of the book, with the book's sales then paying back the investors. For his latest work, Only Everything, he ran a successful, $30K Kickstarter campaign (of the same name) to raise seed money and interest on the project. 

He's also worked on content and editing with teachers such as Ken Wilber, David Deida, Reggie Ray, Debra Silverman, Amy Ippoliti, Junpo Denis Kelly Roshi, and Doshin Roshi, among others.

Keith's background is in marketing and advertising, which means that he has an intimate understanding that writing a book is only one small step in selling your book, and making it part of a larger offering. 

 
 
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The Mysterious Divination of Tea Leaves (John Hunt Publishing, 2009) is a collection of short stories that found a home with a publisher after many years of effort and many, many rejections. Keith re-acquired the rights to this book in 2017 so he could use it for other purporses. 

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A Heart Blown Open (Divine Arts Media, 2012) is the memoir of Zen master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi. It won a Silver Medal for Excellence from the Nautilus Book Awards and was a finalist for Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews. Its movie rights were optioned in the spring of 2018. 

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The Heart of Zen (North Atlantic Books, 2014) is the follow up to A Heart Blown Open. This lively Q&A with Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi covers spirituality, emotional maturity, and what it really takes for enlightenment.  

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Only Everything (Perception Press, 2018) is Keith’s latest book and his first (published) novel. It was written after a successful, $30K Kickstarter campaign was run in 2013 that allowed him to find some free time to explore the themes of the novel. But the book wasn’t finished until after he navigated through the end of a five-year relationship and his own struggles with artistic freedom, past trauma, and what it meant to follow his passions.

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In addition to being an author, Keith is also an ordained Zen priest and Kung Fu lineage holder and recognized master. He has been involved in a men’s group for the last 10 years, doing the deep work of challenge and support with a group of men devoted to furthering their growth, self-awareness, and self-actualization.

While Keith has done trainings in Neurolinguist Programming (NLP), Mondo Zen Teacher Training, Immunity to Change/Minds at Work, and other modalities, he draws on his own experience discovering and overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of an author and his or her book.  

Keith was recently interviewed by Buddhist Door about the confluence of writing, meditation, and artistic ambition. You can read that article here.